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The cost of a lifetime of thrift..
Old 04-26-2015, 08:16 AM   #1
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The cost of a lifetime of thrift..

Two days ago my 10 year old Sears lawn tractor died. Fortunately it was near my garage (it generally sleeps in my shed) so the Mrs and I pushed it into the garage. This particular tractor and I have had a rocky marriage. She spends my money. When I bought her home I mowed in my shiny red girl and I was in heaven ( she has a cup holder!) I felt like a man of means..Oh I've always treated her right - Sears use to offer a $200 spring tune up special I treated her to it every other year. Then about year 5 after her warranty expired she needed crank shaft surgery $450 and last year $300 for a starter transplant. I own a Honda push mower too; when my girl was laid up it took over 2 hours to mow by hand. My 60 year old knees probably make that out of the question now. When I paid for that camshaft I swore no more Briggs and Stratton marriages for me. I am hesitant to get a divorce because I plan on moving when my son finishes HS in 2 years. I expect my mowing relationship will be over then.

I called Sears to made an appointment for a house call and the earliest was May 7th. That night I thought this is going to be $300 bill for sure. (For a little perspective my first semester at college cost $230). Now I mow my own lawn because I enjoy it and I can't justify spending $60 bucks a week. 20 mows a season for ten years is $12k minus the tractor $2k and the medical expense $2k means I'm up $8k. Wow maybe I've been too hard my old gal.

Still that $300 number bothered me so I went on YouTube and watched a couple of videos on diagnosing Briggs and Stratton electrical problems. I broke out the socket set (I invest in tools) and tore into that baby. Well the part ($60 - magneto and 2 sundry parts) is on back order. If I get it fixed I'll bet I'll save $250 and I'll feel better.

The thing is the cost of a new tractor for a us isn't significant but I can't help myself. Furthermore the Mrs and I went to Home Depot because I didn't have a 1/4 open end wrench which makes removing the magneto easier. A nice set cost $18 with a holder - she tried to have me opt for the single wrench $2.99. Do you see a pattern?


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Old 04-26-2015, 08:37 AM   #2
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If you're handy and have the patience to think things out, there's an awful lot of repair work you can do yourself between Google and Utube. Well done. Over the years I can recall spending more for a particular tool than it saved me at that particular time. I'm a little less inclined to tackle some things now, especially when it involves frustration. Yesterday after spending an hour trying to program the cars to the garage door opener (Homelink) I just called "a guy." Said if they couldn't do it no charge. Cost? $75. Not getting all frustrated after having followed instructions on the net, from the opener manual, and the cars? Priceless.
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Old 04-26-2015, 08:52 AM   #3
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I'm pretty good at troubleshooting electro-mechanical stuff, but for some reason spending my free time (still w*rking) busting knuckles and getting grease under my fingernails doesn't hold much charm.

My son, the part-time lawn keeper, has been AWOL so far this season... I mowed/weed-whacked yesterday, in a "mild" sub-ninety temp, and was again reminded why I hire someone to mow...
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Old 04-26-2015, 09:21 AM   #4
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I sure wouldn't pay $200 for a 'tune up' - even every other year.

Other than oil changes or other lubes, I do the absolute minimal maintenance on my mowers, and I've got 10-11 years out of two relatively cheap mowers (just started on my third last year), cutting an acre as fast as I can - I really push that thing.

Sharpen blades, replace occasionally. Manual says replace fuel filter every season - why? Gas goes from filtered nozzle at the station, to a plastic gas can (no rust), into a plastic gas tank (and the new mowers have gas tanks that are semi-sealed) - how are you going to get junk in there? I never changed a fuel filter ever. And I know that if it did clog, just blow backwards through it to clear it, then (maybe) get a new one.

Same with spark plugs - if all seems good, maybe pull it and inspect/clean sometime after the recc replacement. Air filter - inspect and clean and replace as needed, not on some schedule. Other than lube, there really is no other maintenance.

Replace belts when they break or show wear.

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Old 04-26-2015, 09:52 AM   #5
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+1 my mantra is if it ain't broke, don't fix it. On my mowers, I change the oil annually and spark plugs every other year and repair things when they break or look bad.
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Old 04-26-2015, 10:02 AM   #6
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It costs $35 for a local company to mow my lawn. They do it every week 8 months a year. They've got the heavy equipment and can get it done in 30 minutes (two people.)

I used to do it myself. It would take me about 2 hours. I dealt with allergies, cleaning the mower, money spent on repairs, etc. I finally did the math and figured it was much cheaper to pay them and enjoy the time with my family.

If I was so concerned about the money I could consult for an hour and make twice that. (I realize not everyone is in that position.)

Anyway, that's how the equation worked out for me, and I'm a lot happier. Maybe when I'm no longer working I might do it, but I doubt it.
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Old 04-26-2015, 10:08 AM   #7
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Max cheapness here. Motorized push mower. Never sharpen blade. No need. Had to replace a gasket inside carburetor 2 years ago. Ethanol in gas ruined it, I think. Youtubed it. $7 for the gasket at local lawn mower shop. Just the right amount of challenge involved. Briggs and Stratton engines last forever. Had to give previous mower away to lawn mower shop due to rust holes. Engine was fine.
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Old 04-26-2015, 10:48 AM   #8
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I have the best deal... We're in CA in a drought - so the *small* patch of grass doesn't get watered... When it rains enough for it to grow - I send my 14 year old out with our push reel mower (no power anything)... I pay him $5. He also mows the neighbor's larger front/back yard lawns... For $25. Going rate for the mow & blow services is $50-100- depending on how much they do, size of lawn, whether they do shrubs and weeding.
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Old 04-26-2015, 10:52 AM   #9
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My lawn mower breaks down every hour or so. I just put more gas and it works again. Have never done any other maintenance (and have had the cheap Costco mower over 11 years).
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Old 04-26-2015, 11:10 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rayinpenn View Post
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The thing is the cost of a new tractor for a us isn't significant but I can't help myself. Furthermore the Mrs and I went to Home Depot because I didn't have a 1/4 open end wrench which makes removing the magneto easier. A nice set cost $18 with a holder - she tried to have me opt for the single wrench $2.99. Do you see a pattern?
Yep, I've had some of the same patterns. Too much thriftiness. The solution is to be more rational about money. One must learn to give up the irrational.
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Old 04-26-2015, 01:20 PM   #11
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This household (my son did it when he lived at home) always cut the acre of grass. I always had a lawn tractor to keep it to an hour per week. Now in retirement I am considering a self propelled push mower to help with the 10,000 steps and avoid a gym membership.
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Old 04-26-2015, 01:28 PM   #12
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Lol. Good job Op. Although I'm a city girl. I fix nothing, That's why God created "building maintenance". One year when my kids where in elementary school, the teacher asked them for an emergency phone number, They gave them the phone number for the super.

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Old 04-26-2015, 01:43 PM   #13
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I had to chuckle, as I am in a similar situation. Sears riding mower bought in 2004, fairly reliable, can do the maintenance not related to super engine knowledge, like deck-related maintenance and the basic oil/filter changes. On the last mow of last year, the engine died. I have put in new battery and spark plugs, but when starting the engine just cranks/spins and never fires up.

I have a push mower that I can use, which I can view as exercise , but it takes twice as long. May wait for the "spring rush" of folks getting mower maintenance to pass before getting a local repair shop to look at it.
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Old 04-26-2015, 01:48 PM   #14
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We are still running a John Deere mower (21" self propelled with a cast aluminum housing) bought new in the late 1970's for about $400. She's had several new belts, a couple of wheels, a blade or two, a new B&S engine transplant by me somewhere along the way, lots of oil, several spark plugs, a new gas tank, and (Can't remember ??).

She's cut lawns in three different states and has been used by me, ExDW, DW, DD, neighbor kids. I believe the moral of the story with small HP lawn equipment is that you can keep it running forever if it doesn't turn to rust. That was the beauty of the Deere...cast aluminum housing.
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Old 04-26-2015, 02:07 PM   #15
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I'm lucky in that I have a great small engines mechanic about 10 minutes away... while I do the normal maintenance of changing oil, spark plugs, etc. if it is beyond my abilities (or interest in doing) he's the man!
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Old 04-26-2015, 02:17 PM   #16
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Luckily we have a smaller lot, something you can push mow in 45-60 minutes. Bought mower in 10 years ago for $120.. never sharpened blades, never changed the oil (but did add some one year)... gave it to my sister this year when we sold the place. she may have to eventually replace the pull cord and I told her maybe she should have dad sharpen the blades in the next few years....so $12/yr...done...my thoughts were if I could make it to 12 years, then I'd just buy a new one.. I'm ok throwing $10/yr at it.
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Old 04-26-2015, 02:44 PM   #17
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Anyone that uses Sears' expensive labor for lawn mower repairs is asking for a financial scalping.

Every city has independent lawn mower mechanics shops--many operating out of their personal garages. There are also small engine shops selling mowers, chainsaws, etc.

Take your lawn tractor to one of those guys for a proper diagnosis. Most of the time, our EPA's specified 90/10 gasoline will separate and gum up your carb. It's also death on anything with rubber in it--including fuel lines A carb. clean may be all you're needing to be back on line again.

Small engine parts are very, very expensive (for what you get), and you just cannot afford to throw parts at the problem. There's no replacement for a proper diagnosis. Most problems are very common, and small engine shops see'em all the time.
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Old 04-26-2015, 03:46 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by user5027 View Post
Now in retirement I am considering a self propelled push mower to help with the 10,000 steps and avoid a gym membership.
+1

I'm pretty much the last person on the street who cuts my own grass. Not only is it good exercise, I also get to look around the yard each week and notice if anything need attention.

The exercise is good for me and I listen to a podcast so it's not especially boring.
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Old 04-26-2015, 04:59 PM   #19
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Think of the benefits of learning something new, satisfaction of fixing something, and the cheapskate bragging rights on this forum Didn't see that in your financial calculations, so you're way, way ahead.
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Old 04-26-2015, 05:28 PM   #20
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I put myself through college fixing lawnmowers. Based on that experience, I'd never buy a Craftsman lawn mower. As others have said, a 30 year old quality brand will give you better service. Sears is a convenient place to buy, but that is about it.

Oh, and good for you for fixing it yourself.
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