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You probably have already started mowing the grass this year, but did you get your push lawn mower or garden tractor ready first? It's not too late to do some simple maintenance that will add years of life to your machine.

The first and probably most important task is to change the oil. Gather together the tools and supplies you will need: quarts of new oil, vise grips, rag, and a container large enough to hold the old oil.

Pull the oil dipstick out of its casing but do not remove it from the casing. Let it lie on top. This helps the oil in the crankcase to drain out faster by allowing air to enter in. Then, find the oil plug at the bottom of the engine. Place the container securely under the plug and use vise grips to remove the plug. Note: if the lawn mower or tractor was used prior to performing this task, the oil could be hot. Let the oil drain completely into the container. After the oil is drained, replace the plug tightly. Begin adding the new oil into the oil casing. If you are not sure how much oil to add to the crankcase, start with half a quart with a lawnmower, and one full quart with a garden tractor. Fill the oil reservoir until the dipstick reads "Full." If you accidentally put in too much oil, simply drain the excess out by opening the oil plug. Have a clean container underneath so the oil can be transferred back into the quart container for future use. Push the dipstick back into the casing.

The second task is to grease your garden tractor. Properly lubricating the wheel bearings and joints will eliminate unnecessary friction. Friction causes parts to wear out faster and you certainly don't want that. Simply locate the grease fittings and fill them using a grease gun and cartridge.

The third task is to replace the spark plug. Even though the old spark plug from the last mowing season still works, it is wise to spend the extra couple bucks on a replacement. The new plug will enable the mower or lawn tractor to start easier, thus sparing your starter or flywheel. Do this, and your machine will run better with a clean plug instead of a gummed-up one. This task is extremely easy. Simply remove the wire from the top of the spark plug. Using vise grips or pliers, carefully unscrew the old spark plug. Place the new plug into the threaded socket and make sure to tighten it as far as it will go. Do not screw the spark plug in crooked or you could strip the threads. Replace the wire on top.

The fourth task is to clean out or replace the air filter. The filter takes in air along with dust and dirt. The engine needs air to run just as our bodies need air to function. Some air filters can be cleaned with soap and water and used again while others need to be replaced and cannot be re-used. If you can clean the one in your lawn mower or tractor, simply do so by swishing it around in a bucket of warm, sudsy water; shake dry and replace.

The fifth task is to sharpen the blades. They need to be sharpened every year or so, depending on how much you use the machine. If the blades are damaged by hitting rocks, tree branches, etc., they might need to be replaced. Using a ratchet set, remove the bolt(s) that hold the blade(s) on the lawn mower or garden tractor. You can sharpen them yourself, but it is a wiser idea to take them to your local hardware store and have it done professionally. After they are sharpened and ready for use, replace the blades on the machine. Make sure to tighten the bolts securely! You certainly don't want a whirling blade spinning out from under the mower when you are using it!

Last, simply check all the nuts and bolts on your machine(s) and tighten any loose ones that you may find. Especially important are the compression bolts that are located on the engine head. If these bolts become loose, which they tend to do through use of the machine, the engine will lose its needed compression. Either the engine will sputter and run poorly, or it just won't run at all! Be sure to check those compression bolts!

Now your lawn mower or garden tractor is ready for hours of use this mowing season!