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Maintenance Needs for Short-Cycle Engines

With an engine, it is imperative to identify its use to determine a maintenance and service schedule to ensure long life.

If engine use is typical, what would be considered normal service is what is listed in the owner’s manual. There are many engines, however, that do not see normal usage such as small power units on a seed tender, UTVs, service trucks, utility tractors. With these, the owner’s manual can’t be a guide.

Severe-duty types

The term severe duty conjures up a tractor pulling a 30-foot chisel through heavy soil on a 90°F. day. There is no denying that is severe duty. What about the UTV that sees multiple starts during the day and is not run longer than two minutes at a time? That is severe duty in a different way. It has the potential to age the engine much quicker than a hard day’s work.

Short duty-cycle operation exposes the engine to:

  • Excessive dry or partially dry starts regarding oil.

  • Oil that does not reach full temperature to improve flow and to evaporate moisture and fuel that can turn to sludge and varnish.

  • Excessive carbon deposits on the intake valve and piston crown.

  • Poor fuel vaporization during restart due to the necessary rich mixture.

  • A coating on the spark plug electrode that causes misfire under load and hard starting.

Steps to cut wear

The best thing to do is to run the engine longer under load, but that may not be possible.

Here are six simple steps that can greatly reduce the wear and tear from short duty-cycle use.

1. Install an hour meter on all engines. You can get a simple one for around $30 that hooks up to the spark plug wire and offers a great deal of flexibility in mounting options. Estimate the engine’s yearly hours and then modify the factory oil-change interval. If it calls for 50 hours normally, change the oil every five to 10 hours depending on use, cold starts, and run duration.

2. Know your oils. High-quality synthetic oil will reduce wear during the initial startup period (before full warm-up). Do not fall into the trap that you won’t pour synthetic oil into a 5- or 10-hp. engine: 5W-30 weight is usually best.

3. Give the gasoline a 1-ounce-per-gallon dose of fuel treatment such as Chevron’s Techron to keep carbon deposits and sludge from the valves and piston ring package.

4. Run the carburetor out of gas before storing the engine. Cover the exhaust and inlet with a plastic bag to greatly reduce moisture intake.

5. Change the spark plug at least once a year. Employ a spark plug that is a full heat range hotter than called for in the engine.

6. Try to run the engine for at lease five minutes under some load.

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