Bad Gas and the Old Mower

Thirty years ago my dad bought a John Deere 116 Hydrostatic riding lawn mower. It was a huge investment in 1983 and would cost us a pretty penny to replace it.

Like a lot of families, we simply don't have the money to go out and buy the latest and greatest in outdoor power equipment. My parents are retired and my father is not in the best of health, so I'm the one who maintains their yard. I'd love to be able to buy my parents a new mower, but the reality is I need to keep this beast running.

Coming into this mowing season, I was fairly confident. The John Deere had a new battery, new oil and new spark plugs. Everything looked good, other than it was old compared to the newer mowers the rest of the neighborhood buzzes around in.

And for the first couple of times that I used it, it ran well.  Then one day, I ran into trouble. The mower started just fine, but it began to hiccup and it stalled. I started it again and again, getting the same results. Frustrated, I turned to my trusty John Deere manual. Its diagnosis was that the carburetor was dirty. I've done a lot of maintenance on the mower over the years, but this was an area I'd never worked on. Just to be safe, I called a small engine repair service.

The repairman came over to the house, and I watched him have the same issues with the mower that I did. His diagnosis? “Bad gasoline.”

If he had said there was water in the gasoline, I probably would have accepted it and let him move on, but “bad gas” just didn't ring true to me. I challenged him. 

He asked me if I had put new gas into the mower when the trouble started. I actually had just gotten gas at the gas station up the street. He then told me I needed to stop getting gas at the local gas station. Instead, he suggested I get gasoline down the road at Mills Fleet Farm, because it was non-oxygenated, and then add in a shot of enzyme fuel treatment for good measure. According to him, the mower would work better on non-oxygenated gasoline. 

Sure enough, further research confirms there actually is something to his recommendation. The primary benefit of non-oxygenated fuel in any engine not operated on a regular basis is the reduced potential for moisture contamination in the fuel and corrosion issues. Adding a product like SeaFoam to oxygenated gasoline can help prevent these problems, but in some experts' opinions, non-oxygenated fuels are a better choice for any engine operated on a seasonal or intermittent basis. 

After paying for his labor costs, I headed over to Mills Fleet Farm and got my new gasoline. I've only mowed once on the Mills Fleet Farm gas, but so far so good. The jury is still out if this will solve my riding mower problems long term, but if you'd like to try out this same suggestion on your riding mower, you can. 

For a list of stations supplying non-oxygenated gasoline in your state or province, visit Be sure to let us know if you see any marked improvement.