Saturday, 26 August 2017

Ready to cut and run

I don't let the grass grow under my feet. I've bought another mower. This very afternoon, from a dealer in Cuckfield.

Fiona has a large loading space when her rear seats are down. I decided to clear out my garage somewhat. I loaded up several worn-out or unwanted items: a broken fridge, a broken dishwasher, a broken electric fire, an old electric clothes press, a broken leaf blower- and sucker-up, and of course the recently expired electric hover-mower. I couldn't lift the fridge, but I walked it to the car, tipped it up, and slid it on board. The rest I could manage. Fiona could easily have taken more.

All this effort created useful floor space in my garage - though it still looks cluttered, and further trips will be necessary this autumn:

Once the worn-out and unwanted items had been offloaded at the tip, I had a cavernous and empty loading space at the back begging to be filled, and it seemed opportune to go and look for a new mower. Perhaps one of the two local specialist dealers had one within my price range. It was already gone 3.00pm. I wasn't banking on finding anything suitable on my first foray, but I could at least check out these dealers, and see how their prices compared with stores like B&Q.

The first dealer was at Cowfold, but was closed on Saturday afternoons. Shut gates thwarted me. The other was at Cuckfield, so I went there next. (By the way, this part of Sussex is especially rich in towns and villages with 'farmyard' names: Cowfold, Cuckfield, Henfield, Partridge Green, Horsham. But let's not digress) The dealer I was heading for, never before visited, was Cuckfield Garden Machinery, next to a golf course. Having parked Fiona, I saw this used Mountfield SP53H petrol mower out front, with a £269 price tag on it.

It clearly had been used - look at those muddy wheels - but perhaps not very much. The Honda engine looked very clean, as did the bodywork and controls generally. The grass-collection box was unstained, which it wouldn't have been if the mower had spent any time cleaving through thick wet grass. Hmm, a usefully-wide 51-centimetre cut. And you could adjust the cutting height with just one lever. These were very good points in its favour. The real attraction, though, was the Honda engine, which would be strong and super-reliable.

Although I was looking for a brand-new machine, I wouldn't turn my nose up at a decent second-hand mower, if it seemed worth the price. I decided to ask about this one.

Going inside, there was a wide range of new mowers to see. Indeed, all kinds of powered garden machinery, some it rather exotic. I came straight to the point, and asked about the mower outside. It turned out that it was a 2016 model, and had come from Screwfix last year as part of a batch. It was the last one available. It had indeed been used, but was recently serviced and ready to go, and the dealer would provide a one-year guarantee of their own, as well as whatever was left of the maker's warranty. I asked to see the underside, and saw it was pretty clean. Then I wanted to see it started up. I was invited to do this myself. One smooth tug at the cord, and the Honda engine sprang into life and purred. That was impressive! The Mountfield petrol mower I'd owned some years back (see yesterday's post) had needed to be 'primed' before pulling at the cord, and didn't always start up on the first tug. No such fiddling around with this one: you simply pulled on the cord for an instant start-up, even from cold. As I had just seen.

I was satisfied that £269 was a reasonable price for a refined, good-condition 2016 petrol mower with a Honda engine and a wider-than-average cut. The deal was done. I got a free bottle of 4-stroke engine oil, and I bought a five-litre unleaded petrol container for £5. Another chap helped me load the mower into the back of Fiona, and wedge it in. On the way home, I bought a fiver's-worth of unleaded petrol. I was ready for a couple of weeks' mowing before going on holiday!

Arriving home, I vaguely wondered how I was going to lift the new mower out of Fiona, because it was too heavy for my feeble muscles, and I wasn't sure what I could use for a ramp. Thankfully, Bob just down the road was outside, giving me a wave. I asked him to help me. We lifted it out together. He admired my new purchase. He agreed it was just the job for my now-extensive back lawn. 'Only thing,' he said with a wink, 'Are you quite sure it won't run away with you? It might be very lively.' 'I'll be all right,' I assured him.

But would I be? My new mower was quite a beast. It looked pretty stylish, but what if it were a brute underneath, and ended up dragging me around the village, screaming? Surely not. Let's have a look at it.

Well, it had all the signs of a Formula One machine. But surely it was better to be a hare than a tortoise? And I really did want something powerful.

It was tempting to start it up and see what it could do, but I resisted. The speed and capability trials could wait until next day. I slid the mower into the floor space previously occupied by the worn-out fridge.

After my evening meal, I looked up the price of a new Mountfield SP53H mower. B&Q wanted £349, evidently the full retail price.

Screwfix (who are trade suppliers) quoted £299.

So I was saving £30 on the new trade price, and £80 on the new retail price. And although I'd bought a used mower, it clearly had plenty of life ahead of it. Subject, of course, to the thing performing well next day. But I had no doubts that it would. The buyers' reviews on the Screwfix website were glowing. It should be a star.

It would be interesting to see how quickly it would cut the back lawn, compared to the old hover-mower. The cut was significantly wider than the old hover-mower's had been, and there was no annoying electric cable to get in the way and slow me down. It ought to be an absolute breeze.

I will report in a sequel.

All went well. The mower still started up from cold with a single pull on the cord, and it ran smoothly throughout. I mowed both my rear and front lawns - in that order, of course, in case anything embarrassing occurred! But nothing did. The mower was a pleasure to handle, and it gave me a very good, even cut. The highest setting was excellent for longer grass, but for the best effect the middle of the five height settings was just right. My lawns are not as flat as bowling greens, and the two lower height settings would probably shave the grass here and there!

It seemed to me now that the old hover-mower's height setting had been too low. It was very awkward to adjust, as you had to take off the rotary cutting blade with a spanner - possibly a tough job - and insert (or remove) some spacers. This was such a faff, that once set you tended to leave things as they were. So in long grass, or on very bumpy sections of my newly-enlarged rear lawn, it must have been a big effort for the electric motor to whizz the cutting blade around. No wonder it burnt out.

I did of course check the engine oil and petrol levels on the new mower before beginning. The oil looked fresh, and the level was at the maximum. There was sufficient petrol in the tank for a quick mow, but I still topped it up, not wanting to run it dry.

The simple controls worked fine, apart from the clutch, where I suspected a slack or slightly-stretched cable. The drive to the wheels was engaging with rather a clunk. The cable itself looked almost new. There was a cable tightener on the stretch running up the handle...

...and turning this a bit made engagement smoother. But to really tension the cable properly, I shall probably have to tackle the bottom end of it (that's the transmission box end), where there is a bolt you unscrew (or screw in) to achieve perfect cable tension. The Mower Operation Guide shows how, and there is a fine collection of ring spanners in the garage. If all else fails, I will phone the dealer and get them to do the adjustment.

Any immediate buyer regret? None. The clutch issue is hardly unexpected on a used mower, and should be simple to fix. The mechanical bits on these things are clearly much, much simpler than on a car. No, I am pleased. My new mower cut the grass fast and well, and without much physical effort. It performed as I wanted it to. The wide cut was a boon. Mowing with it was a lot faster than with the old hover-mower. The £269 I paid has bought me some leisure time; and a cut as good as that achieved by my former mower man.

The apr├Ęs-mow cleanup time is about the same. You still have to brush or scrape away grass clippings from the underside of the cutting deck, and generally wipe or brush the entire thing clean. But I don't have to coil up an immensely long (and heavy) power cable any more. And wheeling the new mower back into the garage is far easier than half-lifting and dragging the hover-mower there.

There are two other things. I can now go away on holiday, confident that the lawns will look perfect as I depart, and that on my return it will not be a daunting task to return them to perfection - that's a minor weight off my mind. And I am still independent of paid help. I am still the undisputed queen of my own garden. I can get on with other gardening jobs without having to consider when the mower man is going to call, and needing to have the lawns clear for him. Nor do I need to have cash ready to pay him. I'm free of all that.

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