Source: Journal Sentinel

WAUWATOSA, Wis., Feb. 4, 2015 — Calling it an end to a messy annual ritual, and a first for the outdoor power equipment industry, Briggs & Stratton Corp. has developed a lawn mower engine that never needs an oil change.

The new engine will be available this spring on certain Toro, Craftsman, Snapper, Troy-Bilt and Yard Machine walk-behind mowers. Its air intake system is sealed tighter so that dirt doesn't get inside the engine and contaminate the oil, and the engine runs cooler so that heat doesn't break down the lubricant.

"If an engine runs cooler, with less debris in the oil, it will last longer," said Rick Zeckmeister, Briggs vice president of marketing and planning.

The four-stroke mower engine is designed to last the life of the equipment it's used on, which could be about 12 years, without an oil change. Briggs says the engine will set a precedent in the lawn and garden equipment industry, and none of its competitors has an engine that doesn't require an oil change.

The new design stems partly from consumer research that showed people understood the value of changing engine oil, to increase the life span of their mower, but they didn't necessarily perform the maintenance.

Walk-behind mowers usually have to be tipped upside down to drain the oil, and then there's the hassle of disposing the used lubricant. If you're not careful when doing an oil change, you also could introduce dirt into the engine which causes premature wear.

"It's just messy, and sometimes you do more damage than good," Zeckmeister said.

The new engine comes on mowers priced from $250 to $400, in power ratings of 6.75- and 7.25-foot pounds of torque. Briggs says it has an automotive-style air filter to keep out debris, a new cooling fan for optimum airflow, an automotive-style piston and rings, and an overhead-valve design that rejects exhaust heat through the cylinder head, away from the oil.

The engine is being produced at a Briggs plant in Poplar Bluff, Mo. The plant was completely rebuilt to provide better control over the manufacturing process, Zeckmeister said.

Oil is the lifeblood of an engine. It protects the moving parts but gradually loses that ability as heat, dirt particles, moisture and air break down the lubricating properties.

The new engine uses the same oil as other Briggs engines. You still have to add it occasionally, but an improved oil-fill tube helps keep debris out, and an improved fuel spout helps prevent gasoline spills.

Briggs, the world's largest manufacturer of small gasoline engines, has logged hundreds of hours testing the new design, including field tests in dirty conditions in Florida. In the future, the company plans to use the design on other outdoor power products besides walk-behind mowers.

The challenge was to produce an engine that was powerful enough, durable, affordable, and didn't require an oil change. "Nobody wants a disposable lawn mower," Zeckmeister said.

Still, some say that consumers now expect to use all kinds of products a few years and then throw them away.

"People don't buy something with the idea of maintaining it for 10 or 12 years. Unfortunately, that's not the mind-set anymore," said Patrick Hanson, an engine mechanics instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

The lack of maintenance is the No. 1 reason lawn mowers fail prematurely, Hanson said.

Even an engine that the manufacturer says never needs an oil change would benefit from it, according to Hanson.

"I would still recommend changing the oil once a year," he said.

With its other mower engines, Briggs recommends an oil change about every 25 operating hours.

"Just like the oil in a vehicle operated in extremely dirty or dusty conditions at high speeds, the oil in a lawn mower or other small engine breaks down faster under tough conditions such as wet grass, heavy dust, high temperatures, and rough or hilly terrain," the company says on its website.

There's no need to change the oil with the new Briggs engine, but it won't hurt if you do it anyway, according to the company.