It seems as though Old Man Winter has not yet made up his mind whether to settle in northern Utah. The recent Indian summer weather is a great reprieve for procrastinating gardeners. Even after leaves are raked and tilled into the garden, and garden cleanup done for the year, there are a few other tasks that need attention.

Small gasoline engines make many garden tasks much easier. Spading a garden is a real workout, and soil preparation is much easier with a tiller. Push mowers work well, but again a power-driven lawnmower is less strenuous. String trimmers, leaf blowers, garden vacuums and a few other odds and ends of equipment add several other gasoline engines to the garage or storage shed. The attention to equipment in the fall generally determines how eager those machines are to start the following year. Avoid the early season rush by doing some preventive maintenance right now.The major cause of equipment deterioration is moisture. Moisture not only causes rust and degrades the appearance of machinery, but rust and corrosion also interfere with the working of the equipment. Small engines should be stored according to the manufacturer instructions. If there are no instructions, follow these. Clean dirt and debris from the outside of the equipment. Wipe the equipment clean with an oily rag to prevent further rust or corrosion. In addition to problems caused by exterior moisture, moisture affects the fuel and can make an engine impossible to start.

In most cases small engines are best stored without fuel. Unless the manufacturer recommends otherwise, drain the fuel from the tank. Fuel left in the tank evaporates and leaves deposits of gums and varnish. These plug the carburetor and cause starting and running problems in the future. Leftover gasoline also loses its ability to fire properly. Remove the tank, drain it and then replace the tank. Run the engine until the fuel in the carburetor is gone.

If all this sounds like a lot of trouble, try another method. Fuel stabilizers are a great way to save time and money when removing gas from tanks. These are available at many small engine repair shops or recreational vehicle outlets. Stabilizers prevent gum and varnish formation and absorb moisture. When using stabilizers, fill the fuel tank to prevent condensation.

Along with taking care of the fuel system, the lubrications systems need attention. Change the oil! Yes, these engines have oil just like your car. I don't know of any quick lube shops for small engines, but the idea is exactly the same. Strange as it may seem, some gardeners sheepishly admit that they have never changed the engine oil, even after several years. After changing the oil, remove the sparkplug and put a teaspoon of oil through the sparkplug hole, and turn the engine over several times. This lubricates the piston and prevents moisture from internally rusting the engine parts. After cleaning the exterior of the equipment and taking care of fuel and lubrication systems, store the equipment in a dry place protected from dust, dirt and, of course, theft.

Not all garden tools are motorized so spend a few minutes taking care of the non-motorized equipment. One of the first part items to go bad is the non-motorized equipment such as the handles. Handles exposed to weathering lose natural wood moisture and develop cracks and slivers. A quick once-over with sand paper and linseed oil protect the wood. Linseed oil also keeps ax or hammer heads tight. Replacement handles often cost almost as much as a new piece of equipment, so prevent problems before they start. Keep rust and corrosion off the metal parts of equipment by applying a thin coat of motor oil.

Fall is also a good time to sharpen tools with a cutting edge. Shovels and hoes are much easier to use and remove weeds more effectively when sharpened regularly. A few strokes with a file or a stone will restore the cutting edge on most pieces of equipment. If tools are badly damaged, use a power grinder to help get equipment into tip-top shape. While you are sharpening, don't forget the blade on your lawnmower. I'm amazed that many people don't realize lawnmower blades can and should be sharpened frequently. The blades are carefully balanced. Don't destroy that balance as it puts additional stress on the engine.

Preventive maintenance not only makes equipment last longer, it removes some of the familiar curses leveled at engines that won't start. Fewer trips to the repair shop are better for your wallet, your equipment and for your stress level.