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Monday morning, my neighbor and I planned on renting a machine to aerate our lawns. At 9 a.m. we drove over to Home Depot and they had several Classen CA-18 machines like the one pictured above in stock. The sales guy noticed the aerator we were renting was low on gas, filled the tank up with the last bit of gas they had on hand, then fired it up to show us how to start it.

When we got the aerator back to my yard it fired right up, but any time we tried to give it some more gas, it either died or sputtered badly. After about 15 minutes of letting it idle, then slowly easing off the choke and giving it more gas, it was running at full throttle but we couldn’t ease off the throttle without it dying. At this point we knew something was wrong, but we decided not to turn back.

Running at full throttle, I pulled up the wheels to engage the spikes and the aerator nearly got away from me before the motor died. I couldn’t restart the motor, so we put it back on my neighbor’s trailer to return it. As we were tying it down, I gave it one more pull, because I just knew that we’d get back to the store and it would run perfectly for the sales guy. The motor sprang to life and after another couple of minutes babying the motor up to full throttle, I tried another pass at my lawn.

I practically had to run behind the machine, but I finished one row. I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to handle my whole yard that way, so I tried easing off the throttle just a bit and this time the engine kept running. I wrenched it around for another pass, engaged the tines, and went two feet before the motor stopped. Of course the engine wouldn’t start again. Back to the Depot!

After getting our money back, we went to a different rental center, but they had a similar machine by a different manufacturer. After our experience that morning, we decided against renting it. Even if the engine was running properly and I could’ve slowed it down, I’m not sure I would have lasted my entire yard. I have a small yard, maybe an eighth of an acre, but the machine handled like a pig, and I was sweating like one after just that single pass.

In hindsight, the best explanation we could figure was that the sales person had put in some bad gas. In the store, the machine had no problems starting and easily reached full throttle in a few seconds without any sputtering because it was running on the old gas in the line.

My questions to the readers: Do you aerate your yard, and if so, what type of aerator do you use? Surely it has to be easier than trying to reign in a wild horse.

CA-18 Compact Aerator [Classen]

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12 Responses to Reader Question: Avoiding Lawn Aerator Hell

  1. slapinem says:

    Mantis. Yeah I know it’s small but i’ve been using mine for at least ten years now and I’ve never had anything like this happen. I have used it at home and on the job and have never had a bit of trouble.

  2. G says:

    I aerate, but since my “yard” is 7 acres, I have a tow-behind accessory for my garden tractor.

  3. Ray says:

    I have used rental machines like this very often on my half acre yard without incident. The trick is doing long straight runs, since as you found out, it will not turn with the tines engaged. You line up you run on the wheels then drop the hammer and go. When you get to the end of the line lower the wheels to stop the machine. The trick is just letting the machine do the work and simply follow it. You cannot win a tug-of-war with the machine when the tines are engaged.

    That being said unless you have specific compaction issues in your yard probably don”t need to aerate on a routine basis.

  4. Dan says:

    I rented a machine from our local rental center and used it on two yards a couple years ago. I didn’t wear gloves and ended up with large blisters on my palms from muscling the machine around.

    For the time and expense (and pain) involved it’s better for me to pay someone else to do the job. Local rates are only about $10 above the rental of the machine iteslf.

    I did the same this year with a power rake. After the time spent cleaning up the thatch, I’ll hire that one out as well if I ever need it again.

  5. Gary says:

    Lawn tractor tow behind. I only have an acre, but after 3 knee surgeries, pushing gets old.

  6. Andy says:

    Aerating a thatching are two entirely different things.

    Aerating can do no harm and can help breath air into your lawn that’s been packed down by garden tractors, etc.

    Thatching should be done once in a great while and depend on how much you rack up after cutting. Cuttings add nutrients to the soil and some thatch is good so don’t go overboard.

    Number one rule is to not cut your grass too short. They say let it grow to 3″ and then cut one off and I think that can be to short if you have a wide (48″ or greater) mower deck as it tends to cut lower when the wheels hit a low spot. Best not to cut at all in the heat of the summer.

  7. HammerDrill says:

    You should aerate once a year, best in the fall. Aeration should be followed with a top dressing of compost (about 1/4 inch deep) The compost will fill the holes and help with the overall soil structure.. I usally aerate, topdress and lime at the same time. I then wait about 2 weeks for overseeding and fertilizing. I found out if I overseed while there are some aeration holes, leads to a clumpy looking lawn.

  8. HammerDrill says:

    BTW, forgot to mention I usually rent a BludeBird aerator for this from United Rentals and share the coast with a neighbor.

  9. Brew says:

    I have a smallish yard (1/2 acre) and I used to rent one once or twice a year. But this year decided to buy an old lawn tractor from a buddy, and a new plug aerator. Did it twice this fall and am glad I didn’t have to manhandle a rental again. I figure I will probably break even after 2 or 3 years vs rentals.

    Really only downside to aerating is you are opening the lawn up for weeds.


  10. Kelley Nelson says:

    Most walk behind aerators are miserable to run. A few rental places rent the ‘plugr’ machine. Instead of having several ‘spoons’ on a wheel – a Plugr has just one row of tines that rotate on a cam and punch down into the soil. It’s a lot more maneuverable and won’t beat you up as much to operate.

  11. paul says:

    I don’t have time to mess with such stuff. The grass grows to fast a it is, i don’t mess with fertilizer, aerating or anything like that. I might if I didn’t have 6 giant sycamore tress on my property that just shade everything and make leaf pickup a 3 month long chore.

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