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Lawn Mower Won’t Start
If you’ve landed on this webpage hoping to find out why your gasoline-powered push lawn mower won’t start, you’re definitely close to finding the answer! After a long cold winter or extended period, like many of you, I’ve found myself pulling on the lawn mower start cord so many times, I often feel like I’m leading an exercise class. Due to my limited budget for lawn equipment repair, I was forced to tackle my small engine problems on my own. With dozens of engine repairs under my belt, I now set out to document my lessons learned in a Lawn Mower DIY mini-series of articles so you can get back to lawn cutting grass. Below, I’ve identified the key knowledge areas needed to diagnose a faulty engine.
Be aware that small engines are not beyond the realm of the DIY’er or weekend warrior, so on to troubleshooting! Let’s determine why your lawn mower won’t start:
•· Have you checked your piece of equipment for gasoline?
•· Is there enough oil in the engine?
•· Is the air filter clean?
•· Is the spark plug lead properly attached to the spark plug?
•· Did you give the lawn mower pull cord at least 10 – 15 good strong pulls?
•· If your piece of equipment is equipped with one, have you pushed the primer bulb several times?
•· Is the scrubber tipped upside down? (If yes, you may have filled the combustion chamber with oil)
•· Have you confirmed that there are no cracks in the engine block?
•· Can you confirm that no water has entered the engine?
•· Can you confirm that the pull cord operates freely and the engine rotates smoothly in the OFF position?
Once you’ve determined that none of the above issues are preventing your engine from starting, you’ll need to move on to the next set of possible scenarios. Lawn mower engines, like all engines, have three specific requirements for starting: fuel delivery, ignition, and compression. If your engine has a problem with any of the above critical aspects, your engine will not start or will run very erratically, which can eventually lead to engine failure.
The ignition system is, as a general rule, responsible for creating electrical impulses or “sparks” that ignite the air/fuel mixture directed toward your small engine’s combustion chamber. To verify that your ignition system is working as designed, follow these instructions:
1. Remove the spark plug lead from the spark plug
2. Remove the spark plug with a wrench or ratchet (make sure you don’t damage the ceramic part of the spark plug!).
3. Reconnect the spark plug lead wire to the spark plug now that it has been removed from the engine.
4. Orient yourself on the lawnmower so that you can pull the starter cord and hold the spark plug electrode on a part of the engine that is metal and not covered by paint or debris.
5. Give the start cord on the engine a few slow and steady pulls and keep your eye on the spark plug electrode gap (at the tip of the plug).
6. As the start cord is pulled, verify that a small blue spark arcs across the spark plug gap.
7. If a spark exists, you can rule out ignition as the immediate cause for you. On to the next step!
Now that you’ve confirmed that your little engine is getting spark, it’s time to verify that all the internal moving parts are working in such a way that adequate compression is being created in the engine’s combustion chamber. Simply put, compression develops in the combustion chamber through the up and down action of the piston, rod and crankshaft. As the piston moves towards the spark plug, the air/fuel in the chamber increases in compression to the point of ignition, conversely, as the piston moves away from the spark plug on its down-stroke, a negative pressure or vacuum is created. combustion chamber, which takes in more air/fuel mixture for the next power stroke.
To measure the compression of your lawn mower engine, a special tool known as a compression gauge. Compression gauges vary in price, but a good performing unit can cost less than $30 and can be used on any engine that accepts a standard size spark plug. To use a compression gauge, follow these instructions:
1. Screw the threads of the compression gauge into the spark plug hole of the engine so that it is tight
2. Pull the starter rope a few times
3. Stop pulling the starter rope and watch the gauge dial to read your engine’s psi (pounds per square inch).
4. Engines come in a variety of designs and power capacities, as a general rule, a reading below 80 psi is an indication that a compression problem exists.
Unfortunately, compression problems often result in the most expensive bills. This is largely because damaged (scored) cylinder walls can only be repaired by having the engine block machined at a specialty shop, boring a larger diameter hole, and then installing new pistons and rings. The cost of this set of procedures is usually more expensive than the cost of a new gas-powered push lawnmower.
If your cylinder walls are not scored, it is likely that your pistons are pitted due to low air/fuel conditions. Although this repair involves dismantling a piece of your equipment, it’s a job that can be completed by a DIY’er if the proper tools and procedures are followed.
Fuel delivery verification
As mentioned above, the third important requirement of an engine is fuel delivery. Of the three critical needs, fuel delivery problems are most commonly responsible for engine failure. To determine the best way to diagnose whether a fuel delivery problem is to blame, it is necessary to visualize the circuit that gasoline must travel to get from the gas tank to the combustion chamber. Below, I’ve drawn the path the gasoline must travel unimpeded in order for the spark plug to ignite:
1. Establish or try to remember how old the fuel in the gas tank is – if the fuel is more than six months old, it has already started to deteriorate.
2. If your gasoline is more than 6 months old and your engine won’t start or runs rough, empty the gas tank and refill with high octane gasoline (with an octane rating of 91 or higher) that is low in ethanol. Carburetor is the main component responsible for gumming up.
3. Mix fuel stabilizer into the gas when you refill your lawn mower.
4. Check that the small fuel hoses connecting the gas tank to the carburetor are intact, as they often come loose or are burned by the engine block.
5. If the short hose is intact, the passage in your carburetor is probably blocked, preventing gas from flowing through the unit.
6. Refer to my upcoming article on lawn mower carburetor cleaning procedures.
It should be noted that the above three critical components or ignition, compression and fuel delivery were discussed primarily for the purpose of starting the engine. There are other issues related to engine cooling, exhausting, valve timing, and valve condition that can also contribute to engine no-starts, but which usually cause erratic engine behavior once the engine starts.
Thanks for reading, and good luck!
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