Help! My lawn mower won't start
Failure to perform routine mower maintenance can lead to problems in spring. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)
The return of warm weather signals lawns to come out of dormancy and spring into action. But if your lawn mower won't start, you could quickly drown in a knee-high sea of green.
Dan Hale, owner of highly rated Broad Ripple Lawn Equipment in Indianapolis, says most mower problems are the direct result of failure to perform routine lawn mower maintenance at the end of the mowing season.
"People don’t really address the standard maintenance issues that are important to keep a mower running," he says. "It’s a piece of equipment that nobody wants to own for a job nobody wants to do."
Lawn mower maintenance tips
"The biggest problem that people have is leaving old gasoline in the mower," he says. "Over the winter months [gasoline] loses volatility - then, in the spring when they try to start it, they have a problem."
Also, lawn mower repair pros say cold temperatures cause ethanol-based fuel to gel up, which can clog the carburetor and prevent your mower from starting.
To prevent old gas from keeping you from your lawn-cutting duties, completely drain the gasoline at the end of each mowing season, Hale suggests.
One other big reason mowers fail to start in spring: clogged, broken or corroded components. Something as simple as a clogged air filter can compromise the entire mower, Hale says.
"If they don’t clean their air filter, it fills up and the unit runs more inefficiently. Then you get carbon building up on the cylinder and the spark plug to the point it will cause the spark plug to foul and not work," he says.
Prefer to Do It Yourself? How to Tune Up and Maintain a Lawn Mower
For those who don't like getting grease under their fingernails, Hale recommends a professional lawn mower tuneup, which involves replacing the spark plug and air filter, sharpening the mower blades and changing the oil and gasoline. For optimal performance, schedule the tuneup at the end of the season. Then, all it should take is some fresh gasoline in the spring to get it started again.
If you do find yourself with a dead lawn mower and need a professional tuneup, expect a wait. Hale says he always sees a huge influx of needed mower repairs in spring because most people don’t realize their mower won’t start until their grass has already started to grow.
Lawn mower starting tips
Check the gasoline. Is it the same gas you used last year? If the gas is older than 30 days, empty it from the mower and start fresh.
Check the oil. Each mower is different, but you should measure the amount of oil and check color consistency. Change the oil if it appears dark black in color.
Check the air filter. Clean or replace your mower's air filter annually. A new air filter typically costs $3 to $10.
Check the spark plug. Your lawn mower won't start if the spark plug becomes disconnected from the lawn mower. A new spark plug costs around $5.
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Editor's Note: This is an updated version of a story that originally posted April 4, 2012