The Annual Ritual Of Fixing A Lawnmower That Won’t Start

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYard maintenance sucks.

In reality, the worst part is having a non-mechanical person (me) in charge of maintaining a lawnmower.

I just don’t get along with mechanical things with gas engines that I don’t use multiple times per week.

Our Guaranteed To Start Lawnmower

We bought a Toro lawnmower about a year and a half ago to replace the reel lawnmower we had previously used at our old home.

I loved the reel lawnmower because there was no way I could break it, but it simply would not mow the type of grass we currently have at our home.

This wonderful new gas Toro lawnmower has a three year guaranteed to start warranty and it was even guaranteed to start on the first two or three pulls.

I thought this would be a great purchase and it definitely wouldn’t have any problems. 

The lawnmower worked great the six months. No problems. I was happy!

Maybe my bad luck with lawnmowers was over. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Lawnmower That Wouldn’t Start

Turns out, this guaranteed to start warranty had a laundry list of things you had to do to the lawnmower after every use, before you put it into storage for the winter and so on.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t read that part of the book until after I started having problems. Lesson learned. Read the book.

I let my lawnmower sit over the winter and when I went to start my guaranteed to start lawnmower in the spring, it didn’t start. I had my dad come over and take a look and he tinkered with a bit and he eventually got it running again, but not very smoothly.

For the rest of the year I had to spray starter fluid in the carburetor to get it running each week, but it still ran so I dealt with it.

However, right at the end of the season last year my lawnmower quit starting for good. I decided to let it sit until this spring, when I’ve finally decided to try to fix it.

How Did I Go About Fixing My Lawnmower

I’m no lawnmower expert, but learning how to solve problems is a great skill to have. Whenever you have any type of problem, there are a few things you should do.

The first is to try to research why the problem is occurring. I honestly had no clue, so I called someone with more knowledge than myself to find out. My dad was able to give me some tips and now I know.

Next, once you have diagnosed the problem, search for a solution. You can search for videos on YouTube to figure out what to do and how to do it.

You can also check out books in your local library or simply search Google for an answer. This takes some common sense as not every solution is a good way to solve your problem. Hard to believe, I know.

Finally, I went out and tried to implement the solution myself. I’m glad I did, because I learned a lot in the process that should stop this from happening again.

Even if it does happen again, I now know how to fix it and can easily save myself the $50 to $100+ a lawnmower repair man would have changed to fix my $200 lawnmower.

How I Fixed My Lawnmower – For The Second and Final Time

I didn’t want to pay someone else to fix my lawnmower and I figured it was time I learned how to fix it myself this time. My dad was kind enough to give me some tips over the phone and I went away to fix my lawnmower.

Armed with a can of SeaFoam, a fuel additive that apparently also cleans carburetors, I headed out to the garage. I carefully took apart my lawnmower so I could get to the carburetor, paying close attention to where every screw came from so I could put it back together when I was done.

Once I had the carburetor free, I sprayed it generously with a can of carburetor cleaner (just the generic stuff from Walmart) to get as much junk out as possible.

After I was satisfied I did the best I could with that, I poured a can of SeaFoam into a Solo cup and placed the carburetor in it.

Over the next couple of days, I let the carburetor soak while gently agitating it from time to time to make sure everything was being cleaned out.

At the same time, I completely drained my lawnmower’s gas tank of old gas from the tank so it wouldn’t cause anymore problems.

After the carburetor was done soaking, I dried it off then let it air dry for a day. Finally, I put the lawnmower back together, put some new gas in the tank and pulled the starter cord.

It was a miracle, my lawnmower started on the first try.

How to Prevent Your Lawnmower From Having The Same Fate

So how am I going to avoid the same situation from happening again and how can you do the same? There are a few things I’ll be doing to make sure this never happens again.

First, never buy gas that contains ethanol for small motor tools. Ethanol will gunk up your carburetor over time. Even though non-ethanol gasoline is more expensive these days, lawnmowers don’t use a ton of gas so the extra expense is well worth it.

I now add fuel stabilizer and SeaFoam to my fuel as soon as I buy it, just in case it sits for a bit longer than intended. This should prevent the gas from going bad in my lawnmower over the season. I just need to make sure to use all of the fuel before the winter, or pour it in my car at the end of the year so I don’t have bad gas in the Spring.

I plan to empty my lawnmower’s gas tank in the fall and run the lawnmower dry until it stops running. I will then drain the bowl on the carburetor to make sure it isn’t holding any fuel. This should prevent gunk from building up so I don’t have a problem starting it next spring.

Finally, I don’t mow my lawn every single week. Some weeks the lawn just doesn’t grow as fast or I’m too busy to get out and mow the lawn.

Despite this, I have set a reminder in my phone so that I always remember to start my lawnmower at least once per week. This should keep things from sitting long enough to start building up gunk.

At Least Try To Fix Things Before You Replace Them

Normally when it comes to mechanical things, I’m quick to replace them if they’re relatively inexpensive. I almost did that with this lawnmower.

I’m so frustrated with gasoline powered tools that I almost went out and bought an electric lawnmower so I’d never have this problem again.

However, I quickly realized this would be a waste of money. I was letting my frustration get to me.

Instead, I decided to try to fix my problem before I went out and spent another $200 to $300 on a lawnmower. Heck that could easily be a car payment!

Don’t let your frustration get to you. Look at all of your options. I could have repaired the lawnmower myself, paid someone else to do it, ordered a new carburetor instead of cleaning my old one, bought a new lawnmower or paid someone else to mow my lawn.

I chose the cheapest option and it only cost me $7 plus about an hour of time.

Even paying a repair man to fix our lawnmower and advise us how to make sure the problem doesn’t happen again would be cheaper than buying a new lawnmower. After all, our lawnmower is only a year and a half old!

Our culture has conditioned us to throw away things when we come across the smallest problem. Don’t allow that to be your default action or you’ll be broke for the rest of your life.

What would you have done in my situation? Are you awful with gas powered motors? Share your stories with everyone in the comments below.

Photo by: Frank Boston (bostonsphotos) Text added by: Lance Cothern

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. We are not using a lawnmover in our home. This one is really a good guide for those who have a problem with their lawnmover, yes you’re right, you should try to fix it first before deciding to buy a new one.

  2. I think for many mowers they’ll actually tell you that you should leave some gas in the tank over the winter (with stabilizer), so make sure to follow the manual on that. I usually leave about a quarter to a third of a tank in mine with some stabilizer added. I’ll generally make sure that it at least starts in the spring and if it does, then I’ll fill it up, which I figure dilutes the ‘old’ gas effectively. I’ve had our mower about eight years now and this has always worked well for me.

  3. Fieldguy7 says:

    Lance, here is the secret. At the end of season drain the tank, then run it dry. Don’t leave the mower outside when not in use. Don’t over prime it. Change the oil while warm after every season. That’s it.

    Forget all the other stuff. It will start in spring with fresh gas, ethanol and all. I even use the same old gas from last year and it works. Been running the same mower for 25 years+ and I have a huge yard.

  4. James Ray says:

    most of the time its the fuel… i work at a lawnmower repair company and people dont realise that modern fuel has a shelf life of about 3 months… its fine in a car after that but in a mower it will clogg it up… best bets to buy yourself a couple of poundsworth/dollarsworth, use it up then keep toing that until you come to a period you wont be using it for ages in such as winter… if people did this it would save us so many call outs… :3

  5. Thanks for the article. It’s great and I’m just learning that I can do repairs for myself (with the help of youtube) and save money. Plus, it just makes a man feel like a man to take care of problems when they arise. Also, I’m glad you used my image and appreciate you giving me proper credit for it. Take Care, Frank

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