Lawn Mower Won’t Start

Learn the reasons why a lawn mower won't start after winter or during peak season, and how to fix those problems.

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Most of the time when a lawn mower won't start the cause is a problem with the gas or the lawn mower carburetor.

Tools Required

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Rags
  • Rubber gloves
  • Socket/ratchet set

Materials Required

  • Carburetor cleaner
  • Carburetor or carburetor inlet needle and seat
  • Gasoline

Lawn Mower Won’t Start After Winter?

Whether you’ve got a Toro lawn mower, a Briggs and Stratton lawn mower, or one of the other popular brands, the last thing you want once winter finally lifts and spring has sprung is a lawn mower that won’t start. Follow these tips to winterize your lawn mower and you’re far less likely to be dealing with such issues.

Before you have a heart attack pulling on the rip cord, you’ll want to check the fuel, as well as the lawn mower carburetor. They’re the root causes of more than 80% of all lawn mowers that won’t start (plus snow blowers and most small engines in general). Below, we’ll walk you through the steps of how to start a lawn mower when it’s giving you grief. Check out how to tune up a lawn mower, too.

You’ll need hand tools and a socket set, a can of carburetor cleaner and your air compressor to begin fixing a lawn mower that won’t start. And you’ll probably have to make a trip to the small-engine parts store. But after an hour of effort, you just might have an operational engine, and you’ll save a bundle by fixing it yourself. Let’s dig in to see what to do when a mower won’t start.

Check the plug

I’ll assume you’ve cleaned the air filter, so the next step is to remove the spark plug to see if it’s wet. If it is, there’s no way the engine will start. So clean the plug with carburetor cleaner and let it dry. Cleaning it with compressed air isn’t enough; you need a solvent to remove oil residue. If the plug was wet, move on to Step 3. If it was dry, skip to Step 4. If the fuel is more than a month old, dispose of it properly and refill the tank with fresh gas. Then reinstall the spark plug and try starting. It may take quite a few pulls to suck the new gas into the lawn mower carburetor, so be prepared to clean and dry the plug a few more times.

Project step-by-step (5)

Step 1

Check the carburetor bowl for gas

Remove the bowl

bowlFamily Handyman

Set a small cup under the lawn mower carburetor to catch any spills. Then loosen the bowl nut with a socket. Once the nut is loose, unscrew it by hand and lower the bowl. Gas should drip out.

Step 2

Remove the inlet needle and seat

inletFamily Handyman

Pull the float pin straight out. Catch the float, inlet needle and retaining spring with a rag. Remove the rubber seat with a small pick. Reverse the procedure to install the new parts.

Step 3

Check carb condition

conditionFamily Handyman

Examine the inside of the lawn mower carburetor. If you see chalky/powdery white corrosion like this, the carb is a goner.

Step 4

Fellow DIYer’s solution for corroded carburetor

Family Handyman

An anonymous reader from Oakland, ME took issue with my statement that finding corrosion in a small engine carburetor means “game over.” Instead he advises boiling the disassembled carburetor in vinegar for 30 minutes. He says the pitting will remain, but the vinegar will remove the rest of the corrosion. Since vinegar is cheap, you’ve got nothing to lose but time.

The engine can’t get gas if the fuel filter is plugged or the carburetor inlet needle is stuck. Check the fuel filter (if equipped) by removing the fuel line at the carburetor. Gas should run out. If it doesn’t, remove the fuel line ahead of the fuel filter inlet. If gas flows, the filter is clogged. Replace it. If you still don’t get any gas, the fuel line is kinked or plugged. And check inside the tank for any debris that might clog the outlet.

If you’re getting gas to the lawn mower carburetor, check to see if there’s any fuel in the bowl. Clamp off the fuel line with a C-clamp. Then remove the bowl (Photo 1). If the bowl is empty, the problem is a stuck inlet needle and seat. They’re easy and cheap to replace (Photo 2). But before you buy the parts, check the condition of the rest of the carburetor’s interior (Photo 3). If you see any corrosion, it’s “game over.” A corroded lawn mower carburetor is a dead carburetor. Replace it.

Step 5

Clean the jet

Clean the main jet

CleanFamily Handyman

Remove the carburetor bowl nut. Insert the carburetor cleaner straw directly into the main jet passage and squeeze the trigger on the can several times until the spray shoots into the venturi of the carburetor. That’ll confirm the passage is open. A clogged main jet is a pretty common problem. You can try cleaning it with spray carburetor cleaner (Photo 4). Then try starting. If the engine still isn’t getting gas, replace the carburetor.

Next, learn what you need to know about lawn mower oil.

If it starts but runs rough

If you got the engine to start by cleaning the main jet, but it runs rough or the idle speed surges, you have two choices—rebuild or replace the lawn mower carburetor. For rebuilding instructions, see “How to repair small engines.” Otherwise, disconnect the old lawn mower carburetor from the linkage, remove the two retaining bolts and slap on a new carburetor.