If you own any piece of equipment with a small engine, such as a lawn mower or a garden tiller, you may be familiar with this spring ritual: You prime the engine and pull the starter rope – sputter, sputter, nothing. You repeat the process – more sputtering and again, nothing. You can keep pulling until your arm falls off and the engine still won’t start.
Whatever type of outdoor power equipment you own, you can save yourself a lot of frustration by performing a little basic maintenance. You don’t need to be a garage wizard; with just a few basic hand tools and about a half-hour, you can fix most common small-engine starting problems by following these easy steps.
Drain Old Oil
As a safety precaution, start by disconnecting the spark plug. Look for an oil drain plug (usually located just above the cutting deck or on the underside of the engine; check your engine’s service manual for the exact location). Position a drain pan beneath the outlet and remove the drain plug. Allow sufficient time for all of the oil to drain.
Add New Oil
Replace the drain plug and add the correct amount of new engine oil. Remember to use the weight of oil recommended by the engine manufacturer. And remember to recycle the old oil – never discard it.
Clean the Air Filter
Remove the air filter and inspect it for debris. Depending on the type of filter your engine is outfitted with, it may be possible to clean the filter and replace it. (Check the owner’s manual.) Otherwise, simply replace the filter with a new one.
Replace the Spark Plug
Remove the old spark plug and replace it with a new one. Twist it into the hole by hand at first; then use a wrench to tighten it. Some spark plugs may require you to set the proper gap for your engine.
Lubricate the Cables
Use spray graphite to lubricate the control cables and any potential friction points – a stuck control cable (such as for a blade-brake or drive system) can keep an engine from starting.
Over time, gasoline will go bad. It can begin to break down in just a few weeks, and when it does, it can leave behind some nasty deposits (commonly referred to as varnish) that will keep an engine from properly running. To prevent fuel deterioration, use a fuel stabilizer any time you plan to store the equipment for a few weeks (or longer). Effective fuel stabilizers such as Sta-Bil, Sea Foam and those offered by Craftsman and Briggs & Stratton can keep fuel fresh for a year or more and will go a long way toward ensuring that the engine will fire up on the first pull. — MB
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