Lawn Mower Repair
By Jim Sulski
Summary: A broken lawnmower is a common nuisance for most homeowners. Fixing a mower problem can be a simple do-it-yourself task.
Every summer season, along with the call of the cicadae and the jingle of the ice cream truck, comes the cursing of the lawn mower owner as they vainly tug at a starter rope.
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As with every power tool run by gasoline, there comes a time when a lawn mower will begin to sputter and die.
The problems arise because we treat lawn mowers more like lawn furniture than a motorized vehicle. Like a car, they need regular maintenance.
STARTING A DEAD ENGINE
A lot of starting problems stem from bad fuel. If you recently poured gasoline into the mower from a rusty old gas can that has been sitting in the garage for months, the gas may be tainted.
Drain the gasoline out of the mower and fill it with new, fresh fuel from a clean gas can. Dispose of the old gas by mixing it in with a full tank of gas in your car or using it as a solvent.
Also, check the oil to make sure that it's clean. If it isn't, drain the crankcase and change the oil. Also, clean the oil filter.
If that doesn't start the engine, check the spark plug. Remove the plug with a spark plug socket, and inspect the tip or electrode of the plug for carbon or oil. If it looks dirty, or you've never changed the plug, it's time to buy a new one, which cost less than two dollars.
Gap the plug according to manufacturer's specifications.
Before you replace the spark plug, squirt a little gasoline into the spark plug opening. Then replace the plug, firmly reattach the spark plug cable to the plug, and give the starter rope a pull.
If the engine runs for a few seconds but then dies, you most likely have a fuel problem.
 Fuel problems can range from a blocked fuel line, a dirty fuel filter or a dirty carburetor.
Using the owner's manual, locate the fuel lines and fuel filter and check them for blockage. Next, clean the carburetor using the carb cleaners found at auto parts stores.
WHAT TO DO WHEN THE ENGINE RUNS BADLY
If the mower starts okay but then runs sporadically, there could be any number of problems.
Start by cleaning the air filter. Remove the air filter housing and take out the filter. If it's a paper filter, throw away the dirty filter and replace it with a new one.
If it's a sponge or foam filter, wash it out in a bucket of warm soapy water. Rinse the filter with cold water and squeeze out as much water as you can.
Work about three tablespoons of new engine oil into the filter to coat it evenly. Use a clean towel to wipe away any excess oil. Then reinstall the filter.
Next, check for a plugged exhaust. Much like a plugged muffler pipe on a car, a lawn mower won't run if the burned gas fumes can't exhaust.
Start by removing the muffler and checking the opening for leaves or twigs. Animals have been known to try and nest in muffler openings while the mower is being stored.
Next, tap the muffler gently to loosen any blockage. If the muffler is dented it should be replaced.
Finally, check the fuel system as described above.
If none of the above steps help with starting the engine or getting it to run smoothly, it could mean major engine problems such as a worn cylinder and piston, or bad piston rings.
In this case, you'll need to consult a professional and decide if the mower is worth repairing.
UPGRADE THE BLADE
Another common problem with lawn mowers is that the blades get dull, resulting in a patchy cutting job. Also, blades can become unbalanced, which causes the mower to vibrate and eventually can damage the engine.
Remove the blade as per manufacturers instructions.
To prevent any accidents, first disconnect the spark plug wire from the spark plug so that the mower cannot be accidentally started. Secure the blade with a block of wood to prevent it from turning as you loosen the nut that holds it to the shaft.
Blades can be difficult to sharpen because they need to be balanced. As a result, it's best to have blades professionally sharpened at a hardware, a task that usually costs only a few dollars.
Also, if the blade looks bent or uneven, replace it. A new blade can be purchased for under $20.
© June 15, 2005.
NOTE: This column is distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate,
PO Box 366, Glencoe, Illinois, 60022. This column may not be resold, reprinted,
resyndicated or redistributed without written permission from the publisher.
© 2005 by Ilyce R. Glink. Distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate.