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Troubleshooting a Riding Lawn Mower That Won't Start

Category Lawn Mowers
Mowing the grass is one of the rites of summer, but now your mower won't start. There are many things that can cause a riding mower to refuse to fire up. This is a guide about troubleshooting a riding lawn mower that won't start.
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By 2 found this helpful
June 5, 2017

If your riding mower will not start (most of these tips are applicable to push mowers also):

  1. Make sure you have fresh fuel; dirty or old fuel will not burn. Consider an octane boosting additive.
  2. Make sure the oil level is correct; too much or too little oil will prevent the mower from starting.
  3. Most riding mowers start only when in neutral and when the blades are not engaged; make sure the trans is in neutral and the blades are not engaged. Engage the brake and/or clutch.
  4. Ensure it's getting fuel to the carburetor by pulling the line at the closest inlet near the carburetor, then cranking; it should spurt fuel. Make sure if you put new fuel in the tank, that you purge the old fuel from the lines by this method.
  5. If you are getting fuel, the carburetor may be dirty from fuel setting in the bowl for a long time; take the carburetor apart by removing the brass bolt from the bottom of the bowl, and cleaning the bottom parts with carburetor cleaner.
  6. Make sure the seat switch engages when you sit squarely in the seat.
  7. Wear safety glasses when you use pressurized air to clean dirt off of the entire engine; leaves, dirt, and other foreign particles may prevent the engine from breathing. Keep the top of the flywheel and the fins on the flywheel clean.
  8. If the magneto(s) or the flywheel are rusty, you won't get spark; use emery cloth to sand the rust off of the flywheel and the magneto(s). You have to remove the magneto to clean the rust off. Get all the rust off; the flywheel needs to shine where it makes contact with the magneto(s).
  9. Dead batteries are usually bad batteries. If the battery is dead, and does not charge, you probably have a bad alternator, or a bad battery.
  10. Make sure you 'choke' the carburetor the first time you crank it. After some cranking, you may need to adjust the choke. Make sure the throttle is adjusted to the 'Start' position.
  11. The air filter must be clean: If your carburetor is starving for air, the mower will not start. Clean the filter with soapy water and a soft brush. Hold the filter to a light, or the sun; you should be able to see light through the filter. Try starting without the filter, but do not operate the mower without the filter.
  12. Grass build-up in the mower deck may prevent the mower from starting. Make sure to pull the spark plug when you tip the mower to bust the clogged grass away from the deck. Be aware that tipping the mower can cause oil to leak from the engine block into the cylinder, which will result in smoke from the muffler due to oil burning; it should just last a minute or less.

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October 11, 20170 found this helpful

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This guide is about why Bolens mower won't start. Determining the reason why your mower is not starting can be a challenge.

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Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

February 23, 20144 found this helpful

My mower just clicks when you turn the switch on. It has a new battery and belts. It only stated for a few seconds and died. Now all it does is click when you try to crank it.

By Preston

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February 27, 20141 found this helpful
Best Answer

The fact that it just "clicks" when you try to turn it over may mean that the engine has seized up. Lack of oil mixed in the gas could lead to this. Also, you may want to try to replace the carburetor. Plenty of "How-to" sites on Utube and choose a reputable online business for mower parts and they should allow you to return carburetor if that is not the problem.

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By 0 found this helpful
April 30, 2017

My brother has an old riding mower (90s I think) that won't start. He put in fresh gas, a new battery, and fresh oil, but the engine won't start. He says it's just making a click, the motor shakes, but nothing happens.

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He is tight on money and can't afford major repairs or parts. Any suggestions on what's wrong with it and how to fix it?

Answers

April 30, 20171 found this helpful

The switch is under the seat. Disconnect it and reconnect it.

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April 30, 20170 found this helpful

How about the spark plugs?

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Anonymous
April 30, 20170 found this helpful

new spark plugs? Does the carb have old fuel in it?

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April 30, 20170 found this helpful

Clean out the carburetor and it should do the trick

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By 0 found this helpful
May 10, 2017

I have a Scott's riding mower with a 17Hp Briggs and Stratton motor. It won't turn over after mowing the grass last week. It needed a new battery and air filter. There is gas or oil in the air filter and it back fires out of the air filter, with fames an all. Any help? I changed the plugs and oil before storing it this winter.

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By 0 found this helpful
May 21, 2017

I was cutting the grass. I got off my Snapper rider to pick up trash. The mower died and won't start back up. It is like a dead battery, but the battery is good. Could it be the solenoid?

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By 0 found this helpful
May 31, 2017

My mower won't fire even though I put a new plug in.

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March 4, 2017

I have a Castle Garden rideon mower. I only had it running a couple of months ago (cut the garden), it was sitting up in the garage since then, now it won't start. The lights come on, everything seems OK, but it just won't start. The orange light beside the red button to get the blades cutting came on. Any help or ideas please.

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March 4, 20170 found this helpful

Check the battery. Probaly low on juice.Use a trickle charger for a day.

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By 0 found this helpful
November 7, 2015

I was mowing and the mower shut off. It still had plenty of gas. I changed the fuses, but all the engine did was click. The battery is fully charged. I crossed the posts on the solenoid with pliers, the engine cranked, but when I turn with the key there is only clicking. Is it maybe the ignition module?

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November 8, 20150 found this helpful

It could be one of the safety switches in either the brake or the seat.

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November 12, 20150 found this helpful

we had this problem and it was the fuel injector for us

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February 19, 20160 found this helpful

Check the oil and make sure it doeset have gas mixed in oil also pull spark plug to make sure cylinder isn't full of gasoline causing it to stop piston from moving

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By 0 found this helpful
April 21, 2009

I have a Toro Wheel Horse riding mower. I started it and pulled the choke up all the way really fast and now it will not start at all. I have replaced the battery but when I tried to start it, it just smoked. Then I thought it was flooded so I took the spark plug out and put it back in and then it just did not make any noise. Now I am trying to find out what is wrong with it.

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By kyle from Williamstown, PA

Answers

April 21, 20090 found this helpful

You flooded the mower. Leave it set awhile open the throttle wide open; don't continue to choke. This will open the butterfly valve to let more air in and clear it.

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April 21, 20090 found this helpful

Don't pull the choke out all the way or the same thing will happen again from flooded motor. Good Luck!

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June 8, 20090 found this helpful

If it smoked when you turned the key on and now nothing at all you'll probably find a blown 12 system fuse hid somewhere where you cant see it. if it is a blown fuse you have a direct short on the 12 volt line somewhere.

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When you find your short your mower will probably be fine then. Hope I could help if you need help finding the short list what model mower it is and ill try to find schematics for it on line and maybe make a couple suggestions.

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By 0 found this helpful
April 27, 2017

I have a older Yard Machine riding lawn mower that has been sitting for a couple years. First of all I can't seem to get it into neutral to push it, second of all when I do try to start it it's tries to turn over, but it is with the deck engaged and I can't get the deck to turn off to get it started. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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By 0 found this helpful
September 6, 2016

I have changed the battery, starter, and fuel and I still can't get it to even click. Any suggestions? I am disabled and I need any help I can receive. Thanks!

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March 2, 20170 found this helpful

Did you check the spark plugs? Also, is it in the right gear with the brake on? Mine won't start if its not in neutral with the brake set.

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March 2, 20170 found this helpful

also make sure your mower is disengaged...

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By 0 found this helpful
July 29, 2016

My lawnmower will not start. It doesn't make a sound. I have charged the battery and it reads over 12. I have done the ignition switch and spark plugs. I have replaced the solenoid and tried different wiring ways with it. I don't have any voltage drops to the starter. A couple wires were cut and I spliced them back together. Please help!

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By 0 found this helpful
July 2, 2016

A couple of weeks ago while I was mowing the lawn with my 12.5 hp Yarkworks lawn tractor for some reason the machine started revving really fast. I turned off the ignition as quickly as I could. I then went to restart my tractor. However the machine would not turn over until it cooled down. The symptoms haven't changed. I can mow the grass for hours as long as I don't turn the machine off. Then I must wait until it cools down again. Someone told me I may have a warped head since the machine revved like it did. Help.

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By 0 found this helpful
June 14, 2016

My 1998 MTD 20hp special edition will not start. It winds over and it has fire and gas. What can be the problem?

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June 18, 20160 found this helpful

Have you checked compression??

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June 22, 20160 found this helpful

I have a stx 38 John Deere that turns over and has gas and fire but won't start up, how can I get it to crank???

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By 0 found this helpful
September 29, 2015

I changed the oil filter, added new oil, new carburator, new spark plug, new fuel filter, new battery, new air filter, and new gas, but it still will not start. The flywheel is turning over, the muffler puffs occasionally when I choke, but nothing happens. I am stumped. I poured a teaspoon of gas in the spark plug area to see if there was fuel constraint which resulted in a few coughs through the muffler. What do I do next? any suggestions? Thank you!

Answers

October 5, 20150 found this helpful

could be that the switch under the seat is bad. it feels when you get out of the seat and shuts off the mower. you can bypass it with a short peace of wire

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October 5, 20150 found this helpful

could be the switch under the seat is bad. it can tell if you get off the mower and shuts off the engine.you can bypass with a short piece of wire

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By 0 found this helpful
July 5, 2015

I have spark, I can smell the fuel, it appears to have compression, but still won't start. There is a new battery, it turns over with good power, but won't start. What else should I check?

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July 7, 20150 found this helpful

Check the oil

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August 7, 20120 found this helpful

I have a MTD rider, 42 inch. It won't restart when hot. I replaced the ignition switch, solenoid, and coil. At first it starts right up. If I finish cutting the lawn and shut it off, then it won't restart. I need to wait until it cools down; then it starts.

By ED T.

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August 13, 20120 found this helpful

This may help 50% of lawn mower starting issues! Try adding a gasoline additive to boost octane and clean fuel lines. There is a product made especially for small engines that cleans the gunk formed quickly in lines and moving parts from current low emission fuels. Where did we think the stuff goes that doesn't burn and doesn't go into the air? - It stays in our mower's engine causing moving parts and plastic fuel lines to bond together!

After forgetting to empty the mower engine over winter, I found nothing worked to get it started. My local small engine guru suggested adding a fuel stabilizer, octane booster and fuel line cleaner made for small engines to fresh gasoline (read directions). Try to turn over a few times to get fuel moving into lines, leave sitting for a few hours then try again to start. It smoked and coughed the first few times, but gradually improved greatly, now starting much easier. And re-starting easily after being turned off! I will remember to winterize this year.

Another tip: keep the housing around the mower blades cleaned of dried on grass.
Also, if you are cutting grass with deck significantly lowered, try to start mower in an area with very little grass. Blades that rotate when you are pulling a starter rope are hindered from turning by contact with heavy, thick grass, preventing easy starting.

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May 17, 20130 found this helpful

I had this problem with a 18.5 hp Poulan Pro for years and it was very annoying in that: We are in the southeast and we want our grass cut before the heat comes. We had a professional law repairman to replace all of the things you named and the Poulan started running real good for 20 minutes and then we had better have a pushmower or swingblade around. I read someone's post and the post said the carburetor components were causing this problem. I went to Ebay and bidded on a new briggs and stratton carburetor for $57.00, and now that cut off problem is gone.

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July 31, 20110 found this helpful

I have a riding mower with a Kohler engine. My starter is good, there is a new coil. It's getting gas through both lines on the pump, but won't run unless we keep spraying gas in the carburetor. Any idea why the gas is not getting into the carburetor?

By Richard

Answers

August 1, 20110 found this helpful

Have you checked the lines coming from the carb? hey could be blocked, kinked, or small hole.

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August 1, 20110 found this helpful

My husband says sounds like the needle seat is stuck shut.

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July 23, 20110 found this helpful

I have a Columbia riding mover with a 12hp with I/C (industrial/commercial) engine; there is no spark. Do you have any ideas what the problem could be?

By HC

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July 24, 20110 found this helpful

Try replacing the spark plug before doing anything else, is there gas in it?

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July 14, 20130 found this helpful

Take the spark plug wire, pull it out of the sleeve, and press it to the frame. Turn the ignition. If it sparks, you have spark, your plug is bad. If not, your magnet isn't making contact.

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April 2, 2009

I am trying to fix my MTD/Powercraft riding mower. It has an 18 HP I/C B+S motor, twin cylinder. 42a707 series. It has a hydrostatic transmission. The starter will not turn the motor to start it. I have put on a brand new starter and it still will not turn the motor. Even when I jump past all of the switches and solenoids and jumper straight from the pos (+) battery terminal to the starter, the starter still will not turn the engine.

The battery is fully charged and tested so I have ruled that out. My question is could it be that the transmission belts/blade belts are too tight? Should the transmission belts be disengaged when trying to start somehow? Right now the belts are very tight all the time and the engine is VERY hard to turn, even by hand. I know it is not a compression problem, I have taken the spark plugs out and the problem persists.

It is not an OHV engine so I am not inclined to believe that it is a valve problem. Should the clutch be disengaging the transmission belt? What exactly does the clutch do on these machines? This may be a very vague question, but I have been fooling with this tractor for a week now and I am at my wits end. If more info is needed, or questions arise please let me know. Help me if you can! Thanks.

By michael garrett from Peoria, IL

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April 2, 20090 found this helpful

Fixed it. Please disregard this message. Apparently one of the safety switches was malfunctioning. I rewired the mower to bypass all of the safety switches and it cranked perfectly.

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April 2, 20090 found this helpful

Well on my riding mower it has safety devices. One of which is the mower will not turn over unless I am sitting in the seat. If the mower is running and I leave the seat the mower will shut down. It is possible to over ride the safety device. If my battery is low I hook up my charger to the battery but I have to be in the seat for the mower to turn over. Once it starts I kick off the cables with my foot or have someone unhook the charger. I also use alligator clips instead of nuts and bolts to hook up the battery to the mower. makes it easier to disconnect the battery.

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By 0 found this helpful
March 3, 2017

I just put in a new battery and plug. The fuel is good it. It will start on pull cord, but won't pick up with the key turns over ok.

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By 0 found this helpful
August 29, 2016

My X300 riding mower will not start. The battery does not hold a charge and I must recharge it to have it start the engine. Is this a battery issue or is there an alternator?

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August 30, 20160 found this helpful

we had that happen on our four year old rider and come to find out the engine block was cracked.

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By 0 found this helpful
August 9, 2016

I have a riding lawn mower that acts like it wants to start, but doesn't. It has a new carb, new spark plug, new battery, new starter, and a new starter solenoid. What's wrong with it?

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By 0 found this helpful
May 2, 2016

I have a Yard Machine mower. Everything was new and it started every time. Then I had to fix a flat and my kid left the key in the on position for two days. Now nothing. What could have burned out ? I charged the battery (it was a week old), but still nothing.

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Anonymous
May 23, 20160 found this helpful

Change the fuse under the seat or under the battery

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By 0 found this helpful
April 12, 2016

I replaced the battery and solenoid and the mower still won't start. It clicks like a car would if the starter was bad.

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Anonymous
April 28, 20160 found this helpful

You answered your own question!

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By 0 found this helpful
April 10, 2016

I have a 19hp Kohler engine on a riding mower. I put a new battery on it, but it just clicks. I put a screw driver to both posts on the solenoid, but it just arcs and smokes. Any suggestions would be helpful.

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By 0 found this helpful
February 20, 2016

I was reading a post that said;
"On the top of the engine is the air intake screen. With your hands move the screen in reverse or counter clockwise until you have resistance to the turning. Stop and try starting the mower. It worked for me. So every time I want to start the machine I have to counter turn the air screen untill I feel the resistance. "

I tried this and it sorta worked, but it only turns the engine over partially and it locks up again or stops trying to start.
Why?

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By 0 found this helpful
October 19, 2015

I'm looking for some help with my Rally ride on lawn mower which has a 15.5hp Briggs and Stratton engine. I was cutting the lawn and the mower just cut out, no warning, as if you just turned the ignition off. I have checked the safety switches and they're fine; there is spark at the plug. I'm at a total loss as to what could be the problem. Any and all help would be very grateful please. Thanks.

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By 0 found this helpful
October 16, 2015

I have a '79 C-161 Wheel Horse mower. It will only run if I spray starting fluid into the carb. I installed a new battery, gas line, spark plug, and air filter. What can be the problem?

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By 0 found this helpful
October 10, 2015

My Toro 17-38 axle worked fine til I ran out of fuel. I cleaned the dirty fuel tank and replaced the fuel filter. Per other comments, I turned the air vent on top of the motor counterclockwise 2.5 turns to see fuel sloshing in the air in take? On starting the air vent spins about .5 - 1 turn then stops with a clunk. Further start attempts just give a click sound, unless I turn the vent counerclockwise again. I would appreciate advice.
Thanks.

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By 0 found this helpful
October 4, 2015

I have an 18.5 H.P., Craftsman lawn tractor, model #917.275760. The problem is this: It will not crank up. The battery voltage shows 12.5 volts. I have changed the: ignition switch, interlock switch, seat safety switch, module reverse ROS (switch), starter solenoid, and starter. I have 12.5 volts to the starter solenoid, but no voltage to the starter side of the solenoid.

I have the four post type solenoid, two posts for the wiring coming from the battery (+) and two smaller spade connections. I don't remember which wire connects to which spade. The wires are color coded, one is coded orange and the other coded black. I know that one wire comes from the ignition switch and the other is the ground wire. I have reversed the two spade wires at the solenoid several times with the same results, the engine will not crank. (no voltage). All safety switches are making contact. Of course, jumping the starter solenoid, using a screw driver, will crank the engine. I'm at a loss, what more do I need to do?

There is a protection wire loop in the wiring circuit, I looked at this loop which is under the seat, near the seat safety switch. This is a covered insulated wire loop, color coded gray. This wire comes out and loops back into a small connector that is connected at the end of the wiring harness. I really don't know what happens if this wire loop is burnt out. I have no way to know this, since the wire is covered. I have looked at this loop, there is no burnt wire indication. Since this is a protective wire arrangement it should have a visual means to check it for a burn out condition. Why not use a regular fuse for this?

Can anyone give me more information, what to do next? This is really a simple electrical system, but it sure has me stumped. There is something else you ought to know, when everything was operating correctly, the engine was cranking alright, I installed a new mower drive belt. The belt was much too tight, when I tried to start the engine, it whined, but it has not cranked since. I thought I changed everthing that might have burned out, making the engine not crank. What say you? Let me know if you have an answer to this riddle. Thank you.

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