Take care of your equipment and it will take care of you. Performing your annual lawnmower maintenance will save you a lot of time, money, and frustration over the years.

Good neighbors John and Ariel recently showed us their ailing push mower that hasn’t been started in over 3 years. Having lived near the beach before they moved here, their mower was subject to a sandy and harsh environment. I offered to show them how to do a basic tuneup.

Doing a tuneup is a straightforward process. The hardest part is doing some research to figure what parts that you need for your mower. In a nutshell, the following steps will be performed:

1. Drain stale gasoline, if it has been sitting idle for months
2. Change engine oil
3. Change or clean air filter
4. Change or clean spark plug
5. Change or sharpen mower blade

First of all, your mower’s user manual will probably give you most of the information that you need to do the tuneup, including a replacement parts list. Like me, if you don’t have a manual, you can simply lookup your mower’s model number online and find some resources. If that doesn’t work for you, remove your dirty air filter and spark plug, take them to Lowe’s and ask for assistance from the friendly folks. Chances are you don’t have too odd of a mower and can find components at the home improvement store. Failing that, go to a small engine repair shop and they should definitely be able to provide what you need.

As far as materials go, you will need:

1. Fresh gasoline ($3)
2. SAE 30 weight motor oil, 1 quart ($4)
3. Replacement air filter ($5)
4. Replacement spark plug ($3)
5. Replacement mower blade. Or, you can sharpen your existing blade if it’s not too dinged up. (Optional, $15)

Required tools:

1. Socket wrench set
2. Flat head and Phillips head screwdrivers
3. Oil pan for waste oil retrieval
4. 1 quart container to catch waste gasoline if you need to drain it
5. Metal file, if you are going to sharpen your blade


1. Disconnect spark plug wire from spark plug to prevent accidental starting.

2. Drain old gasoline, if your mower has been sitting throughout the winter with a full tank. Gasoline can become stale or accumulate condensation. Tip the mower on its side with the gas cap open, letting the gas drain into a waste container.
3. With the mower on its side, inspect your blade. If it appears dinged up, remove the blade and sharpen or replace.

4. Locate your oil drain plug. It should be within a few inches of the mower shaft. On some models, however, the oil is drained through the filler cap above the mower deck. Consult your maintenance manual to be sure.

5. Position the waste oil pan under the mower deck to catch oil before you remove the drain plug.

6. Loosen the oil drain plug with the appropriate size socket or square drive bit. Before too much oil can escape, remove the plug and position the mower on top of your pan.
Now, with the gasoline drained and the oil draining in process, you can preform the next couple of tasks…
7. Remove your spark plug with the appropriate sized socket.
8. Install new spark plug. Tighten it down, but be very careful not to over-tighten and strip your threads!
9. Remove air filter from its housing.

10. Install new air filter, whether it’s the paper type or foam type. When you have the air filter housing removed, be very careful not to drop any dirt inside the carburetor!

11. After about 15 minutes, or whenever your oil draining has come to a very slow drip, reinstall the drain plug.
12. Refill your gasoline tank.
13. Reconnect spark plug wire.
14. If your engine has a primer button, push it a few times to get new gas in the carburetor.
15. Now for the suspenseful part: Give your mower some good pulls and see if it starts! If you’re as lucky as we were, it will start on the first yank!

Did your mower start? If yes, congratulations. Have yourself a cold one and then get back to work! If not, no worries, you’ll get there! Often, you’ll need to do some more priming and pulling. After a few unsuccessful attempts, it’s best to let the mower sit for about 15 minutes. You could have been over-zealous on your priming and flooded the carburetor.

While advanced troubleshooting is outside the scope of this post, hopefully the procedure will solve your non-start problems 80% of the time. The usual suspects, after all, are a dirty spark plug or air filter. Be sure to check these components first and don’t be afraid to replace them.

Most importantly, if you perform the tuneup every season, you will rarely have trouble getting the mower started or have to take it into a professional shop for costly repairs. Your humble lawnmower, even one of the cheaper models from a home improvement store, will last for many years with just basic care.

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