Top 5 Mistakes of Small Engine Do it Yourselfers


The mower won’t start, the snow blower quit and the weed eater sputters. These will cost you hundreds of dollars when taken to the shop for repair. If you learn how to perform some simple maintenance and repair methods, you can save yourself money, time, and give yourself a feeling of satisfaction when you fix it yourself.

But when you decide to fix it yourself, there are a few mistakes you should wish to avoid.

1. Failure to work safely. This is the number one mistake that should be discussed, because your safety, even your life, can depend upon it. No repair job is worth unnecessarily risking your body. For starters, safety glasses are a must. Grease, metal, and hot oil or gas will do serious and possibly permanent damage to your eyes.

If you are working underneath a lawn tractor, treat it like your car. Even a medium sized lawn tractor weighs over 500lbs, enough to crush you. That means not crawling underneath without proper support. Proper support requires a level surface, chocked wheels, and most importantly, the proper use of jack stands.

2. Failure to work F.A.S.T.

Fuel – Air – Spark – Timing

These are the essential processes of a small engine, and are the beginning of your diagnostic method. Keeping this acronym in your head and following it in a logic manner will help avoid wrong guesses and keep the process of elimination on track. Obviously, breaking down each process will have a number of subparts to determine.

For instance, when determining whether a small engine “has fuel” is more than merely determining whether there is fuel in the tank (which is determination 1 on your list). You have to determine whether fuel is getting from the tank to the cylinder. This will entail the fuel tank itself, the gas line, any shut off valves and the carburetor.

3. The wrong tool for the job.

By not taking your small engine to the shop and successfully repairing it yourself, you are saving money. Take some of the money you have saved and invest in a reasonably priced set of tools. A decent socket set, a good ratchet, some clamps, pliers and a collection of screwdriver heads will go a long ways towards obtaining the tools needed.
In addition, a few special tools will become invaluable in getting the job done right. An inline spark tester costs less than $20.00 and will eliminate the guesswork in the “spark” portion of your F.A.S.T. analysis.

Don’t try to force something if you do not have the right tool. If you don’t have the proper sized screwdriver for removing a screw, don’t attempt to force it out with an ill fitting screwdriver. You will simply strip the screw, creating more problems than you started with. Borrow the correct size, or better yet, purchase one yourself.

4. Failing to get rid of the gas.

Antacids will not help your small engine, so you will have to do it manually. If your small engine plans to sit for a while, remove the gas from the system. Gasoline can begin to foul in a few weeks if left sitting. This seems basic, but an often forgotten procedure. If you have ever opened a carb bowl with old gas, you will immediately notice the acrid smell and the varnished appearance to the carburetor. This will mean a thorough cleaning, and in many cases, a rebuild of the carburetor.

There are 2 methods of draining the system. You can run the engine until it completely runs out, or you can drain it at the carburetor. To do the latter, remove the bowl and place a receiving container underneath. If it doesn’t drain, gently move the float downward (and be prepared to clean the float hinge). Never use gas from the prior season. Empty your gas can and replenish it with fresh gasoline.

5. Refusing to get help.

Most have egos, and sometimes it can get in your way of working efficiently. It isn’t a sign of weakness to get help it is a sign of intelligence. The owner’s manual can be a great friend, for two reasons, even if it isn’t a repair manual. First, it can explain some of the working procedures of your small engine, enlightening you to things you may not have realized. Second, it will often list parts by number, eliminating guess work. Not only will you be happy, but the salesperson at the parts store, as well as the person behind you in line, will also be grateful for your thinking ahead.

In addition to the owner’s manual, the internet is a wonderful thing. There are sites available with people who have had the same problem as you, and who are willing to share their knowledge. Learn from their mistakes, and learn how their solutions. Help may only be a few keystrokes away.

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