Well it looks like the girls at the meat market were wrong. The weather this Saturday looks like a repeat of last week. But fear not, Spring will come! I’m just tired of this weather like everyone else, so this week I’m going to jump ahead to where my thoughts have been lately – Spring.
My mind has been zooming ahead to Spring yard work, which for me will entail getting the old Gravely convertible running to mow the lawn and till up the garden (yes, it does both, doesn’t yours?). Getting lawn equipment motors started after a season of inactivity can be a challenge, but if you proceed step by step, chances are that you will be able to bring them back to life.
The first thing to do when you roll them out is to do a basic inspection. Basically you’re looking for mice infestations. For some reason mice love to build nests in the fan shrouds of air cooled motors. Look for the tell-tale grass poking out of the fan housing and if you see some, you’ll have to evict the little critters and clean it out. Also look to make sure they haven’t been chewing on the wiring as those fat spark plug leads must look pretty appetizing in the middle of a starving Winter.
Assuming that your equipment passed the mouse-check, the next thing to do is put in some fresh gas. Even if you remember to add a fuel stabilizer in the Fall (I always forget), fresh fuel ignites easier, especially for that first crucial pop. If your motor starts up, great, let the equipment warm up slowly to let the oil circulate and then you’re off. Now would also be a good time to change the oil if you didn’t do it last Fall like you were supposed to (see last aside).
If your motor steadfastly refuses to start, the best thing to do when troubleshooting is to remember that three things are required for a motor to run, fuel, ignition spark and compression (technically timing is required also, but as long as your motor was running when you put it away, the timing should still be OK). After you pull the starter cord or try the starter several times without result, the first thing to do is pull the spark plug. If you smell or see fresh gas on the plug, you should have fuel. Next arrange the spark plug lead about 1/4 inch from the block, and try the starter to see if you have a spark. If you have to hold it in place, use something with good insulation on it as an ignition circuit puts out several thousand volts. There is not enough power there to be dangerous, but it sure can smart, so don’t get zapped! If you have a good strong spark, look at the plug. If the inside part is really cruddy and you don’t remember the last time that you changed it, now might be a good time to run to the hardware store for a new one.
The last item, compression, is hard to check without special equipment. It really should be OK if the motor was running alright last year, but since the oil has been draining out of the piston rings all Winter, the effective compression will be low until you have turned over the motor several times. Sometimes a squirt of motor oil in the spark plug hole while you have it out will help. If you try all this and the motor still won’t fire and is turning over really easily, you could have a struck valve. This is not common, but if it happens, the motor will have zero compression, and a trip to the mechanic is your only option.
If you try all these things and the motor seems to be trying to start, but just won’t go, starting fluid (ether) might work. Starting fluid comes in a spray can and a short spray into the carburetor throat before pulling the cord sometimes works like magic. Starting fluid is extremely flammable and a little burst sometimes makes up for that old gas, weak spark or low compression. If the motor keeps running these will get better as you go. If you just get a few pops and it then dies, your spark is OK but you have fuel system trouble. No pop and you know your spark is gone. Either was it’s time for that motor tune-up that’s probably overdue.
I won’t be able to actually follow these steps for a while, but running through them in my head is helping me get through this long, cruel Winter. Soon enough it will be Spring at the old hardware store.