How to Fix Up an Old Lawn Mower
As the days warmed up and the grass started growing again, it wasn’t too long afterward when it was time to awaken my riding mower from its slumber. When a nice sunny day came, I went out back to the shed, hopped on the mower, and turned the key.
Nothing happened. I turned the key again, and again. It was just making a whirring sound. I couldn’t even try applying the choke because the engine was not even trying to turn over.
After trying a few more times, I was dismayed.
I knew I would have some trouble starting up the mower after the winter break, but not like this. It was clear that today was not the day for mowing. It was time to do some investigation and perform some mower maintenance.
I bought the used riding mower on Craigslist last summer. I got a great deal because it was 20 years old and was showing a lot of cosmetic wear. However, the previous owner kept up with the maintenance, and it ran pretty well for its age.
I was also not too of how to fix a riding lawn mower because I had confidence in my repair skills (having brought some old push mowers back to life at my previous home with some replacement parts).
How to Fix an Old Riding Lawn Mower
To prep for my maintenance project, I tracked down the mower manual online, located the consumer replaceable parts, and ordered them online.
Then I put together Ash’s grand maintenance plan for reviving your riding mower, as outlined below.
Here’s a picture of the left and right side of my mower engine, with some of the areas above outlined:
1. Spark Plugs and Battery
The first thing I did was check for activity in the spark plugs.
Using a special spark plug socket, I pulled one of them out, still connected to the battery, and turned the key. There was no spark. I tried another spark plug that I knew was working (from my push mower), and still no spark.
This led me to believe the battery was low on juice. I had a 12 volt car battery charger, so I was going to try recharging it. It made sense that the battery would be low as the mower had not been run for a few months.
Before I recharged, I wanted to rule out a bad battery (incapable of being recharged). I tested the battery with a volt meter and got 12.4 volts which was actually normal. Any lower readings (especially in the 11 volt range) would have suggested a bad battery.
So I hooked up the battery to the recharger, setting it to 10 amps with an automatic shutdown on a full charge. An hour later, the recharger said the battery was ready. I hooked it back up to the mower and tried starting the engine. Still no luck.
So Eileen picked up a new mower battery for me at Lowes (they seemed to have a better selection than Home Depot). I got a 275amp battery (suggested for mowers up to 21hp) making sure that the positive terminal was on the same side as the old battery (or else the wire hookups would not reach). Here’s a picture of the new battery installed:
Here’s a picture of the exposed spark plug (which I was able to remove using a special socket):
We did bring in my old battery to Lowes for recycling. They give you a small discount (which covered a core charge fee for a new battery purchase).
We also picked up two new spark plugs. I installed the new battery and spark plugs and tried starting the engine…
The starter motor did not hesitate at all. The flywheel immediately began spinning, trying to start the engine. It did take a few tries to get the engine running but eventually got it going. That leads me to the next maintenance steps.
Oil Filter Oil Change
Now it was time to change the oil and oil filter.
I located the oil drain plug and set up a funnel and plastic container to collect the old oil. I then removed the oil dipstick from above, loosened the drain plug, and out came the oil – pouring out slowly.
When the oil stopped coming, I screwed back in the plug and went to work on the filter. I put a rag under the existing filter to catch any oil that would spill. I twisted the filter and pulled it out of the mower.
Good thing I had the rag in place because a lot of oil came out of the filter. I grabbed the new oil filter, put a little oil on the gasket, and screwed it into the mower.
Now it was time to pour in new oil. I poured nearly two quarts of 5W30 oil (picked up at the nearby gas station) down the oil dipstick hole, pausing every now and then to take a measurement with the dipstick to make sure I didn’t overfill.
Here’s a picture of the new oil filter and drain plug:
Air Filter And Pre-Cleaner
Next up was the air filter and pre-cleaner.
It’s important to have a steady flow of filtered air entering your engine. Disruptions to this flow can lead to a lack of power, excessive fuel consumption, or problems starting up.
You can normally clean out the old filter, but I had no idea how long the existing one was in there. Therefore, I disposed of the old one and replaced it with a new one.
Accessing the filter was easy. I just removed a wing nut and the metal housing. The air filter itself is just a cylinder with wire mesh and a paper filter.
The pre-cleaner is a piece of sponge wrapped around the filter. I unpacked the new pre-cleaner and followed the installation instructions. I moistened it with some motor oil and wrapped it around the new filter. Then, I replaced the old one on the mower engine.
Here’s a picture of the new air filter and pre-cleaner installed (without the metal housing so you can see it):
Now for the fuel filter. It’s recommended that you change the fuel filter on your mower once every season.
There can be lots of impurities in your gas tank (think about all the times you opened the tank lid for refueling with grass still settling from the blades), so a season of mowing can clog up your filter.
Using the mower manual, I located the filter on the engine. If you’re having trouble finding yours, just follow the fuel line from the gas tank to the engine. The fuel filter is along that line.
To remove the filter, I first clamped the fuel line in between the filter and the tank. I didn’t want fuel dumping out of the tank once I removed the filter. I also put a container beneath the filter to catch any excess gas stuck in the line and filter.
Then I removed the hose clamps holding the filter in place and pulled off the fuel line. Luckily no fuel leaked out. The tank must have been nearly empty. I then attached the new filter, making sure the arrow indicated the direction of fuel pointed towards the engine.
With the fuel lines clamped back onto the filter, I removed the temporary clamp pinching the line and installation was complete.
Here’s a picture of the new fuel filter installed:
At this point, the engine was now ready for the upcoming season. I turned the ignition key and the engine fired up without hesitation.
I didn’t even have to apply the choke. Then, I let the engine idle for 10 minutes to make sure it ran okay and didn’t have any fuel or oil leaks. After, I took it for a test drive, and it drove like a champ.
Clean Out Mower Belt
Now onto the mower deck, which was giving me some trouble. While mowing the front lawn, I noticed a lot of squealing noises coming from the belts in the deck. Also, the collection bags were barely filling with grass. It got so bad that I actually had to disconnect the automatic bagger because the tubes were getting clogged with grass.
I switched to side discharge for the grass, which meant I spent a lot of time raking up the grass when done. Finally, a few times the engine actually died with the blades engaged.
After inspecting the mower deck, I concluded that the three problems I had stemmed from a worn mower belt and debris wedging against the belts. The debris particularly was causing a lot of friction with the belt and putting strain on the mower, causing the engine to stall out sometimes.
This also impacted the bagger because the blades could not spin at full speed and expel the grass fast enough. The belt also had clear evidence of being worn down. There were lots of cracks, and I was surprised the belt hadn’t broken already.
REMOVING AND CLEANING THE MOWER DECK
To address my mower deck issues, I first removed the deck from the mower. It was not that difficult.
Following directions in the manual, I located and removed some retainer springs holding the deck pinned into the mower chassis. Then I slid the deck out from under the mower.
Here is a picture of the deck removed from the mower.
Technically I didn’t have to remove the mower deck to replace the belt. However, the debris was really hard to reach and was easier to remove this way. I also wanted to take the opportunity to inspect the blades and underneath the deck.
Once I opened the deck, I removed all the debris with ease. There was a lot of it too, from packed dirt to wads of dried leaves. I could see why the belts were making so much noise. I’m sure it was a fire hazard too, with friction from the belts heating up the dried leaves and possibly igniting them.
Soon the deck was looking very clean. I flipped it over and inspected it underneath. It wasn’t too bad under there. I just used a flat screwdriver to scrape off some grass patches that have been building up over time.
SHARPENING THE MOWER BLADES
When I checked out the blades, they were extremely dull. The sharp part was actually round and smooth. All this time mowing the lawn, I could have just whacked the grass with a baseball bat.
So I removed the 3 blades with a socket spanner, clamped each one in place, and sharpened with my Dremel and a grinding stone bit.
After I sharpened both ends of the blade, I stuck a bolt in the blade to see if it was properly balanced. If either side of the blade dipped, it meant the blade was imbalanced and would cause a lot of vibration when spinning. Luckily, I did the job evenly when sharpening and the blades were balanced well.
Here is a picture of a blade clamped down right after I finished sharpening it (see how the sharpened part gleams):
Here I am reattaching the sharpened blades (I made sure to wear gloves so I didn’t cut myself):
Here’s a close-up of the mower deck showing some of the debris that I had to remove (it was a lot worse before):
Replacing The Belt
Now to address the worn-out belt. I took a picture of the belt route with my phone and then removed it. I installed the new belt matching the route from my picture.
Mower deck maintenance was now complete. I slid it back under the mower and reattached the retainer springs to secure it to the chassis. I started up the motor and engaged the blades. Nothing happened. Oh no, what happened? The blades did not spin.
I looked underneath the mower and discovered the belt had too much slack. I compared the new belt to the old one and saw that the new one was slightly bigger. Unfortunately, this model mower did not allow you to adjust the tension in the belts, so the new belt was unusable for me.
I ordered the correct part number online, but it was a third-party belt. I should have spent the extra money on a factory replacement instead. Disappointed, I put back in the old belt, so I could at least use the mower and ordered a factory belt in the meantime. I’d install it in a few days when it arrives.
Let that be a lesson, be wary of third-party replacements especially when the price looks too good to pass up.
I had almost completed my maintenance plan. Then, I applied all-purpose grease to a few key areas on the mower.
I used the mower manual to identify these areas and applied grease where needed. A few areas also required silicone lubricant, which I was lucky enough to have a spray can of (I use it to keep my foosball table rods spinning like new).
I broke in the new lubricated parts with a drive around the yard, making sure to turn the steering wheel a lot. The neighbors must have worried what state I was in zigzagging the mower across the yard!
The final step was to check the tire pressure. I grabbed a pressure gauge from my car’s glove compartment box and compared the mower tire pressure to recommended specs in the manual.
They were a little low, so I used a bicycle pump to bring them back up to the correct PSI. Low tire pressure will cause excess drag when driving and consume more fuel, so it’s important to keep your tires properly inflated.
Finally, the mower was in proper working condition for the new season. I documented what parts I replaced along with the date. This way I would remember for next season the parts I replaced.
Not everything in my maintenance plan needs to be done every season. I just wanted to hit all my bases this one time, since I had no way of knowing what the previous owner did.
If you are in a similar position, wondering how to fix your old riding lawn mower, then go through the above checklist. It’s been tried and proven.
Look out tall grass, I’m ready for you this season!
How to repair a lawn mower
A lawn mower is a mechanical device utilizing one or more rapidly rotating blades to cut a grass surface to an even height. The first lawn mower was invented by Edwin Budding in 1830 in Thrupp, just outside Stroud, in Gloucestershire, England.
If you plan to operate a lawn care service business or you’re just planning to take care of your own lawn, this is one of the very first equipment you will need. Since a lawn mower is essential for you to maintain your lawn or your customers’ lawn, taking preventative measures is helpful to avoid damage. Take care of it so it will take care of you!
You can use a light coating of spray lubricant to the underside of your mower deck to keep the grass clippings from sticking. Grass clippings hold moisture and cause rust to your mower. Also, tilt the machine after use to expose the air filter. Sharpen the cutter blades, empty the fuel tank, and clean the bottom of the machine before retiring for the day.
The reason why you need to be proactive in maintaining your lawn mower is because even a small patch of rust that begins to eat into metal of your lawn mower deck can spread if not properly treated.
A tiny tear on your lawn mower seat can be problematic if neglected as well. A rip or tear on your riding lawn mower seat’s covering gets bigger each time it is used which may allow some of the foam to come out and create a dent of missing material in the seat.
If the damage has been done, you need to know how to fix or repair minimal issues to avoid getting behind your schedule by having to send your equipment to a shop and wait for them to fix it.
You do not need to buy a new lawn mower if the issue is a rusty deck or a ripped seat because you surely can salvage your lawn mower by fixing it yourself. If you choose to hire a lawn mower repair professional to fix your lawn mower, you can simply walk into a Home Depot or any local lawn mower repair shop near you. You will likely spend between 40 and 90. Price may vary by region and even by zip code.
To fix your rusty lawn mower deck yourself, start by wearing your gloves, goggles, and mask for protection. Disconnect the spark plug and remove the rotor or cutter blades.
Prepare the surface
Next, prepare the outside and underside surface of the machine by cleaning off the rust using a wire brush or P40 sandpaper. Get off as much rust as possible, you do not want to go through all the hard work just for the rust to show up again after a few days. You also need to remove all the rust down to the bare metal of the deck, removing paint and exposing the shiny part to give the patch the best chance in sticking
Once you are done, apply etch to quickly dissolve any rust left on your lawn mower deck, leaving a zinc-phosphate coating. Prime with a rust-inhibitive primer to prevent rust from going back. You can apply two coats of primer, allowing the first application to dry first before spraying the next.
If removing the rust left you with a big hole, use a patch or a malleable aluminum to cover and shape for it to be strong again. You can use a piece of paper or cardboard to get a rough shape and size of the surface for template. If the hole is too big, you should cut the patch one inch bigger than the hole. Stick the aluminum or the patching and just mold and glue it on the inside the deck. To do this, combine equals parts of epoxy resin and hardener, it will work both as a filler and as an adhesive. Spread the mixture over the rust holes on the lawn mower deck from the inside. Apply the same mixture to the outside of the deck if needed and let it cure for about 24 hours.
Smoothen the surface
Tidy up the area being treated. Sand down using a P80 sandpaper to smoothen and level the surface to the deck. Clean the surface to remove rust and dust before painting.
To finish off, you can just paint the surface you are trying to fix with the existing color or you can repaint the whole deck. I’m sure your neighbors will wonder how many lawn mowers you have!
Lawn mower seat repair
A lawn mower seat allows you to be comfortable while working, so having a ripped or worn out seat cover will cause you discomfort. When it rains, a tear on your seat cover will let the rainwater soak the foam which will eventually give you a wet bottom! Otherwise, the foam will harden and be very uncomfortable to sit on. You have an option to change your whole seat cover or just patch-up your existing one.
To repair torn or ripped lawn mower seats, clean the torn area and remove any debris or loose foam. You can use foam repair fillers to fill the empty gap of the foam. Once it has risen and spread, check for any more gaps until you reach the level of the existing foam. Let it cure according to the manufacturer’s instruction.
When the foam has already dried up, remove excess foam from its surface using a knife, then sand it down to make it smooth. To patch, you can buy a vinyl repair kit which includes the adhesive and the vinyl leather patch.
Choose a repair kit with colorant that matches the leather of your seat. Cut a patch that is an inch bigger than the area treated. Tidy up by trimming ragged edges around the tear and wiping with a washcloth or cotton soak with alcohol. Apply the adhesive from the kit to the back side of the custom-cut vinyl patch and press it down to the damaged section. Let it cure according to the instructions on the label.
Remember to correct any rust on your lawn mower or any tear on its seat as soon as possible. Do not wait for it to get worse. Always clean your mower before you rest for the day to avoid bigger problems.
Lawn Mower Repair The How to Guide to Fixing It Yourself
Despite care and maintenance, machines can suddenly develop a problem that needs to be fixed. Your lawn mower is a hard-working machine and sometimes that hard work results in damage that needs to be undone.
Knowing how to do minor repairs on your lawn equipment yourself can save you some time and money. With that in mind, we’ve created this guide on lawn mower repairs for you. To get your lawn mower serviced by experts, come to one of our John Deere dealership locations throughout Central and Southern Florida.
If your mower isn’t starting or starts and stops, then you probably have a clogged carburetor. The most common way to end up with a clogged carburetor is to leave fuel in the mower when it’s not in use for a long time. The liquid parts of the fuel evaporate, leaving behind a sticky, gooey mess that clogs your carburetor and prevents the engine from starting. Use a carburetor cleaner to clean it thoroughly.
Another culprit behind starting issues in lawn equipment is a damaged spark plug. Check to see if it has any signs of wear or damage. Use a spark plug tester to check if it’s defective; if you don’t see a strong spark between the tester’s terminals then it’s time to replace the spark plug. If there is carbon buildup in the electrode, an electrode is damaged, or the porcelain insulator is cracked, replace the spark plug.
If your lawn mower battery keeps dying on you, one or more cells in it may have died. Use a charger to charge the battery. If it doesn’t hold the charge, you need to get a new battery. Sometimes, though, it may be that other components are at fault, not your battery. Use a multimeter to check that the charger is giving proper voltage output. A multimeter will also let you check the alternator which recharges the battery and gives voltage to your mower when in use.
If the blades on your lawn mower do not engage, you could have a problem with the PTO switch. A multimeter will let you check if the switch is damaged and needs to be replaced. If your switch is fine, the problem may lie in your PTO clutch. This clutch manually disconnects the engine from the blades. When the clutch solenoid is powered, it uses the drive belt to move the rotation of the mower blades. If there is anything wrong with the PTO clutch, it will need to be replaced as it can’t be repaired.
Gas Leak Problems
One common lawn mower repair involves gas leaks. To determine what you have to fix, you need to check where the leak is happening. If the bottom of the carburetor is leaking fuel, the carburetor bowl gasket might be missing or dried out. Replace this gasket. Another reason behind a gas leak could be the float needle not shutting off fuel. This needle opens and closes the float valve to allow fuel into the float bowl. If it’s damaged, the fuel will fill the carburetor until it overflows. Replace it if it’s damaged.
If neither of the above is the problem, examine the fuel shut-off valve. The fuel lines should be tightly affixed to the valve and shouldn’t have any cracks, tears or holes in them. If a fuel shut-off line or the fuel shut-off valve is leaking, replace it immediately. Do not attempt to patch or cut and rejoin a fuel line.
Overheating is another common issue that occurs in lawn mowers but it is easily avoidable with a little care. Your mower has an air-cooled engine with cooling fins fixed into the engine’s cylinder head and short block. These fins keep the engine cool while your mower is busy at work. Sometimes bits of grass, leaves, and debris can clog these fins so you need to clean your mower at proper intervals or after heavy use to ensure this doesn’t happen to your machine.
It can be scary to see your lawn mower start to expel thick black smoke but what this indicates is that your carburetor is ‘running rich’, i.e. it is getting too much fuel. Check to see if the carburetor float is jammed in the open position and fix it if it is. Another reason behind black smoke is the carburetor choke valve being closed. It needs to be open once the engine is running or the engine won’t get enough air to create the right fuel-air mix.
We hope this list helps you identify and perform common lawn mower repairs. If you can’t really tell what’s wrong with your mower or want to purchase quality lawn equipment, come to Everglades Equipment Group at one of our 17 locations in Florida. We’re always happy to whip old machines into good shape and help people choose the right machines for their needs. We are proud to serve the areas of Central and South Florida!
Riding Lawn Mower Specials Service
Does your lawn tractor / riding mower got you down? Stuck in reverse? Running rough? No start at all? Matt’s can help get your riding lawn mower / lawn tractor running like new again! Below you will find specials and bundles to get you up and running this season.
Tune, Oil Lube Special. 275
- FREE Pick Up and Delivery
- Engine Tune Up
- Engine Oil Change and Filter Change
- New Spark Plug(s)
- Clean/Replace Air Filter(s)
- Parts Lubrication
- Blade Sharpening
- Tire Inflation
- Belts Inspection
- Electrical System Inspection
- Full Safety Inspection
Carburetor Clean, Rebuild or Replace. 110
Engine issues are often due to dirty, clogged, or broken carburetors. Having it cleaned or replaced will bring back the original performance of your riding mower / lawn tractor.
Free Pick Up and Delivery plus…
3 Stage Ultrasonic Carburetor Cleaning
Carburetor Rebuild / Replacement
Which is right for you? Have Matt diagnose it for you over the phone or in person.
Cost for carburetor rebuild/replacement parts not included
Value! Save 40
Combine both the Tune, Oil Lube and Carburetor Clean, Build or Replace specials and save. FREE Pick Up and Delivery too!
This package is the best way to ensure that your equipment runs smooth and lasts for years to come.
( Costs for parts, carburetor rebuild/replacement parts not included. If additional parts are needed, Matt’s will contact you before moving forward with service)
Is it time to repair your lawn mower or and lawn equipment?
Maybe you went to start your mower but….
It wouldn’t start? Or Maybe your mower was fuming smoke?
Perhaps your tractor just wasn’t running properly?
No worries, it happens to all of us. But how do you repair lawn mower when it breaks down?
Here are a few things you should know.
Most Local Repair Shops Prefer Professional Equipment
Here’s a secret that you may not have realized it yet. Most shops will specialize in repairing commercial equipment that the pros use. They are often not interested in fixing your residential mower, so it’s best to save their time and yours, and ask a few questions before dropping your mower off.
Here are a few good questions to ask before sending you mower in for repair:
- Ask them what their labor rate is,
- Are they are interested in repairing residential equipment,
- Most importantly how backed up are they.
Think about it, when it comes to working with equipment, it is no wonder that most shops don’t want to repair residential lawn mowers. Professional lawn mower repairs are more predictable, and problems occur less often. On the other hand repairing residential lawn mowers can be more of a hassle.
That is why you have to find the right lawn mower repair service.
Finding the Right Lawn Mower Repair Shop
Here is a tip, big box stores have often found the best pros for repairing lawn mowers they sell.
Call up your local lawn and garden center at Home Depot or Lowes, and ask the department manager, where they send their warranty repairs to. These big box retailers have to assist in processing the warranty claims for the equipment they sell. Because they need efficient repairs, they work with the better lawn mower repair shops in your town.
These lawn mower repair shops often offer the best quality work. Better yet these repair facilities are quick, and reasonably priced. They are often much, much more affordable, because they work with your type of equipment all the time. This enables these repair facilities to offer quick diagnosis, and fast repairs.
Once You have Found a Mower Repair Shop
Now that you have found the shop that is not backed up, and that is willing to work on your equipment, be careful to not spend more on repairing the equipment than its worth!
Ask for a ballpark price, many places may offer free estimates for lawn mower repair work. So be sure to ask how much it’s going to be to repair your equipment. You would be amazed how easy it is to spend 600 to repair a riding mower that is worth 300, and all the while you could buy a brand new one for 700.
You can often save a bit of time and money if you can diagnose the problem yourself. However, when you don’t know what you are doing you may do more harm than good. If you are a bit handy, you can check out our article on diagnosing common lawn mower problems.
Some Recommended Repair Shops
After being in the lawn care industry for over 15 years, I have found a number of great repair facilities in the places I worked, and by word of mouth from my fellow landscapers. I have written a few articles about the lawn mower repair facilities in these areas.
- Tampa or St. Petersburg Florida, I recommend these shops for repair as well as equipment purchases.
- Here are the Top 5 Repair Shops in Charlotte, NC
- And If you live in Atlanta Georgia you are in luck! There are a lot of amazing lawn equipment mechanics, and lawn mower repair shops. Here are the Top 10.
Want to Recommended Your Local Repair Shop?
Of course. we could not cover all the great lawn equipment repair facilities in the country. If you know of a great place tell us on @YourGreenPal
We would love to hear from you!
Lawn Mower Still Broken? Try This!
While you are waiting to get your equipment repaired, jump on GreenPal and line up a pro to cut the lawn until you get it back. Signing up is simple, and you can get several lawn care bids quickly. Seriously, we work with some of the best landscapers across the country, check it out!
Hi, I’m Gene Caballero and I’m the co-founder of GreenPal. At GreenPal, we’re helping hundreds of thousands of Americans solve one of the trickiest problems: a reliable, fast, and affordable way to get lawncare taken care of. On behalf of GreenPal, I’ve been featured in the Indianapolis Star. the Sacramento Bee. Entrepreneur. Inc.com. and dozens more. Please feel free to say hi on or connect with me on LinkedIn.