For a product meant to make your life easier, lawnmowers can be temperamental. The worst one is when the lawn mower starts then dies without provocation.
You then begin to run options in your mind: did I pull a lever too hard? Is the spark plug dead again? Is the carburetor busted, or is this manufacturer bonkers?
However, if you talk to other lawn mower owners, you’ll find you are not alone.
We have created this list of the 17 most common reasons why lawn mower starts then dies.
Some of these are newbie errors (we’ve all been there), while others might need you to whip out your toolbox, so let’s begin.
Why Lawn Mower Starts then Dies Right Away?
The most common reason a lawn mower starts but dies immediately is a clogged carburetor. A clogged carburetor can restrict fuel flow and disrupt the air-fuel mixture for proper engine combustion. Regular maintenance and cleaning of the carburetor can help prevent this issue and ensure the smooth operation of the lawn mower.
Reasons Lawn mower Starts Then Stops
Lawn mower dies after starting? We’ve got the dirt on why your trusty mower has commitment issues.
From fuel follies to carburetor conundrums, discover 17 reasons why your mower just can’t keep its engine running.
1. You’re out of fuel
If I had a penny for every time a lawnmower “emergency” was because there was no fuel in the gas tank, I’d be smiling to the bank every weekend.
And this could happen with the same person more than once. So, don’t feel bad if it has happened to you.
It’s easy to forget that there is no gas in the fuel tank, especially if you haven’t used your lawnmower in a while.
Unfortunately, this problem also happens with riding mowers because many of them don’t have an electric fuel gauge, making it easy to miss.
The fuel gauge might also be bad if you have owned your lawnmower for a few years – typically past warranty.
So, even if it shows you have fuel, open the gas tank and see for yourself before you try a more complicated solution.
2. The choke is not in the right place
Depending on the type of push lawnmower you have, you usually have to put the choke on before the lawn mower starts, then switch it back.
An automatic choke will go back by itself when the engine is ready. If you forget to put the choke back, or it doesn’t return as it should, the lawn mower will die.
That is because the purpose of the choke or throttle is to control the flow of air. You need just enough air to get into the carburetor for the fuel to heat up quickly, but then too much air will switch it off.
Sometimes, your lawn mower starts even when the choke is not switched on.
But if you make this a habit, this could lead to more serious issues, as it forces the spark plug and carburetor to do more work to get started.
3. Bad or old fuel in the gas tank
From our experience and research, we find that the primary reason why lawn mowers start then die in spring is that they have been left idle all winter with fuel inside.
Gas in a lawnmower lasts for two to four weeks before it begins to break down.
You can tell that the fuel is stale when it begins to smell almost sweet or more like kerosene. If that’s the case, here are the steps you need to rectify it.
Step 1: Drain the fuel in the carburetor float bowl
If the gas has been sitting in the tank for only a few weeks, chances are you only need to drain the carburetor bowl.
You can access this easily without opening up the engine. Once you’re done, try the lawn mower. If it doesn’t start, move to the next option.
Step 2: Drain the fuel tank
If this is your first use since winter, you probably would need to empty the fuel tank. You do this by pulling the fuel hose lining the gas tank to the carburetor bowl.
Once you’re done, you need to pour in fresh gas. Don’t pour in fuel stored in your shed all winter, as this could also be bad, even if in an air-tight container.
Go get fresh gas from the station; everything should be fine.
On the off chance that you haven’t used your lawn mower in over a year, it is possible that the stale gas could result in a clogged carburetor or even a faulty carburetor, and we’ll address this later.
To prevent your gas from going bad, you should do two things:
Use fuel stabilizer
A fuel or gas stabilizer will prevent the fuel from breaking down quickly. Instead of the gas lasting just a month, the fuel stabilizer preserves gas for up to 24 months in your gas tank.
Make sure you buy the gas stabilizer recommended for your engine.
Choose the right fuel
The best gas for lawn mowers is unleaded gasoline with a minimum of 87 octane. If there is a mix of ethanol, it shouldn’t be more than 10%.
Ethanol breaks down a lot faster than pure gasoline, so you will battle with stale gas quite often.
4. Bad, dirty, or old spark plug
Now, we arrive at our usual suspect. When a lawn mower starts then dies, most users naturally assume it’s because of the spark plugs.
Spark plugs need to be changed every 25 hours. If you mow your lawn for an hour every Saturday, the spark plug should last about six months.
If you have a bad spark plug, you might be able to get one or two starts out of it. It can ignite the engine, but it won’t sustain it.
If the lawn mower ran for a few minutes before it died, it could be you have a dirty spark plug. Remove the spark plug and inspect for carbon buildup.
If it’s dirty, clean it with a soft wire brush and put it back. You should also check the spark plug wire to see that it isn’t loose. If the lawn mower still doesn’t start, you need a new spark plug.
Also note that if you make repeated attempts before the lawn mower starts but doesn’t stall, it could still be a sign of defective spark plugs.
This is a fairly routine procedure, so ensure you have a spark plug socket in your shop at all times and a spark plug gapping tool.
5. Clogged air filter
One of the most important parts of your lawn mower is the air filter, which goes through a lot of abuse every time you use it.
Air filters prevent dust and debris from entering the engine. When it accumulates too much, air can no longer enter the engine to keep the gas burning.
The engine will still start with a dirty air filter, but it won’t be able to keep it going. That’s why you are to change the air filter regularly, usually every 3 months.
Ensure that you use the air filter recommended for your lawn mower.
6. Clogged fuel filter
Another part of the lawn mower you need to replace often is the fuel filter. The fuel filter does as the name suggests – it keeps particles in the gasoline from entering the carburetor.
A dirty air filter will cause the engine to stall, sputter or run unevenly. Most manuals will tell you to change the fuel filter every 200 hours, but to keep it simple, you should change it once a year.
Even if you use a fuel stabilizer, you should still change the filter because they don’t do the same job.
7. Low oil level
There are a lot of moving parts in the tiny engine of your lawn mower or the big engine of your riding mower.
In both cases, you need engine oil to provide lubrication so the grinding parts don’t overheat or melt.
If the engine oil level is too low, your engine will stall, and you should be very concerned because this might mean something in there has gone bad or needs to be replaced.
If all you need is fresh oil, you’re in luck. However, if after you put in new engine oil, the lawn mower still won’t start, it could mean an expensive repair job.
That is why you are to check the oil level before every use.
What we tend to do is estimate how long the oil will last and only check when we think it’s due.
However, some types of oil drain quicker in certain temperatures, so you shouldn’t take this for granted.
Take a few minutes to check the oil, so you don’t spend a few hundred dollars trying to repair it.
8. Too much oil
Some of us don’t like the idea of constantly checking the oil before using the lawn mower, so we devised the ingenious idea of pouring in more oil than recommended.
Or you might assume you are meant to fill up the oil tank just like you would the gas tank.
The problem is that too much oil can cause the engine to work too well, so they begin to overheat. Not only that, but excess oil can also lead to leaks, which can damage the motor.
If you have accidentally poured excess oil, use an oil siphon to bring it down to the recommended level.
Related read: How much gas does a push lawn mower hold?
9. Bad or damaged fuel pump
If you have a push mower, you can skip this one. As the name implies, the role of a fuel pump is to move fuel from the gas tank to the carburetor.
In a push mower, the carburetor tends to sit below the tank, so gravity will make the fuel flow.
However, in a riding mower, you need a pump to ensure consistent gas flow, otherwise, the engine will start and then die and when it gets really bad, it won’t start at all.
The good thing is diagnosing a bad or faulty fuel pump doesn’t require a mechanic. The first thing you might want to check is the fuel line.
Disconnect the line from the pump and place a bowl under it. Switch on the lawn mower and see if fuel comes out.
If gas comes out, it means the fuel line isn’t clogged, so you can inspect the fuel pump. Next, you need to disconnect the fuel line from the fuel pump to the carburetor.
Replace that line with a hose draining into a bucket, then turn the lawn mower on.
If the fuel pump is good, it should yield a consistent fuel flow. If there are delays in the gas flow, you need a new fuel pump.
10. Clogged fuel cap
The fuel cap for your lawn mower is designed to vent by itself, which means it should allow some air to come in as the fuel goes out.
When the fuel cap is clogged, and it’s not venting, it will create a vacuum that will prevent fuel from going into the carburetor.
One sign that this might be the issue is if your lawn mower runs for about ten to fifteen minutes and then begins to sputter as if it’s out of fuel.
When you open the tank and see that there is still gas, it means the fuel cap isn’t venting. If you suspect this might be the case, you can perform a simple test.
Step 1: Fill the tank with fuel
You will empty the fuel tank, but first, you must fill it up close to the brim.
Step 2: Empty out the tank
Place a bowl beneath the fuel line connecting to the fuel tank, then pull it out. Leave it open until the gas stops coming out.
Step 3: Open the fuel tank
If the tank is empty, something else is wrong, and the troubleshooting continues.
However, if there is still fuel inside, even though it stopped coming out, it means there is a problem with the fuel cap.
All you need to do is replace the fuel cap and take the lawn mower for a test drive.
11. Clogged cooling fins
When you have a fan-cooled lawn mower, you might experience this problem every few years.
If you ever notice your lawn mower smells hot before it’s on, there might be a problem with the cooling system.
The fans pull air into the mower, but often grass and mud come in too. Eventually, this will build up to large chunks.
Admittedly, this is not the easiest part of the lawn mower to get to, but it only takes a few minutes.
Once you get to the fins, hose it down or use a soft steel brush to clean it.
12. Grass buildup in the mower deck
Keeping your mower deck clean is one of the most important routines you should do. Sure, it looks weird to clean something no one ever looks at, but there are tremendous benefits.
But then again, why does grass buildup? If you wait until your grass grows too long before you mow, you will likely get a lot of buildup in the mower deck.
You will also get a lot of debris if you cut the grass too low. When this happens, the airflow is restricted, forcing the engine to work harder.
Not only that but the chute will get blocked, forcing the engine to exceed its capacity. As a result, the engine can get hot and stall.
Make sure you clean the mower deck at the end of every month. Sure, manufacturers will tell you to do it twice a year, but the cleaner, the better.
13. Plugged fuel line
If you often pour fuel into your lawn mower without a strainer, chances are large particles will sneak into it. The debris can eventually damage the fuel filter or clog the fuel line.
Another thing that can clog the fuel line is old fuel. Old gas gums up as the chemicals break down.
When this happens, fuel flow is cut off or restricted, which then causes the lawn mower to die after it’s been on for a while.
If you had to get rid of old gas, you should inspect the fuel line too. Check the body for cracks or kinks and if found, get a new line.
If the fuel line is clogged, spray carburetor cleaner and then flush it out with compressed air. Repeat this process until all the debris is gone.
14. Faulty ignition coil
The ignition coil is responsible for producing the spark that gets your spark plug going, igniting the fuel and so on.
Diagnosing a faulty ignition coil can be tricky, especially issues with the Kohler ignition coil, which is why this is further down the list.
Signs that you have a faulty ignition coil are: the engine takes a while before it starts; the lawn mower keeps stalling when it gets hot; you can smell fuel when the lawn mower is running.
If you notice any of these, you should first check the spark plugs because this is the likely cause. If you have already checked the spark plugs, you might need an Ohm meter.
If the coil is fine, the resistance will read between 2,500 to 5,000 ohms. Anything outside of this suggests a fault, and you need to change the coil.
Ignition coils are sturdy and should last five to ten years on average before breaking down. However, if the coil is exposed to too much heat, it will wear out faster.
A new one could cost as much as $300 besides labor, so it is important to keep an eye on the oil level, the air filter, and the type of fuel to prevent overheating.
15. Dirty carburetor
This is one of the most common causes of a dying lawn mower and deserves to be higher up on our list. However, we put it here because it takes a bit of effort to clean.
Many things could cause a dirty carburetor, but old fuel is the usual cause. Debris from grass, dirt, and mud is another culprit.
Whatever the cause, a good clean should do the trick, as long as the carburetor isn’t damaged.
There are two main ways to clean a carburetor. You can take it off completely or clean it on the mower.
The safer option is to remove it completely and give it a thorough clean.
However, if you don’t have the time, tools, or inclination, here is a shortcut that works with most mowers when the carburetor isn’t too dirty.
Summary of how to clean a dirty carburetor
Get your tools ready
You’ll need pliers, a wrench, screwdrivers, a ratchet, carburetor cleaner, clean blows, and compressed air.
Clean the air intake
Before you go too far, take out the air filter and spray carburetor cleaner into the intake. If this solves the dying problem, then you’ve just saved yourself a lot of work. Otherwise, we need to push ahead.
Take off the fuel tank
Chances are the dirt came from here, so you’re going to empty that out and replace it with fresh fuel when you’re ready.
Clean the float bowl
Before you remove the carburetor, you should clean the carburetor bowl with carb cleaner. You should do this before to prevent dirt from falling into the carburetor when you take it off.
Remove the jet
You then need to remove the jet from the bowl and clean it. Use carb cleaner or a brush to take off any debris from dirt or the gasket. You should also clean the hole in the jet with a small piece of wire.
Remove the float bowl
If you have a clogged carburetor bowl, you probably should just replace it instead of trying to clean it. If it looks decent, spray carb cleaner and give it a nice polish.
Change the gasket
The gasket will most likely be in bad shape, so you need to replace it. Ensure you don’t use carb cleaner on the o ring because it will cause it to slack. Instead, use compressed air to get rid of any fragments.
Reassemble the carburetor
Put everything back in place and give the lawn mower another turn. If, after all this, the carburetor isn’t working, check out the next option.
16. Worn out carburetor
If you have noticed black smoke coming out of the exhaust or that your lawn mower backfires, it is possible that the carburetor is worn out. Unfortunately, you can’t know for certain until you open it up.
If, after a thorough clean, the carburetor still isn’t working, you should replace it.
17. Loose parts
This is one of the most frustrating issues that can cause your lawn mower to stall. There are loads of tiny bits in the engine, including in the fuel cap, carburetor, ignition coil, and elsewhere.
If any of these bits is loose, it could prevent your engine from running properly. You will then need to take it apart until you find where the problem lies.
This can be time-consuming because you have to check the tank, carburetor, cooling fins, and everything else.
However, this is the last resort, and if you get to this stage, you are better off calling a professional.
Lawn mower starts and immediately dies – troubleshooting guide
What would cause a lawn mower to start and then die?
|1. Out of fuel
|Insufficient fuel in the tank
|Check and fill the fuel tank
|2. Choke not in the right place
|Incorrect positioning of the choke
|Ensure proper placement of the choke before starting and returning it to the correct position
|3. Bad or old fuel in the gas tank
|Stale fuel or impurities in the gas tank
|Drain the fuel in the carburetor float bowl and replace with fresh gas
|4. Bad, dirty, or old spark plug
|Worn out or dirty spark plug
|Clean or replace the spark plug and check the spark plug wire
|5. Clogged air filter
|Accumulated dust and debris in the air filter
|Replace the air filter with a new one
|6. Clogged fuel filter
|Contaminants blocking the fuel filter
|Replace the fuel filter
|7. Low oil level
|Insufficient lubrication due to low oil level
|Check and refill the engine oil to the recommended level
|8. Too much oil
|Excessive oil causing engine overheating
|Use an oil siphon to remove excess oil and bring it down to the recommended level
|9. Bad or damaged fuel pump
|Malfunctioning fuel pump not delivering fuel properly
|Inspect and replace the fuel pump if necessary
|10. Clogged fuel cap
|Blocked fuel cap preventing proper venting
|Replace the fuel cap if it’s clogged or not venting properly
|11. Clogged cooling fins
|Buildup of grass and mud in the cooling fins
|Clean the cooling fins using water or a soft steel brush
|12. Grass buildup in the mower deck
|Accumulated grass and debris restricting airflow
|Clean the mower deck regularly to remove grass buildup
|13. Plugged fuel line
|Debris or old fuel clogging the fuel line
|Clean the fuel line using carburetor cleaner and compressed air
|14. Faulty ignition coil
|Defective ignition coil affecting spark generation
|Check and replace the ignition coil if necessary
|15. Dirty carburetor
|Accumulated dirt and debris affecting fuel mixture
|Clean the carburetor or replace it if necessary
|16. Worn out carburetor
|Carburetor wear and tear affecting fuel combustion
|Replace the carburetor if cleaning doesn’t resolve the issue
|17. Loose parts
|Loose components in various engine parts
|Inspect and tighten any loose parts within the engine system
Commons reasons a specific lawn mower won’t stay running
Briggs and Stratton engine runs then dies
A common reason Briggs and Stratton engine runs and abruptly dies is a faulty or clogged carburetor.
The carburetor plays a crucial role in fuel delivery and proper air-fuel mixture. When it malfunctions or becomes obstructed, the engine’s fuel supply is disrupted, causing it to stall. Regular carburetor maintenance and cleaning can help prevent this issue.
Craftsman Riding mower starts then dies
A faulty ignition switch is one possible reason for a Craftsman riding mower to start and immediately die.
The ignition switch controls the flow of electricity to the engine’s ignition system. If the switch is defective, it can cause intermittent power loss, resulting in the mower starting briefly and then shutting off. Replacing the ignition switch can resolve this issue.
For further insights into why your Craftsman lawn mower might not be starting, you can check out our article.
Why Push mower won’t stay running
A push mower may fail to stay running due to various reasons. Potential causes include carburetor issues, fuel problems, ignition system problems, air intake issues, mechanical issues, and improper maintenance.
Proper diagnosis and addressing the specific cause, such as cleaning the carburetor or replacing faulty components, can help resolve the issue and ensure the push mower’s consistent operation.
Toro lawn mower cranks then dies
A clogged fuel line is a common cause for a Toro lawn mower to start but then quickly stall. When the fuel line is obstructed, it restricts fuel flow, resulting in engine shutdown.
Clearing or replacing the clogged fuel line can resolve this issue and ensure the smooth operation of the lawn mower.
Gas mower starts then dies
A clogged carburetor is a common reason why most gas mowers start and then die shortly after.
When the carburetor becomes obstructed, it hampers the fuel and airflow required for smooth engine operation. Cleaning or repairing the carburetor can resolve this issue, ensuring the gas mower runs continuously without stalling.
Honda lawn mower starts and shuts off
A Honda lawn mower may start and then shut off due to potential issues with the auto choke system, oil quality, carburetor, spark plug, or fuel filter.
Troubleshooting the auto choke, using the right oil type for honda lawn mower, clean fuel, inspecting and cleaning the carburetor, replacing worn spark plugs, and maintaining the fuel filter can help resolve the problem and ensure consistent operation.
Lawn boy mower starts then dies
- Fuel issues: Insufficient or contaminated fuel can lead to starting and stalling problems. Ensure the fuel tank is adequately filled with clean, fresh gasoline.
- Carburetor problems: A clogged or misadjusted carburetor can disrupt the fuel and air mixture, causing the mower to stall. Cleaning or adjusting the carburetor may be necessary.
- Ignition system faults: Faulty spark plugs, ignition coils, or other ignition system components can contribute to starting and stalling issues. Check and replace any defective parts.
- Air intake obstructions: A clogged air filter can restrict airflow to the engine, resulting in stalling. Clean or replace the air filter as needed.
- Mechanical malfunctions: Worn-out or damaged engine components, such as valves or pistons, can affect the mower’s performance. Professional inspection and repair may be required.
Husqvarna lawn mower shuts off after starting
A Husqvarna lawn mower may shut off after starting for various reasons, such as fuel issues, carburetor problems, ignition system faults, air intake obstructions, or mechanical malfunctions.
Check our Husqvarna troubleshooting guide for expert fixes.
Why does my lawn mower only run for a few seconds then dies?
A lawn mower that runs for only a few seconds or minutes before dying may indicate a clogged carburetor or fuel system issues. Insufficient fuel flow or improper air-fuel mixture can cause the engine to stall.
Cleaning or repairing the carburetor, checking fuel filters, and ensuring proper fuel supply can help resolve this problem and maintain a longer-lasting operation.
Why does my Lawn mower backfires then dies
Fuel-related issues, ignition system problems, air intake obstructions, or timing issues can cause backfiring followed by stalling in a lawn mower.
Incorrect fuel mixture, faulty ignition components, clogged air filters, or improper ignition timing can all contribute.
How do you fix a lawn mower that starts then dies?
To fix a lawn mower that starts then dies, follow these steps:
- Ensure sufficient clean fuel.
- Clean or replace the carburetor.
- Inspect and clean/replace the spark plug.
- Clean or replace the air filter.
- Check the fuel line and filter.
- Adjust the idle speed.
- Address any mechanical issues. If the problem persists, consult a professional.
Final thoughts on why lawn mower stalls after starting
There you have it: almost all the things that could go wrong. If your lawn mower starts then dies, work through the usual suspects first: fuel supply, spark plug, carburetor, and oil level.
Most of these fixes only take about half an hour and require tools you should have at home.
However, a lawn mower is a pretty sizeable investment, so if you think any repair is beyond your skill level, take your baby to a lawn mower repair shop.
If the repair bill is too hefty and you want to buy a new mower, check out our review of the best lawn mower under $200.
Also, we have provided a guide on why the John Deere mower won’t start for those using this specific brand.