In most lawn mower internal combustion engines, the carburetor prepares the potent mix of air and fuel in the proportions best suited for the controlled explosion that takes place to drive the pistons downward and force the engine to turn. If there isn't enough fuel in the mix, the engine "runs lean," with not enough explosion to drive the pistons properly. When the engine "runs rich," too much fuel causes smoky operation, sputtering and flooding. Carburetors need periodic cleaning and adjustment to prevent and correct problems.
Clean the carburetor. Before adjusting the carburetor, make sure that the adjustments won't be compensating for another problem. Consult your manual on how to unseat and dismantle the carburetor, and then use a good cleaner to remove the accumulated grime.
Check for wear and make repairs as needed. Gasket kits, also known as overhaul kits and carburetor kits, for specific carburetor models are readily available online and in hardware and garden stores. Replace worn parts.
Reassemble the carburetor. For float-type carburetors, check the manual for instructions on how to adjust the float level. For diaphragm-type carburetors, read up on the metering diaphragm lever height and adjust as necessary.
Listen to how the engine runs. Start the lawnmower. If the engine will not start at all, or only with difficulty, check the fuel passages. These would include the idle mixture, fuel filter and line, throttle, choke, fuel inlet and float (on float-type carburetors) or metering level (on diaphragm-type carburetors). Consult the manual for how to make adjustments on the fuel inlet needle, throttle and choke valve that increase fuel flow. Lean operation of the engine also indicates not enough fuel. If the parts have been cleaned, the gaskets replaced and float or metering diaphragm lever correctly set, then look to the fuel filter and line, the idle mixture screw or fuel inlet needle valve.
Rich operation is indicative of a choke that won't fully open and inlet fuel needle that can't set into place, a plugged float chamber vent hole (float), diaphragm lever and metering lever issues (diaphragm) or a loose Welch plug in the fuel chamber.
Run the engine at load. If the engine can't accelerate smoothly or loses power, the fuel supply is likely being restricted. Besides the usual fuel-robbing culprits, check for air leaks between the carburetor and the intake manifold (float) or between the carburetor and the crankcase (diaphragm). Consult the manual for further clues.
Things You Will Need
- Lawn mower manual
- Socket set
- Screwdriver set
- Ball-peen hammer
- Choke and carburetor cleaner
- Gasket kit
- Diaphragm carburetors can be pressure-tested with a simple hand pump and pressure gauge. Pump the pressure inside the carburetor to 7 psi or so while the carburetor is submerged in water or solvent, and check for bubbles. Where the carburetor leaks will tell you what parts are worn and need to be replaced.
- Don't let fuel sit for more than a week. Old fuel evaporates and gums up carburetors and other engine parts. The manual may have suggestions on additives for fuel that will be stored in the engine, like two tbsp. of lacquer thinner to one gallon of gas. Otherwise, remove fuel before storing.
- Before doing any work on the engine, separate the wire from the spark plug and ground it by touching it to another metal part of the engine. This is prevent the mower from starting accidentally, which could cause engine damage and personal injury.
- Do take care when cleaning jets. Don't use wire or drill out the muck as that will likely enlarge the calibrated holes and ruin the operation of the carburetor.
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