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There’s a first time for everything – taking your first steps, trying your first Vegemite on toast, and starting a mower.

And if you’ve never used a lawn mower before, it can feel a little intimidating to get going.

No shame in Googling how to start a lawn mower – and we’re here to help!

For a gasoline mower, position the throttle lever, then hold the engine brake lever securely. Firmly grasp the starter cord and pull, then guide the rope back to the engine. 

For a ride-on lawn mower, press the clutch and set the parking brake. Keep the gear and throttle lever in a neutral position. Then use the key to switch on the engine.

Need to mow your lawn? Let’s get down to the basics.


Before Starting Your Lawn Mower

Don’t yank the starting rope right away! Before starting to mow, go around your lawn and remove any yard debris, toys, rocks, and other things that could damage lawn mowers. 

You may also want to assess whether to level your lawn for easier mowing.

Once your lawn is ready, double-check your lawn mower – especially if it’s after winter. 

Ensure you have enough gas, and refill if necessary. Use the dipstick attached to check the oil level. (Wipe the dipstick clean afterwards!)


The lawn mower with a grass collector is ready to work


How to Start a Lawn Mower

Always start by positioning your lawn mower on a level surface, away from tall grass. 

Once you’re sure about gas fill, oil levels, and other mechanisms, get ready to start!


How to start a push lawn mower

First, ask – do you need to prime the engine? If you haven’t used your manual lawn mower in some time (e.g. over winter), then you’ll need to prime it first. 

Push the petrol button or the primer button 3–5 times so gas flows into the engine. Otherwise, you can skip this step.

Next, place the throttle (between housing and handle) into position. Pull the engine brake lever (top of the handle) towards you and hold it securely. 

Grasp the pull cord and pull it firmly away from the mower. You may have to do this a few times for the fuel to properly ignite.

Do not let the pull cord snap back – that’s bad for the engine. Instead, guide it back into place without letting go of the engine brake yet. Then you’re good to go!


man priming red lawnmower.


How to start a ride-on lawn mower

Ride-on mowers use a different start-up process. Once you’ve gotten in the seat, press the clutch down and set the parking brake. Make sure the gear shift is in neutral.

If you’re starting a cold mower (one that hasn’t been used in a while), you’ll need to pull the choke control knob to open. Otherwise, leave it in place.

Set the throttle lever to neutral (between fast and slow). Then insert the ignition key into the switch and turn to start. 

If your engine doesn’t start after you’ve cranked it for 15 seconds, switch it back off and wait 10 seconds. Then turn the key again.

Let the mower warm up first before changing gears or putting attachments.


Why Won’t My Lawn Mower Start?

man starting the petrol lawnmower for cutting his fresh grass

Maybe you’re out to do some lawn care, and you yank on the starter cord… but your mower fails to turn on. There could be several reasons why your lawn mower won’t start – here are some common ones.

If you’ve gone through all these checks and your mower still won’t start, you may want to take it to a repair shop. Or you could choose one of these recommended lawn mowers to replace it.


1. Fuel issues

The first thing you should check if your mower won’t start is the gas tank. Don’t blow out your shoulder by yanking at the pull cord when it turns out you just forgot to refill your fuel. 

Alternatively, maybe you do have gas, but it’s a month old and therefore contaminated.

If your gas tank is empty, all you need to do is refill it. 

But if you’ve got contaminated gas, you’ll need to drain the fuel and refill the tank. You can add a fuel stabiliser for more protection.


2. Dirty spark plug

If you do have good fuel in your tank but the engine won’t start, it might be the spark plug. Dirty, loose, or disconnected plug pins can prevent fuel ignition, which means your mower won’t turn on.

Check the spark plug for any issues. If it’s loose or disconnected, screw it back into place. On the other hand, if it’s dirty, unscrew it and clean it using a clean cloth and some rubbing alcohol.


3. Jammed mower deck

Dirty lawn mower deck

Grass clippings and other debris can build up in your mower deck the more you mow – especially when mowing a wet lawn. The debris jams the blades and mechanisms, which stops the mower from running.

Switch off the lawn mower before you tip it on its side (and be careful – you could spill oil, which could cause white smoke).

Check the deck to see if there are clumps of grass and twigs underneath. Remove them with a trowel, then reset your mower. Be mindful of the blade!


4. Blocked fuel cap

Sometimes your mower starts, sputters, then dies and refuses to start again. 

If this is the case, check your vented fuel cap or gas cap. The vent is meant to release pressure so the gas fumes don’t build up and stop the flow of your fuel. But if the cap clogs up or breaks, it’ll prevent gas flow.

Shut off your mower and let it cool, then remove the gas cap. That’ll break the internal vacuum and let the fuel flow again. If your engine still sputters after starting it up, you may need a new fuel cap.


5. Clogged carburettor filter

The carburettor is responsible for regulating the mixture of fuel and air for engine combustion. 

It comes with an air filter that prevents debris from entering the carburettor and engine. If that filter gets blocked, your carburettor won’t function properly.

You’ll need to remove the filter and check if it needs cleaning or replacing. Make sure the carburettor hasn’t broken either. Reassemble your mower and check if it works again.


Lawn and Mower Maintenance Tips

Check and maintain your lawn mower regularly – it’ll keep it functional and extend its lifespan. A well-maintained mower will give you the cleanest, neatest cut so your lawn looks pristine throughout the seasons.

Even if you use lawn mowing services, it’s still well worth knowing how to start a lawn mower. You never know when you’ll have to be the one to tackle yard maintenance!

Be thorough when starting your mower, and don’t skip any steps. Safety first is the name of the game – otherwise, you might be Googling “how to fix a busted mower” next.

About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.


About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.