Friday, March 28, 2014

How to diagnose small engine problems

If you're a handyman sort and want to do some of your own repairs to equipment I've got some tips I'd like to share from years of work in this field.

First a little background. I recieved my first ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certifications after taking automotive repair courses through Umpqua Community College in 1990. Later I took advanced engine performance and electrical training and then took all of the (then available ASE tests and became Master Certified in 1996. I've also been trained and received Master Certification from Kohler and Briggs & Stratton in the mid 2000's. I spent most of my mechanic years employed by the local school district where I repaired and maintained everything from late model cars and trucks to mowers, floor care equipment, handheld power equipment and a host of miscellaneous stuff. The neat thing about that experience is I always got to see how the repairs worked out. It was kind of a lifetime warranty situation where if I didn't do it well it meant more work for me. Working in retail, you frequently don't get the chance to see the stuff that didn't work, it just doesn't come back.

Here's my take, the K.I.S.S. method if you will;

Pretty much everything is powered either by an electric motor or a gas powered motor.

It powers something that either goes up and down or round and round.

The power is connected between these two by either belts, gears, or hydraulic pumps and motors.

For now lets focus on that pesky gas motor, it seems to cause the most grief.

All gas motors have had the same basic technology since its inception. Four Strokes motors have the following cycle. Intake > Compression > Power > Exhaust .... then repeat....frequently.

For a motor to run there needs to be just 3 things basically. Fuel, Spark, and compression (or a mechanically sound motor). If these 3 are present the motor will run, perhaps poorly or for a short amount of time, but it should run.

Fuel and spark are the quickest easiest to verify so I start there (once I have verified there is correct oil and that the motor in fact doesn't run). I like to start with spark. I'll remove the spark plug and hook the plug wire back up, firmly ground the threaded part of the plug and turn the motor over. If I have spark I'll move on to fuel, if not I'll try the same test with a known good spark plug. If I still have no spark I now know I need to diagnose the ignition system. Most small engines have a magneto style ignition and you can remove the ground wire and retest. If you have spark now, it means you need to diagnose what safety switch or other point is grounding out that wire. If you still don't have spark chances are good the ignition coil/module is bad. The important points to remember are firmly grounding the plug, turning the motor over quickly enough, and KNOWING you have a good spark plug.

Fuel is easy, but somewhat dangerous. I like to add fuel either by dumping it into the spark plug hole before I put it back in, or after it is reassembled, dump about 1 1/2 tablespoons right into the carburetor (have to remove the air filter for this), quickly put things back together and try to start it. If the machine start and then dies, you know it is a fuel problem. Usually this is a plugged main jet. Some quick research on the web should get you the info you need to clean the jet on your particualr model of engine. If you don't know what a main jet is, you may want to take it to a shop for this repair. 

PLEASE use safe practices and common sense if attempting any of this. If you get hurt doing it,you're going to spend a lot more money on medical bills than it would have cost to just take it into a repair shop. 

If you liked this article please consider sharing it. Have some other challenges you'd like to get help on? Drop us a line and well write something up on it!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Riding lawn mower repair

Well I warned you it was coming!

If you've been mowing more than an acre for many years, you probably remember the "yard tractor", and certainly by today's standards it really was. Beefy frames, bigger tires, strong thick deck metal, maybe provisions for hydraulic attachments. Back in the day if you bought a Cub Cadet you were probably going to pass it on to the next property owner or one of your kids when you down sized. Alas, progress....

Cub Cadet, Yard Machine, TroyBilt are all now owned and manufactured by MTD. Husqvarna, Ariens, AYP, all owned by Electrolux. A couple of years ago we were sent to Lowes to repair some John Deere mowers. Seemed odd until we found out they were actually manufactured by Murray who is now owned by Briggs & Stratton. Confused yet?

More than ever a knowledgeable sales person is worth getting to know. After reading the above, do you really think a few hours on the internet is going to be enough to make a good decision on a mower purchase? Is the salesperson at the box store going to know the inner workings of the mower or just the highlights they're taught? Remember the plastic transmission I mentioned earlier? It is in the box store version of the same model mower we sell with a metal transmission. Our mechanic even pointed out that technically we could install the good transmission in the box store machine if a customer wanted to pay the price. 

Like the walk behind mowers, you can either do the maintenance over time or plan on some large repair bills to bring several deferred maintenance problems back up to par. Aside from the same issues noted in the previous blog, the riding mower will have a battery, starting system, safety switches, blade engagement mechanisms, a charging system, fuel pump, and lights, all needing attention. Leveling the deck and keeping good blades sharp make for a nice cut and you'd be surprised how much more fuel dull blades take, they also put a great deal more wear and tear on the deck belts. At $4.50+/gallon (you're buying non-ethanol unleaded right?) you can pay for new blades or blade sharpening pretty quick. I probably don't need to mention the cost (and stress) savings associated with better belt life

Change your oil at least once every 100 hours, keep your air filter clean or replaced, use only known clean containers for fuel, keep a trickle charger on the battery when the mower will be sitting for more than a few weeks, don't mow over rough surfaces too quickly, keep tire pressure correct (makes a big difference on how level the mower cuts), and grease the grease zerks regularly. Completely remove debris from under and on top of the deck at least a couple of times a year (Fall season so it doesn't sit there all Winter) and you'd likely not need our services, if you bought a good mower.

Got some other tips to share? We'd love to hear them as well as share them with our readers!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mowers, mowers, mowers oh my!

Last post I talked abut the number one problem we see with mowers in the Spring. From there it all gets a little more complicated.

Lets start with walk behind mowers. You bought it new, it worked great for a season (unless you hit something in the yard you shouldn't have, we'll get back to that). At the end of the year you cleaned it up, and parked it, maybe even added some fuel stabilizer to it. IF it started you may be good to go for another season (you did check the oil level right?).

This year the pull cord snaps, blade is pretty dull and the air filter gets plugged. If you serviced or had the mower serviced everything but the pull cord should be good for the year. Many of you will even get past year two on our cord if you don't have a larger yard where your stopping to pick up debris and have to frequently restart the beast. At the end of the season it wasn't cleaned as well and a neighbor borrowed it for a bit.

Year 3. Deck is starting to flex, bag had a small opening you don't remember, blade is toast, fuel was stale so you took it in to get that cleaned out (and restart your lifetime bumper-to-bumper warranty). Really the best thing to do here is just have a thoughrough service done. New blade, fuel filter (if applicable), air filter, oil change, spark plug, and just a good set of trained eye's on it. Maybe get that cord replaced while its there so it doesn't fail mid season? 

Year 4 on. Just have the darn thing serviced annually shortly before Spring. During the season if you see problems, have them addressed. Most of the time when we see mowers to far gone to justify repair it is because there is a substantial amount of deferred maintenance on top of a breakdown. 

If your in the market for a new lawn mower, please visit our website and click on the products page. From there you'll see some selections. Why buy from us? We're actually interested in seeing you get and keep your grass under control, not just sell you a mower. Our mowers ARE different. Don't think so? Just stick your head under the back axle of a box store mower. Unless your looking at thier "top of the line" (our basic) you're going to see a plastic transmission housing (which is filled with plastic gears by the way), then look under ours... Its still metal.  

Next time, riding lawn mowers!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Ethanol fuel and outdoor power equipment.

Fuel issue's are the number one problem we see coming into our shop. When ethanol fuel was first introduced into our market I was concerned, but felt some confidence in the message we were getting from the engine manufacturer's. Every single engine manufacturer we work with stated their engines were E10 ethanol safe.

It didn't take long for us to suspect there may be some problems (wanna' save yourself some reading, watch the video we just posted here).

The first issue we had was with a generator repair. Gasoline powered generators have always had fuel issue's. They typically sit for far longer periods than most power equipment. This one came to us with a fouled fuel system. We did our typical fuel system cleaning and repair, tested the machine, then the owner took it home. 

About 90 days later he tried to use it. It ran but poorly. Irritated he brought it back to us and we assured him we'd rectify any fuel related issue's no charge. 

We found that the fuel in the tank had gone bad already! We cleaned it all out again, and sent it out once again. And then the next one came back.... and the next. At this point we're taking a lot of heat and really not enjoying it. 

Time for further investigation. We contacted a fuel treatment supplier and asked what their experience was. They stated their product would double the shelf life of fuel, which was enough to satisfy most fuel requirements. This was when fuel would last 6 month's to a year. Now the shelf life was as short as 30 days, so doubling it may give you 60.

Addidtionally parts were failing. Fuel filters would melt, the fuel shut off needle in the carburetor would get sticky and stick shut, fule lines and primmer bulbs were failing. 

We ran two tests at our facility. One was to simply pour some fuel into a clean while 5 gallon bucket and let it sit. Within one week the ethanol started seperating from the fuel and settling in the bottom of the container. This means if your law mower didn't get shaken well enough before you tried to start it, it was getting pure ethanol instead of mixed. If it ran at all it would run very poorly. The second test was to put a short piece of new fule line into a beacker filled with ethanol fuel. By the end of just day one there was visible expansion indicating the ethanol was attacking the rubber.

Today things are better. They are using products other than buytl in rubber which has alleviated many of the part failures. It still goes bad faster, and still attacks the fuel lines in a lot of equipment out there. 

Do yourself a favor, buy the non-ethanol fuel from a locally owned fuel station (most nationally owned stations don't have non-ethanol available). Buy only as much fuel as you estimate you'll use in a month, add a good fuel stabilzer to it.