The time-tested way to start a gas-powered lawnmower is with a pull cord, but how do you get one going without one?
Unless your mower is already fitted with an electric starter, then the only way to start a gas lawnmower without the pull cord is to turn the crankshaft using a powerful electric drill and a suitably sized socket. This can be very dangerous and should only be attempted by a skilled mechanic or experienced DIYer, and even then done with extreme caution.
Read on to find out how these different methods work and which is best for you.
Starting A Mower Without A Pull Cord
The pull cord, often referred to as a recoil start, is the conventional way of getting your gas-powered mower up and running. So, what happens when this vital component is out of commission or not even present?
While it might seem like a major hurdle, there are alternatives.
Gasoline push mowers fitted with an electric starter mechanism sometimes come with no recoil start installed at all. If your mower is missing the pull cord then check for a key or push button on the handle that is used to start the engine.
If your mower has a starter rope but it’s snapped or the recoil mechanism is not working, then the safest solution is to check what’s wrong and fix it. This is simple to do and can usually be accomplished cheaply and quickly.
However, if you need to get your mower going immediately, you can use a powerful hand drill and the correct size socket that fits the crankshaft bolt to turn it over and mimic the action of a pull cord.
Gas Powered Lawnmower With An Electric Starter
Electric starters are becoming increasingly popular on 4-cycle push mowers as they make it very convenient and easy to start the engine without needing to yank on a cord.
These usually consist of an ignition key or push button on the handle, a small battery (sometimes rechargeable), and a starter motor, usually located on the side of the engine.
When you press the button or turn the key, the starter motor spins the flywheel and crankshaft which starts the ignition sequence, exactly the same as if you had pulled on a starter cord.
While these are fantastic for those people who find it difficult to pull a rope start, it’s very common for the battery to go flat, leaving you with no means to start the engine unless you have a pull starter also installed.
If the manufacturer has decided not to include this with your mower, consider retrofitting one so you can quickly get it started when the electric system fails.
If your mower does have a recoil starter fitted but it’s broken, then the best solution is to find out what’s wrong and repair it.
Fixing A Recoil Starter
Mending a recoil starter on a lawnmower is a fairly simple job for most homeowners even if you only have a little technical know-how.
If the cord does not pull out smoothly but is still intact, then it’s usually just a case of finding where it’s knotted or tangled and freeing it up.
If the cord is snapped then you will need to replace it.
When the cord pulls all the way out but does not automatically rewind, then the fault will lie somewhere with the recoil spring.
These can all be easily repaired following my straightforward guide on fixing a broken lawnmower pull cord.
The Drill-Powered Crankshaft Start Method
If you’re comfortable with power tools and have a basic understanding of how a mower works, the drill-powered crankshaft start can be a viable option for engines with a power rating of around 5HP or lower.
Note that this method requires you to remove safety covers that will leave the fast-spinning flywheel exposed so should only be used as a last resort. You will also need to disable the brake bar safety feature so you will be trying this entirely at your own risk. Again, I do not recommend this method.
Here’s how you can perform this method:
Always prioritize safety. Put on protective gear such as gloves and safety glasses before beginning and take care not to touch anyone moving parts.
Remove the Pull Start Mechanism:
This is usually located at the top of the engine, where the cord enters through the cover. Carefully remove the recoil starter using a screwdriver or a wrench to reveal the crankshaft bolt and nut. Note you may need to remove other parts such as the fuel tank to gain access and these will need to be re-fitted before continuing.
Prepare The Drill:
Use a corded drill or one that’s powered by a battery rated at a minimum of 18V. Attach a socket to your drill that fits the large nut on the crankshaft. Inspect the recoil starter to check which way it spins when pulling the cord and ensure the drill is set to rotate in the same direction (usually clockwise) and at the highest speed.
Pull Up The Brake Bar:
You will now need to hold the brake bar handle in so that the engine brake disengages. If you have a helper available, ask them to do this or use a tie wrap that is loose enough to slide on and off. Make sure to slide it off once the engine is running and before you start mowing.
Engage The Crankshaft Bolt:
Position the socket over the crankshaft bolt, making sure it’s firmly in place. Start the drill so it turns the crankshaft and flywheel. Be prepared for a little kickback at this point.
Remove The Drill When The Engine Starts
As soon as the engine fires up, lift the drill straight up and off the flywheel (making sure the socket comes off with it).
As previously mentioned, use this method only at your own responsibility as a last resort and with extreme caution.
It looks like someone was nice enough to make a video on how to do it, so you can check it out below:
While a broken pull cord can be a significant nuisance, it doesn’t mean your mowing session is finished. With a little ingenuity and the right tools, you can start your gas-powered mower using the drill-powered crankshaft start (at your own risk).
However, this is a temporary solution. The best course of action is always to replace a faulty pull cord mechanism as soon as possible. And if you have an electric starter fitted, just use that instead.