How To Make A Petrol Lawnmower Easier To Pull Over And Start

Trying to start a lawnmower with a pull cord can be one of the most infuriating things when it won’t start or feels really heavy to pull the pull cord.

In this article, I’m going to help your lawnmower become a “one pull wonder”

A lawnmower really should always start first or second pull and not be a test of strength or willpower to pull over.

What we need to do is make sure that your lawnmower starts and pulls over as easily as it did when it was brand new, it’s actually not too difficult so let’s take a look at exactly how to do it.

I have repaired hundreds of lawnmowers for profit over the years so I will do my best to share my knowledge and information with you.

Please feel free to check out this playlist of useful lawnmower repair videos.

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Elderly Or Not Strong Enough To Start A Lawnmower

I have picked up many lawnmowers from elderly people that have found starting a gas lawnmower too difficult as the years have passed.

Please note when I refer to a gas lawnmower I also mean petrol lawnmower.

I have also purchased second-hand lawnmowers from young people that simply did not think they had the required strength to start a lawnmower.

Whilst age and strength can play a small factor in not being able to start a lawnmower if everything is set up correctly it really should pull over relatively easily and only take one or two attempts.

I know many people in this situation would really miss using a petrol lawnmower so consider purchasing a lawnmower with an electric start if this is the case.

The easiest lawnmower to pull over I have found is the Honda Izy HRG 466 SK 4-Wheel Self Propelled Petrol Lawn Mower

These lawnmowers are superbly built easy to start and stand the test of time. Often they start before you have got halfway through pulling the cord.

Let’s start with some of the most obvious reasons a gas/petrol lawnmower is difficult or impossible to pull over and work from there.

Please feel free to take a look at my current petrol lawnmower recommendations

Brake Release Handle

Most lawnmowers have a brake cable that attaches to the operating handle. You must pull this whilst pulling the pull cord to release the brake.

I have often seen people at auctions attempt to start a lawnmower without first releasing the brake.

It is incredibly difficult to pull the pull cord without releasing the brake but I have first hand witnessed this many times.

Primer Bulbs

Many lawnmowers have a primer bulb. It’s usually a bright red bulb you push to prime the lawnmower before starting.

Perhaps you didn’t realise your lawnmower even had a primer bulb?

  • Note Most Briggs And Stratton Engines use a primer bulb and most Honda engines use an automatic choke.

The next thing to check is that the primer bulb actually works. This is easy to do, simply remove the air filter (usually one screw) and press the primer bulb.

If you see fuel being pumped across then the primer bulb is working fine.

If your primer bulb isn’t working it will take multiple attempts from cold to successfully pull over and start your lawnmower.

Automatic Choke

If your lawnmower doesn’t have a primer bulb it will have an automatic choke. For your lawnmower to start first or second pull it will require the choke to be operating correctly.

To check the choke is working correctly remove the air filter and look through the hole in the air filter box.

You will see a butterfly valve that’s usually gold or silver in colour. Without the lawnmower running put the lawnmower throttle to the choke setting.

The valve should be fully closed when on the choke setting. If you need to adjust the choke you can move the throttle cable that runs to the carburettor to the correct position.

If the choke is incorrectly set it will take many attempts to start the lawnmower as you are manually warming up the engine to the point where it does not require the choke.

Fuel Tap

Make sure the fuel tap is turned on if fitted. This may seem simple but just because you didn’t turn it off doesn’t mean someone else hasnt!

What Makes A Lawnmower Easier To Pull Start

Ok, now we have established we have correct fuel flow and choking let’s see what we can do to make a lawnmower easier to pull over.

Let’s start simple and then move onto the number one reason a lawnmower is difficult to pull start.

Adjust The Height Setting

If you have the height setting on your lawnmower at a low setting and the grass is already fairly long you will be attempting to start the lawnmower against the friction of the blade turning on the grass.

Raise the height setting slightly and it will be easier to pull over the lawnmower engine.

Full Tank Of Fresh Fuel

If you are having too many attempts to start your lawnmower be sure to fill the tank with fresh fuel. This always helps start a lawnmower.

Setting The Valves

Having poorly set valves is the number one reason a lawnmower is difficult to pull over and start

Many lawnmowers have OHV (Overhead Valves) take a look around the front of your lawnmower near the spark plug for a cover marked with OHV.

Setting the valves makes a massive difference to how easily a lawnmower pulls over.

The first time I experienced this was when I picked up a lawnmower at a local auction. I watched dozens of people attempt to start this particular lawnmower and each and everyone failed.

It was if they were trying to start the lawnmower with the brake on, and I really did see some people try very hard to start it that were well-built individuals.

Not one person managed to start it no matter there size shape strength or technique.

I won this particular lawnmower at the auction and took it home to repair. It was totally impossible to start and I could hardly pull the cord no matter how hard I tried.

It had spark fuel and compression and still did not attempt to start. The pull cord was so stiff it felt like the engine had seized.

I decided to set the valves by removing the OHV cover.

To see how to set the valves on your lawnmower be sure to check out this video on my Youtube channel.

Once the valves were correctly set this lawnmower pulled over smoothly and almost effortlessly, the difference was amazing.

I have picked up many lawnmowers to repair for profit that have been very difficult to pull over and 90% of the time it is down to the correct setting of the valves.


One of the worst things to experience when attempting to start a lawnmower is kickback.

Kickback is when the pull cord rope snaps back whilst been pulled over and tries to rip your arm and fingers off.

Usually, kickback occurs when you have a sheared flywheel key. This can happen when you have struck a hard object whilst mowing.

You can read more about kickback and how to resolve it in my article here

Hydro Locked Lawnmower

Having a hydro locked lawnmower engine will make it impossible to pull over the lawnmower. This happens when too much oil has got between the cylinder head and the piston. Having this problem means the piston is unable to move and the engine won’t pull over.

If you take a look at the lawnmower exhaust you may see a lot of oil there or below the exhaust on the lawnmower cutting deck itself, this is a sign of a hydro locked mower.

Having a lawnmower that becomes hydro locked is usually because the lawnmower has been tipped up or even tipped over allowing oil to access parts of the engine where it shouldn’t be.

To fix this problem it’s really simple.

All you need to do is remove the spark plug and pull over the lawnmower using the starter rope with the spark plug removed. This will remove any excess oil and fuel from the piston area and also through the exhaust.

You should now attempt to restart the lawnmower.

To do this spray some quick-start fluid in through the spark plug hole and refit the spark plug. When the lawnmower does start it will smoke for at least 5 to 10 minutes before the white smoke starts to clear. It takes a while to burn off all the old oil from the exhaust area you can do it in 1-minute sections if necessary.

Bent Blade Or Crankshaft

If you are hearing strange noises from the underside of the cutting deck and your lawnmower is difficult to pull start you need to check the blade or crankshaft isn’t bent.

Remove the spark plug and lean the lawnmower on its side with the exhaust pointing down towards the ground and the carburettor facing upwards.

Take a look at the end of both sides of the blade and see if there is an even clearance between the end of the blade and the cutting deck at both ends.

If the blade is bent you will need to remove it and I suggest using an impact wrench to do this as bent blades can have a blade bolt that’s more difficult than usual to remove.

If the blade is fine then after removing the spark plug take a look at the blade bolt to make sure it stays central when rotating the blade. If it doesn’t the crankshaft may be bent and the lawnmower will be difficult to pull start.

Check the blade for obstructions and also remove the drive belt guard if fitted and remove any grass.

Blade Adapters

Most lawnmower blades sit on a blade adapter that has two pins that line up with two holes on the blade.

The two pins are designed to break in case a hard object is struck by the blade and prevent the crankshaft from becoming damaged.

If the blade does not sit correctly on the blade adapter it can affect the timing of the lawnmower and therefore make it more difficult to pull over and increase the chance of kickback.

Lawnmower Pull Cord Handles

There are different styles of lawnmower handles you can fit to the end of the pull cord rope. I find that the usual T shaped handles are the most difficult to pull.

Look for the larger sized handles you can pull with the whole palm of your hand. This makes pulling a lawnmower pull cord much easier.

Lawnmower Won’t Start

If you have a lawnmower that won’t start at all or won’t start after winter be sure to check out these two articles

Don’t Endlessly Pull Over A Lawnmower

There is absolutely no point repeatedly pulling over a lawnmower in an attempt to start it.

We’ve all been there myself included!

Chances are that if it the lawnmower does eventually start it won’t run for very long anyway so there is no point injuring yourself in the process.

More likely you will flood the carburettor and cause further problems.  If a lawnmower has fresh fuel correctly timed spark and compression and the valves are set correctly it should start up easily.

Lawnmower Starts Then Dies

If you are repeatedly pulling the starter rope because your lawnmower starts then dies it is highly likely you have a fuel starvation problem. This can be very tiring and frustrating as you may think the lawnmower will eventually keep running. Chances are it won’t.

You can read more about fuel starvation here and save yourself a lot of time and wasted effort.

Take a look at this video on how to clean a lawnmower carburettor

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Air Filters

Although a new air filter won’t make a lawnmower easier to pull over it can eliminate any problems an old dirty one is causing. If you are having starting problems it won’t hurt to remove the filter and attempt to start the lawnmower for a minute or so.

If a lawnmower has been tipped over it can easily clog the air filter and starve the engine of air.

Drive Belt

If you have a self-propelled lawnmower it is a good idea to remove the belt guard and remove any excess grass that has worked its way in there.

This will save the belt from being pulled off the blade adapter and allow it to run freely whilst the engine is turning. It may help the initial pulling of the starter recoil rope when attempting to start your lawnmower.

NGK Spark Plugs

Using a good quality spark plug is essential. I always use NGK spark plugs and have never had one problem.

Never ever compromise on the quality of a spark plug as I have had dozens of lawnmowers that simply required an NGK spark plug to run correctly.

If you are having starting issues be sure to check the spark plug gap and don’t overtighten the spark plug as it’s possible to accidentally close the gap when re-tightening.

Honda Lawnmowers

Honda lawnmowers are renowned for there easy starting. They use an automatic choke so no priming is required. The ignition coils are well built and the flywheel has multiple magnets attached that enable spark.

If you are looking for a lawnmower with a powerful relatively quiet running engine that is really easy to pull start I highly recommend the Honda Izy HRG 466 SK 4-Wheel Self Propelled Petrol Lawn Mower range of lawnmowers.

These are without a doubt the easiest lawnmowers to pull start and are very high quality. They are very easy to push also and do an excellent job.

There are various versions including different cutting widths as well as push and self-drive models.

Electric Start Petrol/Gas Lawnmowers

Having an electric start lawnmower maybe something to consider. This, of course, eliminates the need to use the pull cord.

One thing to bear in mind with an electric start lawnmower is that it will require the valves to be set when necessary to enable the electric start to function efficiently.

Be sure to use the pull cord occasionally also on an electric start lawnmower or it may not function properly when you do need it.

Final Thoughts

Many people really love owning and using a gas lawnmower and really don’t want to have to use anything else.

The main thing to do is make sure the valves are set correctly if your lawnmower has become too difficult to pull start.

It will be worth taking your lawnmower for a service and having the overhead valves set correctly before deciding to purchase another lawnmower.

Most lawnmowers now are OHV models and they are designed to be adjusted so the lawnmower engine has a long serviceable life.

I have written an article about 8 lawnmowers that could potentially last a lifetime with the correct servicing and maintenance you can view it here

Don’t forget to visit my Youtube channel and watch the videos on how to set overhead valves it may just solve a lot of your problems and make your lawnmower a lot easier to pull start whatever your size shape or strength.

Remember it shouldn’t be difficult to start your petrol/gas lawnmower if everything is set correctly and there is no point repeatedly pulling the starter rope.

Make sure you have fuel spark and compression and the valves are set correctly and it will really help any start-up issues you have and make you lawnmower easier to pull start.

Happy Mowing
















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