Hardware Problems

By Shamus Posted Sunday May 22, 2011

Filed under: Personal 232 comments


The grass in my yard is long. Shockingly, embarrassingly long. It’s an awful tangle of shin-high weeds (knee-high, in a few spots) that can conceal small objects. On either side of me are retirees who maintain yards that look like the green at St. Andrews. My yard has yet to be touched by a blade this spring. Most people have mowed at least twice by now.

My mower is malfunctioning. It starts, runs for a few seconds, stalls. It will keep running if I manually pump the prime button, but the moment I stop doing that, it stalls. I messed with the choke, put fresh gas in the thing, and changed the oil, according to the ancient folklore. Problem is unchanged. I don’t know anything about engines. Don’t have the money to fix it. This morning I decided, “Screw it. I have the internet. This is a simple machine. I’m sure a million other people have run into this problem. I’ll just Google around, find the answer, and fix it myself.”

I was able to find a lot of suggestions like this one:

  1. Spark plug — clean and regap, or replace.
  2. Air filter — clean or replace
  3. Carburetor — clean, check float for sticking.
  4. Perhaps the flywheel key is sheared? Inspect and replace.
  5. Check the fuel line and clear blockage.

This was very interesting. Obviously anyone who could perform all of the above would have already done so. I mean, I know what a carburetor does, but if you offered me a fiver if I could point to it, your money would be safer than Aquaman’s virginity. If I could identify, disassemble, inspect, repair, and re-assemble one, I sure as hell wouldn’t need anyone to suggest doing so. I can’t imagine what sort of person could make use of this advice. You’d have to know everything about the construction of engines and nothing about their operation.

This week Penny Arcade had a comic about the infuriating problem of asking other nerds for help. Everyone has heard the jokes about someone asking for help with something innocuous in Linux and being told to recompile the kernel. I used to think this was simply a nerd problem. Tradition tells us that nerds have no social skills, and so they don’t know how to impart information. They’ll mix information of different knowledge levels:

Look for the START button in windows. It should be in the lower-left of your screen. Move the pointer onto it and left-click. Once it’s open, select “run…”. Type “command” and hit enter. Now use the command line to create a batch file to back-up and replace the old ATI dirvers. That’s it. You should be good to go, noob.

And this morning I realize this is not a nerd problem, it’s a people problem. In fact, if you search for staling mower problems, you’ll find threads that look exactly like “graphics card problems” threads.

  1. Thread with detailed description of problem. No replies.
  2. Terse explanation of problem. Suggestion to buy a different brand of hardware next time.
  3. Vague and borderline illegible description of problem. 35 replies, all of which conflict with each other before getting sidetracked into a flamewar about 2-stroke engines vs 4-stroke engines.
  4. Rambling explanation of problem. No replies for five days. Then the original poster followed up with, “Nevermind. I fixed it.”

Exchanging information about complicated problems involving complicated devices is usually going to involve complicated solutions. It’s actually comforting that this problem affects everyone, not just people writing and using software.

For my part, I obviously don’t know enough to be able to glean useful knowledge from the internet. I think it might be time to give up and pave the yard.

Q: How many software Engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Can’t be done. That’s a hardware problem.


From The Archives:

232 thoughts on “Hardware Problems

  1. Dovius says:

    you could always try what I usually do when I need to mow the lawn.
    Douse it in gas and enact some good ol’ ‘Burn the Earth’ strategies.

    1. JPH says:

      Now this I can get behind.

      You can always look up instructions for homemade napalm if you want bonus fun times.

      1. Dev Null says:

        First, get in your car and go to the store to acquire a beaker. Park the car in the parking lot, go inside (via the door) and exchange money for the beaker at the cash register. Then go home and mix napalm in the beaker. Easy!

        1. Newbie says:

          I think you went too fast for me. I can’t find the Exchange point. I tried pushing money into the cash register but it is pretty solid. Also I can’t see where the beaker will come out.

    2. tengokujin says:

      No, see, what you need to do is dry it out and then burn it. Use the ash for fertilizer. Dousing it in accelerant just means not only your lawn, but your house, goes up in unusable flames.


      1. Dovius says:

        This is why my house is covered in flame-retardent plates.
        What? Someone with a flamethrower might be JUST around the corner!

    3. Blanko2 says:

      look in an older personal post of his. that’s…

  2. Irridium says:

    Know what the best response is though?

    “I don’t have any problems”.

    Well good for you. I do have problems, and I’m looking for a solution. Thank you for telling me that you’re having awesome fun with your game/mower/whatever, now please leave while I wait for someone to offer me an actual solution. Unless you want to mail me your stuff, you are no help, and only succeeded in pissing me off. Your response helped nobody, anywhere, and I hope you get hit by a bus.

    Yes it sounds harsh, but I get the “I don’t have any problems” excuse so much I may just devote my time to a device that lets me punch people through the internet.

    Sorry for the rant, but DAMN did it feel good to say.

    1. burning says:

      Do people really do that to you? I’ve never had a problem with that.

      *ducks for cover*

      1. Drejer says:

        If I could, I would give you a cookie for that.

    2. I don’t encounter this problem.


      EDIT: One day I’ll reply faster. Today is not that day. :(

      1. Psithief says:

        I don’t have a problem with replying too slowly.

    3. BeamSplashX says:

      Go back to mowing lawns in WoW!

    4. Simon Buchan says:

      This reply is a slightly less polite version of “I can’t reproduce this.”, a perfectly valid reply which lets you know you might need to provide more specific information in order for your problem to be fixed. However, it’s far more helpful if it’s also provided with his information, eg “Works for me on my Hyundai MX500 Billion I bought 3 years ago, I just pour gas in and press start.” is expecting you to reply with your make, how old it is, and a small summary of the steps you are taking.

      1. Joe says:

        Yeah. It’s mostly a manifestation of the more general communication problem. People who say “I have no problem” are usually just saying “Let’s compare notes to see what you’re doing that I’m not, or what I’m doing but you’re not.” It’s stupid to not word it in a more helpful way, but it’s not truly malevolent.

        1. John Magnum says:

          Except… they’re not providing any notes of their own. There’s nothing to suggest that they even HAVE notes they’re willing to share. It’s indistinguishable from gloating.

          A post like “I don’t have any problems here :)” is so far from “Well, on my machine with the following specs, I don’t get the issue. Can you provide that information so we can narrow down which components may be causing your problem?” that

          I don’t even know

          I have just as little regard for someone who tries to communicate the latter by posting the former as I do for someone who’s just outright gloating.

          1. MelTorefas says:

            THANK you. This is so correct.

          2. Tizzy says:

            I wouldn’t qualify it as “gloating” but certainly “thoughtless” and “not helpful”.

    5. Old_Geek says:

      Because when you post that you can’t get XYZ to work right, there is always some XYZ fanboy who has to come on and defend the product. I’m NOT trying to say XYZ is garbage! Settle down a bit and put down the flame thrower. I just want a little help so I can have as good an experience with the product as you apparently have. We can agree that XYZ is the greatest product known to man and that only my general incompotence as a human being is stopping me from using it correctly IF YOU WILL JUST HELP ME PLEASE!!!!

  3. Meredith says:

    Can you borrow someone’s mower? Or maybe your brothers can help? I’d have to get my dad and brother onto this one or else buy a new one. That’s why I rent, no yard care. :)

    I love the comparison to nerd problems, though. I’m glad we’re not the only community that refuses to help people who don’t already know the answer. Wait, not glad…that’s a really sad condemnation of humanity.

    1. You get what you pay for. I’ll bet if you actually offered a professional money for his time, he’d be happy to sit through the multi-hour process of imparting enough information to you for you to fix it yourself.

      Oh, wait, that’s precisely what you’re trying to avoid. Oh well.

      Given the choice between “take hours of painstaking effort explaining, re-explaining, dealing with a contrary idiot who won’t listen and keeps interrupting you when you try to answer him and can’t follow simple instructions” and “provide short but not truly helpful answer” most people go with #2.

      Hell, I generally run across this problem when I try to give people instructions on HOW TO GET TO MY HOUSE. There are two types of conversations with people who need instructions:

      Conversation 1:

      Me: So where are you coming from?
      Them: Oh, just tell me how to get there from (major highway).
      Me: Are you northbound or southbound?
      Them: I don’t know, I guess it depends on whether I’m coming from work or if I stop at home first.
      Me: So which one are you going to do?
      Them: Well, it depends.
      Me: Um, fine. Well, you’ll need to get off at exit 17 in any case. If you’re northbound . . .
      Them: Exit 17? Is that the one by the Bob Evans?
      Me: Um, I think so . . .
      Them: Isn’t there a Home Depot there?
      Me: I guess. Anyway from Exit 17 you’re going to want to go West on Route 5 . . .
      Them: Is that right or left?
      Me: It depends on whether you’re northbound or southbound.
      Them: Um.
      Me: Go west on Route 5 until you get to Clyo Avenue, then turn left.
      Them: How many lights is that?
      Me: It depends on whether you’re northbound or southbound.
      Them: This is awfully complicated. Let me write this down . . .

      30 minutes later

      Them: So I turn left by the Bob Evans, right?
      Me: It depends on whether you’re northbound or southbound.

      Conversation 2:

      Me: So where are you coming from?
      Them: I’ll just Google it.

      1. McNutcase says:

        I’m with xkcd on this one. I don’t want directions on how to get to your house, I want to know where it is. That way, I have an actual datum with which I can do useful things like find a route from an arbitrary starting point. If I have your directions, all I have is a list of directions which turns into useless gribble the first time I miss a turn. Directions are for “How do I get to $place from here“.

        1. Chargone says:

          i’d happily just give people my address, but the signage is weird around here and the street new enough that i’ve seen more than a few hard copy maps it’s not even on (not that it’s That new… or even new at all anymore really).

          that and usually when i’m giving directions it’s litterally ‘walk out of this building, turn left, walk down the street, turn right at the end, cross the main road, turn left, follow the road to the cul-de-sac, the house is at the end (plus give them the number.)

          … anyone who knows where i live can now work out which building i’m usually in when giving these directions :D

          1. Bubble181 says:

            *gasp* You’re really telling the ladies in Bob’s Stripper Joint how to look you up after hours?!

  4. Joe says:

    I assume this is a push mower and not a riding mower? If so it should be significantly easier to fix. When you DO get it running, does it sound fine or does it sound like it’s skipping a beat during a cycle?

  5. HeadHunter says:

    Obligatory nerd tech-support answer.

    “Shamus, my mower is working fine on this end. I cannot seem to reproduce your problem. Are you sure your mower is turned on?”

    You might have some small-engine repair shops in your area that actually specialize in things like mowers. Perhaps they can help.

    1. Josh says:

      I’m sorry, Sir or Madam, your lawnmower’s gas tank is not a cupholder.

      1. Cerapa says:

        And now I imagine someone pouring coffee into a lawnmower.

        1. Gale says:

          “I tried to use the mower’s built-in thermos, but when I tried to drink from it, my coffee came out tasting terrible! I want a refund, there was obviously something wrong with it.”

          “You put coffee in your lawnmower?”

          “Well, sure I put coffee in there. I’m not like Jones across the road. I took a sip from his mower once, and he’d filled it with some kind of spirit. Man can’t even mow his lawn without having his favourite moonshine close by. Some people.”

    2. Soylent Dave says:

      Have you tried turning it off and then back on again?

      (which is apparently called ‘power cycling’ nowadays. Presumably because that makes it sound a bit less crap…)

      edit: bah, beaten to it by DrMcCoy (down a bit).

  6. Raygereio says:

    The issue is laziness. People like to imagine that the Internet is filled with mean jerks, but while that is certainly true there are also helpfull people around. It’s just that writing out detailed instructions anyone – regardless of existing knowledge – can understand takes effort and a lot of time.
    It’s an understandable laziness, but no less frustrating if you’re just looking for some information.

    If you gave me the thing, I could have that mower up and going in no time (depending on the exact problem, naturally).
    On the other hand, writing out instruction for you to diagnose and fix any problem with the thing and maintain it yourself would take me the entire day and then some.

    1. Keeshhound says:

      The other part of the problem is that its easy to forget that things which seem obvious to you aren’t always obvious to others. Shamus knows what a carburetor does, but not what it looks like.

      On the other hand, I do know what a carburetor looks like, and in fact was surprised to find out that he did not. At the same time, I couldn’t write the hello world program if you held my hand every step of the way. Specialization of personal ability is one of humanity’s greatest strengths, and also one of our greatest weaknesses.

      1. Octal says:

        Yeah, I have an idea that once you know a lot about a topic, and have done so for a while, you don’t really remember where all the information you know came from or when you learned it. It’s therefore a bit difficult to judge exactly what a non-expert could reasonably be expected to know.

        And clearly it goes both ways–it’s easy to either gloss over something they have no idea how to do because in your head it’s an easy, obvious thing, or to give an unnecessarily detailed explanation of something actually obvious because you’re trying not to do the first.

      2. Heron says:

        My mower was broken until recently. While googling for instructions on how to diagnose and fix it, I found instructions telling me to a) empty the fuel tank, and b) clean the carburetor, but nowhere did any instructions tell me how to do either of those things. (These instructions were on the engine manufacturer’s website, no less.)

        Amusingly, the diagnostic page for “my mower won’t start” includes an instruction to empty the fuel tank, but does not tell you how, though everywhere you are explicitly instructed to *not* tip over the mower. Elsewhere I ran across a paragraph on an unrelated page stating that to empty the fuel tank, simply run the mower until it runs out of gas. Hmm.

        As far as carburetors go, I’m with Shamus; I know what a carburetor does, but I only know it looks like because the guy at Home Depot pointed it out to me. I certainly don’t know how to go about cleaning it.

        Fortunately, my mower magically started working again. It was one of those “I’ll try to start it one more time before I do something drastic” kinds of things…

        1. RTBones says:

          I will submit this video, courtesy of You Tube…


          1. Rick C says:

            That’s a really interesting video, but it should have been a first draft. Once he takes the screw/jet off, he starts talking about debris, for example, and mentions that some of it’s the gasket, and you should clean it off. Oh, there was a gasket there?

            Had I been watching that video for the first time, while trying to follow it, I would have had to stop about three times to make additional trips to the hardware store, for clamps, gaskets, and so on.

            This isn’t intended to hate on it–it’s actually a useful video, but it needs to be totally redone, starting with a list of tools you need and things that you’re likely to have to replace. “go ahead and pick up some extra clamps…I’ll wait.”

      3. MrWhales says:

        I know what it does, not what it looks like. but then again, my specialty is music.. more specifically guitars/trombone/other brass and wind instruments

      4. Simon Buchan says:

        “I couldn't write the hello world program if you held my hand every step of the way”

        Step one: type this into Notepad:

        print “Hello, World”

        Step two: Save as “hello.py”

        Step three: Profit!

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          Step three: Install python.
          Step three a) decide to install python 2.7(.1?). Go to website, find downloader, install
          Step three b) decide to install python 3.something. Go to website, find downloader, install.
          Step four: Try to understand why python is not using ; and counts whitespaces and newlines as code too when trying to do a ‘hello world, my name is….’ app.

          So yeah, your answer was entirely in the line of what Shamus was ranting about.

          1. Pete says:

            Step minus one: Know how to operate a computer.

            Step zero: Know how to create and edit files in Notepad.

            Step two-and-a-half: Know what Python is.

            Step two-and-three-quarters: Know where to and how to download Python.

            Step five: Know how to launch applications, and that applications dont have to have the .exe extension.

            This is fun! Anything I missed? Come on, see what you can come up with.

          2. Simon Buchan says:

            He only said *write* hello world :)

            If he wanted to *compile and run* hello world, I would probably use compilr.com or something.

    2. Tizzy says:

      Laziness cuts both ways in this picture. Too often I see people asking questions without bothering to write out a thoughtful and comprehensive description of their problem. Very frustrating.

      1. Kacky Snorgle says:

        Possibly because they don’t know *how* to describe their problem.

        Witness all the times someone will make the opposite mistake, describing a problem in elaborate, irrelevant detail–but leaving out the one or two key points that would immediately tell an expert what’s going on.

        It’s the same issue Shamus is describing: if the questioner knew enough to accurately judge which of the available facts were relevant, then he’d probably have solved the problem already anyway.

        1. Chargone says:

          i probably tend towards the ‘overly elaborate’ when describing problems… leading to the customer service/tech support person somehow contriving to Compleatly Ignore sentence two where i say Exactly what is not working, and give me solution after solution to a problem i specifically said in sentence four that i was NOT having… (numbers may vary, but generally they see a keyword in my attempt to explain what i do know about the situation surrounding the issue, latch onto that, and ignore the part where i explicitly state exactly what thing is not working or whatever.)


          (my latest problem was actually being told to download a specific analysing tool to try to figure out what was wrong… only to discover my ISP was blocking the download page due to something unspecified it had flagged as milicious code. brilliant.)

        2. Mari says:

          Is that what I’m doing wrong? I frequently experience total equipment malfunction with my motor vehicles after describing to the hubs over and over the problem that leads to said destruction. “It’s making a noise. When I’m at cruising speed it goes ‘chugga-chugga-thwump-squeal.’ And sometimes the battery light comes on even though I didn’t leave the lights on or the door open and it usually goes away but not always. And it’s real sluggish to start and goes ‘clicky-clicky-thweeeeee-chug-chug’ when it doesn’t want to start.” And he nods his head and rolls his eyes and turns back to the computer. And two weeks later I call him from the middle of nowhere saying “The car just died and I’m stranded on the side of the road.” After a thorough inspection he yells “Why didn’t you TELL me your alternator belt was loose!?!” (Note: the alternator belt issue doesn’t actually happen anymore because I finally learned how to diagnose and fix that one after the third time I lost one – in 9 months time – on 3 different vehicles) or we go through “Um, it’s running real hot. And I keep having to add oil. It seems like a lot of oil. Like one of those jugs every day. And sometimes black smoke billows out from under the hood.” Followed by the typical stranding on the road and “How long have you been driving around with a cracked head??? We have to replace the whole engine now!” (That only happened twice, though) Every single time we have to go through this litany of “But I TOLD you it wasn’t working right!” “No, you just said it was X, Y, and Z.” “But that’s NOT WORKING RIGHT.” “No, what you said was just regular running this is completely different!”

          1. BenD says:

            You need a mechanic. (And if your hubs is a mechanic, he needs customer service training!)

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its not just laziness.People dont always realize that stuff that is trivial to them is not as trivial for others.

    4. silver says:

      I’ve tried to write software documentation, design documents, and even good FAQs for my various jobs and I always get to this place where I’m thinking “it should take 20 minutes to explain this” and two hours later I’m still writing and/or editing. Good documentation is HARD WORK.

      Perhaps the problem is that people expect free Hard Work from the world whenever they have a question?

      1. Shamus says:

        “Perhaps the problem is that people expect free Hard Work from the world whenever they have a question?”


        Free, THANKLESS hard work.

        1. Blanko2 says:

          to be fair, i know a lot of people who are willing to do the legwork just to be nice. i will often do it, in fact.
          also there’s people that just want to show off how much they know, just need someone else to take advantage of how much he knows about emptying flux capacitors, is all.

          1. ClearWater says:

            Emptying the flux capacitors? You need to reverse the polarity on them. That’ll usually fix it.

  7. kikito says:

    A 100ml glass contains 50ml of water.

    To the question “How is the glass?”:

    An optimistic will answer “half full”.

    A pessimistic will answer “half-empty”.

    An engineer will answer “over-dimensioned!”

    1. Hitch says:

      The internet answer: I’m not having problems with my glass, so it must be something you’re doing wrong.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        My answer: Are you filling it or emptying it? If you’re filling it, it’s half-full. If you’re emptying it, it’s half-empty. :D

        Also, “That doesn’t matter, just deal with it!”

        1. TheAngryMongoose says:

          If you’ve walked into a room with no prior knowledge of the glass, and there are no clear water marks above the current level, then it’s half full. While you can’t know if it was recently more full that it is now, you know it must have been filled to that point.
          If there are water marks, it’s half empty, because it’s been half emptied.

          What if you fill a glass to the top, drink two thirds of it, then fill it to the half way point?

          If you’re complaining that it’s not full, it’s half empty. If you’re cheering or complaining about how full it is, it’s half full. Otherwise, I’m not sure.

          1. tengokujin says:

            Dear Altana, *metaphysics*.


            1. Bret says:

              Half full. Half empty.

              World belongs to the people who say “Hey! That’s not my glass! My glass was fuller than that! And had a better vintage! Who the hell nicked my glass! I’m complaining to management!”

              1. tengokujin says:

                “I don’t want your lemons! Make life take those lemons back! Do you know how I am? I’m the man who’s gonna burn your house down! With the lemons!”

                Either you know where I’m quoting from or it’s a spoiler if I tell you :p


                1. Chargone says:

                  see, Calvin, when life gives him lemons, simply wings them right back and adds a few of his own. :P

          2. Blake says:

            The winners answer: “It’s half a glass of water”.

          3. Lovecrafter says:

            However, if the glass had been washed and filled right before you walked in, it may still have water marks, without being half-emptied.

            1. Felblood says:

              –and condensation can make false water marks.

              Here’s my take:

              A water bottle left on the counter is half full, because I’m only interested in the part that I can drink.

              A soda can left on the counter is half empty, because I am interrogating suspects to see who only drank the first half, and left the rest to go flat.

      2. Milos says:

        Alternative internet answer: I’m sick of people complaining about their glass. Hatters gonna hate.

    2. Rayen says:

      your still using mL glasses? noob. Buy one that measures in cups and you wouldn’t have this problem.

      1. Caffiene says:

        Cups are not internationally standardised. Could you please provide more information about your location and what size cups you are using?

        1. Chargone says:

          … i would make the obvious joke here, but the required wording just seems Weird coming from a guy.

          1. blue_painted says:

            …. but it is the comment that occurs to most guys!


    3. StranaMente says:

      Update the drivers of the glass.

    4. X2-Eliah says:

      Mugs are better. How can you still live on glass versions? Pft, upgrade now, pops.

    5. Aitch says:

      this question always bothered me. having a glass contain exactly 50ml of water seems like more a problem of temporality.

      if a 100ml glass contains 50ml of water, and we’re doing this in the real world…
      if any amount of time passes, a few atoms of the water will have evaporated, leaving the glass with less than 50ml. unless you put more than 50ml in, but that’s cheating, and still not a permanent solution.

      i feel that the glass is half full only at and up to the moment it ceases to be “filling” and is “filled”. after that point the water level is technically below the absolute half way mark, and so feels more appropriate being called “half empty”.

      right? or am i gonna get hassled like that whole -sound is a pressure wave- vs -sound is a sensory signal- in that whole tree falling in a forest bit?

      1. Simon Buchan says:

        The cup is stored in a sealed chamber with a saturated atmosphere. Water condenses onto the surface at the same rate as it evaporates.

    6. Blanko2 says:

      the correct answer, of course is: “fill it back up, I’m thirsty”

    7. Glyph says:

      I would answer the question with “Looks in pretty good. Not cracked or leaking.”

    8. krellen says:

      My answer: Tasty (after having drunk the water).

    9. Syal says:

      It’s empty enough that the mice can’t get back out.

    10. Dev Null says:


  8. Kevin C. says:

    Shamus, your idea of what makes someone a “nerd” is much too narrow. I think you are thinking of “geeks”.

    Every, EVERY “group” of people has a “nerd” aspect to it. Nerds are the people who know the stuff, and know it well. It’s not that they can’t communicate it, it’s that they have a hard time remembering what is “common knowledge” to those within the field of interest compared to those outside of the field of interest.

    As for the lawn mower issue, if you want to learn it, check with your friends to see who may know something, and then ask to be involved as it gets fixed. If you don’t want to learn it, you’ll end up paying someone.

    Most of that information CAN be found on the net…so your “friend who knows it” is a few clicks away.

    Oh, out of those….
    1) The hardest one is the carburetor (located near the air filter…after the air is filtered, it goes into the carb to be mixed with the gas). It’s also least likely to be the problem if nothing else has changed.
    2) The least likely one is the flywheel.
    3) Most likely? Spark plug or gas line. I’d start with the gas line but that means you have to drain the gas tank (not hard, just know you need to).

    (If you need more advice, my email is obviously available to you.)

    Good luck.

    1. Okay– I helped my dad get it running once– it only runs now if it is already hot. if the engine isn’t hot it does the same start and only stay running as long you keep priming the engine.

      The gas line has been cleaned, the gas replaced (was full of junk as a kid left it open to the elements at some point (pro iof having kids that like to mow the lawn is they mow the lawn, down side is they leave it out i n the snow and rain.)

      Spark plug has been replaced (which did make a difference– it turns over on the first go now.)

      My dad suggested that it is the carburetor since everything else has been dealt with but I know as little about small engine repair as Shamus (though I love getting involved and am perfectly willing to tear things apar tan putting them back together again).

      My dad suggested that dirt had gotten into the carburetor however, thanks to my handy fix anything yourself book we were able to remove the tank on it and clean that out– nothing there and the float was fine. It seems that it is missing the two screws that are supposed to adjust the mix–there are holes there but now screws) but I don’t know if that is a problem– they were full of gunk, cleaned them, in fact cleaned everything we could, made zero difference.

      The air filter is gross and needs replaced but it made no difference starting it whether it was on or off so we are assuming that isn’t the only problem and hate to buy a new one if there is still something else wrong.

      The mower was my grandfathers and has always had some odd issues– when you move the throttle to the turtle (vs the hare) it turns off completely instead of slowing and if you move the throttle to a specific place about 3/4 of the way to the hare it works much better and starts easier than elsewhere.

      The closest mower repair place is 45 minutes away and it is probably not financially worth it for us to take it there. I can probably pick up a new air filter pretty easily but don’t see the point if the rest doesn’t work.

      If we keep it going long enough via the restarts and priming then it will eventually stay on– but it takes at least ten minutes of that for it to keep going– and we aren’t even sure it WILL stay on as this has only occurred once though once on it stayed on as long as we left it on.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Screws missing, that sounds familiar. Our mower keeps shaking the bolts that keeps the handle connected to the rest of it loose – I’ve actually lost one of them, and it’s a pain to turn now.

        I’ve messed it up pretty thoroughly over the years..

      2. StranaMente says:

        For the throttle, most engines have a screw near the carburetor that adjust the amount of gas that can pass to the engine (if I remember correctly), in Italy it’s called “the minimum”, because for a fine tuning, you should set you’re throttle to the minimum and the engine should still work. I think that in english it’s called the “idle screw” (and should be something like this, and usually you can see that it has a small spring)
        If you turn that screw with the engine on, you can adjust it to work right. Unscrewing it should make more fuel go into the engine and so making it go faster (too much fuel will suffocate it, though).
        The ideal setting should be one in which at the minimum throttle the engine is still working but at the lowest “rhythm”.

        If you changed everything else, and the only thing left is the carburetor, I wouldn’t be too bothered, as it should clean itself after some use, at least, enough to keep working.

        1. Peter H. Coffin says:

          I think you have it here. A missing idle screw would mean that there is an inappropriate amount of air for the engine being at its stable throttle position, which closely matches the described condition.

      3. Fists says:

        Did you take the carby off and apart to clean it? You won’t get the important parts clean while its together but only take it apart if one of you is good at remembering how to put stuff back together, clean with kerosene or you can buy carby cleaning fluid from car care places. Missing idle and mixture screws would be an issue if the rest worked properly but if it has a long history of fixes maybe the result of some bodging or may actually be tempered by the amount of dirt in the system so cleaning the carby may mean you need to replace them.

        Better option, find a cheap second hand one that runs

        1. Adam says:

          Why not just clean it with petrol as it’s generally soaked in the stuff anyway?

          1. Fists says:

            Not 100% on why but thats how the mechanic type people I know do it. My guess is that kero is cleaner and a thinner fraction so more aggressive solvent?

      4. Nick says:

        This is a fuel-air mix problem, if it only runs if you continually pump more fuel in, then it is running lean: there is too much air being combined with too little fuel for combustion. You said the mix screws are missing from the carby, I would say that is your problem.

        You may be able to test this be restricting the airflow of the air filter, try covering the air intake partially and see if it runs.

        1. General Ghoul says:

          I think it is the spark plug. Just reading Shamus’ post tell me he has never changed it ever. They do not last forever.

          Shamus, it will cost you less than $5 to check this, the old spark plug comes out with a wrench or a socket wrench. Take that one to your local Walmart or hardware store and buy the same kind. Also but a spark plug gap meter. If you have your owners manual, great, if not look it up on the mower’s manufacturer’s website and find out what the proper gap should be. Total repair time less than 5 minutes plus the trip to the store.

    2. Old_Geek says:

      I’d agree and say gas line. He says it does turn over, it just dies right away. Would it turn over if the spark plug was bad? Also, Shamus says that as long as he pumps it, the motor stays running. Sounds like gas stops getting through as soon as he stops.

  9. DrMcCoy says:

    Have you tried turning it off and on again?

    1. Josh says:

      I hear kicking it sometimes helps.

      1. StranaMente says:

        A stern look, or some cussing may work too. But only if you know what say, otherwise it might worsen the problem.

        1. TheAngryMongoose says:

          Go for the standard solution. Rage. Go for the most obvious solution. Rage. Change everything remotely related. Rage. Spend 3 days online looking for even a similar problem, trying every fix you come across. Rage. Try something completely unrelated, for a completely different purpose. Find it’s fixed. Wait 3 days for it to break. Rage. Ask brother for help. Watch him rage. Rage. Forget what you were trying to fix.

          1. Old_Geek says:

            The great thing about going into rage is that you get +4 STR and +4 CON, so you are much better prepared when it comes to beating the tar out of it.

        2. Mormegil says:

          In Australia we have a product called “Start ya [email protected]*&#$%rd”

          I have yet to run into a mower problem that a liberal application of this did not fix.

      2. HeroOfHyla says:

        Works with my friend’s video card. The fan periodically stops spinning, causing it to overheat and shut down his computer.
        He takes it out, stares at it for a bit, puts it back in, and it works.

        1. BenD says:

          I have a server hard drive that requires this treatment, especially on Fridays.

    2. Lord_Bryon says:

      give the topside a good smack with your fist

      1. sab says:

        And if that doesn’t help, try the side.

        1. Gale says:

          Don’t try hitting the underside of the mower, though. They like to… Kick back.

          1. MrWhales says:

            Not if it doesn’t stay on it doesn’t. just avoid.. the metal-ish thing that spins

    3. GiantRaven says:

      Are you sure it’s plugged in?

    4. silver says:

      Clearly, he needs to reformat and reinstall his mower.

      1. Blanko2 says:

        i think its just a driver issue. are you sure its compatible with mower2.0?

        1. Rayen says:

          It’s the “YoUr MoWeR HAS security issues” virus.

    5. Soylent Dave says:

      Boo – I hadn’t got this far when I shamelessly used the same joke in a reply up there somewhere (honest).

    6. Jabor says:

      You can’t fix a broken machine by power-cycling it without understanding what is going on.

      Get someone who knows how a mower works to power-cycle it for you.

  10. james says:

    Sometimes after being stored for months the gas well it goes a bit bad, sometimes all you need is some fuel stabilizer. Don’t know if that helps.
    On the other note searching the internet for answers is the best way to get a brain anurism, I hardly ever post myself because all i ever get are people telling me to do stuff with no context, or get insulted by assholes for not knowing the solution. Penny arcade defiantly put it best.
    Oh and as a software programmer that joke at the end is the greatest.

    1. McNutcase says:

      If the fuel is already waxed, stabilizer won’t do any good. There, you’re into clearing the gas line.

      Shamus, I assume you know where the gas tank is on the mower. The gas line is the small hose running from that to the doohickey. Figure out how to disconnect it, and flush it through with carb cleaner, available from an auto parts store. Then, since the tank drained while you did this, refill it with fresh gas, and before you put it away next year, add some Sta-Bil, which you can get at the auto parts store. If that doesn’t help, it’s time to try the spark plug. Find the big fat wire leading to the engine, and pull it off. You should see a thing that looks like a kind of weird bolt with some ceramic in the middle; that’s the plug. Unscrew it, and go back to the auto parts store, where the guy behind the counter will suck his teeth and eventually sell you a replacement, which you can install in place of the old one.

      And if it still doesn’t run, consult the yellow pages for someone to repair it, because cleaning carbs isn’t amateur work by any means. Too many springs to fly across the workspace and get lost.

      1. Hitch says:

        The air filter is also a pretty easy fix to attempt. Shouldn’t be too difficult to identify or figure out how to replace. It’s been a frequent problem with my mower. The biggest problem I had was when I decided cleaning wasn’t going to cut it anymore and it was time to replace it with a new one. I went to the nearby large, national chain home improvement center with extensive garden center. I was greeted at the door by the ever-helpful employee wanting to know what he could do for me that day. I asked for the lawn mower air filters. His response? “I didn’t know they had air filters.” Yeah, helpful.

      2. StranaMente says:

        I think the spark plug it’s easier to check and clean than the gas. Besides I never had problem with the gasoline and always had with the plug, but you never know…

        1. See my reply to Kevin C. above for info on the actual problem being had and what we have done to fix it: http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=11709&cpage=1#comment-213041

  11. Mr. Wizard says:

    My grandfather had the perfect solution to broken gas mowers: manual push mowers and kids. :D

    1. Aldowyn says:

      That doesn’t help if the engine doesn’t run…

      1. Veloxyll says:

        Also push moweres are only effective against short grass. Good luck going through long grass with them.

        1. Moridin says:

          Scythe works on long grass.

          1. General Ghoul says:

            Also works on kids on the lawn.

        2. MrWhales says:

          wait.. what? My grandparents made me cut there grass with a push mower when it was taller than me….

      2. silver says:

        Aldowyn: a manual push mower doesn’t have an engine. images.google.com for “manual push mower” for examples.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          Oh. Huh. I was thinking it meant like a normal mower that you have to push, as opposed to having powered movement.

          My bad, thanks for explaining that.

  12. Supah_Ewok says:

    Is it stalling while mowing the grass, or is it failing before you even touch it? Because once you get grass that high, you can’t just push over it, the machine can’t handle it. You need to mow slowly. raising the mower an inch or so from the wheels also helps. If you’re problem is that it can’t run period, then I dunno.

    1. StranaMente says:

      This too. But I think that since he’s talked about pushing the prime button, the problem might be something else.

  13. Mark says:

    Scythes are cheap and easy to maintain.

    1. Lord_Bryon says:

      plus they come with a really neat costume

    2. Eroen says:

      Sheep are simple to kidnap, and nobody cares as long as you return them before the end of grazing season. They generally maintain themselves.

      1. Rustybadger says:

        Plus, you can get plenty of delicious milk from sheep!

      2. Blanko2 says:

        … downside is the… exhaust.
        makes good fertilizer. but there will be a lot of it.

      3. BenD says:

        I vote miniature goats. Less likely to get in trouble with the neighbors if you can claim the lawnmowers are valid, legal pets.

  14. Lord_Bryon says:

    I suppose its kinda the same way with getting directions from locals

    “Take a left were the big oak tree used to be drive till you pass the hardware store that isn’t there anymore and turn up the street that used to be called ____ .”

    The longer you live in a place the more irreverent your instructions become.

  15. StranaMente says:

    Well, I fix my mowers often, and the main problem is the spark plug (also, it’s the easiest thing to clean and usually the most effective).

    To do that you will need appropriate wrench (something like this) to unscrew that, or some pliers and fierce will; sandpaper to clean the plug, and the knowledge to find the plug itself.
    If you don’t know where to find the spark plug you should look at a part of the engine that has metal winglets on it (something like this), the plug is hidden under the cable (here you see a man that’s pulled the cable from it).
    So you have to pull the cable, and unscrew the plug. Clean the metal tip that goes into the engine (the spark takes place between the centre electrode and the ground electrode) with the sandpaper and put that back again.

    The spark plug is usually the problem because this small engines don’t have separate lubricant circuit, and the gas they burn is usually more dense with oil, and that dirties the plug over time.
    If you manage to get the plug you will probably see that it’s blackened because of the oil. Once that’s cleaned the mower should work better.
    You can ask your neighbor to borrow you the wrench (and maybe help you making that machine work).
    If that’s not your problem, or you need a better explanation, you can ask me.

    And, if the solution is cleaning the carburetor, that’s only another problem. I know what it is and how to clean it, but I certainly doesn’t reccomend it. At that point is better to 1) bring the thing to someone more able, or 2) buy another one

  16. Timelady says:

    Have you ever heard of the Internet Public Library? It’s a website made up of volunteers and students dedicated to collecting fairly reliable reference sources around the internet and answering reference questions from internet people. I had to answer reference questions there for class credit there a while ago, and it’s actually pretty neat from the inside, too.

    And I hate to say it, but I would be pretty shocked if your local library didn’t have at least one book on lawnmower or small engine repair. Us librarian types aren’t quite obsolete yet. ;)

    1. Have a book on small engine repair that has up till now been exceptionally helpful and have tried everything it suggests that would not cost as much as replacing said mower– at this point I think if is gremlins.

      1. tengokujin says:

        You guys fed it after midnight and got it wet?
        The HORROR!


  17. KremlinLaptop says:

    Luckily I’m a car geek as much as a computer geek so my mower problems lead to… well usually it leads to me with the lawn mower completely disassembled on a floor somewhere, pinpointing the exact cause of the problem.

    In all honesty though, an engine is an incredibly simple device and fixing something like a lawnmower engine yourself is the perfect way to learn some basics. I started out with small things like that, chainsaws and so forth, mopeds and before I knew it I was working as an actual mechanic.

    Edit: Although if you need to mow the lawn urgently, then taking the “Hm, might as well open it up and see how it works” approach is not suggested. Also suddenly becoming a car geek might result in a yard full of half running ancient cars and a relationship with your significant other that becomes more a war of attrition.

    1. BenD says:

      You never need to mow the lawn urgently, unless your child is lost somewhere in the grass, in which case you have to use hand tools anyway. Sit back and enjoy the lush green wilderness. ;)

  18. Rayen says:

    it’s for these sorts of problems and explanations that i keep a “how things work” book on my book shelf. it usually has normal things like a internal combustion engine or even a lawnmower. from that you can kinda extrapolate what the carburetor is on your machine or where the air filter is…

    just saying.

    Also do you know your neighbors? could you perhaps ask to borrow one of their working mowers? Or perhaps pay a neighborhood kid 20 bucks to mow your lawn for you…

    EDIT; One last thing. My dad made me mow our lawn when it got to that length, you might wanna make sure the grass isn’t clogging the bottoms of mower. you didn’t say whether it stalled in the grass, if it was in the grass this might be why.

    1. Our kids ARE the neighborhood kids. And have borrowed a mower once but most have riding mowers which are not conducive to our particular hill side.

      1. Swedmarine says:

        Do you happen to have any scissors lying around the house then?

  19. Khizan says:

    My answer to a mower that wasn’t running right was a local small engine repair shop.

    I just don’t find it worth the hassle to mess with something like that myself. Unless you can clearly pin down and identify the problem, you can easily spend the $50 or so that the repair shop may cost you buying various cleaners and parts and such in blind attempts to fix the problem.

  20. Duoae says:

    I guess you can’t ask the retiree neighbours for a favour and borrow one of their mowers? It might actually be good for them because they may be wondering why you’ve not cut your lawn.

    Maybe bake them a pie as currency…. On second thoughts…. can you bake, Shamus?

    1. Raygereio says:

      Luckily cooking is one of the few areas of expertices where you can actually easily find information on how to do things; from books to step-by-step instruction videos on youtube.

      1. Veloxyll says:

        omg n00b l2souffle!

      2. WarlockofOz says:

        Cooking by a non-cook, Volume I.
        The recipe for today is an ‘Easy’ recipe with 20 minutes prep time followed by 90 minutes of cooking, available at http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/9100/onepot-chicken-chasseur
        . My trainer has instructed me to make it in the slow cooker, set on
        high and has challenged me to perform this recipe without assistance.

        Procedure followed:
        1a. Read recipe.
        1b. Write down list of ingredients.
        2a. Go to kitchen with list of ingredients. Tick off those available and recognisable.
        2b. Peer at labels on herb shelf until finding the one with ‘thyme’ written on it.
        2c (i) Hope the white thing in the fridge is garlic.
        2c (ii) Wonder whether a clove refers to the whole clump or a single piece.
        2c (iii) Search on the internet for a picture of a garlic clove.
        2c (iv) Break off one clove.
        2d (i) Read instructions on stock cube box for how to make chicken stock.
        2d (ii) Boil water and mix in three cubes.
        2e (i) Take list of ingredients to the shops.
        2e (ii) Purchase wine for £4 from the supermarket.
        (iii) Examine Butcher’s display for chicken thighs. None present.
        Decide chicken legs will be an acceptable substitute. Purchase chicken
        legs for £3.
        2e (iv) Purchase mushrooms from the greengrocers for £1.
        2f. Return home.3a. Wash the frypan and the slow cooker bowl.
        3b. Dry the frypan and the slow cooker bowl.
        4a. Search for ‘season’.
        4b. Decide it means adding salt and pepper.
        4c. Do same to chicken.
        5. Melt butter and oil in pan, fry chicken. Overdo this a bit while rushing back to read the next step of the recipe.
        6. Chop Onion. Slip slightly with the knife and lose part of a nail. Fortunately, no blood.
        7a. Squash the garlic clove.
        7b. Throw out the squashed clove.
        7c. Break another clove off the clump.
        7d. Peel the skin from the new clove.
        7e. Squash the new, peeled clove.
        8a. Grab the chicken from the pan with a spoon.
        8b. Hop around balancing hot chicken on a spoon while looking for a plate
        .8c. Drop chicken on plate.
        8d. Take plate and chicken out of cupboard.
        8e. Bring plate to pan.
        8f. Move the rest of the chicken to the plate.
        8g. Put the plate in the microwave to protect from the cat.
        9. Add another blob of butter, the chopped onion and the crushed garlic to the pan.
        10. Realise the mushrooms are a bit big. Rinse them, chop hurriedly, add to well-cooked onion in the pan.
        11. Uncork bottle, pour wine over the mix in the pan.
        12. Stir in tomato puree, place lid on pan, take a breather while checking up on the recipe.
        13. Adds thyme to the stock.
        14. Wonder whether I was supposed to add the stock to the pan at some point.
        Read recipe again, decide ‘pour over the stock’ is supposed to mean
        ‘add the stock to the pan’. Take a moment of satisfaction at penetrating
        this piece of the secret language. I will tread in their holy places!
        16. Wonder what the slow cooker has to do with all this.
        17a. Dump everything into the slow cooker and set it to high.
        17b. Make note of the time – 90 minutes cooking time will mean it’ll be ready just before I go to work.
        18 Write up everything I’ve done for post-action analysis.
        Compare costs and difficulty to initial estimate. £3 and an easy 20
        minutes vs £8 and an hour of combined work and research. Decide this is
        within acceptable parameters for government work.
        20. Plan follow up destructive testing actitvity.

        1. Raygereio says:

          Or alternatively you get a recipe that didn’t already asume the reader knows basic things and actually contains details instead of being written in the most sparse manner possible.
          These do actually exist; I own 4 books that explains such basics as “How to cook a egg” complete with diagrams and “How to tell when a chicking is tender”.
          One of them is translated from English, so they’re also ought to be available abroad.

          Though I must confer praise where it is due. Your post got a chuckle out of me. A hearty one even. It brought fond memories back to the time before I thought my housemates how to cook.
          Actually thinking back, those memories weren’t all that fond. To this day I still don’t know how someone can manage to screw up prepping instant noodles.

        2. Bryan says:

          Hah! I have to say, step 8d is probably the funniest. :-)

          (Although the “finish kneading batch 1 of the bread dough / let it start to rise / finish kneading batch 2 of the bread dough / let *it* start to rise / find out the oven needs to be cleaned (doh!) / wait for people who went to the store to get back with cleaning utensils / scrub out the oven for half an hour, then figure out where to dump the dirty water/cleaner residue / realize the bread dough has been rising for *far* too long now / put dough in oven” sequence I went through a while ago is almost as good. It turns out bread isn’t terribly complicated, but you have to remember to think far enough ahead…)

        3. Mari says:

          I think this goes to the “some people forget that not everybody knows everything on a given subject” point made somewhere hereabouts. I’m very guilty of this in cooking. Until you just pointed it out, it never occurred to me that someone might not know what I mean when my recipe says “season the meat” or “pour over the sauce.” Honestly, half the time I don’t even remember to add “season the meat” to the recipe because “DUH! Everybody knows that you put some salt and pepper on it or it’s bland!”

          1. Bubble181 says:

            I disagree; far too many people over-season their meat. I want to taste the animal that died for my lusts, not a bunch of herbs and spices.

            Also, my cooking is surprisingly similar to the above-described :-P

  21. Nathon says:

    Our solution to the broken mower problem: bought an electric (cordless) mower and turned most of the lawn into garden. As a special added bonus, I get fresh veggies and credit for all the flowers my wife grows there.

  22. X2-Eliah says:

    You could just skip cutting and say that you treasure your lawn too much to mutilate it on regular basis.

    1. Timelady says:

      Heh. I like that one. May have to use it sometime.

  23. JT says:

    Here’s something that will only cost you a little time and has worked for me. Gas does have a “shelf-life”, but if the mower worked last season and not this one, the problem may be something as simple as water in the gas tank.

    Water absorbed over the winter by the 10-15% ethanol blend most gas places sell now is left behind when the alcohol evaporates. Try taking off the gas cap, turn the mower over and shake as much of the old gas out as possible. Get fresh, non-ethanol blend gasoline and try again. I had the same symptoms with a chainsaw that had been stored for several months and putting fresh oil/gas premix in it cleared the problem right up. It could just be that simple, Shamus, and it doesn’t require much in mechanical knowledge to try. Let me know if it works for you.


    1. The mower quit working right before the last mowing of the season and we did replace the gas just in case.

  24. SatansBestBuddy says:

    And today, Shamus learns a valuable lesson:

    Don’t look to the internet for help in an area you are not the least bit familiar with.

    Go and find a real person to help you first.

    It’s not that the internet isn’t a useful resource for problem solving in pretty much any field, it is, it’s just that when you don’t know everything about said field then you’ll quickly realize the internet’s a minefield full of bad information, incomplete answers, overcomplicated instructions for simple tasks and oversimplified instructions for complex tasks.

    You need a real person who knows the ins and outs of that field to be there in person, so you can ask him questions and he can answer them face to face.

  25. Factoid says:

    Just go to the gas station and buy yourself a bottle of fuel system cleaner. Something that says it’s designed for carburetors, not fuel injectors.

    Pour a few ounces in with your gas and keep it running by using the primer. Sounds like you have a gunky fuel system and a 4 dollar bottle of cleaner might fix it for you. Just don’t pour in the whole thing. Those are meant for cars with 15 gallon tanks, not a half-gallon mower tank.

    1. Definitely going to try that. Excellent advice, thank you.

      1. ps238principal says:

        If I may extend the advice to what the “Car Talk” guys usually say: “Look for a bottle where the word ‘Miracle’ is in the name of the product.” :)

      2. RTBones says:

        This is certainly a cheap and easy test which may fix the issue outright. From the way Shamus described the problem, it certainly sounds like it is a fuel-air mixture issue – in this case, not enough fuel (which is why continually priming the motor keeps it running).

        This at least bounds your problem to figuring out why the motor isn’t getting the proper mixture.

  26. Eric says:

    Everyone is a nerd. We’re just nerds about different things… games, music, technology, lawnmowers, sports, etc. It really all boils down to aesthetics, and our personalities and characters are largely separate from them.

  27. Aldowyn says:

    A question: Why oh why does every lawn mower in existence seem to be a temperamental beast devoted to making your lawn-mowing experience as horrible as humanly possible?

    Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a mower that always works right every time >.> It’s not like they’re that complicated.

    1. Veloxyll says:

      They make mowers that work right when did this happen?

      1. Hitch says:

        Fifty years ago. They cost so much at the time that it was worth it to pay somebody to repair it on the rare occasions that it did break down. Since then, they figured out how to make them really cheap to manufacture, but they aren’t nearly as reliable. On the other hand, they’re cheaper to buy than repair, so they get to sell more.

      2. Mari says:

        When they discovered that plugging them into the wall works much better than the kind that runs on gasoline. Except for the darned extension cord that you constantly have to lift up.

        Seriously, I’m so happy we’re in an exceptional drought this year. No fighting the 50 foot extension cord! Woohoo!

      3. lazlo says:

        I’m either really lucky or I’ve found something wonderful. When I was growing up we had a Snapper that was always just to one side or another of complete failure. I expected this was the norm.

        When I got my first house with a lawn, I bought a cheap Yard Machines MTD push mower. It is functional beyond my wildest expectations. I’ve had it for 5 years now, and every summer, after 9 months of sitting idle in the garage, I take it out, push its primer 3 times, pull its cord once, and it starts. I have *never* had to pull its starter cord more than once. It baffles me every time. If you ever have a completely dead mower, I’d recommend this model as a replacement.

      4. BenD says:

        They’ve made them forever. Google “manual push mower.” Only mower I’ve ever been able to keep operable for more than one use.

    2. ps238principal says:

      I’m actually surprised someone hasn’t come up with a hacked-together lawn mower (gas or electric) with a Roomba by now. Probably due to liability reasons involving an inability to avoid small pets or children.

  28. Some Jackass says:

    Shit-can it. Sell the fucker and buy a goat.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8g918MTSp4 (7:53)

  29. JT says:

    Just read your wife’s post. That seems to eliminate what I thought might be the problem, but it does bring up another possibility: check the primer bulb and the lines between the primer and carb for leaks/cracks.


  30. GiantRaven says:

    Why the joke at Aquaman’s expense? I’ll have you know his status as a virgin is shattered, having fathered children in the comics.

    [/irritating comic book nerd]

    1. Veloxyll says:

      Artificial insemination is a magical tool

    2. HeroOfHyla says:

      That’s the “hook hand, epic beard, and bare chest” Aquaman. We’re talking the “clean-shaven, orange-shirt” Aquaman.

      1. Drexer says:

        Yeah, that one is the same. And once he came back to life his first action was to ‘do the nookie’ with his wife Mera.

        Of course now I should point out that mentioning his wife suddenly makes him feel even worse as her status as a supporting character is cooler than his as a supposedly main character of the Aqua-Family. >_>

        1. Bret says:

          Except in Brave and the Bold.

          Brave and the Bold Aquaman is the best.

  31. Why use a lawnmower? Just use a weed whacker, it works great! >:-)

    1. Norikue says:

      Neil’s right. Use a weed whacker until you find a fix for your mower. You can also buy a push mower later on after using the weed whacker. Yeah, it’s eco-friendly but there’s gas or motor involved other than pure human power.

  32. TheAngryMongoose says:

    Shamus. Go for the obvious solution. Fire.

    It’d deal with the lawnmower and those better-garden-than-thou neighbourhoods too.

  33. psivamp says:

    I can’t believe no one tried to replicate the 2-stroke vs. 4-stroke engine flamewar! Obviously, you have to go with the 2-stroke’s much higher power-to-weight ratio over the 4-stroke’s precious environmental “benefits.”

    I kid. I try to do as much of my own car maintenance as possible. As a computer geek and chemical engineering student, that’s pretty much limited to basic stuff until I really decide to invest in the idea…

    1. Nostromo says:

      There’s a totally relevant comic about that at Subnormality.


      (How do you link in here?!?)

    2. Eroen says:

      I’ll help by noting that the fuel economy impact depends on your local gov’ment’s views on taxation of hydrocarbons, particularly for transport purposes.

    3. Fists says:

      No way, 4-strokes have much better low end torque so you can power out of any sticky situation and they have a smoother top speed!

  34. Mari says:

    I can’t believe that not a single person in the comments here has any clue how to fix a lawn mower. All the thing needs is a really loud, long string of curse words. It’s ok if some of them don’t even exist or use old words as entirely new parts of speech. It’ll take about 30 minutes of this and the lawnmower should be working perfectly. The neighbors, however, still won’t talk to you. :-P

  35. Hal says:

    You know, I experienced the same problem in grad school.

    Not the lawn mower, I mean the problem with people who can’t communicate information at the proper level.

    I used to think that this was a problem with people being too smart. That is, they’re so immersed in a subject at any given time that they can’t get “outside” their own head and communicate the ideas at a different level of understanding.

    Eventually, I realized that it’s a problem of pedagogy: Some people have no idea how to teach, how to convey information. This isn’t exclusive to grad school professors or forum dwellers. Ask a profession chef how to prepare a dish and they’ll tell you about ingredients. You might have to prod them for things like proportions, amounts, cooking times, and so forth. Half the criteria for things will be, “Just try it, you’ll figure it out eventually.”

    I had a similar problem growing up; my father would frequently try to teach me how to do basic electrical work (he had been an electrician.) However, he couldn’t be bothered to explain nomenclature, would not allow me to get my hands on something until he thought I understood it, and would usually “teach” me by having me hold his tools or fetch equipment, causing me to miss half the things he was trying to show me in the first place.

    This is one of the reasons I think they ought to make public speaking courses mandatory in high schools. The entire approach to communicating a subject to people who don’t know anything about it is practically a foreign language to a lot of people.

    1. Kacky Snorgle says:

      This is one of the reasons I think they ought to make public speaking courses mandatory in high schools. The entire approach to communicating a subject to people who don't know anything about it is practically a foreign language to a lot of people.

      That’s not public speaking; that’s technical writing. But, yes, it might be nice to shoehorn some more of it into the school curriculum, if we could ever agree on what to delete to make room….

      1. Eroen says:

        I though we agreed we could stop teaching everything on this list

      2. BenD says:

        That’s not strictly technical writing, it’s educating. That said, a basic course in ‘how to teach stuff 101’ would be an excellent addition to the core coursework required in all liberal arts and sciences secondary educations. We’d be a better people.

  36. MintSkittle says:

    What you really need to do is put some metal in your pockets, then bang on the mower with a wrench. That should get it working again.

  37. Well, Shamus you could always get a goat. It’d be cool if there was a local service where you could let people bring their animals to graze in your overgrown lawn for a day or so. :) Mowing the lawn always seems like such a huge waste to me, to be honest.

    Or you can ask one of your neighbors if you can borrow their mower or something.

  38. Stefano Marone says:

    two options:
    scythe or rabbits
    there you go

    1. GM says:

      no rabbits too dangerous, it took holy grenade last time or have you forgotten?.

    2. Kdansky says:

      I suggest combining both. That way, you get rabbit for dinner extra.

  39. Steve C says:

    Shamus said:

    It starts, runs for a few seconds, stalls. It will keep running if I manually pump the prime button,

    It’s #5. “Check the fuel line and clear blockage.”

    Pumping the prime wouldn’t make any difference if it was #1-4. That’s a key bit of info. It says the engine is getting enough air, but not enough gas.

    How to solve this for a layman:
    Best bet is to start with a long flexible thing to prod with. A wire of appropriate size and stiffness or a thin piece of metal like a spare dipstick. Nothing too sharp.

    Look at where you put the gas. Look inside that container for the path out. Check it with a long prodding thing to see if it’s clogged the gas side.

    If no change, see how the gas exits that container. That’s the gas line. If it’s a hose, remove it and clean it. Compressed air (like you use to clean inside a computer) blown through should be enough to dislodge the problem. Hopefully you can do that without draining the gas. Just remember your laws of physics when dealing with fluids.

    If there is an identifiable gas line and there is a doodad that looks like it belongs there in the hose as a normal part of the mower, that’s the fuel line filter. Not all mowers have one. If it does, remove it. It’s most likely done exactly what it’s supposed to do, stop crap from getting in the engine by lodging it the filter. Run the mower without the filter in place (it won’t hurt anything) and see if it makes a difference. If it does, thar’s your problem. Replace it.

    Tip: The carburetor is where the gas and the air mix. So you should be able to figure out what part of the engine it is by following the gas and following the air intake. Where the two meet is the carburetor. “Cleaning it” is really just pulling it apart and putting it back together the same way you found it.

    1. Zerotime says:

      Surely #3 is still applicable? If the float on the carb is stuck up, he can still force fuel through the float valve by manually priming it, right?

  40. Amstrad says:

    Never mind.

  41. Brandon says:

    This fails to address the internet solution problem, but there are companies (like Reader’s Digest) that publish occasional “How to Repair Just About Anything in your Home” books with generic diagrams. I suggest getting your hands on one. It won’t make you a handyman, but it’ll at least help give you a clue. I suspect lawnmowers are included. I should check mine… Let me know if you need me to check for you.

  42. Kdansky says:

    Stackoverflow helped a lot. There might be something on Area51 for Lawnmowers? Might want to ask a question there.

    As for the sociological problem: I don’t believe it’s the nerds that are the issue. That problem starts as soon as you need domain-specific speciality knowledge. And we can see that very prominently with computers, because it’s the “new” thing.

  43. susie day says:

    My fix for this problem is to use a scythe. Yes, like the grim reaper.

    1) no mechanical parts

    2) a lot more exercise

    3) they can cut really long grass without killing the machine

    4) it will look awesome when I am trimming the lawn

    They aren’t that spendy and don’t take all that long to learn to use … plus they don’t make me feel sick like smelling mower fuel all the time.

    1. Felblood says:

      I prefer a sturdy, but lightweight sword.

      It doesn’t look as cool, but the lighter weight really saves my bad wrist.

      1. Wtrmute says:

        Then you can call it Kusanagi-no-tsurugi “the grass-cutting sword”?

        Not bad, when grass was too long at my grandma’s we usually had to do with a backhoe. Fun times.

  44. MichaelG says:

    Has anyone mentioned the obvious?

    – Take a short contract programming job.
    – Use money earned to repair/replace mower.
    – Go back to writing your book.

  45. Exetera says:

    I suggest making the most of the situation and having Pokémon hunts in the tall grass.

    1. Chargone says:

      i wish i’d thought of that…

      1. Aldowyn says:

        I don’t know which post to +1, the original or the reply.

        How about both?


  46. Voyd says:

    Have you tried reversing the polarity of the warp drive? That usually does the trick.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Either that, or reconfiguring the main deflector dish.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Why did this make me think of this, except for Star Trek?

  47. Kilmor says:

    Lots of replies, here’s my two cents of help. Pour all the gas out, then put new gas in. “I had this same problem, this seemed to fix it for me…” I think water got in the gas or something. Only ever had this problem when i left the mower sitting for months with gas in it. Now i just mow till its empty. 90% of yard done? Close Enough.

  48. Greenansatsu says:

    Ironic that I spent today fixing a broken lawnmower as well. Annoyingly my mower was brand new this year since the old one rusted out and supposedly was a “Major risk to life and/or limb” something about the chassis being thinner than a piece of paper. Luckily
    my problem was much more benign than yours, the self propel mechanism wasn’t functioning.

    After a bit of tinkering and thorough studying of the instruction manual (I am not to manly to admit that they can be useful) I found that the belt meant to operate the propelling mechanism was never connected to the wheels and was just spinning around doing nothing.

    After another period of tinkering and cursing of horrid mower design and America’s and the World’s inability to decide one uniform way of measurement especially for socket wrenches, I finally got the belt reattached and started to mow the lawn, and add lawnmowers to odd things that I’ve managed to fix by random tinkering.

    However as I began to mow, I realized that the grass was too wet to cut, from the light rain storm, that no one bothered to inform me happened, while I was trapped in a social hall watching people eat. The wet grass caused the mower to stall every 10 feet or so, at which point I said forget it, and put the mower away.

    I then tried to convince my Grandmother whose yard I was trying to mow, to go for the alternative solution which I also suggest to you Shamus, which is to Buy a Goat no gas, no effort, free goat’s milk which sells pretty nicely, and free manure for your garden.

    1. Felblood says:

      Don’t listen to this goat propaganda!

      Goats are one of the meanest, stinkiest animals in the world, and they can be pretty high maintenance, especially if there are things to climb on that you don’t want them climbing on.

      1. Sagretti says:

        Goats definitely are nature’s escape artists.. and garbage disposals. Now I’ve got the hook-up on miniature horses if you wanted to go that route, though I personally suggest a miniature donkey. It’s pretty much like having a really, really tall, lovable guard dog with hooves and a built-in alarm.

  49. Lanthanide says:

    I read pretty much all the replies.

    Not one single person mentioned the types of replies you get when you do post a very detailed description of the problem, including the things you’ve already tried and why they didn’t work or what impact they had where they:
    – suggest something you’d already tried
    – suggest something that obviously cannot be the problem
    – suggest that the problem you have is not actually the problem you should be worried about (when you, the one who is suffering the problem, knows that it is).

  50. Matthew says:

    And I thougt it was a “me”-problem.

    Whenever I ask somebody (in meatspace/rl), like “what’s the procedure to get days off at this job” I would get a handful of different answers, shotgun-stle around my intended target.

    Which NOOBODY ever gets right. And then everybody is pissed at me because I am pissed at them for their inability to give efficient answers :-)


    1. MaxDZ8 says:

      Seconded. I lived this situations only a few hours ago. Sometimes I miss the internet from the last century. Slow and small. But with good S/N ratio. Amen to that.

  51. MrValdez says:

    You just described the problems with forums and Q&A sites: lack of useful answers.

    StackOverflow.com was created in response to these problems but were geared for programmers.

    They had such a huge success, that they decided to expand to other topics (such as math, gaming and home improvement). Their central hub is StackExchange.com and people can propose new Q&A sites (which has to pass an intensive beta process before they become a new site).

    Anyways, check out their Home Improvement site (http://diy.stackexchange.com). You’ll find a lot of questions about mower or try asking your question there.

  52. Helm says:

    Concrete it

    If you want a lawn paint it green

  53. Zaxares says:

    My solution? Tell others that “I LIKE my lawn to be wild and untamed. It’s a tribute to man’s primal origins!”

    Also, replace your entire lawn with clover. Clover never grows beyond a tiny, tiny height, and it remains a deep, pleasing shade of green all year round.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      I agree with the clover bit. It’ll destroy your soil for all other plants, but really, are you intending to put some trees in there? I guess not.

      Other than that, clover is just much better than grass, staying nice and green throughout droughts, not growing too high, being better-digestible (for the really small kids :-P),…

    2. X2-Eliah says:

      Yep. Then Shamus can also put up a sign saying “Warning, Cloverfield.”

    3. ps238principal says:

      There’s a guy about a block and a half from me whose yard is an “urban wilderness.” He’s got signs that look like the ones in state parks, a box with an “information and activity sheet” and everything. It’s overgrown, true, but it’s achieved that actual ‘forest’ look, where the trees and leaves keep the grass down and everything.

      I suppose it’s like letting your hair grow out; there’s that weird spot between “you need a haircut” and “heavy metal god,” but once you get there, it becomes ‘a look.’

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Can you post some pictures? I’d really like to see this.

        1. ps238principal says:

          I found a website about the project:


          If you scroll to the bottom, he’s got “seasonal photos.”

  54. LadyTL says:

    Shamus you missed two other variations on useless answers. I come across them all the time. the first is tech support linking to useless articles that everyone knows does not fix the problem and then they mark your question as answered. The second is where someone at some point actually found and put up a good solution which then half a dozen people linked to. The problem is that initial site got deleted, revamped or whatever but everyone still links to it without checking that it still exists so you end up with someone saying this person found a solution and then a dead link.

  55. Felblood says:

    You need to make friends with a mechanic.

    When my friends need their memory chips swapped out, or their drivers rolled back, they come to me, but this comes with the tacit understanding that next time I need to change my transmission fluid, they had better show up before I destroy my car.

    Did you know that you can put too much transmission fluid in a car?

  56. ps238principal says:

    There are many, many facets to your problem, and I’ve experienced something similar myself with my trusty ol’ Lawn Boy which has served me faithfully for about a decade until it started leaking fuel from the cut-off valve near the tank. Assuming you’ve done all of the things you’ve been advised to do, here’s the ‘final solution’ that I’m going to take if I can’t fix this leaking gasket via an eBay parts purchase or by coming up with a brilliant fix from the junk I have in my workshop/garage:

    1. Get up fairly early on Friday or Saturday morning.
    2. Consult Craigslist for the local area looking for used lawnmowers in whatever condition so long as they run and are cheap enough to fit budgetary limits.
    3. Failing #2, consult garage/estate sales for listings with lawn mowers.
    4. If #3 is too expensive an option, wait until about noon on Saturday or even Sunday (if the sale is still ongoing) and make them an offer on the mower you can live with.
    5. Use lawnmower until it dies, and return to step 1.

    This is how I got my Lawn Boy. When looking for a repair online I was interested to discover that there are such things as lawn mower nerds. These guys repaint and restore their mowers. I even found a ‘project page’ where some guy was restoring the model of mower I had and all he lacked were the original decals.

    But the problem you’re running into is an assumed baseline of knowledge and/or familiarity. The forums I found advice on were ones where people referred to engines and parts by model number from memory, the same way we might refer to the type of RAM our computers use. “Remove the RAM chips” is the same as “disassemble the carb” to them.

    By the way, I scanned through the thread; did you post your mower’s make/model anywhere? You might be able to find a manual online. I also found it helpful to do a google image search for my mower; I found a lot of the forums that way when I came across photos of it in pieces.

  57. Gary says:

    Shamus, I’m having a similar problem. I too have searched for answers and even asked friends. I get the same kind of advice. “Just do X to Y” To who the what? Needless to say my lawnmower is sitting in the back yard surrounded by 2 foot tall grass.

    The front yard you ask? Why it is about 4 or 5 inches tall right now…It’s almost time for me to get out the weedwacker again….

  58. lazlo says:

    “Obviously anyone who could perform all of the above would have already done so. I mean, I know what a carburetor does, but if you offered me a fiver if I could point to it, your money would be safer than Aquaman's virginity.”

    I think I may know who this advice is aimed at. Owner’s manuals often (though not always) contain detailed drawings and sometimes even descriptions on what all of the parts are, what they’re named, where they are, and how they fit together, but may be extremely short on exactly what it is they do, or which part may be the culprit given a particular symptom. So if I know small engines in general, but have no idea about your particular model, then saying “it sounds like your spark plug is fouled, try cleaning it” could be helpful, if you combine it with the user manual information on where the spark plug is on your mower (which I couldn’t have told you anyway, since I don’t know your mower)

  59. Oleyo says:

    Ooooh, your mower got HACKED you noob!

    PS: weedwhacker is funner.

  60. Bentusi16 says:

    Ask your wife to go to your neighbors and ask for help while pretending to be working on the mower, so you get the help you need but save manly face. And it gives you a rock hard alibi and you can say she did it of her own free will.

  61. Strangeite says:

    Late to the ballgame but it sounds like the wife is already on the right track to fixing the mower.

    I have found that I learn the most when something breaks and I have decided that I am going to replace said item. But before I buy a new one I attempt to fix it myself. For example, our ancient dryer has broken down three times now. My wife gets extremely giddy about getting a new one but I attempt to fix the problem.

    Our dryer is still working (actually better than when we bought it used) and I now have the knowledge to feel comfortable tackling other dryers if they break down. What once seemed a magical box that drys closes has become a fairly simple device.

    Basically it is a sheet metal enclosure that houses a drum, which is turned by a belt that is attached to an electric motor. At the back is a heating element and said heating element doesn’t burn the clothes because of a heat sink. That’s pretty much it. The refrigerator and dishwasher have likewise been reduced to a few fairly simple parts.

    1. ps238principal says:

      There’s an even simpler model consisting of a rope tied to two points suspended several feet above the ground.

      I think it runs on Linux. :)

  62. Paul Spooner says:

    Okay, saw the tweet that you got it running and the lawn is mowed. What fixed it? Which, if any, of the excellent advice was the key? And, most importantly, will it entertain us?
    EDIT: Thanks for writing up the second post. We appreciate it.

  63. Adam says:

    Can you borrow a goat? Or maybe one of the retirees mowers? Sure they would be glad to see the grass mowed.

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