Finances & Money

Breathing new life into an old lawnmower

When we bought our first home 2.5 years ago, the previous owners left their old lawnmower for us. We have 0.21 acres, and the house and pool cover about half of it. However, we do have enough lawn to require a power lawnmower…or we would need about 4 hours if we want to mow with an old-school mower and then rake the lawn.

Our first lawnmower was quite unique. Why? It only had 3 wheels! Yeah, it was supposed to have 4.

Being the naive, new homeowner, I didn’t know you could actually BUY lawnmower wheels! I went through half the summer mowing the grass with my disabled lawnmower until one day, disaster fell upon our household…

The other front wheel fell off!

Halfway through finishing the front lawn, my lawnmower was reduced to just the rear wheels. I did finish mowing the lawn by balancing the mower, but I buzzed a few uneven areas a little too closely. My neighbors, who have lived here 25 years, noticed my folly and offered up their old mulching mower for free. I gladly accepted.

Fast forward to now. The mulching mower has lost the two front wheels as well, but I’ve learned a few things about fixing up lawnmowers:

Fixing old lawnmowers

This spring, when you haul out your old lawnmower and can’t get it started, or parts fall off, remember these tips:

1. If the wheels on your lawnmower fall off, you can buy new wheels at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or any other hardware store for under $10 each. Usually, it’s not the wheel that falls off; it’s the adjustable wheel mount that breaks free from the mower frame. You end up just needing to bolt the wheel directly to the frame, thus losing the adjustable feature. However, you postpone spending hundreds for a new mower for maybe another season.

2. If you are having trouble starting the mower, try the following things:
a. Check the gas and oil levels. Obviously if either are low or empty, then you’ll have some problems starting the mower.
b. Check the spark plug. Unscrew the spark plug and make sure it’s not caked with dirt or old oil. If so, scrub it off with a wire brush to clean off the gunk.
c. Remove all old grass from the underside of the mower. A LOT of grass will get caked and molded into the underside of the mower and slow down the rotation of the blade. Also, it will lessen the efficiency of the mower and cause it to clog more often.
d. After, cleaning out the old grass, spray the blade shaft with WD40. The blade shaft is the metal pole that connects the blade to the mower. This was my last resort with my own mower (after I attached a new wheel), and the mower started up after 3 pulls.

3. You can find a lot of used lawnmowers for free in the paper or on Craigslist. Other sites like Fastline (dedicated to just lawn and farm equipment) posts used equipment for sale as well. I actually have another post about this topic, but if you need a new handlebar, motor, blade, wheels, or any other mower part, try scrap lawnmowers that people want to trash. I’ve cannibalized our first mower of all parts except the motor, which is how we’re still using our second mower.

4. When all else fails, and you find your mower just can’t “cut it” or it’s not safe anymore, then stay tuned for my next post about your options for new (or semi-new) mowers.

Remember, only use power equipment for as long as your gut tells you it’s safe. And then after you consult with your gut…ask your wife. She always knows best anyway

Update: Kevin (aka kmull) added some of his own ideas for maintaining your lawnmower such as changing the oil and spark plugs, and sharpening the blade.

About the author

Clever Dude


  • I’ve learned a lot about lawn mowers working on ours. We got it at an auction and it had some interesting “repairs” on it. Parts were missing. One pulley was totally missing and the previous owner just put a shorter belt on it to make up for the smaller path length.

    The place where we got the parts for it gave us schematics to help us out.

  • I have a nearly new Toro walk behind lawnmower that I love, but which became obsolete last year when I bought a lawn tractor at the new house. The walk behind was purchased out of necessity, and before we knew we’d be moving. It’s still sitting in the shed because I haven’t been able to bring myself to part with it. That being said, right now is probably the ideal time to put it in the paper… Maybe I’ll fire it up tonight, make sure it’s running well, and then get it sold.

    (Yes, I realize this is only tangentially related to your post, but you got me thinking!)

  • You should actually change the oil and spark plug (and depending on the type, the air filter) every season. This helps prolong the engine’s life. You can also take your mower blade to a place like Ace Hardware and have it sharpened for 5 bucks. I actually purchased a second blade so that I can always have a sharp blade to swap in as needed.
    Spending a few dollars each season will help keep the mower running in great condition for many years.
    Also, a little trick I read about is after you scrape the old grass from the bottom of the mower, spray the underside and blade with Pam. It will help prevent the grass from caking onto the bottom.

  • […] a followup to my article “Breathing new life into an old lawnmower“, I’d like to talk about how to decide when to buy a new lawnmower, and then what […]

  • I LOVE the thought of you and the 3-wheeled lawn-mower! That sounds EXACTLY like something I would do… I moved out of my parents’ home into a house of my own when I was about 20 years old, and I had NO IDEA about these kinds of things… so I went to a “used” lawnmower place, and paid 400 dollars! for a USED lawnmower… not knowing that I could have purchased a BRAND new mower for half of that price.. we must all live and learn…

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  • […] The Cleverdude show us that Craigslist is a good place to cannibalize parts to maintain a lawnmower […]

  • have you ever had a rear wheel that you could not get off. used 10w40 and also pb blaster, soaked the area more than once. can not get the wheel off an old husky riding lawn mower. thank for any help.

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