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My Toro walk-behind lawnmower is around 3years old, and I'm guilty of not having done any sort of maintenance to it. Never an oil change, never anything other than fill it and mow. I do drain fuel at the end of mowing season, so that's one good thing, I suppose.

Last week, I had the lawnmower running fine for around a minute, and mowing grass reasonably well, when it suddenly slowed down (as if the engine was under extreme stress) and stopped. Slowing down and stopping must have taken around 15seconds or so, as far as I can tell.

I tipped it over to the side, and tried cleaning under the deck. Three years' worth of packed grass was removed (nothing really interfered with the blade, though), and I righted the machine back up.

From that point on, the pull cord is stuck. It pulls out maybe 4" or so, and then there's extreme resistance to any sort of further movement. There's no hard stop; just no movement at all. This happens regardless of whether the spark plug is installed or not.

I reviewed the engine oil situation; there's enough, but it's a sick gray-black color, and certainly smells like burnt oil. I'm assuming that's not good.

It looks like the engine is seized, though I hope that's not the case. I can turn the mower over and manually turn the blade, but that takes a whole lot of effort, and there's some sort of swishing (grinding?) noise behind the spark plug opening when I do this.

Is my engine beyond redemption? Is this something that I can fix myself (or get somebody to fix), or should I just go out and buy another (and maintain it better going forward)?

  • Try to get in the habit of checking the oil every time you refill the gas. 2/4 cycle engine oil is cheap and adding a little more will make a toro run forever. I have had mine for...9 years...wow and all I have ever done is make sure it is oiled and drained for winter. – James Aug 6 '14 at 15:53
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In my estimation (and bear in mind i'm no mechanic) your engine is seized up, and do you really want to spend half your summer rebuilding a mower engine? You have two options:

  1. Take it to a small engine repair shop and get an estimate. Diagnostic services vary but will generally be less than $100. If the cost of repairs is less than a new mower, maybe its worth fixing. If not see point 2.
  2. Hold a tasteful memorial service in the back yard, say some kind words about your late mower, and then buy a new one at your earliest convenience.
  • thank you! I've upvoted your answer, but I was able to get the machine running (see my own answer below). At least for now. It will live to fight another seizure one day. – alt Aug 6 '14 at 16:14
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OK. Figured it out.

As @paperstreet pointed out, the engine was indeed seized up. And there was a severe lack of oil, despite my earlier assumption.

However, I've been able to get it to run now, and it's doing (what I perceive to be) a better job mowing the lawn.

I spritzed a couple good-sized sprays of WD-40 into the spark plug opening, stuck the handle under my car (to make sure the dead man brake was disabled) and moved the blade by hand - in both directions - until it moved much smoother than before. I could hear the compression as I did this, and so I'm hoping the seizure won't cause any lasting damage.

An oil change, a few minutes of the pull cord, a little of WD-40 smoke, and the machine's now running almost as good as new. It subsequently did a 2hr mow with no apparent problems.

I think the oil change helped the machine run better, and the WD-40 and blade back-and-forth un-seized it (if there's such a term).

Going forward, of course, better maintenance. I may have significantly reduced the life of this mower, but I'm sure it will last a few more seasons, at least.

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