Craftsman Lawn Tractor won't start

scott_jSeptember 1, 2009


I have a 7 year old Craftsman Lawn Tractor -- 22HP, Automatic Transmission (Model 917.272861). After 7 years with no problems, the tractor didn't start. When I turn the key, I just hear a click.

I read a lot on this forum, other websites and in the owner manual and tried some tests but still can't find the exact cause of the problem. I think it may be a problem with the starter, but the symptoms don't exactly match what I've read for a bad starter. I was hoping that someone on this forum may be able to help me out with some advice.

With a multimeter I'm reading a little over 12 volts on the battery.

When I try to crank the engine, the battery reads a little over 10 volts.

At rest, the red wire to the solenoid is carrying 12 volts. The red wire from the solenoid to the starter is 0 volts.

When I try to start the engine connected to the battery alone, I just get the click.

I connected a battery charger to the battery and the voltage on the battery reads 15 volts. When I try to start the engine with the battery charger connected, the flywheel turns a little, the solenoid clicks a lot and:

-- Red terminal to the solenoid reads over 12V

-- Red terminal from the solenoid to the starter reads 3-4V

-- White wire from the ignition to the solenoid reads 3-4V

-- At the starter, the red terminal + ground reads between 0.5 and 4 volts.

I've checked all connections and the black ground connection at the bottom of the accessory compartment (under the battery). All connections are clean, tight and I don't find any breaks in the wire or wire insulation.

I know it's downstream, but just in case, I checked the spark plugs. They're clean and the gap is correct. There is clean fuel in the mower and all my tests were done with the brake engaged and with a weight on the seat to activate the operator presence switch in the seat.

I've read online that you can try to connect jumper cables directly to the starter red terminal and ground to try to turn it directly. I tried this and the starter gear pops up, engages the gear on the flywheel and turns a little more than with the other tests, but also is not turning smoothly and the engine doesn't start.

I'm having trouble figuring out how to take the starter off of the engine to test it on a bench. I see there are two bolts holding the starter bracket, but can't get a wrench in to remove them because the starter gear is in the way of one of the bolts.

After all these tests and with what I've read, it seems to me like the problem could be the starter or the battery. I thought it may be the battery before I hooked the starter directly to the battery charger. After that test I'm thinking the starter could be bad.

But I really have no idea so I was hoping that someone in this forum may be able to offer me some advice before I take apart more of the engine. I already have taken off more parts than ever have in 7 years.

Thank you in advance for any advice you can offer to me.



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The solenoid has two heavy terminals. One is from the battery at 12V and the other goes to the starter carrying 12V because the wire from the ignition switch energizes a coil inside and allows power to flow from one heavy terminal to the other. If there is 12V at one terminal, there should be 12V at the other terminal, not 3-4V.

A battery charger does not always have the power to turn a starter. It depends upon its capacity. If you were to apply 12V from your battery directly to the post on your starter and it worked properly, the problem is most likely in your solenoid.

A less scientific way of bypassing the solenoid is to use a heavy bladed screwdriver and touch both terminals on the solenoid at one time. Expect a spark and cranking and be prepared for both. Ignition switch ON and it will start. Ignition switch OFF and it will just crank.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2009 at 6:10AM
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Thank you for the advice.

I tried touching both heavy terminals on the solenoid with a screwdriver, got some sparks but no movement of the starter.

I checked the voltage on the battery and it is still ~12V. I connected the battery charger to the battery and got the voltage up to near 15V then tried the touching the screwdriver to both heavy terminals again. Now the starter moves a little but in a way similar to my previous tests.

Could it be a bad cell in the battery even if it is putting out 12Volts (or 15 with help from the charger)?

I was talking to a co-worker today about the problem and he told me that most lawn tractor batteries don't last more than 4-5 years. The one in my tractor is original and a little over 7 years old. I remove the battery every season and store it in my basement. Before replacing the battery every season, I charge it up.

Given all the information you gave me yesterday and learning that my battery has lasted a few years longer than is usual, I'm back to thinking it could be the battery. Before you told me that connecting a charger directly the starter doesn't necessarily provide enough juice to turn the starter, I'm back to thinking the battery could be bad.

I'll buy a new battery tomorrow because it could be the problem. Even if it doesn't fix the problem, it sounds like it's time to get a new one anyway.

Thank you,

    Bookmark   September 2, 2009 at 12:39AM
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Remove the spark plugs and see if the engine turns over. A normal sized charger, not a trickle charger, should turn the engine over without plugs in it. That would at least show you that the key, solenoid and starter are working.

A battery can show 12V but not have the amps necessary to turn the engine and it's true that batteries have about a 5 year lifespan.

Think of a 9V radio battery and a 12V car battery. Close in voltage but more amps.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2009 at 6:09AM
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I finally got the tractor moving again. The problem ended up being the starter. When i bought a new starter, I tested it on the bench and it spun perfectly. After I got the old starter off the mower, I did the same test and it didn't turn freely.

In addition to the starter, I installed a new battery at the suggestion on this board.

One thing that slowed me down was the need for a flywheel puller to get at the bolts on the starter bracket. There is probably a way to get the flywheel off without this special tool, but I had never removed it so I didn't want to break anything by putting too much force on the flywheel.
The tool was only ~10 dollars and with this tool, the flywheel popped off easily.

Thank you, baymee, for your advice to my question. I really appreciate it.


    Bookmark   September 19, 2009 at 11:04PM
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Baymee, I am having the same problem as Scott is having with my model 917273634 tractor. My symptoms started showing up when I had the tractor in choke mode and it wouldn't turn over but when I took it out of choke mode it started sometimes, now it won't even start but sometimes cranks. I removed the spark plug as you suggested and the engine does turn over.
What bad part(s) would this inidcate and how do I test each compononent to be bad?
Also, I discovered that no fuel is going through the fuel filter, I replaced the fuel pump and tested for a clog through the fuel filter but that was ok.
Would these two problems be related?

    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 7:48AM
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Just bumping this thread as most of you were probably off during the weekend.. If anyone can help me out that would be great.


    Bookmark   November 9, 2009 at 9:46AM
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You may do better to start your own thread. Be a bit more descriptive. Is it having difficulty cranking? Pertaining to the no fuel getting through the filter- have you cleaned the lines, tank or fuel cap vent? Lots of info here if you browse for it.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 12:43AM
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Just a few words of tremendous impact!-- You do not have to remove the flywheel from one of those engines with the bolt underneath it!
A bit of turning and checking up under the flywheel will quickly show you, thru the feeling by your fingers--just when the correct placing of the flywheel will allow the bolt to be removed! btdt!
But, only turn the flywheel by hand, and keep your wits about ya--don't want to chop off a finger! Or, get it stuck in the works!

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 6:11PM
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