Craftsman Lawn Tractor Won't Start

jchin34November 11, 2009

Hi there,

I have done a few searches in this forum but couldn't come up with anything specific for the problem that I am having so here it goes:

I have a Craftsman model 917.273634 tractor in which 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 this somehow allowed it to crank and it would start after I put it back into choke mode while it's cranking. Thinking it was the battery, I had it replaced since it was over 4 yrs old and it cranked and started just fine. This went on for about a month, but one day I went to start the tractor and it would just crank, but not start.

Now when I go to try starting the tractor, it cranks initially but doesn't start, then after a few tries it won't crank at all. I tried removing the spark plug as was suggested in another thread and it cranks just fine. I also tried seeing if there is a spark on the plug (brand new) by putting it near a metal part of the tractor but no spark.

I tested the seat switch by hooking it up to an ohm meter and pressed it a few times, the reading on the meter is 0 ohms when no pressed and open circuit when pressed, is this correct?

One thing I also noticed just recently was that the fuel filter was empty, so I replaced the fuel pump and filter and tested the line from the tank to make sure no clogs. Still no luck and no fuel in the filter.

What bad part(s) would this inidcate and how do I test each compononent to be bad? I am about to buy and replace the iginition switch, but would appreciate some input as to what the problem might be and what to tryso I don't have to keep buying parts.


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davidandkasie(Z8 MS)

quit throwing parts at it.

no spark, but it turns over means MOST LIKELY that the safeties work fine. you could have a bad coil/plug/diode. remvoe teh shroud and you should see the coil will have a single wire coming to it besides just eh plug wire. unplug this wire and see if you get spark. CAUTION, you cannot turn teh mower off until you plug this wire back in so pull the plug(s) first. if you do get spark, then something is telling teh coil to ground out. if you don't, then the coil is bad or the plug is bad.

you may also want to check the valve clearances for the not turn over at all. if the lash is incorrect you build too much compression and the starter can't turn it over. post your engine model/type code and someone can give you teh adjustments. the numbers are on teh sticker with teh serial number of the engine. of course, it could also just be you are flooding it out since it can't spark to ignite the fuel.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 12:00PM
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First, let's establish the correct use of the term "crank". Crank only means the engine is being spun, whether by the electric starter or an auxiliary pull rope, or other means. While an engine is "cranking", it is not operating on its own power, some external force is causing the engine to rotate.
Fuel filter being empty or appearing empty: I almost want to say it should be illegal to manufacture a fuel filter with a transparent case. The phenomenon of a fuel filter appearing empty is just that, phenomenon of appearing empty.
Simply placing a spark plug NEAR a metal part of the engine to check for spark may not give true results. To check for spark, the threaded portion of the plug should actually be in contact with a clean, bare metal part of the engine while cranking and you should watch for spark in the gap between the center electrode and the bent ground electrode. The seat needs to be occupied while cranking. If you can confirm there is no spark while cranking, you can disconnect the "kill wire" where it attaches to the throttle cable control panel ON THE ENGINE. (This is where the throttle cable hooks up to operate the OEM engine controls.) If the spark returns after disconnecting the kill wire, you make suspect a faulty seat switch or key switch. If you start the engine while the kill wire is unhooked, the engine might continue to run unless the engine has a fuel solenoid, which will kill the engine when the key switch is turned off.
If you find that the engine IS making spark but still does not want to start and run, and there is a fuel solenoid on the carb, the fuel solenoid may be getting sticky or gummy and depriving the engine of fuel, even though the rest of the fuel system is OK. Check some of what I posted and check back with your findings.
Some of the actual "cranking problem" (when it stops cranking until you pull the spark plug) may be caused by the need for adjusting the engine valves to the proper clearance. We can get into that later if need be.

Here is a link that might be useful: 917.273634 Owner's Manual

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 12:17PM
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Thank you for the speedy replies!

davidandkasie, the model # of my B&S engine is 31P777 Type #0348-E1. I'll try disconnecting that wire and post back w/ results.

mownie, oyur definition of "crank" is exactly what I am referring to. I'm not goint to argue w/ you about the fuel filter, but although not transparent as in glass is, it was still transparent enough to see if there is fuel in it, let's just say that I did confirm it was empty when I tested for a clog from teh fuel tank. It sounds like the kill wire test is the same as what davidandkasie is suggesting so I'll post results as soon as I get that done. I'll also retest the spark plug..


    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 1:02PM
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OK, I disconnected what I think is the 'kill' wire as it goes to the same component as the spark plug wire goes to (coil?). I still got no spark. Is there any way to test the seat (other than how I did in my original post) and key switch and coil?


    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 2:09PM
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Alright, if you disconnected the kill wire, and you still get no spark, no need to further test the seat switch, or any other switches for that matter. Briggs & Stratton magneto ignition is a completely self contained, self powered system that uses a rotating magnet (in flywheel) to produce a spark in the ignition coil whenever the magnet rotates past the coil. The kill wire from this coil is connected by some type of switch (or several switches sometimes), to the ground circuit of the engine or chassis when the spark needs to be stopped, such as when you want to stop the engine intentionally, or when you arise from the seat and the seat switch kills the engine. If you removed the kill wire and still get no spark, it has to be something else causing the spark to be absent.
Check the kill wire a bit further now. If you have not already removed the fan/flywheel cover (sheetmetal cover) from the engine, do that now. When you have the cover off, check the kill wire along its entire length to make sure there are no bare spots (mice have been well known to chew these wires) in the insulation that might be grounding the coil and killing the spark. If the kill wire has a separate connection at the coil that can be disconnected, take the wire loose there and check again for spark. You are checking for spark using a spark plug connected to the spark plug cable, right? And you are cranking the engine with the spark plug removed from the engine, right? Just be sure you understand, Briggs ignition does not GET electrical power from the vehicle electrical system to create a spark, it makes its own electricity. And the kill wire kills the engine whenever it gets connected to ground. Continue and post back. If everything you have done so far is correct, it is looking like a defective coil, or a damaged (chafed or chewed) kill wire.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 4:28PM
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Thanks for the quick follow-up mownie.. My initial review of the kill wire was that it was sound along the entire wire, but I can double check that. The kill wire connects to the coil via a slide on lug and I did disconnect it at that point to no avail. And yes, I did test for spark in the way you had just described w/ the spark plug.
Just to verify, the coil has both the spark plug wire and kill wire coming out of it and different points on it, right?
At this point it seems like a defective coil, but I'll post back as soon as I get it changed out. In the meantimie, if you have anymore suggestions I am more than willing to entertain them.


    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 5:12PM
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***"Just to verify, the coil has both the spark plug wire and kill wire coming out of it and different points on it, right?"***
That is correct. There is only one more thing you can do, but this will only further confirm what you have pretty much learned. Inspect the spark plug cable itself for damage/chewed spot. Everything you have done in checking the ignition has been done to the letter and you need a new coil. Yes, sometimes these magneto ignitions can act up before they finally quit, but they can be good one minute and be kaput the next minute just as easily.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 6:12PM
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Thanks for confirming this mownie. I took a look at the Sears parts website and the closest thing I came to looking like what I remember seeing as the coil is:

Armature-magneto part #492341(used after code date 88090500) Or armature-magneto part #398811(used before code date 88090600).

It came up w/ these two numbers, do you know how to verify the code date?

Also, looking at the pic of the armature-magneto, it seems the sparkplug wire comes pre-attached so I'd have to replace it anyway.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 8:58PM
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***"do you know how to verify the code date?"***
Look on your engine for a group of numbers sorta similar to the 2 images I have posted here. Neither of these is your engine, just some examples I have.
The item "Armature/magneto is the coil.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 9:13PM
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Thanks again mownie. I'll get the part ordered and post a follow-up once it's replaced.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 9:25PM
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Sears don't make the engine, you maybe able to get a better price shopping elsewhere. I would goggle it if it was me, I can usually save 30 to 50% off retail by shopping around.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 10:14PM
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Yep, Sears dont make the engine. Click the link to the Briggs web page below and plug in the model and type numbers of your engine (exactly as the instructions state using a dash between the number groups). This way you can be sure you have the Briggs part numbers (in case Sears has assigned a different numbering to them).

Here is a link that might be useful: B&S IPL site

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 10:40PM
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Just wanted to post a follow up on the status of my tractor.. I got a replacement coil as was suggested and I did get a spark and finally got the tractor started again! Just wanted to say thanks to those who posted, especially mownie for providing the B&S site as the part listed on the Sears site was in fact different than what was on the B&S site. It did take a few more cranks than usual and had to take it out of choke to actually get it started, but I'm in business again just in time to get the final mowing of the leaves in!
I'll keep an eye on the current situation of it not being able to start while in choke mode, but hopefully that's just because it hasn't been started in so long. If you have any immediate suggestions as to what the cause may be, feel free to post.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   November 20, 2009 at 8:59PM
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I did end up using the tractor yesterday and, although it does start up, it reqires quite a bit of cranking to do so. I've also noticed to that it backfires evertime I do this now. Any ideas?

Also the other weird thing I noticed was that I had forgotten to put the black kill wire back on the coil.. Although I turned off the key switch and t kept on running, the second I got got off the seat, it stopped the engine. Is this normal?


    Bookmark   November 23, 2009 at 1:56PM
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I have a Sears lawn tractor with a different B&S engine (31C707) but mine had the problem of the choke lever on the carb getting stuck after a few years. So check yours, see if it "opens" when you move the choke lever down to mid-way or less. I installed a 25 cent spring on mine to ensure this happens; an Internet search showed that a stuck choke on these is a common issue (with other fixes like whittling the shaft narrower, but I like my way).

    Bookmark   November 23, 2009 at 2:08PM
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