Craftsman riding mowers are reliable vehicles that rarely let you down. That’s why an engine that only clicks when trying to start but won’t actually engage is a cause for concern. You need not despair, though. The issue is often less serious and easier to fix than you think. This comprehensive troubleshooting guide can help you figure out what’s wrong and how to solve the problem.
Battery problems or a faulty solenoid are the most common reasons why your Craftsman riding mower won’t start just clicks. A binding starter motor, faulty ignition switch, or an engine that is damaged internally are other frequent causes. Identifying the cause is the first step to fixing it.
Bad Battery Connections
Like all vehicles, riding lawn mowers have batteries that help spark the plug and ignite the engine. In addition to actual battery problems (discussed below), the battery connections could also be the cause why your mower clicks but won’t start.
Loose Battery Connections
Riding mowers, like all other vehicles, vibrate when in use. Lawn mowers vibrating badly are a cause for concern; yet, the machines will vibrate to some degree even when there is nothing wrong with them. The only problem is that all these vibrations can cause the battery connections to become loose.
Battery connections may also become loose due to other reasons, such as mice chewing on them. Loose or damaged wires may have to be replaced, but you have to check them first.
How to Check the Cables
Whether you suspect that mice are eating the wires or loose connections due to vibrations, you must check the cables to assess the issue. To do that:
- Park your riding mower on a level surface and turn it off.
- Lift the mower seat to expose the battery compartment – most Craftsman lawn tractors have the battery located under the seat. Otherwise, lift the hood and find the battery under it.
- Inspect the battery cables and their connections to the battery. In case they are loose, reattach them to the battery and test the ignition. If the mower starts, you’ve solved the issue.
- If the connections aren’t loose or the mower doesn’t start after you’ve reconnected the cables, you have to run a continuity test with an amp meter.
- Remove the negative black cable first, then remove the positive red cable. Use an amp meter or multimeter to test each cable for amperage. If you can’t detect current passing through them, replace them with new cables.
Dirty Battery Connections
Sometimes, you may find that the wires aren’t loose or damaged, but the connections are dirty. This problem generally happens if the battery is damaged and leaks acid through the battery poles.
Cleaning the crystalized substance buildup will not solve your battery leaking issue but could help you use the mower temporarily until you get to replace the battery.
How To Clean Battery Connection
- Park the mower on a level surface and lift the seat to expose the battery compartment.
- Put on a pair of latex or rubber gloves – battery acid is a corrosive substance, and you should never touch it with your bare hands.
- Remove the terminal connections starting with the black cable first and the red cable after. Pull the battery out of its compartment.
- Mix a small quantity of water with baking soda to make a paste. This cleaning mixture acts as a neutralizer for the acid.
- Apply the baking soda mixture to the battery terminals and scrub them with a wire brush or toothbrush. Check the wire connections and clean them, too, if necessary.
- Wipe the excess paste off the wire connections and battery terminals. Let them dry completely before reconnecting.
Riding mower batteries generally last for three to five years before reaching their lifespan. Yet, there are situations when the battery may die faster or go flat due to errors (such as forgetting the headlights on when you cut off the engine, for example).
Once you’ve inspected and tested the battery connections, you should test the battery and see if it has gone bad or not.
How To Test Batteries
Checking via a voltmeter is the most common way to test a riding mower battery. Healthy batteries should show at least 12 volts. Here’s how to do it.
Things You’ll Need
Before getting started, gather the tools below:
- Voltmeter or multimeter
- Adjustable wrench
Test the Battery
- Locate the lawn mower battery under the mower seat or under its hood.
- Turn the ignition switch to the on position and turn on the lights without starting the engine. This step is crucial as it allows you to get rid of the surface charge of your battery. Wait for a minute or two.
- Set the voltmeter or multimeter to a value higher than your battery’s expected voltage. Most Craftsman lawn tractors use 12-volt batteries; however, you should check your mower’s user manual to see what battery it uses (some models use 6-volt batteries). If your vehicle uses a 12-volt battery, set the voltmeter to 13 volts.
- Turn off the lights and turn the ignition switch off. Disconnect the battery cables and test their voltage by touching the battery terminals with the probes (if your voltmeter has clamps instead of probes, attach the clamps to the terminals). Regardless of the voltmeter configuration, pay attention to respecting the colors (black to black and red to red).
- As soon as you connect the negative and positive voltmeter wires to the battery, the device will read the battery’s voltage. For a 12-volt battery, the reading must be 12.6 volts (or 6.6 volts for a 6-volt battery). A lower reading (such as 11 or 5) means that the battery is dead, and you have to replace it.
Although a flat battery often requires replacement, jump starting it is a good option if you want to ride the mower back to the shed. For this purpose, you need a pair of jumper cables and a car with a fully charged 12-volt battery.
Once you’ve gained access to the battery, clamp the jumper cables to both batteries (leave each battery connected to its vehicle).
Start with the red (positive) cable and connect it to the car’s battery first, then to the mower’s battery terminal. Connect the black (negative) cable to the car’s battery terminal and to the mower’s frame, away from the battery and fuel tank.
Make sure the car is turned off. Start the mower’s engine; it should start without problems. When it’s running, disconnect the black cable from the mower’s frame and then from the car battery, then remove the red jumper cable from the automobile’s battery and then from the mower’s battery.
Note: Jump starting only works with 12-volt batteries. If your mower uses 6-volt batteries, you’ll have to use a battery charger or booster.
Check For Leakage
While jump starting a vehicle is super easy, you should inspect the battery first. Most Craftsman mowers have sealed batteries that should not leak. If you notice that the battery is dripping, dispose of it and replace it with a new battery without jump starting it.
Using A Battery Booster
A battery booster is a device designed to provide emergency charge to a 12-volt vehicle battery. It can replace the jump start when you don’t have jumper cables or an automobile nearby. Battery boosters can generally revive flat batteries and provide some charge to a dead battery. However, if the battery is damaged, you should replace it without trying to revive it.
Charge Your Battery
To prevent a flat battery at the beginning of the warm season, you should ensure that you’re keeping the battery conditioned throughout the off-season. This generally means inspecting the battery, testing it, and charging it regularly.
Buy A New Battery
Keeping a new lawn tractor in your shed or garage is a good idea if you want to prevent flat battery problems.
Most Craftsman lawn tractors use a U1 or U1R battery. Check your user manual and make sure the replacement battery is compatible with your mower – although the name is similar U1 and U1R batteries have different sizes and a different terminal layouts. To prevent damaging your mower, only use the battery type indicated in the vehicle’s manual.
Do’s And Don’ts When Charging Your Lawn Mower Battery
While charging your lawn tractor’s battery during the off-season can help prolong its lifespan and prevent starting the season with a flat battery, there are things you should know about. Check out these lists of dos and don’ts.
- Only charge the riding mower’s battery with a 12-volt charger. If your charger lets you switch from six to 12 volts, double-check the voltage before charging.
- Never use a charger output greater than 10 amps because you risk damaging the battery.
- Always charge the battery in a well-ventilated area. Lawn mower batteries can release toxic fumes during charging.
- Make sure the battery terminals are clean and that there are no leaks before charging it.
- Do check the owner’s manual before charging the battery. Newer Craftsman riding mowers use last-generation batteries that may come with specific charging instructions.
- Never touch a lawn tractor battery with your bare hands. If the unit is defective, acid leaking out of it can injure you.
- Don’t charge the battery if the temperature is excessively hot or cold.
- Never charge a battery that leaks or that has corroded terminals. If the battery is damaged, replace it.
- Don’t dispose of the battery in the trash. Check your local regulations and contact a local recycling center to dispose of the battery correctly.
Faulty Starter Solenoid
A riding mower starter solenoid is essentially an electromagnetic switch that closes when you turn the ignition key to the on position. When the solenoid closes, it allows the electrical current to pass through and flow to the starter.
A faulty solenoid is often responsible for the clicking sound but the engine not starting.
Not all riding mowers have the starter solenoid located in the same place, but most lawn tractors from Craftsman have it under the rear wheel fender. An easy way to locate it is by tracking the red battery cable to it.
Perform A Solenoid Test
- Open the tractor hood and remove the spark plug.
- Turn the key to test the solenoid. If it clicks, you have to replace it with a new one. If the engine cranks, check the excessive valve lash.
- In addition to the solenoid itself, also inspect the solenoid wires. Make sure they are tight and corrosion-free.
Starter Motor Being Bound
While this issue is infrequent, it can sometimes happen for the starter motor to bind against the flywheel. When this happens, the engine and starter get locked together, and the engine won’t start despite the clicking sound due to the flywheel being jammed.
Hand testing is the easiest way to diagnose the issue. Turn the starter motor counterclockwise by hand. If the motor frees up, you can fix the problem by spraying some WD-40 on the starter gear.
Precautions When Starting a Lawn Mower with a Bad Starter
If you suspect that your mower has a bad starter, read the owner’s manual carefully and wear protective equipment when working on your mower. Handle all tools with care and make sure your children and pets aren’t nearby to prevent accidents.
Fuel Valve Solenoid Problem
Newer Craftsman riding mowers feature a carburetor with a fuel valve solenoid. Its function is to stop the fuel supply when you shut off the engine, preventing hydro-locking. However, this solenoid can sometimes fail.
Hydro-locking occurs when the worn carburetor seals leak gas into the cylinder even when they shouldn’t. If the cylinder is already full of gas, the extra gas can block the piston movement. The engine will make a clicking sound as it tries to start, but it won’t start due to the blocked piston.
Hydro-locking happens more frequently in old-style carburetors, but a faulty fuel valve solenoid can also cause it.
Leaking Valve Seal
A leaking valve seal leads to problems similar to hydro-locking, but the gas, in this case, is more likely to end up in the crankcase rather than the cylinder.
Gas Going Into The Oil
One of the biggest problems with leaking valve seals is that they can allow the gas to end up in the oil. Diluted oil can’t offer the necessary protection to the internal components of the mower. For this reason, you must replace the valve seal or the valve before using the vehicle.
Check The Oil And Needle
The first thing to do if you suspect a leaking valve seal is to test the oil quality and check the functionality of the valve needle. If the needle is faulty or the oil is diluted, you have to replace the component.
Engine Damaged Internally
If you’ve tried everything above, but the mower still won’t start, you’re most likely dealing with engine failure. This happens when the internal components of the engine are damaged. You should never troubleshoot the engine yourself unless you’re a trained mechanic.
Replacing It With A New Engine
Internal engine damage happens rarely. As long as you maintain the mower correctly and follow the instructions in the user manual when operating it, you don’t have to worry about a dead engine. However, if the engine is damaged internally, the only thing you can do is an engine swap with a replacement engine or a compatible model.
Is It Worth Replacing A Lawn Mower Engine?
Replacing a lawn mower engine is worth it if you can find a used engine at a good price. Buying a new engine is costly. Add the mechanic’s labor fees on top of the engine cost, and you’re better off buying a new riding mower if you can’t source a second-hand engine.
Summing It Up
A riding lawn mower is a great asset, but problems can arise from time to time. Proper maintenance is key to a long lifespan, but even so, there are instances when it needs diagnosis and repairs. We hope this guide can help you with your Craftsman lawn mower troubleshooting and that you’ll manage to solve the problem with little to no hassle.