Buying non-running mowers to repair.

Old 05-16-16, 10:24 AM
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Buying non-running mowers to repair.

I learned how to completely tear down and rebuild a lawnmower engine a few years ago, and since then have used that knowledge to diagnose and repair several of my own mowers, as well as some of my friends mowers. I have accumulated a modest collection of spare parts (frames/starters/etc.) from tearing down blown engines.

I've recently been looking at craigslist and noticing a lot of people trying to get rid of non-running mowers, sometimes for free, and sometimes for money. It seems to me (and this is something that most of you guys would probably know better than me) that if an engine isn't locked up, there is a pretty good chance of getting it going again, if you have the time to mess with it. Is that a safe assumption?

For instance, today there was a john deere mower in good shape with a 22hp kohler that cranks but wont start, for $150. I wouldn't pay that much, but i might go $100 on it based on the assumption that if it cranks, then there is a really good chance i could get it started. I figure the worst case would be needing a new carb if the carb was the issue (and if a cleaning didnt solve the issue), since that's probably the most expensive item of the things that could prevent it from starting.

Again, it seems to me that if an engine spins freely, then it's just a matter of electrical/air/spark/fuel... which generally aren't high dollar items, even if you had to replace the malfunctioning part.

Free mowers aren't an issue, because i'm out nothing to try and get it going, but i thought i would get your guys opinions before i started paying money for non-running mowers.
Old 05-16-16, 10:27 AM
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What's the end goal - hobby, supplemental income, sole job?

The first one, go for it. The last one, probably not going to work.
Old 05-16-16, 11:23 AM
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I do enjoy doing it, so being a hobby is part of it. The first goal would be to get a decent backup mower (or use it as a main if it's nicer than what i use now... which wouldn't be a big hurdle to get over), after that if i could occasionally make a few bucks here and there it would just be a little icing on the hobby.

I suppose the smart thing to do would be to test the waters with free ones, or ones that are only $25-$50 bucks before i start spending $100 or more. But it really is tempting when there's a nice non-running mower for $100 or $200 and you start thinking that if it only needed a small repair it would be a heck of a deal, haha. Guess it's mostly a gamble in the end, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
Old 05-16-16, 11:32 AM
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Guess it's mostly a gamble in the end, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose
Somewhat but there's also an art to knowing which ones can be fixed and which cannot that takes time to learn. Part of it is simply knowing what a good price to buy is based on what it will take to make it into something you can sell and what your're going to be able to get for it when you sell it. I watch a couple different shows about flipping cars like that and it amazes me the level of knowledge required to make a buck in that business.
Old 05-16-16, 12:14 PM
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If it cranks but has no compression, it might be blown. If it doesn't start, do you know how to tell if it has been smoking badly? Experience is valuable but you can't buy it. I'd stick with the lower risk items and learn first.

Take for example, a 42" craftsman in nice condition that would sell for $600 when fixed and serviced:
Buy it for $100
2 tubes in tires = $20
oil & filters = $25
blades = $30
battery = $50
one belt = $28
bearings in deck and a jackshaft = $50
PTO cable = $25

So now you have $328 and several hours of time (worth something) in a mower you hope to get $600 for. You still have to clean the it up, put it up for sale, deal with tire kickers and people who say they will come look at it and don't show up, you had to put gas in it, someone finally offers you $550 and you take it. So you've made $200+ for your time and now you are married to the mower because when that guy takes it home and uses it and the engine blows in the first couple hours, he is coming back with it.

That makes it sound not so pleasant, and I meant it to just to show how it can go. I do it a lot, and I come out on the good side most of the time but sometimes it works out where it costs you in the end. I sold one last year for too cheap to begin with, then he lived way out in the country and I delivered it, then he kept having problems and I had to go out there every time. I wouldn't normally have warrantied it that long but he kept having so many problems that I felt like he didn't get a fair deal. In the end, a year later, I swapped him another machine. I was married to that mower for a year! That's the exception for me, but I have worked on mowers for decades. It might be the norm for a novice.

When I was a kid in high school, I got mowers from the trash dropoff a mile down the road and brought them home and fixed them, then sat them by the road for sale. Overall I did well with them, sometimes losing, most times winning. It's not always as bad as what I described, I don't want to discourage you, I am just showing how it can be less than wonderful at times. If you can take the bad with the good, go for it! I encourage you and if you run into problems we are here to help you overcome them!
Old 05-16-16, 12:31 PM
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There's a guy in my area who I gather has been doing this for years. I see his ads in the fall looking for non-working or needs-work mowers and tractors. His ads say he pays cash and offers free pickup. Then I see his ads in the spring selling used tractors/mowers. Obviously works on them over the winter and sells them at peak season. No idea if it's his sole living (doubt it) but probably a way to supplement his income. I think I have also seen him selling used major parts (like transaxles and mower decks) that he probably has parted out of the units too far gone to fix.

People (not we DIY types, but you know, normal people ) have become so used to our throw-away society that they buy a new whatever without even trying to have what might be a simple problem fixed. So I think if you are careful to only pay a low price (if anything), and are choosy about buying items that will have some value if they run well, you can probably make a few bucks. Just know that you will occasionally get the cracked block or spun crank so build that into the finances.

Good luck!
Old 05-16-16, 02:52 PM
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IMO the only reason to pay for a non running mower would be if it had parts that I needed for another mower and the parts price made sense.
Old 05-16-16, 04:07 PM
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Some other points to think about...

How much room do you have to store projects waiting on parts, ones gone awry, to work on and store...etc.
How are you set for tools? Some repairs require some special tools to make the job right and easier.
Lots of reasons so much of this is free is, there is no real good way to dispose of the equipment, and many have no means to transport equipment, especially those that does not run or move.

If you are looking at riders, (I gather from the $'s you have mentioned) how are you going to transport a non running machine with the rear end locked up, steering not working, flat tires on the rim....etc.

Along the lines that cheese mentioned, you need to be able to make an assessment in a few minutes while asking questions or shooting the breeze... There is something to be said about a man and his trade, I have been doing this almost 20 years and I still see things I have not seen before.

Then comes the selling, what is the market like where you are? People more apt to go buy new? Selling OPE is a seasonal market also, so storage comes in again.
If you are looking for more of a hobby and maybe occasional beer or movie/pizza night, then ya go for it. Stick with the smaller stuff and get familiar with things. If it is two stroke with no adjustments, more starting steps than a 727, RUUuuuunnNNNN!

I do intend to continue doing this in a picky tinkering fashion in another ten years or so....

As was mentioned there is a lot of knowledge here and all are willing to share so...

Good Luck
Old 05-16-16, 04:52 PM
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Myself I have been working on mowers for over 2 decades maybe 3 on and off.
I pick them up from salvage yards for hardly nothing. 2 bux for a push mower at 10 cents a pound they are cheap. Most just need a carb kit are a carb.

I sold one today for 60 bux and I have maybe 5 bux in it with the gas cost.

Weedeaters I get for 75 cents or a buck. I kit the carbs and throw on a shaft from another junker and get 50 to 70 bux for those.

I won't buy a rider from an indivual for more than I think it's worth. If the person bought a new one to upgrade and the mower runs when I put gas in the carb then yes it runs and maybe just a kit will fix it.

Curb side finds are the best ones. ~!~!

Enjoy your new cash flow ~!~!
Old 05-17-16, 01:24 PM
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Several years ago there was a guy dealing in Lawnboy mowers, I asked him where he got all his mowers, he said he offered the trash guy $10 for every Lawnboy he could bring him, the trash guy kept him in a good supply of mowers. Have a good one. Geo
Old 05-18-16, 03:13 AM
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I am a one man kind of shop. I sometimes buy used/non running walk behind mowers off of Craigslist if the price is right ($0-70) And whether it is self propelled or not. I have had pretty good luck with this. Every once in a while I will find a rider cheap and do the same. With riders, I will only look at Craftsman, John Deere, Cub Cadet (if it does not have the Kohler Courage engine). Except for Cub Cadet, I stay away from the MTD and Orange Husqvarna riders. I say that knowing that MTD is now producing many craftsman riders. Husqvarna used to be pretty good however their new stuff IMO is junk. As many have said storage is a problem. A bigger challenge is keeping up with the repairs that come in and fitting these buy and resell units into the pipeline. I do this totally as a hobby -- no advertising -- people know where I am and sometimes just drop units off with a note. I have a regular list of customers that call me over the winter to reserve a spot on the list for service in the Spring.
Old 05-23-16, 10:05 PM
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Thanks for all the great feedback everyone. I'm definitely going to be more cautious about this than i was when i started the thread... start with free or maybe $20 bucks, and see what kind of luck i have before i go spending more.

For instance, i just found time to tear down my main mower that conked out on me last summer. When i pulled it into the garage, i spun the engine by hand just for the heck of it, because i was pretty sure that it was locked up. It spun freely and even felt like it had some compression. I thought 'wait a minute... im pretty sure i remember an awful racket when this thing quit running, like a rod breaking... am i mistaken about that?'. I tore it down and both connecting rods were broken, it just so happened that it didnt lock the engine up and it still kinda felt like it had compression. So that was a reminder to me that just because an engine isn't locked up, it doesn't mean it isn't hosed.

I'm now going to see what kind of luck i have selling the parts from this mower on ebay, to see how it would go if i ever did that with other non-running mowers i might come across.

Thanks again!
Old 06-02-16, 07:09 PM
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Buying Non running mowers to repair

I started a 40 year career by fixing and selling mowers like many of you have been discussing. It led me to go to work for a mower distributor, and I was still getting calls from my old customer base to fix their stuff. I pretty much stopped doing it because of the liability issue, which none of you mentioned. It might be something to consider.

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