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Small Engines (Lawn Mowers, etc.)/1989 Wheel Horse / Kohler tractor starting issue


QUESTION: I have an older garden tractor that is having a starting problem.  The engine will not turn over, but I hear a ticking sound.  Just replaced the battery.  Not sure if it is; (1) brushes on the starter (2) the starter itself (3) solenoid or other?  

Also, is there any repair instructions you're aware of on the fix?

ANSWER: If you can find the Wheelhorse demystification manual it has a lot of information.  I have had trouble finding it lately.

I would start by making sure the battery if fully charged.  I have had many, many brand new batteries that were not fully charged.  Dis-connect the battery cables and clean the battery terminals and cable ends with a wirebrush.  Re-connect...I have fixed many starting problems just by cleaning the connections.

You can use some jumper cables from the battery to the starter to test the starter and/or you can do the same trick from the battery to the starter side of the solenoid.  You are basically replacing the battery cables with the jumper cables.

There were several safety switches on the 89 model but the ticking sound is usually indicates a weak battery or poor connections.

Let me know if it starts after charging the battery and cleaning the connections.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Thank you for responding.  I re-charged the new battery and it still won't start. To clarify, when you try to turn the engine over, I hear a "humming" sound, no longer a ticking.  I checked the contacts, they are fine.  Consequently, I still think it is either the brushes in the starter, the starter itself, or the solenoid.  How can I determine which?

One way to check the starter is to short the two solenoid posts with a large screwdriver.  I prefer not to do this as it creates sparks and can leave burn marks on the screwdriver...but it is a fast way to see if the start will spin.

Keep the spark plug removed when testing the starter.  You can also check the solenoid with an ohm meter or voltmeter.  You can use a voltmeter and measure the solenoid voltage on the starter side of the solenoid when trying to start the engine.  If you have 12 volts DC on the starter side when trying to start the solenoid is fine.


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Eric A. Jones


Lawnmower Repair . Certified Master Service Technician from B&S. Have 23 years experience on B&S, Lawn Chief, Weed Eater, Echo, Peerless, Wheel Horse, Snapper, Atlas, MTD, McCulloch, Homelite and many other numerous brands. Specialize in electrical repair.


Born and raised in the midwest. Started tinkering with engines when I was about 14 on my Suzuki RM-80. I began lawn mower repair at a small hardware store. I knew absolutely nothing. I read lots of repair manuals and met an older fellow who taught me many lessons. I continued working on small engines through high school and paid my way through college working on mowers at the same hardware store. Decided to get away from the midwest and mower repair so I joined the Air Force. I repaired air traffic control electronic equipment and ended up in Hawaii where I got a part time job at Small Engine Clinic. I gained a lot of experience from the Small Engine Clinic and had a blast repairing small engines. I then took the Briggs and Stratton Master Service Technician test and earned my MST. I then traveled to Wisconsin where I attended the factory update training seminar and received formal training. Continued working on mowers part time as I completed 20 years of military. Retired from the military on a Friday and continued in the lawn and garden industry the next Monday.

MAS Aerospace Operations BA Mathematics AAS Electronic Communications AAS Electronic Technology

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