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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hello Everyone,

My yard tractor is having problems and I'm trying to decide the best way to go about solving the problem. A few days ago, I had the Sears Tech out and he said the engine is close to death and said that he could replace the engine for around $750. I personally think that's not worth it. I haven't been impressed at all with this tractor.

That being said I think it would help to list the symptoms and how I've used it. I suspect that the engine's near death experience is happening as a result of me overusing the tractor, not maintaining it properly, and it being a low-end big box store item.

Briggs n Straton 18 HP OHV Model 310000

Engine's symptoms:
1. Hard to start. Had to spray carburetor cleaner into it to get it to start.
2. Smoke comes out of the exhaust. Definately smells strong almost like oil being burned. It's alot worse when the mower is engaged, it spews out smoke like James Bond's car.
3. Loss of power. It runs weak, feels like half of the power that it used to run at.
4. It doesn't seem to go through it's cycles evenly and sometimes backfires.
5. This might be unrelated, but it doesn't seem to recharge the battery very well. This is based on the ammeter taking quite a while to get back to 0 after the unit has been started. A while is well over 5 minutes of run time.

I'm also trying to understand why this has happened.

How I've Used it:
1. I mow up to 1 acre lot with gentle slopes.
2. I sometimes mow my neighbor's yards.
3. I live in Florida so we have growing grass for more of the year.
4. I bag my clipplings and vac-u-suck the leaves.
5. I also have a 12.5 cu ft poly cart that I've hauled all sorts of stuff in it like construction waste, bags of concrete, dirt, 7 gallon buckets with saplings in them, tools, and the like.
6. And I like to drive it around for fun.
7. When I'm doing my yard projects, I tend to use this machine alot. Like for hours a day for several days at a time.

I have read that it's very important to properly maintain the machine. And I think I'm guilty of not doing that. The manual says that each season (Winter) when it's put up, to change the oil, drain out the gas, and make sure to put fuel stablizer into the any gas that will sit. It also says to replace the spark plug, clean the deck, clean the tractor, and basically look it over for any loose bolts and so on. You're also supposed to drain the gas out of the tank, and I suspect out of the engine as well. You're not supposed to put fuel additives into the tank either.

I've failed to do that. Usually, I just park it in my shed and forget about it until I need to start mowing again. I only started to change the oil and do maintaince to it when it started giving me problems after 2 years of owning it (this is year 5). I haven't been very regular about the maintenance. I'm also guilty of putting the fuel additives into the tank because the auto parts guys said it would clean all the junk out of the engine and carb. I don't think I've been perfect about changing the air filter or checking the oil level everytime before use.

So what I'm trying to figure out is what is wrong with the engine, can it be fixed, and is it worth doing that. I also am trying to figure out if it's because it's a Briggs and Straton Big Box store piece of junk, or is it my fault for not maintaining correctly.

Of course, all of this is important because if I do indeed replace it. I don't want to make the same mistakes twice. I also don't want to ruin a more expensive machine either with sparse maintenance.

Thanks everyone for the help in advance. I'm pretty impressed with what I've already read here.

-Shoe
 

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Sounds like a blown head gasket.
Remove the valve cover and start it. Typically, the "vapor" blowing out the side into the push rod galley makes it obvious.

The fact your ammeter DOES go back near zero indicates the charge system is OK.
Your charging system probably only puts out 9 AMPS at HIGH engine speed.
An older battery is probably in a greater state of discharge (+ cooler weather) and will require a bit more time to "top off".
 

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Your near zero maintenance for 2 years certainly shaved a bunch of time off this engine's life.

Here's what I'd do if it was mine.

-Compression test
-2nd Compression test with a few squirts of oil into the cylinder

If the 2nd test shows a much higher reading, it indicates that compression is getting past the piston rings. The squirts of engine oil temporarily seal off gap between the rings and the cylinder wall. Compression getting past the rings can be caused by several things: a) broken rings b) worn out rings c) rings that have been over-heated to the point that they've lost their spring tension and no longer push out against the cylinder walls d) rings that are stuck in the piston lands (grooves) due to heavy build up of carbon, or due to galling of the piston from being over-heated, or run very low on oil, or due to heavy rust from sitting e) cylinder wear and the cylinder is just larger in diameter than the rings can effectively seal f) cylinder damage where the cylinder gets gouges or scrapes that are deep enough to allow air and oil to bypass the rings during running.

Once I knew the results of the compression test, I'd know more accurately what was going on in the engine. FYI, a compression tester can be borrowed or rented from most auto parts stores, or purchased for less than $20. It's as easy to use as removing and installing a spark plug. Compression tests are performed with the choke "off" and the throttle plate held wide open. Then crank the engine until the compression gauge needle no longer rises.

Doesn't sound like you're mechanically inclined enough to repair this engine, or even bolt in a new one. So you'll have to make the decision......is it worth $750 to have it back alive, at which point you'll start maintaining it properly? Or for about $300-$500 more would you rather have another base-line model?

Bottom line here is that you'll grenade anything if you don't maintain it, so it doesn't matter what price point you buy at.
 

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if you maintained the engine it would last well if it doesnt bend pushrods or throw the rod it should not give u issues for about 15 years. the only issues u may have if u keep up normal maintance would be spark plug ,oil change, air filter, check valve clearance, a blown head gasket or 2 (normal for all ohvs from briggs) and of course a few carb rebuilds lol. i have 2 ohv briggs one is a 17.5 hp i rebuilt this past summer it runs like a champ. and a 14.5 hp briggs that i just got done putting another head on it from a leaking valve also had to rebuild the carb. sounds to me like u may have gas in the oil and it was ran like that and yea tore your rings up. now before i rebuilt the 17.5 it was using about 8 ounces of oil from my house down my 80 foot drive accross the street to my neighbors and back. it had worn rings plus a blown headgasket was surprised it even ran lol. if u detect gas in your oil u need to do a needle and seat change in your carb. and u need to get the engine rebuilt if u do detect it. or if u dont have much money like me and u have some mechanical experience go to scrapyard find a engine with good compression bring it home slap it on and fix what it needs. how i found the 14.5 in the first place was at a scrapyard
 

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another thing i always install a gas shutoff in every lawnmower to keep the gas out of the oil.
 

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I would vote head gasket also. It is difficult to test compression on a compression release engine. Remove the blower housing and spin the engine backwards. If it rebounds, it has enough compression, but that doesn't mean the head gasket is OK. It just means the valves and rings are good enough to run.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thank you everyone for your replies.

To be more specific about my ahem "laziness" what I didn't do were the proceedures to properly store the tractor during the non-mowing season. And, now I'm learning the hard way not to do that. :duh:

@austinado16
I completely agree. I've got to get better about maintance. This is why I've decided that I'm going to fix this thing and learn how to do all of that to teach myself the importance of proper maintenance. No point in buying another machine until I've got this under control.

I admit I'm far from an expert but I've got to get experience somehow. Besides, if the engine doesn't get any better then its really not much of a loss and at least I've learned something. I called Briggs today and ordered the service manual.

Reading over what you're all saying, it seems like compression is probably an issue. It looks like the rings could be bad and that the head gasket probably is too. The valves could also be worn out.

Here's a few more thoughts. I've read quite a bit about the bad things Ethanol can do to all the little plastic and rubber pieces throughout the fuel system. The things I didn't do maintenance wise, I've learned are very important to do to protect the engine from Ethanol related damage. I've come to regret having put Seafoam into the gas tank.

So I'm thinking of doing this:
Somekind of engine rebuild
Carburetor rebuild
replace the fuel line hoses
replace the fuel filter
replace the fuel pump
clean the fuel tank
install an in line fuel shut off valve
install an hour meter
change spark plug
change the air filter
clean the pre-cleaner (or replace)
drain and refill the oil
install a new oil filter

I'm not worried about anything on this list except the engine rebuild. Mainly because there isn't a "rebuild" kit for it. So I'm not really sure what parts to get. I figure the gaskets are the main thing. But, it sounds like what you're all saying is that I'm going to have to do some kind of tests on it to figure out if the rings need to be replaced. There must be some kind of way to check the valves to see if they are ok.

Again :thanku: everybody for the ideas. Much appreciated.
Shoe
 

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I use SeaFoam in everything and have for years. Great stuff, and I've never had a problem with it.

As far as the ravages of ethanol, I'm not seeing that either. Fuel hoses, eh, sometimes, but usually they're so old, it's time anyway. The only ethanol issues I see are with old fuel......and then, you bet, that carb is going to look bad inside.

To check how well valves seal during your rebuild, you simple pour some laquer thinner into the exhaust and intake ports in the cylinder head, with the valves still installed (the valves will be closed) and see if the laquer thinner leaks out past the valves. You obviously do this one at a time, and turn the head in such a way that your laquer thinner stays in the port. How much and how fast the thinner leaks out, if at all, indicates how poor the valves are sealing against the steel valve seats.

As for your rebuild, you may be able to just pull the piston, and install new rings. But, you may choose to replace the piston and connecting rod, and the rings, give the cylinder a light hone, and put 'er back together.

Engine building takes a lot of skill to be done right, and there are many shades of how much of a rebuild you need to do. Part of the skillset is knowing what you can get away with, without building a rotary grenade. So there are times when "just rings" is all you need, and there are other times when it's full-on tear it down, have a machine shop go to town on it, and then re-assemble with all new.........at which point, it's probably cheaper to buy a new engine out of a box.

Lots of angles to be considered.
 

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Not changing the oil is going to cost you. Thats sure death.
Changing the oil gets rid of the dirt that gets in your engine.
Engines make there own dirt. The dirt mixes with the oil.
It sands the parts until you cant fix them.
I think I would look for a used good engine block.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
@Bill
Okay that sounds easy enough. So I take off the valve cover, start it, and look for some vapor in the valve galley. What is a valve galley? Do you mean the area that the valves are in? And is the vapor easily seen? Or invisible? You're saying that this will tell me if the head gasket is bad. Sounds like this should be my first test.

@kbeitz
My oil changes weren't according to the user manual's recommendations. They wanted you to do alot of stuff to prepare the machine for winter storage. I didn't do all of that. That's where I've been regretting my lack of attention. I have been changing the oil about every year. I've also put full synthetic in it as well.

@austinado16
So you don't think the Seafoam added to the problem?

You recommended a compression test. Would that tell me if the piston's rings need to be replaced? Would a loss of compression account for the loss of power I've noticed in the machine? Could a blown head gasket explain that?

I see you also explained a proceedure to test the valves as well.

I don't know if you guys have ... ever experienced this, but my garage is my shop and over the last year it has gotten turned into storage. LOL! Yeah, gotta clear all that stuff out before I get to work on my tools.

Would you guys say that my list is a bit overkill? Maybe not everything in the fuel system needs to be replaced. But it still seems to me that the carb might could stand being cleaned out.

Sounds like when I get my shop all ready to go, I need to go through a bunch of tests before I order any parts or do any work. Seems like Bill's test, the compression test, and a testing of the valves should be done.

This makes me wonder if there's some tests that I could do on the carburetor and the fuel pump?

:thanku:
Shoe
 

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Shoe, I'll attempt to answer some of your questions.

Re: seafoam. I'm sure you can get online and find people bashing it, just like you can any other thing on the planet. My personal experience with using a lot of it, is that I've never had an issue, ever.

Re: testing your fuel pump. Fuel pumps (if your engine has one) are engine pulse driven. To test, simply remove the hose from the side of the carb and crank the engine over. You should immediately see nice fat spirts of fuel, the diameter of the inside of the hose. Sort of a pulsing gushing. If you see sputtering and dribbling, and no fuel, and then some sputtering of fuel, and then no fuel, well, you know you have a problem. But as with anything, you don't just assume it's the pump. It could be a clogged fuel filter, a clogged pick-up in the fuel tank, rotted collapsed hose between the tank and the pump, a bad pulse hose from the engine, a bad hose from carb to pump, etc. So you back up and start doing the diagnostics that either rule out the pump, or indicate the pump.

Re: compression test. I've not done a compression test on a compression release engine, so maybe the cranking speed with the throttle held wide open isn't enough to kick out the release......so you'll get a false low reading. I guess it's worth attempting though, just for the learning experience.

Re: compression. Yes, how well the rings seal off compression air, which become combustion gasses, is super important to power produced.

Re: your laundry list. Sometimes less is more with this sort of thing. For example, let's say you find a simple blown headgasket. Well, you could pop in a new headgasket, put it back together, and if you find wham-bam, your problem is solved, there's no need to take apart the carb, replace the pump, and do all sorts of other gyrations. Similarly, let's say this is just a ring job. In they go, you put it back together and it runs great....bam, you're done. A person can get themselves into a lot of trouble by tearing every friggin' thing apart thinking, "if I do ALL of that, it'll be perfect again" because they usually lack the skillset and tools to complete that task. Less is more, my friend.

Re: the blown headgasket test. With the valve cover off, you'll see that there is an open cavity where the pushrods sit. If the gasket is blown, you'll see combustion "smoke" puffing into that cavity. It'll be obvious. I've never seen one fail like that, but that doesn't mean they don't. The failures I've seen have been to the outside, and it created and exhaust type puffing between the cylinder head and the cylinder barrel.
 

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Your symptoms indicate the likelihood of a blown gasket.

By the galley, I mean the area where the push rods are.
Download the IPL from the Briggs website for your MODEL & TYPE, and you can see what I mean.
The head gasket sealing area is very narrow in that area and is where the gasket lets go the VAST majority of the time.
Have a rag handy, because there will be oil all over the place.
This is a test you want to perform quickly!

I use the term "vapor", although vapor, by its definition, is invisible. Think of a fine "mist".
It WILL be obvious.

Your engine may have been somewhat abused, but there may still be plenty of life in it.
DIAGNOSE the problem before trying to solve it.

PS giving the full engine Model & Type# and/or the Sears 917.xxxxxx number of the tractor is usually helpful. If nothing else, it may be one more tractor I can add to my home made database. I have 5 DYT 4000's in my database. 1 Kohler and 4 different Briggs. The only 31 series Briggs is a 31P777-0348-E1 found on a 917.273643.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
@austinado16
Thanks for the explanations that helps alot. I had a problem with getting this tractor up and running a while back and did a whole bunch of replacements only to find that all my work was unnecessary. So, less is more is ringing true with me.

I have been thinking that if Ethanol was the villian here that taking things apart and cleaning them was the way to go. I'm not sure that's good thinking anymore. Sounds like tearing the whole engine down really is unnecessary if the head gasket is the only problem.

@Bill
Sounds like when I do this test, I probably don't want it in my garage because of fluids getting blasted out of it and I'll probably want to hold a rag up towards the OHV to minimize the mess.

The tractor is a DYT4000 Model No. 917.27461

The Engine is a B&S 18.5 OHV INTEK Plus. Model 31P777 Type: 0348-E1 Code: 040824ZE

My original reason for the engine rebuild ideas were because I had had that Sears tech out and that's what he was saying. But from what I'm finding out, it seems to me that the Techs now are mostly parts changers, so rather than fixing the engine, he said I could go with a new one. But he and I were both thinking that it wasn't worth doing that and just get a new tractor.

I don't know, maybe with these low end tractors people think of them more as disposible units rather than something to repair and keep running. There's a huge debate over buying something from Sears (or Big Box Store) in the $1,000 to $3,000 range or buying something from John Deere like the x300 which starts at $3,000.

I've since decided that before I spend money on a new one, I should fix this one and learn from my mistakes. In worst case scenario, I'm back to buying a new which I was ready to do anyways.

I have the operator's manuals for the tractor and engine. I've also ordered the service manual yesterday.

For the fuel pump, the picture in the manual has three spouts for hoses. Obviously, 1 is for incoming fuel, 1 for outgoing, and based on Austinado's describtion 1 must be connected to the engine to get that pulse.

As far as cleaning everything up, would there be any advantage to cleaning out all of these parts? I don't know what cleaner would be used. But if there's gunk inside the parts from laquer build up or possibly an Ethanol film, my guess is that cleaning it would help the thing to run better/longer. That's actually why I had put the Seafoam into the gas tank. Maybe that was enough?

Oh and as far as a compression test goes, if the service manual is like the one for my K341s Kohler engine, then it should give details on the test.

I suppose the cat's out of the bag now. I've been asking alot of questions about engine rebuilding also because I have an old Wheel Horse C-160. That situation is a little different because that engine is 36 years old. LOL, I'm only 3 years older than it! But, that engine runs fine when it's up and running. I do have some repairs to make on the tractor. I'm pretty sure the ignition switch is bad on it and I have the part just need to do the work. I was planning on asking lots of questions about that one once I got done fixing up the Sears Tractor. The biggest repair I did on the Wheel Horse was to repair a bad axlerod. That required me to remove and tear down the transmission. I lifted that transmission one time up to my work bench. When my back stopped hurting after that, I went and got a shop crane. UGG! Yeah, so I've gotten my hands greasy on more than one occasion.

I freely admit that I've been weak in the maintaining department. But once I get both tractors up to snuff, I'm going to take extremely good care of them.

Thanks,
Shoe
 

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If I were you I would not waste my time or money on rebuilding that Briggs. The old flat head Briggs, early I/C OHV Briggs, and the Vanguards were good engines. But when they went to that InTek it was a complete POS from the day it was new. That is the push rod bendingest, cam lobe whipingest, valve seat droppingest, head gasket blowingest, rocker arm retainer breakingest, rod throwingest terd ever made. I would not give one away to someone I really don't like! Do yourself a favor and go to a junkyard and find a Kohler Command V-Twin 18 HP or better. This is an EXCELLENT engine and with any luck you may even find one that will run with a carb cleaning. Worst case you rebuild it and have an engine that will last for decades with proper maintenance.

Joe
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
That's something that's also been on my mind. Before I bought this tractor, a friend warned me to stay away from B&S engines. And now it's got issues. The Sears tech said the same of them as well, which is why initially I was thinking of replacing the whole thing. I've been leaning towards a green and yellow tractor for a while and thought well maybe it's time.

But, if my lack of winterizing the unit is what caused the problem, well then I felt I should fix the damage and learn from that before getting something much more expensive.

The problem I see with replacing the engine with a different one is trying to get it to fit. I suppose that's not too hard to do. Then I also worry if I could wind up back in the same spot with an engine that's having problems that needs more work done to it. I don't mind at all getting my hands dirty but I sure would like to have something reliable.

The problem with replacing the tractor is what do I get? I have a two tractor setup: this Sears unit, mostly for mowing and bagging and some towing. My other is a Wheel Horse C-160 that I use a Johnny Bucket Jr. on and plan to use the tiller a whole lot sometime in the future. There's a huge debate over whether to go with the low end tractors or just suck it up and get something in the select series JD. If I were to replace, I want something to last me a very long time. I also plan on being strict with the maintenance and winterization.

I'd like to hear more about what you guys think about the engine repair. Is it worth it? Do I stick with this same engine? I'm not sure replacing the engine is worth it. So I think fix over replace. But doing all of that as Onan suggests could be a waste of time. I don't like the idea of that.

Thanks,
Shoe
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
I give up!
LOL!

Okay Bill, I totally get what you're saying. Why not just fix this thing if all it is, is a head gasket? Not alot of work and not alot of expense.

My wife also made it clear, NO NEW TRACTOR! And that's the end of that.

So my decision is to fix this thing first. I'm going to get my garage all set back up as a shop and get to it. That's going to be about a week or so.

But truth be told, I've been worried about the quality of the engine. Bill I was hoping for your opinion on that.

But even if the engine truly is the worst piece of garbage ever made. It's actually the best thing to learn on. That way if I ruin it learning about engines then its no big loss.

I got to learn on something.

Thanks again for the input.
Cleat (my real name)
 

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I give up!
Bill, I've been sitting back following this thread and from my own personal experiences with the same engine, I have to agree with you. Sounds like a head gasket. I've found most head gasket failures were heat related or not having the proper torgue on the head bolts. With moderate maintenance to these engines, they have a fairly decent life span. I have one and 3 things I know that help keep these alive are

1. Keep good clean oil in them
2. Use a fuel shutoff. That's not even an engine issue (for the Briggs Haters) That's a carburetor issue....period.
3. Keep valves adjusted on the briggs ohv. it will save you a starter, a battery and that look of egg on your face....off. I know of several small engine mechanics who have charged owners the cost of a new short block and install when all they did was adjusted the valve and buttoned everything back up! Improperly adjusted valves on those cause inoperable compression release :fing32:

and if you don't have to run any air-cooled engine for hours on end, simply don't.

I'm 52 years old and Briggs & Stratton have been the most popular small engines used for everything from lawn products to go-kart engines. You could abuse then in ways the a Tecumseh would curl up and die from. (Blown up way more techs than any other brand) If you ever owned Sears Go-Carts or Mini Bikes, you know exactly why I made that comment.

Shoeman, Bill does know what he's talking about. :thThumbsU
 

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Cleat,

If Bill is correct, and it is very likely that he is, a head gasket may get you a few more years and would be well worth the minimal time and $$$ investment. But, if there is ANYTHING else wrong with it, I would be actively seeking a Kohler as a replacement. Like I said, I am really not a fan of THIS series Briggs engine. The older ones, especially the Cast Irons and Vanguards, were bullet proof and would be well worth a rebuild. It's too bad you don't live closer, a buddy of mine that runs a shop in Monroe, GA, just got through COMPLETELY rebuilding an 18 HP Vanguard V-Twin and is looking to sell it for $600.00 and will probably even install it for that price.

Joe
 
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