I am not a mechanical guy. Growing up, I was into computers not cars. I could build a computer for you, I could program it, I could diagnose problems, and so on — but I was hard pressed to figure out basic engine maintenance. My father did teach me to change the brake pads on my 1982 Datsun 310 GX, but that was about the extent of my car knowledge.

This hasn’t been a problem until now.

During the early stages of Covid — April 2020, to be precise — Kim and I bought an $850 shredder/chipper from Home Depot. Since everything was shut down, we figured we might as well use that time to do a bunch of yard work. And since we had a vast yard at that time, one filled with all sorts of trees (and their branches), it made sense to buy an expensive machine. We didn’t realize we’d be selling the house less than a year later.

We used that chipper/shredder a lot during the summer of 2020. In the fall, as we were working on our last pile of branches, the thing ran out of gas just as we were nearing the end of our work. “Great!” we said. “We don’t have to worry about draining the fuel!” We put the chipper/shredder away…and we haven’t thought about it sense.

This summer, we’ve been on a crusade to purge all of our Stuff. We held a successful garage sale last weekend, we’ve given things away, and we’ve made donations to Goodwill. We also want to sell the chipper/shredder.

Unfortunately, it will not start. Bummer.

I remembered that we’d run it out of gas, so I added fresh fuel. I expected the beast to start right up. It didn’t. I added oil. No dice. I bought a new spark plug and made sure the gap was correct. No luck. I replaced the air filter. Still nothing.

My neighbor across the street, Wade, is good with small engines. He does a lot of maintenance on his own equipment. He saw me struggling with the chipper/shredder, so he’s been helping me diagnose possible problems. He and his college-age daughter sit in the driveway and we play with possible solutions. None of them ever work.

Despite our failure to get the machine going, I’m having fun. I think that’s because I’m learning something new. I know nothing about engines, so all of this is like learning a new language. I’ve done a ton of googling, which leads to manuals to read and videos to watch.

This afternoon, the three of us made another attempt to start the engine. We were unsuccessful.

“At this point, I don’t know what’s wrong,” Wade said. “If it were me, though, I’d replace the carburetor. You can get them cheap on Amazon.”

It never would have occurred to me that I could replace a carburetor myself, but looking at the instructions it doesn’t seem difficult. And while the official part costs $65 at Amazon (and $84 from other sites), I can get a knock-off part for $16. I’m going to try that. (I asked Wade and he says he’s had mixed success using knock-off parts. “Read the reviews,” he said. The replacement I ordered gets good reviews.)

I’m skeptical that replacing this will work, but according to Wade there’s very little else that could be wrong here. Plus, it’s only $16 (and a bit of time) to give it a shot. That seems worth it to me. I’ll get to learn how to remove a carburetor and install a new one.

If this does work, I’ll immediately list the chipper/shredder for sale on Facebook Marketplace. If it doesn’t…well, I don’t know what I’ll do. I still might list it but for less. Or I might see if there’s a next step in the troubleshooting process (although Wade makes it sound like there really isn’t).

I’ve begun to think that maybe I should drain the fuel and add new stuff. The manual is clear that the fuel must be 87 octane with no more than 10% ethanol. I have no idea what kind of gas I put in. I probably got a gallon of premium, but it didn’t occur to me that I ought to be paying attention — so I didn’t. I could easily have bought a lesser fuel.

In any event, this is a fun learning project that’s occurring in s-l-o-w motion. It’s taken over a month to reach this point. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t take another month to solve the problem.

And after I’m done with the chipper/shredder? Well, then it’s time to sell my motorcycle…

5 Replies to “Small engine repair.”

  1. J.D. Roth says:

    It cracks me up that I now smell like gasoline. I remember that my father used to often smell like gas and oil after tinkering with cars and other machinery. But I’ve never smelled like this. I do this evening! Time for a “bonus” shower, I guess…

  2. mike says:

    Regular Gas is 87 Octane, so you should be good there. Good luck!

  3. Tom Murin says:

    Let us know how things work out!

  4. Jennifer says:


    My husband is a mechanic and he says he’d do the following:

    ~Make sure the idle jet in the carburetor is clear; even though you ran it out of gas, the idle jet is likely plugged and it’s not getting any fuel in the carburetor
    ~Check for spark at the spark plug. Remove the spark plug, hook the lead back up to the spark plug and then lay the spark plug against the engine close to the spark plug hole. Crank the engine over and look for a spark at the spark plug.

    Good luck!

    • J.D. Roth says:

      Thanks! We tried the “spark plug on engine” thing early in the process, and there was definitely a spark. I don’t know what an idle jet is, but I’ll look. The $16 carburetor from Amazon arrives today, so it’ll be fun to see what it looks like when it’s not attached to the engine. And it’ll be easier to determine what an “idle jet” is. (Google and YouTube will help, I’m sure.) I’ll be sure to check the idle jet thing before opening the new carburetor so that I can return it, if needed.

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