How to Fix a Tiller That Won’t Start

Getting your tiller started after it’s been sitting in the shed or garage for months on end can be a tough task. What starts with excitement and anticipation can easily end in disappointment.

Instead of hearing your powerful tiller engine blare out, you might only get a weak murmur. Other times, you only get complete silence.

If this has ever happened to you, you’ve come to the right place! In this post, we’ll give you some troubleshooting tips on how to fix a tiller that won’t start.

Potential Tiller Problems

Here are the symptoms of some of the most common issues you could face with your tiller.

Either the Wheels or Tines Won’t Turn

Let’s break this down into two categories: wheels and tines. If you power up your tiller and find that either the wheels turn, but the tines don’t, or vice versa, here’s why.

Only the Wheels Turn

If the wheels turn, but the tines don’t, one probable cause may be a faulty transmission. The transmission is what turns both the wheels and the tine shaft, so it’s the first thing you should check.

Another reason could be that there’s a problem with the shaft clevis pins, so if the transmission seems fine, check these next.

Only the Tines Turn

How about if you start up the tiller and find the tines are working fine, but the wheels aren’t turning? Well, this is usually due to one of two possible causes.

Again, most common reason is that the transmission is damaged and needs to be replaced, because it is the mechanism through which the wheels and tines are connected.

The second reason is that the clutch cable could be disconnected or loose, or just somehow not able to control gear changes via the clutch pedal.

Both Wheels and Tines Won’t turn

When both the wheels and the tines don’t turn, it’s almost always due to a broken clevis pin. These pins connect two pieces of machinery and often can get damaged with repeated use.

If there’s an issue with either the tines or wheels, again it could be the transmission, so you’ll want to make sure you check that out as well.

Tiller Won’t Start

The main cause behind your tiller not starting is a failing carburetor. That should be the first item you check to see if it’s operating properly.

Also, while you’re at it, be sure to check for a damaged recoil starter. Without it, the engine won’t start.

Other reasons could be dirty spark plugs. Remove and clean the spark plugs before looking to them, they could work good as new with a simple cleaning. If they still don’t work after you’ve cleaned them, then look to replace them with new ones.

If it still doesn’t start, check the gas tank. It could be empty, or filled with old, stale gasoline.

Engine Sputters or Misfires

One reason for an engine sputtering or misfiring could be a dirty or clogged carburetor. There could also be stale gas in the fuel tank.

Another reason for an engine misfiring is that the engine needs a tune-up. Tune-ups are required to keep your gardening tool in ideal condition.

Poor Tilling

Often, the reason why the tiller won’t start is that the tines themselves are damaged or broken. This would mostly a result of hitting rocks or hard objects such as roots when tilling.

Other reasons include:

  • A faulty clutch cable
  • Broken clevis pins
  • Damaged transmission
  • Worn out drive belt

Engine Leaking Oil or Gas

If your tiller won’t start, one possible cause could be that the engine is leaking gas or oil.

There are several reasons that the engine could start leaking. Let’s start with the obvious: a cracked or damaged engine head gasket, oil drain plug seal, or carburetor seal. All three of these vital parts are built to seal in firing pressure and prevent engine oil from leaking.

A second possible cause of a leaking engine could be the fuel line is cracked or loose. If it’s cracked, then it must be replaced, but if it’s only loose then you should reattach it first and see if that fixes the problem.

Checks to Perform

If your tiller won’t start, try these troubleshooting tips.

Drain Old Gasoline and Refill with New Gas

When the gas tank contains old, stale fuel, the engine won’t start. So, you should drain out any old fuel that remains in the tank and refill it with new gas.

Check the Ignition

To check the ignition, turn the ignition system to the ‘On’ position. Next, remove all attachments and put the transmission in neutral. Then, place the operating handles and safety switches in their starting positions.

Now, check the ignition by removing the spark plug. Place the bare metal on the base of the spark plug onto the bare metal of the engine. Then, crank the engine.

If you see a visible spark, this means the ignition is working just fine. If the spark is faint or absent, this means it’s time to get new spark plugs.

Check any Vents and Screens

Checking fuel cap vents and filter screens should be part of your regular maintenance routine. Take a look at the air cleaner and make sure it’s not clogged or jammed.

Furthermore, always make sure the gas cap vents aren’t obstructed. These small holes are designed to push out small amounts of air through the gas tank line. Once the pressure in the tank levels off, the valves close off.

Common Necessary Repairs

Check out these quick repairs and troubleshooting tips.

Repair or Replace the Recoil Starter

Does the pull rope fail to retract when you pull on it? Then, the pulley or spring system could be broken.

The spring on the recoil starter of any tiller is vulnerable and prone to damage. Yet, replacing only the spring is hard and oftentimes ineffective. In this case, it’s easier to just replace the entire recoil starter.

Rebuild or Replace the Carburetor

Many times, fixing a problem with the fuel supply can be as easy as taking the carburetor apart and cleaning it. Then, once it dries, use a kit to rebuild the carburetor.

However, if there’s a lot of gasoline and debris build-up, It becomes difficult to give it a good cleaning. This build-up can clog the carburetor’s openings, making it impossible for air and fuel to reach the engine. When this happens, the only option is to replace it.

Tune Up the Engine

Giving the tiller engine periodic tune-ups keeps it in good shape for longer. So, what happens in a tune-up?

We listed the basic steps of a tune-up to give you a quick idea:

  • Adjust the choke controls and throttle.
  • Check the ignition system.
  • Check and clean the carburetor and engine.
  • Change the oil.
  • Lubricate any moving parts.
  • Replace the air filter.


When you store your tiller for long periods, problems may occur. These could be due to faulty transmission, a dirty carburetor, or something else entirely.

Yet, don’t despair. Whatever the problem is with your tiller, there’s almost always an easy fix.

Use our troubleshooting tips on how to fix a tiller that won’t start to make sure your machine stays in great shape year-round.