How Do I Tell If the Starter Solenoid Is Bad on My Kohler Riding Mower Engine?

Most large Kohler engines on riding lawn mowers use an electric starting system. Part of that system is a starter solenoid. The cylindrical solenoid is a low-amperage relay that safely completes the high-amperage electrical connection between the battery and starter motor when the ignition key is turned. A bad solenoid can deny electricity to the starter motor and prevent engine startup. But other basic problems may also exist.

Check the charge level of the mower battery by touching the red lead of your voltmeter to the positive post of the battery and the black lead to the negative post. If the meter reads less than 12.5 volts, charge the battery before attempting to start your riding mower.

Check all electrical connections between the battery, solenoid and starter motor to see if they are tight and free of corrosion. Typically, the battery is in the engine compartment or under the operator's seat. The starter motor is a vertical metal cylinder about 6 inches long mounted on the side of the engine. The starter solenoid is a small cylinder attached to the lawn tractor's frame near the starter motor. Attached to the solenoid are two thick red wires, one from the battery and the other to the starter motor. You'll also see one thin wire from the ignition key that activates the solenoid when the key is turned to the "start" position. You also may see a separate small grounding wire.

Clean any visibly corroded connections in the starter system. First, disconnect the battery. Undo the corroded connection with the appropriate wrench or screwdriver. Remove corrosion from the connecting pieces by sanding them with medium-grit sandpaper until they are bright, then reconnect them. Tighten any loose connections. Check that the gearshift is in neutral, the mower deck is disengaged and the parking brake is set. Reconnect the battery and try to start the engine again.

Test the solenoid if the engine still fails to turn over. First, turn the ignition key to the "On" position. Look for the large terminal posts on the solenoid where the thick red wires connect to the solenoid. Touch the metal shaft of a screwdriver to both of the large terminals at the same time. If the engine turns over and starts, the solenoid is bad and should be replaced. If the starter motor does not run, the motor itself is probably defective. On some solenoids, the large terminals are on opposite sides of the solenoid. In such a case, use a jumper cable to connect the two large terminals.


Jumper cable

Metal screwdriver

Battery charger

Medium-grit sandpaper

Wrench set

Some Kohler engine models use a type of starter where the solenoid and starter motor are an integrated unit and cannot be separately replaced.

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