Designed to Fail!

But when?

honda mower compost

honda mower compost

Above: One of the few design flaws in the Honda mower I’ve found. This depression is a bath tub of sorts that allows the spring to rot in wet dirt. The remedy is easy to apply, remove the spring, drill some drain holes, oil the spring, and keep it wet with oil..

I have touched on this before, companies that knew they had to join the crowd and design throw away equipment or simply fail to sell their goods. Arguably, Honda is one of those companies, and I believe lawn mowers were one of the products that built the company in the early days.

I bought one of the first hydrostatic drive Honda mowers with OHVs I saw. I bought it on Honda’s reputation, and perhaps my Dad’s Honda rototiller and the excellent service it provided did the deal.

But…  I’m not the ordinary guy shopping for a lawn mower, we have nearly an acre of lawn, and that lawn is in the Puget Sound Basin where we mow lawns often and for a much longer season than many if not most areas.

But, there’s another factor, I also like to get my last dime out of equipment, so when others throw a lawn mower on the junk pile and buy new, I’m attempting to rebuild or repair the weak link and get another year out of it.

I’ve mentioned that the little Honda OHV engines have provided 10,000 hours of service running battery chargers for off girders, and it’s not just one of them claiming the longevity and trouble free running.

As for the Honda Lawn mower, I did find the weak links in mine, and one of them is the bushings the drive shaft runs in, I have rebuilt this area three times, and I think the front wheels have nearly fallen off twice, or was it three times?

I did retire the first Honda mower to our Easton Summer property, but I’m not sure retire is a proper term as the mower has spent many eight hour or longer days mowing there.  You can say you’d be on a rider, but my wife says.. why is it you’d take regular walks for the exercise and not walk behind a mower?

Hats off to Roger Sperle down the street from me.. he tears lawn mowers apart as a hobby, refurbishes a few, and junks the aluminum and steel as a hobby. Since we are friends, we trade favors and help all the time, and one of his grand gifts is access to junked Honda mowers where I am able to find serviceable parts for that first mower! As I say, it mows at least four times as much lawn as most people do, and it’s well over 20 years of service and ALWAYS starts on a first or second pull.

I don’t like the bushing and bearing designs on the wheels, but who can be disappointed with the service I’ve gotten? So much for a rebuild able and more commercial walk behind.

Yes, we did think we were gambling on the old Honda, so about 12 years ago, we bought a Harmony Hydrostatic, a residential grade mower with an OHC, internal cam belt, and even a plastic cam!

I doubt anyone rebuilds this engine, but after 12 years of mowing four times as much lawn as most people have, we are still going, and I have found many of the weak links are exactly the same as in the commercial grade machine.

The bushings are easy enough to replace, but if they were bronze, and there were some grease fittings, and if you greased regular, you might keep the dirt and grit out. Grease?.. an environmental hazard! A grease gun for the average home owner? Well, there’s a problem..

After two Honda mowers, one commercial, one throw away, I can only say the through away is doing fine.  I just got two more serviceable wheels from Roger, and I replaced the bushings up front that made the wheels all floppy, might be good for another three years of mowing four times as much?

Now I did find something today that I will call a design flaw. The area where the spring lies that tensions the rear door for the bagging system is a depression that holds dirt, and water,. The spring eventually starts to rust and the end of the spring eventually snaps off. A bungie cord helped with the problem till I robbed a spring off a junked Honda today. One thing you need know.. we never leave a mower outside in the weather, we know people that do.. and even leaving them in the sun can cause more trouble than you might know, we do however hose it off, and this may have helped that spring fail.

Money saved is the same as money earned..




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5 Responses to Designed to Fail!

  1. John Gillen says:

    Actually money saved is much better then money earned! You don’t pay taxes on money saved, so that is an increase of about 30% over money earned 🙂

    It is sad how much we Americans throw away. Last year, while camping, I found a chain saw in the dumpster. It looked brand new so I took a dumpster dive and pulled it out. Later I heard the guy that threw it there telling another camper that he had thrown his new chain saw in the trash because it wouldn’t start. The problem ended up being the carburetor that is made so you can’t adjust it, needed adjusting. I had to break off the little plastic pieces that made it unadjustable so I could adjust it. Apparently the result of do gooders trying to “help” engineers do their work. Where has all the common sense gone?!

    What’s that noise ? …. I think I hear a drone overhead… oh oh it’s circling… if you don’t see another post from I have been taken out for violating an EPA edict… honey grab the grandkids I see a missle comi

  2. George B. says:


    Great story.. I wish all the small engine carbs the EPA has hosed up were so easily adjusted.

    Your story reminds me of another true story.. a man in this area actually knocked his chain saw engine into a number of bits with his splitting maul because it wouldn’t start.

    Lisa Jackson might point out.. a saw that doesn’t run doesn’t make emissions.

  3. Nate says:

    I too have an old mower! John Deere 14SB… must be 21-22 years old at least. The wheels always kinda sucked… thin piece of hard rubber over plastic always wore out but they did have a ball bearing/bushing setup. Lower handle broke so I replaced it with the commercial handle. Bushing holes that the axle ran through to goto the wheels enlarged. Fixed by fixing a commercial axle bushing plate. Other wear and tear items. It used to cut about 3/4 acre grass then I took it and started using it commercially until last year. I still have it and use it once and awhile. It has a Kawasaki engine and I believe the mower is built by Easton or something. 5-speed with blade clutch. I bought a Honda commercial last year, hydro drive.. not a big fan on the bail setup though. George, I think mine is using U-joint or CV joint driveshaft and not bushings… maybe they changed it at some point?

  4. George B. says:

    Not “Drive Shaft”, carless of me, I should have said Axle! In my oldest Honda, there is that CV joint.. Axle runs in bushings.. Bushings inserted in the plastic housing up front that eventually wear, and the wheels do have bearings. On the commercial, I did have a minor problem with the drive shaft, thanks to Roger, I had a spare.

    After the first generation of Harmony throw aways, I see a lot of different changes, I have no idea how long they might live.

  5. David says:

    Some years ago a friend of mine bought a mowing franchise.
    Worst business support ever but that’s another story.

    He bought 2 New honda mowers and he averaged 6 lawns a day with those things for over 5 years till he gave the game away. The area he was in was in the outer suburbs and he also had a good few commercial properties with expansive lawns outside their warehouses etc.

    My friend is careful about his gear and his routine was to change the oil on the machines every month in winter and every week in summer. Apart from a few starter cords and regular maintenance of blades and air filters, those mowers NEVER gave him one bit of trouble.

    We were talking about the amount of hours these machines had on them one time and the work they had done and worked out an inconceivable Number for the amount of years the work they had done equated to the average persons Lawn.

    It worked out to like 120+ years worth of mowing the average block and while seeming unrealistic or too good to be true, his accounts books were all proof of the work these machines had done.

    Most serious mowing contractors here use Honda mowers and the only time you hear of someone replacing one is when the thing falls off a ute or trailer or they hit some buried object and badly bend or snap the crankshaft.

    Interestingly, a Friend of mine that has a mower repair shop says the Chinese copies are also proving to be far more durable than he would have ever given them credit for. He says in some things they do, He thinks they have improved in the design of Honda’s in little ways like mounting and supports for fuel tanks and cables etc.
    He also says that given the huge price difference, these engines do represent good bang for the buck as outright engine life is not so much the determining factor in the longevity of equipment rather than physical damage.

    While they do cut some minor corners, my friend puts their growing reputation to just copying a good and proven design in the first place. As he says, they didn’t copy the Briggs design.

    My father who lives on property was very Honda everything one eyed from the only minibikes he would ever buy for as as kids to pumps and industrial engines on the farm to his wifes car. If Honda did a ute, he’d have had 3 of them.
    Over the years though he has ( somehow) gained an allegiance to Subaru/ Robin engines and acquired a few of those as new needs have arisen.

    The one thing you can’t even mention to him ( or 99% of folks on the land here or use small engines in their work) is American engines. Briggs, Milwaukee and tecumseh are just seen as bad jokes thrust upon people that wouldn’t know a spark plug from their elbow. I know that will upset many of the patriotic of your readers but that’s the facts that those engines are just not held in the same regard here as ANY of the japanese or even old english engines.

    I did Pull off a minor Miracle with the old man and late last year bought him an 18 HP Chinese wood chipper off Flea babe. I could tell by what he didn’t say what he thought of the idea initially but when the delivery truck arrived and the first thing the driver said was ” Thank god you have a forklift to get this thing off it weighs a bloody ton!”, his mind opened up a bit.

    On putting it together with his on site mechanic, they were both amazed when he thing fired on the first turn. He said it was so quick it scared them. Not sure that was the best thing, circulating a bit of oil couldn’t have hurt but anyway.

    On giving the thing a work out and it didn’t even drop revs and blew the chips across the yard, the thing won some favour which has continued to grow. He’s been on a cleanup/ remodeling Mission this year and has transformed the place and a lot of trees and shrubs into wood chips.
    Every time I talk to him these days he regales me with the latest stories of what he has done with the thing and how happy he is with it.

    He’s fussy with his gear so I’m pretty surprised he’s not bagging the thing out. I told him I bought it because it doesn’t have to last for ever. Once the place is the way he wants it, not like he’ll have to be doing as much work every year.
    He reckons it will see him out and I’ll be inheriting it back.

    Not something I really want to think about but I’m glad he’s enjoying the thing so much.

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