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13 Reasons a Poulan Chainsaw Won’t Start (Troubleshooting)

Poulan offers a good chainsaw for the homeowner that only needs it for occasional light projects. Chances are when you own it long enough, you will run into a starting problem.

A Poulan chainsaw won’t start when the on/off switch is off; the fuel is old or the mix is incorrect; the carburetor is dirty; the air filter, fuel filter, fuel tank vent, or spark arrestor is plugged; the spark plug or ignition coil is bad; or the engine is flooded.

Follow the safety precautions listed in the operator’s manual when troubleshooting and repairing your Poulan chainsaw starting problem. Don’t skip safety steps as working on a chainsaw can be dangerous.

Poulan chainsaw

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Follow all safety instructions provided in your equipment operator’s manual before diagnosing, repairing, or operating. Consult a professional if you don’t have the skills, or knowledge or are not in the condition to perform the repair safely.

Poulan Chainsaw Won’t Start Troubleshooting

1. Bad Switch or Wrong Setting

The switch on your Poulan chainsaw must be placed in the on position to start. If you find that is in the off position, flip it to on.

SOLUTION: If it is in the on position and your chainsaw won’t attempt to start, check for a faulty switch or bad ground wire.

2. Old Fuel

Gas doesn’t stay good forever. It actually doesn’t last very long before it begins to break down and become less effective. Fuel should be consumed within 30 days to make sure you are using it while it is still fresh.

Much of today’s fuel includes an alternative fuel to make gas a little more environmentally friendly. This product is known as ethanol. It is made from corn or another high-starch plant.

While ethanol is better for the environment, it is not good for the small engine in a Poulan chainsaw.

Ethanol attracts moisture from the air to the fuel system. The ethanol and water mixture will leave behind a sticky varnish that can gum up the fuel system and cause fuel restrictions and failures.

Poulan chainsaws require gasoline and oil mixed at a ratio of 40:1. Use a gas that has a minimum 87 octane rating and a maximum 10% ethanol content.

Avoid gas with high levels of ethanol content like those sold as E15 and E85. These fuels have up to 15% and 85% ethanol content respectively.

SOLUTION: When you find old fuel in your chainsaw, drain it and fill it with a fresh gas and oil mixture. I like to add a fuel additive like Sea Foam Motor Treatment or STA-BIL to help reduce moisture and clean the fuel system.

3. Wrong 2-Cycle Oil Mix

As mentioned before, Poulan chainsaws require a fuel that is made up of a mixture of gas and oil. Placing straight gas in the chainsaw will damage an engine and may result in you having to replace it.

Straight gas runs very dry. It can cause the engine to seize due to the lack of lubrication.

Mix gas with a premium 2-cycle engine oil like Poulan 40:1 oil or any other equivalent oil that is ISO-L-EGD and JASO M345 FD certified.

Ethanol-free fuel

Because ethanol in fuel negatively affects the performance you receive from your Poulan chainsaw, using an ethanol-free fuel is best, but more costly. You can find pre-mixed 40:1 fuel at most hardware stores.

This is a great option to have sitting on the shelf so you don’t run out of fuel and have to make a trip to the fuel station and then have to spend time mixing oil into the fuel.

SOLUTION: If you find you have the wrong fuel mix in your chainsaw, drain the fuel tank. Mix a 40:1 gas and oil fuel mixture in a separate fuel can and then add it to the fuel tank.

If the engine doesn’t start because you ran straight gas through it, you most likely ruined it. You can have a small engine mechanic check the chainsaw for damage for confirmation.

4. Plugged Air Filter

The air filter is a routine maintenance item that is essential to protect a Poulan chainsaw’s engine. The filter keeps dirt and debris from getting to the engine causing wear and permanent damage.

When the air filter isn’t regularly cleaned or replaced, the buildup of dirt can be so significant that good airflow isn’t able to pass through it. A plugged air filter will prevent your Poulan chainsaw from starting.

It’s good practice to replace your air filter annually and clean it several times throughout the season if you’re the average homeowner that uses your chainsaw occasionally.

If you use it more often, check and clean it more often. Poulan recommends cleaning it after every 5 hours of use.

Take time to inspect your air filter to prevent overheating the engine and causing damage. This takes less than a minute to check and can prevent larger issues from developing.

Never run a chainsaw without an air filter. You may get tempted to run your Poulan just a little longer to finish your task until you get a new air filter replacement, but doing so puts the engine at risk of damage.


Steps to clean a Poulan chainsaw filter

  • Remove the air filter cover.
  • Wipe around the filter to remove as much sawdust and dirt as possible.
  • Remove the air filter.
  • Wipe out any remaining sawdust and dirt from the air filter housing.
  • Wash the filter with warm soapy water and rinse it with cool water until it runs clear.
  • Allow the air filter to completely air dry.
  • Reinstall the clean filter. Purchase and install a new air filter if the old filter is extremely dirty, damaged or is unable to properly seal leaving a gap where dirt can bypass the filter.
  • Reattach the air filter cover.

5. Bad Spark Plug

The spark plug provides the spark required to start and keep the chainsaw running. It is a wear item that should be changed once a year for the casual user and as often as monthly for a routine user.

A dirty plug can cause the spark plug to misfire causing starting and running issues. Inspect the spark plug and clean it with a wire brush to remove carbon buildup in between replacements.

SOLUTION: Replace a spark plug if you find it is very dark in color, has a burnt electrode, or has broken porcelain. Make sure the spark plug is gapped to Poulan specifications and the spark plug wire is securely attached.

6. Faulty Ignition Coil

If the spark plug is in good condition, but you still aren’t getting spark, check the ignition coil. The winding on the ignition coil can separate and short out.

When this happens, the spark plug won’t get the voltage required to create a spark. This will cause your Poulan chainsaw to fail to start.

SOLUTION: Identify a bad ignition coil using an ohmmeter to check for a break in continuity. Replace the ignition coil if you find a break.

7. Plugged Fuel Filter

Like the air filter is used to keep dirt out of the air intake to prevent wear on the engine, the fuel filter is used to keep dirt out of the fuel system.

The fuel filter on a Poulan chainsaw is located in the fuel tank. It is attached to the end of the fuel line to strain fuel before it enters the fuel line.

When the filter isn’t changed regularly or when dirty fuel has been used, it can become plugged restricting the amount of fuel that is able to pass through the filter.

When your Poulan isn’t able to get a sufficient supply of fuel, it will fail to start or run sluggishly.

SOLUTION: Replace the fuel filter annually and more often if you use the chainsaw regularly.

Replace a Poulan chainsaw fuel filter:

  • Wipe around the fuel cap to keep any dirt from falling into the fuel tank when removing the fuel cap.
  • Remove the fuel cap.
  • Use a clean bent wire to hook the fuel line and pull the fuel filter out of the tank.
  • With one hand securely holding the fuel line (needle nose pliers may help to hold the fuel line in place), pull the filter out of the fuel line with the other hand.
  • Install a new fuel filter by inserting the male end into the fuel line and make sure it is securely in place.
  • Place the filter in the fuel tank and reinstall the fuel cap.

8. Bad Primer Bulb

A cracked primer bulb that won’t fill up with fuel won’t function correctly to get fuel to the carburetor.

SOLUTION: Replace with a new primer bulb.

9. Clogged or Punctured Fuel Line

Over time, fuel sitting in the fuel lines can leave behind a varnish and gummy depositions that restrict fuel flow.

SOLUTION: When you find a clogged fuel line, you can attempt to remove the clog by removing the fuel line and using carburetor cleaner and compressed air.

The carburetor cleaner is used to help loosen the clog and the compressed air is used to blow air into the fuel line to remove the restriction.

If you are unable to successfully remove the blockage or you find the fuel line is damaged, punctured, or cracked, it’s best to replace it with a new fuel line.

10. Dirty Carburetor

The carburetor regulates the amount of fuel that is mixed with air to create combustion in the cylinder. Old fuel will gum up and clog the carburetor so it no longer functions as designed. This can keep your Poulan from starting.

SOLUTION: If you are a little mechanical you should be able to handle cleaning your carburetor. Clean the carburetor by taking it apart and using carburetor cleaner to clean it.

If the carburetor does not function after being cleaned, you may need to rebuild it or replace it with a new carburetor.

11. Bad Recoil Starter

The recoil starter is used to start the engine on a Poulan chainsaw. When the pulley is bad, the springs are loose or the clips are broken, the recoil can fail to work.

SOLUTION: You can attempt to replace the spring and restring the recoil. If it does not work because other components in your recoil are damaged, such as the clips or the pulley, you are better off just replacing the recoil assembly.

12. Plugged Spark Arrestor

You will find a spark arrestor on the muffler. This is a small screen installed on the chainsaw to prevent hot exhaust material from shooting out of the Poulan causing burns or fires.

The spark arrestor can become plugged with soot preventing airflow. This will cause the Poulan chainsaw to not start.

SOLUTION: Remove the spark arrestor screen cover and spark arrestor screen from the muffler. Clean the screen with a wire brush.

Replace the mesh spark arrestor screen when you are not able to clean it sufficiently or if it is damaged. Never run a Poulan chainsaw without this screen or with a screen that has a hole in it.

13. Flooded Engine

The engine can become flooded when the choke is in the closed position and the starter rope was pulled many times.

It can also happen with the switch off and the starter rope being pulled multiple times or when the primer bulb is pushed too many times.

SOLUTION: Use the steps below to remove the excess fuel and start the engine.

How to Fix a Flooded Poulan Chainsaw Engine

  • Turn the switch on to the ON position.
  • Move the choke lever to the OFF / RUN position.
  • Press the throttle trigger while pulling the starter rope over and over. This can take anywhere between 5 and 15 pulls before it starts. Your chainsaw engine will sputter first. Continue to pull 2 to 3 more times and it should start.