The Small Engine Side Hustle
By: Leon Rhodes
Looking to make a little money from home? Interested in learning how to make some extra money flipping small engines? Every gas powered mower, blower, pressure washer, generator and other home and garden equipment has one.
This small engine side hustle guide will teach you how to maximize your profits and avoid common pitfalls.
The first thing you need to know about starting a small engine side hustle is that there are many ways to make money with them. While some require tools and experience most can be done by anyone with little to no money. I'll cover the pros and cons of each method, lets get started.
Small Engine Repair Business (traditional)
Perhaps the most common small engine side hustle idea people have is to open a repair business from home. With a garage or shed to work from you can let people know you repair home and garden equipment and fix the machines customers bring you.
This is my least favorite idea because it is the most expensive and time-consuming to make profitable. A small engine repair business requires the most tools, knowledge and cash outlay which isn't the easiest or cheapest small engine side hustle option.
Small Engine Repair Business Pros
- You get paid per service that you perform
- Good work often leads to repeat business
- You can sometimes do the warranty work for big box stores
- As your contact list grows new profitable opportunities arise
Small Engine Repair Business Cons
- Relatively high starting expenses(licensing, insurance, advertising etc)
- Prior small engine repair experience is required
- You must be available during regular business hours
- Work is often seasonal
- The clients are local and there may be competition
Overall, good money can be made with a small engine repair business if you're willing to put full time effort into it. Since that isn't easy while working a full time job, or with little startup money, lets examine other small engine side hustle options.
Fixing and Flipping Small Engines (common)
Fixing and flipping small engine powered garden equipment such as lawnmowers, leaf blowers, generators and pressure washers can be a very profitable side hustle. However, fixing and flipping small engines isn't risk free.
Finding a steady supply of broken but repairable garden equipment can be as challenging as diagnosing and repairing them. Common places to find broken garden equipment include your local salvage yard, your local classifieds, yard sales, word of mouth and sometimes on the side of the road on trash day.
Once you have a machine you want to fix and flip you need some basic small engine knowledge and a basic set of tools to repair it. To turn a profit on a small engine fix and flip you need to be able to sell the machine for more than it cost to buy and repair.
In my experience some machines, such as grass trimmers, cost more to repair than you can expect to make selling them. Additionally, if a small engine has a cracked block or a lack of compression it may not be repairable.
Tip: Pay attention to aesthetics. Small engine garden equipment that looks good is easier to sell. It's not uncommon to have to spend time cleaning, and sometimes painting, garden equipment to be able to get top dollar for it.
Fixing and Flipping Small Engine Pros
- Profits can be lucrative
- Repairs can be done in your spare time
- Low overhead costs
- Partial trades can boost profits
- You can specialize in one type or brand of machine
Fixing and Flipping Small Engine Cons
- Some machines are not repairable
- Patience is required, it often takes time to complete a flip
- Negotiating skills are required to maximize profits
- Finding small engines to flip can be difficult
- Machines take up space until they are sold
- Sales are seasonal, mowers in summer, snow blowers in winter
Overall, the risk of being unable to turn a profit is higher but the potential for increased profit makes it worth your consideration. The best fix and flip experiences occur when you are able to turn junk into reliable equipment and make good profit in the process, it's very rewarding.
Tip: Make sure to tell prospective buyers about any defects if you decide not to repair something. Good work and honesty are highly rewarding. Your reputation will become very useful as word of mouth spreads about your side hustle.
Small Engine Parts Salvage and Sales
If you are looking to start a small engine side hustle with minimal repair skills, few tools and little money then consider selling parts instead of complete working machines.
Depending on type of garden equipment, age and condition it can be more lucrative to tear down a small engine and sell the parts than it is to repair the engine. This is partly due to the fact that you can ship small engine parts around the world instead of relying on local sales.
Before salvaging a small engine for parts you should check various online marketplaces to determine the going rate for the parts you plan to sell. Some parts sell well, such as carburetors and gas tanks, while others can take a long time to sell. Some also don't sell at all.
Before spending money on a small engine machine you plan to salvage it's important to find out how popular that specific make and model is, otherwise you'll have a lot of parts that won't sell very quickly.
I recommend that you keep everything at first until you are confident you know what parts are worth. Even the nuts and bolts have value, a bag that includes every bolt from a specific model of small engine can sell relatively easily online.
Don't forget about scrap value. Even broken metal parts have value at the salvage yard so collect those too until you have enough to bring to the scrapyard. Scrapyards typically buy metal by the pound.
Tip: Take the time to clean the parts you sell before taking pictures to make selling them easier. Also, consider focusing on a specific type and brand of small engine yard equipment at first so that you have a replacement part available should a buyer return a part.
Important! Keep parts from a small engine together in a storage container and label the container with the make and model number. Mixing up small engine parts makes it difficult for even an expert small engine mechanic to know exactly what it came from. Organize your parts system!
Small Engine Parts Salvage Pros
- Minimal small engine repair skills needed
- Few specialty tools required, basic tools will work
- Big profit potential, when everything sells
- Minimal storage space required
- Parts can be sold online to a global audience
- Startup costs are minimal and scale well
Small Engine Parts Salvage Cons
- Sales incur shipping costs
- Some parts are difficult to sell
- Parts value learning curve is steep
- Cleaning and rust prevention is needed
My advice to anyone with little money, few tools and minimal small engine knowledge who wants to start a small engine side hustle is to start by salvaging and selling parts first. You can always expand and sell refurbished machines or start a small engine business later.
Keep a detailed list of your parts inventory, your costs and your desired sales price because market values can change significantly over time. It will also be easier to report earnings and costs come tax time if you stay organized.
Vintage Small Engine Restoration
Another way to run a profitable side hustle with small engines is to restore vintage equipment. As with any collector items the older, rarer and better condition a small engine is the more valuable it becomes.
Some types of vintage small engine machines, such as chainsaws, hit-miss engines and old generators have a strong demand among collectors. Restoring vintage small engines to running condition can be hugely profitable, if you don't become an avid collector yourself.
As a side hustle, however, vintage restoration has the highest profit margins but is also the least likely to provide a dependable regular financial return on the time and money you invest in them. Still, keep an eye out for vintage machines as you go about your business.
Small engine restoration differs from small engine repair because restoring an engine involves more than just making it run again. Special attention needs to be given to how it is repaired, which parts are used and how faithful the restoration is to the original engine.
This is because vintage small engine collectors are interested in keeping them as original as possible, even in appearance. Don't be too quick to paint over the patina of an old vintage small engine, you may lower it's value!
Tip: If you want to focus on antique and vintage equipment consider joining a forum or group of like-minded collectors. The knowledge you gain will be invaluable and you may sometimes strike a deal with another buyer or seller.
Small Engine Restoration Pros
- Profit margins can be very lucrative
- Many small collector communities exist
- It's work that feels like a hobby
- You can show off your skills at trade shows
- It's very rewarding work
- Restoration videos do well on Youtube
Small Engine Restoration Cons
- Parts can be hard to find
- Costs can be prohibitive at first
- It's difficult to avoid becoming a small engine hobbyist
- Attention to every detail is required
- A single engine can take 100s of hours to complete
If you are interested in getting into vintage small engine restoration as a side hustle I recommend you attend a few estate sales to find your first old machines. They aren't easy to find! Additionally, become active in an online small engine restoration community, most are frequented by knowledgeable enthusiasts.
I hope I've given you a few ideas about how you can turn small engines into a profitable side hustle. There is no "best" way to do it, there is only the right way for you based on your situation and ambitions.
Additionally, know that many small engines are compatible with other types of garden equipment. Example: a 2HP Briggs engine from a broken pressure washer can be swapped onto the body of a lawn mower fairly easily. Everything has value if you make it work.
When it comes to small engines consider them the most important part of any machine, the rest is a single purpose accessory!
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