How To Start A Riding Lawnmower With A Screwdriver (and Hotwire)

Upgraded Home Team
by Upgraded Home Team

You’re all set to mow your lawn, but when you come out to your riding lawnmower, you notice that the key is missing. Or worse, you try the key, and it breaks off in the ignition switch. You need to cut the grass ASAP, so you can’t afford to wait for a replacement part. What do you do? Fortunately, you can start your lawnmower with a screwdriver.

Insert a flat-head screwdriver into the keyhole and carefully turn it to start the ignition. Rotate it the same way that you would with your key, and it will start the mower. You may need to clean the keyhole if there is debris in it so that you can easily turn the screwdriver.

Alternatively, you can easily hotwire your lawnmower if you have a couple of pieces of wiring. This article will outline the steps needed for all three methods so that you can get your machine up and running in no time.

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What You’ll Need to Start Your Riding Lawnmower

  • Flathead Screwdriver
  • Rubber Gloves (or Thick Work Gloves)
  • Pliers
  • Two Pieces of Wire (for Hotwiring)

How to Start a Riding Lawnmower With a Screwdriver (Method One)

As we mentioned, this option is the simplest, and it will work if you simply lost the key to your machine. However, if the ignition switch isn’t working or the tip of the key is stuck inside, you will have to try another tactic.

Fortunately, lawnmower ignitions are not unique, like they are in a car. Virtually any piece of metal that can fit inside the switch will be able to turn the mower on. The hardest part of this method is finding a screwdriver head that will fit since the space is relatively small.

All you have to do is stick the end of a flathead screwdriver into the ignition and turn it as you would normally. The lawnmower should start up right away. Be sure to have the parking brake engaged and the blades disengaged before starting. Otherwise, the machine won’t do anything because of the built-in safety sensors.

How to Start a Riding Lawnmower With a Screwdriver (Method Two)

This option is a little more complicated and dangerous, so we highly recommend wearing gloves while doing it. Although the screwdriver handle should prevent any electricity from reaching your hand, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Step One: Park the Mower

Make sure that the brake is engaged and that the blades are off. While this tactic will bypass the safety sensors, you don’t want the blades starting immediately, just in case.

Step Two: Locate the Battery

In some lawnmowers, the battery is underneath the seat. On other models, it is underneath the hood. Refer to your owner’s manual if you need help finding it.

Step Three: Locate the Solenoid

This component is often next to the battery, and there is a wire connecting them. You’ll notice two terminals sticking out – one positive and one negative. Again, refer to your owner’s manual so that you can get the orientation correct.

Step Four: Bridge the Terminals

Fortunately, the space between the terminals is pretty short, so any screwdriver should work. Alternatively, any piece of metal will be able to start your mower – so you can use a wrench or something else if you don’t have a screwdriver handy. Just make sure to wear gloves while working.

Start with the negative terminal and then bridge to the positive. You might notice a small spark when you connect them. The engine should start immediately.

If the mower shuts off shortly after turning on, you might have to do this a couple of times. However, if it still doesn’t stay on, the problem is likely the spark plug or the solenoid itself. You can find out how to change a spark plug here. Swapping a solenoid is also relatively easy if you are mechanically inclined. It may be a good idea to take your lawnmower to a repair shop to get a more accurate diagnosis.

How to Hotwire Your Riding Lawnmower’s Ignition Switch

Although the screwdriver method we listed above will work, it can potentially cause corrosion or damage to the wires. Since the screwdriver bridge isn’t insulated, it does create a spark, which is never ideal inside your engine. If any fuel or oil is present, the spark could ignite it and cause a small fire.

Because of the potential danger, it is actually better to hotwire your ignition switch. This option shouldn’t be a permanent solution, but it will allow you to use your mower until you have a replacement switch. Here is how to do it.

Step One: Park Your Mower

Make sure that it’s on a flat surface and that the parking brake is engaged. As always, keep the blades disengaged for safety purposes.

Step Two: Remove the Ignition Cap

First, you will need to look under the hood to find where the wires connect to the ignition. Next, you will need to depress two tabs on either side of the switch to push it out.

Step Three: Remove the Wire Connector

You’ll notice a series of wires connected to the switch itself. Separate these pieces to access the wire terminals.

Step Four: Attach the First Wire

You will need two pieces of insulated wire for this method. When looking at your uncovered ignition, you’ll see that it has a series of boxes with metal pieces in it. The first wire should connect the upper left box (which is slightly tilted) to the bottom left box.

Step Five: Connect the Second Wire

You will fix the first end of the second wire to the same box on the bottom left. Don’t attach the second end to anything yet.

Step Six: Start the Mower

You will need to touch the end of the second wire to the middle right box to engage the engine. Be sure that your choke is on before doing this. The mower should start immediately.

Turning the Lawnmower Off

One of the problems with bypassing your ignition switch is that there is no way to turn the mower off once it’s on. To do that, you will have to remove both wires. Then, connect one wire from the bottom right terminal to the top right (which is slightly turned). Doing this will disengage the engine and allow the machine to power down safely.

How to Replace Your Lawnmower’s Ignition Switch

Whether your lawnmower key is broken off inside the ignition or it is starting to go bad, we highly recommend replacing it as soon as possible. Fortunately, you don’t need any tools for this job, and you can finish it within a few minutes. Follow these steps:

  • Step One: Pull the Ignition Switch Out – Two tabs are holding it in place. You will have to find the switch from underneath the hood to get this piece out.
  • Step Two: Disconnect the Wires – They should just pull out with a quick motion.
  • Step Three: Clean the Wire Terminals – If your mower is relatively old, this piece will likely have a lot of dirt and debris on it. Wipe it off with a dry towel or rag. If necessary, we suggest using a keyboard cleaner to get into the nooks and crannies.
  • Step Four: Attach the New Ignition Switch – Make sure you have the exact same make and model. Not all ignition switches are the same, so a different part won’t fit correctly.
  • Step Five: Reset the Switch – Reattach the wires and then place the whole thing back into the hole.
  • Step Six: Lock the Switch – Make sure that the tabs engage so that the piece won’t come out by accident.
  • Step Seven: Start the Mower – Test the ignition to ensure that it is working correctly. If the mower doesn’t start, the problem is likely the battery or the spark plug.

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Related Questions

Do I have to replace my mower’s ignition switch?

That depends on what is causing the lawnmower not to engage. If you simply lost the key, you should be able to purchase a replacement. Also, if the spark plug is the source of the problem, you will want to change that instead.

Will starting the lawnmower with a screwdriver damage anything?

In most cases, this process will not damage the engine. However, if you use a screwdriver all the time to start the lawnmower, it could be dangerous, particularly if there is any sparking when the motor engages. Overall, starting a mower with a screwdriver is a temporary solution, not a long-term fix.

Upgraded Home Team
Upgraded Home Team

We are a team of passionate homeowners, home improvement pros, and DIY enthusiasts who enjoy sharing home improvement, housekeeping, decorating, and more with other homeowners! Whether you're looking for a step-by-step guide on fixing an appliance or the cost of installing a fence, we've here to help.

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