Riding Mower Won't Move Forward Or Reverse? (We Have A Fix)

Ossiana Tepfenhart
by Ossiana Tepfenhart
Riding lawn mowers make yard work much easier, but they are useless if they won’t move forward or reverse. This can be caused by a problem with the fuel filter, clutch, or transmission. Whether it be a mechanical error or using the wrong kind of fuel, let’s take a look at what you can do if your riding lawn mower won’t move forward or reverse.

A riding mower is supposed to make your life easier. After all, no one likes pushing around a mower, right? Well, it only will be a breeze if your riding mower will move in one direction or another. When a riding mower won’t move forward or reverse, things can get very dicey. Sadly, this can be caused by a wide variety of different things…

Inspect the fuel filter for blockages and clean it if your mower won’t move forward or reverse. Clean your air filter if it is clogged or replace it if it is damaged so the mower can operate properly. Examine the transmission and clutch for outdated or damaged parts, and replace them if necessary.

If your riding mower suddenly stopped moving, then you’re probably wondering what you can do to fix your mower. Though some problems may be beyond repair, there are certain things you can do to try to alleviate the situation. Here’s what you’re going to have to do…

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Troubleshooting Your Riding Mower

If you want to get the problem fixed, you’re going to have to figure out why your riding mower isn’t budging. This will require a step by step troubleshooting procedure. In order to do each “check” on this troubleshooting list, you will need to follow the instructions that are listed in your riding mower’s guidebook.

You absolutely, positively need to look at model-specific information when troubleshooting your mower. Each riding mower has its own inner mechanics that will be explained in the guidebook, so we technically can’t give you in-depth advice on how to perform each troubleshooting check. However, we can tell you what to look for.

Troubleshooting Your Engine Battery

One of the most commonplace causes of a mower that won’t budge is an engine battery that’s weak or dying. Here’s how to figure out if your battery’s the issue:

  • Try to turn on the lawnmower. If the lawnmower isn’t even turning on, it’s because the engine battery is dead. This is a quick fix since all you have to do is replace the battery.
  • Check out to see if the mower stalls when you turn it on. A weaker battery will cause a mower to stall out and sputter. This suggests that you may need a new battery, too.

Checking Your Air Flow

Believe it or not, your mower’s airflow plays a crucial role in being able to make sure that your riding mower can move. The airflow is what keeps the engine cool and prevents it from failing as a result of overheating. Unfortunately, this vital piece of equipment tends to take a lot of abuse due to the high chance of grass getting into the air filters. Here’s how to troubleshoot this issue:

  • Check your fuel filter first. Your fuel filter has a lot to do with the airflow of your mower, and this often gets blocked by grit, grass, and mud. Check to see if there are any blockages, then clear them out gently. This should help your mower get the fuel it needs to be able to propel itself across the grass.
  • Next, check your air filter for damages. Another major issue that can cause your mower to stall or be unable to move is a damaged air filter. A damaged air filter can cause particles that “muck up” the engine, causing stalling, or worse, full engine failure. If you notice your air filter’s appearance looks ragged, it’s time to switch it.
  • Check your air filter for clogs. Does it seem like your air filter is a little “worse for the wear?” This is a far more significant issue than you think. Much like a damaged air filter, a clogged air filter can lead to engine failure if left to its own devices. If your air filter looks clogged, switching it is your best bet.

Troubleshooting Your Transmission

Finally, the third most common reason why a riding mower might turn on but be unable to move forward or backward deals with its transmission. Much like with a car, your mower’s transmission is in charge of being able to switch gears between forwards and backward gears. Without a properly working transmission, your lawnmower will be unable to move forward or backward. Here’s what to look for:

  • Check your transmission fluid levels. Most transmissions will need occasional fluid touch-ups in order to avoid having their transmissions slip out of gear. If you notice fluid leaks in the reservoir or near the transmission lines, then fix the leaks. In many situations, a failed transmission part could be the issue.
  • Look for broken or out of place transmission parts. As mowers do their job, they tend to be prone to wear and tear. If you hear a grinding sound when you try to switch gears or notice that your mower is jammed in one gear (like neutral), it could be that a portion of transmission machinery that needs to be replaced.
  • Take a look at the clutch. Sometimes, the issue isn’t the actual transmission, but your clutch knocking your transmission out of whack. Most clutch malfunctions can be repaired by replacing a part, adding more lubrication, or just gently recalibrating some of the interconnected parts.

When Should You Try To Take It To A Professional?

Figuring out whether your riding mower’s troubleshooting is a DIY project or not isn’t always easy. Each mower has its own guidebook that tells you whether or not professional work is required to fix it. If your guidebook states that you need professional assistance to improve your mower, it’s best to listen to the guidebook. Trying to ignore those warnings may end up with you causing further damage to your mower, possibly to the point of rendering it unusable.

Of course, there are moments where DIY projects can get out of hand. If you’ve checked the transmission, batteries, and air filters without having any luck fixing the problem, then you may need to call a pro. On a similar note, if the repair that you spot is above your DIY “pay grade,” it makes more sense to hire someone who has the tools or finesse to make your mower run again.

With some mowers, you may actually not be able to (legally) fix it without the help of a professional.

How Much Does It Cost To Have A Professional Fix Your Mower?

It’s reasonable to wonder how much it would cost to have your mower fixed by a professional. After all, if you can’t do the job yourself, what other choice do you have? You probably don’t want to fork out thousands of dollars to purchase a new one as those can be quite spendy.

The cost will depend on several factors, including:

  • If they have one-time service fees
  • Garage fees
  • Labor costs
  • Materials
  • The problem they need to fix

Lawnmower repair shops all operate differently. Some will charge you for using their garage or the gas that it takes for them to come to your property. Others will include all of the costs into the quote.

Service Fees & Garage Fees

You’ll notice that some shops charge you a service fee or a fee that covers the space you’re taking up in their garage. Usually, these fees will cost about $40 to $75. However, if your lawnmower needs to sit in the shop for a week, you might incur a $25 per day fee for the storage fee as well.

Labor Costs & Materials

If you need a new air filter or some other new part, for instance, then you can expect to pay that price, of course. The material fees don’t include the labor costs, which can be between $30 to $50 an hour, depending on the garage you take your mower. While this seems like a hefty price, know that you will receive your lawnmower in better shape than what you left it.

Price By Problem

Of course, some problems will take longer to fix. Others, not so much. An air filter will be a lot easier to change, while transmission issues may take longer to figure out. So for an air filter, you might pay about $100 for the fix ultimately, while a transmission problem can run you between $150 to $800, depending.

Do You Need a Mower Repair Service?

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Our Final Take

If your mower isn’t moving forward or backward, you will have to figure out what is causing it. It’s going to be the airflow, the transmission, or the engine battery in most cases. This can require a lot of tools and careful reading of a guidebook’s maintenance procedures. If you do not have the tools, the time, the experience, or the legal rights to fix your rider mower, it’s best to have a professional do the work for you.

An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure here. Most of the issues that could cause a mower to stop moving can also lead to permanent engine damage or complete motor failure if left unchecked. So, if you want to get the most out of your mower, make a point to maintain it and keep an eye out for potential problems as they arise. The better care you take of your mower, the better off you (and your lawn) will be.

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Ossiana Tepfenhart
Ossiana Tepfenhart

Ossiana Tepfenhart is an expert writer, focusing on interior design and general home tips. Writing is her life, and it's what she does best. Her interests include art and real estate investments.

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