It’s fun to ride around the yard on the mower, watching scrubby grass (and weeds) turn into trimmed lawn. However, when the grass looks as bad after you mow as it did before, or the mower doesn’t want to start, riding mowers aren’t as much fun. That’s when it’s time to put on your Fix-It Club hat and have some more fun.
How Does It Work?
A riding lawn mower is a gas-powered machine for cutting grass. The engine turns a rotating blade that cuts the top off the grass blades to a specified height. The operator sits atop the mower on a tractor-type seat with speed and height controls nearby. Riding mowers also can be used to pull small utility carts for other yard jobs. Other grass cutters include the reel lawn mower and the rotary lawn mower.
Save yourself some time and money. Pull out the owner’s manual for your riding lawn mower and determine what regular maintenance is needed, then mark the jobs on your calendar. Taking care of your mower will pay off by ensuring a longer working life at lower costs.
What Can Go Wrong?
The mower may cut poorly or unevenly. The V-belts may slip or come off during use. The belt may squeal or wear quickly. The mower may vibrate excessively when the clutch is engaged. The mower may be hard to shift or may not move when the clutch is engaged. The engine may not start, may lose power, or may die during use.
How Can I Identify the Problem?
If grass is poorly or unevenly cut, try mowing at a slower speed and adjusting the engine speed with instructions in your owner’s manual. Scrape away any dried grass and other debris caked under the mower deck. Sharpen or replace dull or bent blades (see the Rotary Lawn Mower Fix-It Guide). Check and replace a worn belt.
If the V-belt slips or comes off during use, clear any debris in the belt area, adjust the drive-belt tension (see below), or have the belt replaced. Adjust and tighten pulley fasteners or have a service center replace worn parts.
If the belt squeals or wears excessively, adjust the drive-belt tension (see below) and look for obstructions around the belt. If that doesn’t work, take the mower in for professional service.
If the mower vibrates excessively when the clutch is engaged, scrape away any debris accumulated under the deck. Balance the blade (see the Rotary Lawn Mower Fix-It Guide) and replace the blade if needed. If that fails, adjust drive-belt tension (see below). If you find that the drive belt, pulley, or other belt-drive part is damaged, consider having it replaced by a professional.
If the mower is hard to shift or doesn’t move when the clutch is engaged, adjust the drive-belt tension (see below). Also make sure the mower is lubricated according to the owner’s manual specifications. As needed, have the mower serviced for damaged or maladjusted clutch/brake pedal linkage.
If the engine doesn’t start, loses power, or dies during use, see the Small Engine Fix-It Guide for additional suggestions.
Larger riding mowers typically have a safety switch that stops the engine if the driver leaves the seat with the transmission in gear or the parking brake off. If the engine won’t start, test the switch.
What Parts, Materials, and Tools Do I Need?
- Scrap lumber
- Leather work gloves
- What Are the Steps to Fixing It?
- Remove the mower deck:
Wear leather work gloves when working around sharp edges such as the mower blade(s) and deck to prevent injury. You can take them off for the delicate work, but will be glad you have them on when you handle sharp edges. And never put your hands, or anything else, under the mower while it’s running.
What Are the Steps to Fixing It?
Remove the mower deck:
- Make sure that the parking brake is locked.
- Place scrap lumber under the front and rear of the deck.
- Use the deck lever to lower the deck.
- Remove attachments from the deck.
- Remove the blade drive belt from the front pulley.
- Remove the front and rear deck fasteners, following instructions in your owner’s manual.
- Use the deck lever to raise the deck.
- Remove the scrap lumber.
- Remove the deck from under the mower.
Adjust the drive belt:
- Remove the belt from the large idler pulley.
- Remove the belt from the adjustable idler pulley.
- Carefully remove the spring-loaded large idler pulley.
- Loosen the adjustable idler pulley and move it slightly toward the rear of the mower to tighten it–or move it toward the front to loosen it–and retighten the pulley.
- Replace the belt.
- Check belt tension and readjust as needed.