Riding mowers are temperamental machines. One day, you’re able to mow five acres without breaking a sweat, and the next day the mower acts like it’s about to die after five minutes.
One of the most common problems is when the riding mower won’t move forward or reverse.
You then begin to wonder what could be wrong. Is there a problem with the engine, the battery, the fuel system, hydraulics, the air filter, or all of the above?
There are different reasons why your riding mower would stop moving, but we have outlined the most common ones and their solutions below.
Riding Mower Won’t Move Forward or Reverse
If your riding mower won’t move forward or reverse, it could be due to a number of different issues. The most common causes are clogged fuel filters, clogged carburetors, faulty batteries, damaged drive belts, faulty seat pressure switches, and bad tensioner pulley. Others are air in the hydraulic system, no axle key, lawn mower stuck in mud or gear, old hydraulic fluid in the mower’s transmission, and damaged idler pulley.
11 Reasons Why Your Riding Mower won’t Move Forward or Reverse and How to Solve Them
1. Clogged fuel filter
When you’re trying to troubleshoot something as complicated as a riding mower not moving, it is always easier to start with the simplest option.
In this case, it could very well be fuel not going to the right place. A clogged fuel filter will prevent fuel from getting into the carburetor as quickly as possible.
So, you might have just enough fuel to get it started because some of the reserves are in the float bowl. However, the moment you move your riding mower into gear, it could stall.
The good news is you can clean a clogged fuel filter yourself. Start by draining any gas and debris by tapping the filter on both ends. Then spray carburetor cleaner on it or wipe it down.
Depending on the design of the fuel filter, you might need to disassemble it to get into the crevices properly and spray each component with the carb cleaner.
If this doesn’t work, you might need to move on to the next common cause.
2. Clogged carburetor
Fuel filters are great, but they aren’t perfect. Even when the fuel filter isn’t clogged, it’s possible that debris such as dust, grass, and mud can still sneak past and lodge in your carburetor.
However, the most common cause of a clogged carburetor is old gas. If you have not used your riding mower in over a month, chances are you now have bad gas.
Gasoline begins to break down after two weeks, and the result could be a gummy mess that clogs your carburetor.
If that’s the case, here are the steps you need to take:
- Clean the outside of the mower engine so that dust doesn’t fall into the carburetor when you open it.
- The carburetor is usually beneath the air filter, so you’ll need to take this out. While you’re at it, check if the air filter needs to be replaced – this is another reason why your riding mower won’t move.
- Remove, then disassemble the carburetor.
- If you notice any damaged parts, replace them as necessary.
- Clean the carburetor parts with a carburetor cleaner. Be careful not to get carb cleaner on any rubber parts like an o ring, or it would cause it to slack.
- Place the parts back and close up the engine.
3. Faulty battery
When a riding mower starts on one turn, it usually means the battery is supplying power.
However, a faulty battery could provide just enough spark to get started but not enough juice to keep it running.
If you haven’t been charging the battery as suggested by the manufacturer – usually once a month – you could have a major problem on your hands.
A faulty battery could mean it is discharging very quickly or there is a problem with the connections. So, the first thing you should do is check the battery terminals for corrosion.
If you notice any white, solid materials, wipe them off with a dry cloth, brush, or sandpaper.
If the cables are fine, try and charge the battery and see what happens. If it isn’t charging properly and the water reservoir seems low, you might need to change the battery.
4. Damaged drive belt
The drive belt is responsible for moving power from the engine to the transaxle. If the drive belt is loose, cracked, or broken, it won’t be able to make the rear tires spin.
So if your riding mower won’t move forward and the engine doesn’t stall, this is a good place to check.
Usually, the mower drive belt will make a squealing sound as you ride it before it finally gives out.
Of course, you might not always hear it because you’re using earmuffs or the noise from the mower drowns it out.
If you see that the drive belt is damaged or missing (yes, this does happen), you need to replace it. This would require a fair amount of lifting, so you should get someone to help you.
5. Faulty seat pressure switch
The seat pressure switch is perhaps the most important safety feature ever invented for riding lawn mowers. Unfortunately, it has been known to fail on occasion.
However, this is not a reason to disable it as many are fond of doing, which then leads to a high number of ghastly lawn mower accidents.
While you can easily swap out the seat pressure sensor, you should start by checking if the seat position is the problem.
If moving the seat about doesn’t solve the problem or you can visibility see signs of wear on the sensor, buy a new one.
6. Bad tensioner pulley
The belt and pulley system are what literally pull the engine and the wheels together. That is why a lot of attention is paid to the drive belt, and owners will constantly check them to ensure they are in top working condition.
However, what we should also be paying attention to is the tensioner pulley. The tensioner pulley is responsible for making sure the belt has just enough pressure on it to make the wheels spin but not too much that it wears out.
So, when the tensioner pulley is bad, it can be just as bad as the belt not working because the lawn mower will not move.
It is recommended that you check the tensioner pulley at least once every season for lawn mowers that are more than four years old or after 10,000 miles, whichever comes first. If the tensioner pulley is bad, the only option is to replace it.
7. Air in the hydraulic system
Hydraulic systems are the lifeblood of a hydrostatic lawn mower. That is why you need to check the hydraulic level constantly and fill it or swap it out as your manufacturer recommends.
Ironically, this is where many riding mowers develop a fault. That’s because owners often forget to bleed out the air from the hydraulic system. If there is air, the hydraulics won’t be able to move the mower forward or reverse.
There are different ways to let the air out depending on your riding mower, and fortunately, every manufacturer provides detailed instructions.
Air bubbles can also creep into your hydraulic lines when you leave the riding mower idle for a long time, such as during winter.
If you plan on doing so, it would be better to drain the hydraulic fluid before stowing your riding lawn mower for the season.
You can store the hydraulic fluid safely over winter; just ensure it is stored correctly.
8. No axle key
Most of the time, when you change the tires on your riding lawn mower, there is no incident, and everything goes smoothly.
However, it is also common to run into a major problem like misplacing the axle key. The axle key is a narrow little bar that holds the tire to the axle. Without the axle key, the tires won’t move.
Besides a missing key, you can also experience a damaged key. Over time, the axle key can wear out and become useless. In both cases, you need to get a new axle key.
9. Lawn mower stuck in mud or gear
One of the more comical problems when you won’t be able to move your lawn mower forward, or backward is that you are stuck in mud.
The cause of this is a loss of friction to the tires, and it is the same thing that happens when you’re in snow, ice, sand, or wet inclines.
To get out of the sticky situation, you need to put other materials in the mud that provide friction like stones, broken bricks, and planks.
If your problem is that your riding lawn mower is stuck in gear, that is a considerably more difficult issue.
There are different causes for this happening such as wear and tear or making a mistake when driving, which affects the hydraulics.
Just make sure that your lawn mower does not get wet because it may cause more damage to the machine.
In that situation, your best bet is to call a professional. The hydraulic system is too important for you to mistakenly sabotage.
10. Old hydraulic fluid in the mower’s transmission
Most riding mowers use a hydraulic transmission system, which means the power from the engines is directed to the wheels via hydraulic fluid.
That is why you need to stay on top of hydraulic oil changes. If you leave the hydraulic oil to get old, it can no longer lubricate the gears.
Old hydraulic fluid can also get contaminated by debris from the engine or the reservoir. So, when you have a problem with hydraulic oil, you need to change it immediately.
As a rule, you are to check hydraulic fluid after every 200 hours and swap it out completely every 1,200 hours. Also, remember to bleed the air out when you pour in new hydraulic fluid.
11. Damaged idler pulley
Going back to the problems concerning the mower drive belt, the idler pulley is another critical component that could stop your riding mower from moving forward.
While the idler pulley is just one part of the pulley system, it provides adequate tension for the drive belt connected to the crankshaft, which is responsible for movement.
The idler pulley goes through a lot of stress, so it is quite vulnerable and needs to be checked often. If you notice signs of wear and tear, don’t try to fix it; just replace it with a new one.
You can expect this to happen after the 50,000-mile mark. Once you have gone through all of these options, chances are you will have discovered the problem and fixed it.
Why Specific Lawn Mower Brands Won’t go Forward or Reverse
Why Husqvarna riding mower won’t move forward or reverse
The most common reason for a Husqvarna riding mower not moving is usually due to the drive belt. If the drive belt is broken or worn out, it will stop providing the required motion to the wheels.
In order to prolong the life span of your riding mower, Husqvarna recommends that you check the drive belt for debris often. However, you should change the damaged drive belts immediately.
John Deere tractor won’t move forward or reverse
There are over a dozen reasons why a John Deere riding lawn mower won’t move, but the most common one is a problem with the hydraulic system. This is often a result of hydraulic fuel leak.
Other causes could be low hydraulic fluid, old hydraulic fluid, or air in the transmission lines.
Why Craftsman riding mower won’t move
Just like John Deere, the most likely cause for your Craftsman riding mower not moving forward is hydrostatic fluid leak or low fluid. However, the manufacturer also suggests you check the battery first.
If you have a weak battery, it will affect everything else, including the flow of hydraulic fluid. You will also need to check the wires and switch for the clutch.
Why Zero-turn lawn mowers will not go forward or backward
Due to their design, zero-turn mowers rely more on hydraulic fluid than lawn tractors and other lawn mowers.
Therefore, if your zero-turn mower won’t move forward, chances are there is a problem with the transmission lines.
A dead or failing battery could be another reason, as well as clogged air filters or even the carburetor. Once you get a new battery or change the air filets, it could be a good as new.
Why Murray riding mower won’t move forward or reverse
The first place to check when a Murray riding mower won’t move is the drive belt. The belt is located just beneath the mower deck.
The drive belt is responsible for the mower’s mobility, so if it is damaged, you need to replace it immediately.
Drive belts are known to fall off the mower’s engine pulley so ensure this is tightened right.
Why Kubota tractor won’t go forward or reverse
Kubota tractors are arguably the best in the business, but even they aren’t immune. The most common cause is a problem with the clutch linkage.
If the clutch doesn’t seem to be working as it once did, you may need a mechanic to tell you when and how to swap it out. Another area to check is if there is a problem with the axle.
Why Cub cadet won’t move forward or reverse
The most common reason for a Cub Cadet not moving forward is that the parking brake has not been engaged.
If the parking brake doesn’t depress or release properly, it could mean there is an obstruction or damage. You should also check the pedals for obstructions as well.
Why Troy Bilt riding mower won’t move forward or reverse
The most common cause for a Troy Bilt riding lawnmower not moving is that it has fuel issues.
The first thing to investigate is if there is old gas – gas that has sat in the engine for over a month. You should then check the fuel filter, fuel pump, fuel cap, and fuel lines.
Why Toro zero-turn mower won’t move forward or reverse
The three most common reasons for a Toro lawn mower not moving all have to do with the drive belt in some way.
A damaged drive belt, a problem with the tensioner pulley, or a missing/damaged tensioner spring are the usual causes. Besides these, it could be an issue with the transmission lines.
Why Poulan Pro riding lawn mower won’t move
When your Poulan Pro riding lawn mower has a mobility problem, the first place to check should be the belt and engine pulley system.
Quite often, the tension on the pulley is so much that the transmission doesn’t engage properly. You should also check on the idler pulleys.
Why Ariens riding mower will not go forward or reverse
Just like most other tractors, the most common reason for an Ariens riding lawn mower not moving forward is a problem with the belt.
You should ideally inspect the drive belt to see if it is shiny, glazed, or burnt. If you notice any of these, you should replace the belt immediately.
Why Gravely zero turn mower won’t move
Gravely zero turn mowers have had issues with the drive belt falling off. This could happen because there is a problem with the tensioner pulley or any of the other pulleys.
The mower also won’t move if the drive belt is worn or cracked.
Time for a New Lawn Mower?
The average lawn mower from a quality brand is built to last about ten years. However, you will probably begin to experience a few irritations after the first couple of years.
The good news is if your riding mower won’t move forward or reverse, you now know how to troubleshoot and solve it without calling a mechanic.
If you happen to own an old lawn mower, it might be time to upgrade to the best riding lawn mower.