Why Riding Mower Won’t Move Forward or Reverse (& How To Fix It)

Owning a riding mower can make maintaining your yard much more convenient than using a push mower or keeping paid help to do the job. Unfortunately, many who use riding mowers have often run into an issue where the mower will not move forward or in reverse. If you’re having this problem, this article will help you determine the cause and walk you through the best way to resolve it. 

If your riding mower won’t move forward or in reverse, your problem is most likely that that hydrostatic drive is not engaged. When this happens, all it takes to fix it is to locate the control and engage the hydrostatic drive. Depending on your mower, you should be able to find this control near the back of your riding mower. 

The Reason Why Riding Mower Won’t Move Forward or Reverse

If your riding mower won’t move forward or in reverse, it’s most likely because the hydrostatic drive is not engaged. However, there are several other parts of your mower that cause this issue if they become worn or damaged. The information below will help you pinpoint the exact problem. 

 1.  Unengaged Hydrostatic

Mowers with a hydrostatic drive system utilize pressurized oil to move the pistons. When these pistons move, the power is sent to the hydrostatic motos, which engage the mower’s wheels. 

These mowers have a switch, usually located near the back of the mower, that disengages the hydrostatic system. When the hydrostatic is not engaged, the process that provides power to the wheels does not occur. 

If the hydrostatic becomes disengaged, the mower can usually be pushed by hand but will not go forward or reverse when you try to drive the mower as normal. 

 2.  Drive Belt

A loose or damaged drive belt can also keep the mower from moving. This is because the drive belt plays an essential role in the transfer of power from the engine to the wheels of the mower. 

When the engine is running, the belt turns and activates a system of pulleys that enable the wheels to move. 

Unfortunately, the drive belt doesn’t usually last for the lifetime of the mower. Over time, the belt will become worn and can loosen or break. 

When this happens, the mower will not move, even when the engine appears to be running as it should. 

 3.  Friction Wheel Not Attached to the Friction Plate

If the issue is not with the drive belt, it could be that the friction wheel does not have good contact with the friction plate. The drive belt spins the friction wheel to create friction between the friction wheel and the friction plate. The friction created helps make the wheels turn. 

The connection between the two should be firm enough that you cannot turn it by hand. Without this firm contact, it will not create enough friction to turn the wheels, resulting in your mower not moving. 

In most cases, this happens because the friction wheel has been worn down and needs to be replaced. 

 4.  Flat Tire

A flat tire could also be the reason that your mower won’t move. When one of the tires is flat or very low, the increased resistance means that it requires more power for it to turn. This, along with decreased traction, could easily prevent the mower from moving. 

 5. Any Broken Part

If none of these things are causing the problem, there are several other things that could be preventing your mower from moving. 

One thing to check is the tensioner pulley. This pulley ensures proper tension on the drive belt, which is required for power to be distributed to the wheels. 

However, even if the power is distributed properly, it will never reach the wheel without the axle key being present. This is because the axle key is what keeps the wheel connected to the axle. 

In more severe cases, the issue can be caused by a bad transmission. 

How to Fix a Riding Mower that Won’t Move Forward or Reverse

Once you’ve determined why your mower won’t move forward or reverse, you can move on to fixing the issue. Many of the things that cause this problem are fairly simple to fix. 

 1.  Fix the Flat Tire

If you have a flat tire on your riding mower, you will determine why the tire is flat and the best way to resolve the problem. 

1. The first thing you should do is examine the tire for damage. If the damage is severe, it will be easy to spot. However, small punctures can be a little trickier to find. However, pouring a mixture of dish detergent and water over the tire can sometimes make them easier to find because the mixture will bubble at the location of the leak. 

2. If the tire only has mild damage, such as a small leak, you can purchase a tire repair kit to repair the damage. These kits are inexpensive and provide a simple way of sealing the puncture that’s causing the flat tire. 

3. If you find that the damage is too severe to repair, you will need to replace it. It’s best to contact a professional who can help ensure that the replacement is the correct size for your mower and that it is installed properly. 

 2. Engage the Hydrostatic

If the hydrostatic drive is disengaged, the fix is very simple. To engage the hydrostatic drive on your riding mower, follow the steps below:

1. The first thing you’ll need to do is locate the switch that engages and disengages the hydrostatic drive. In most cases, you’ll find this near the back of the mower. If you have a hard time finding it, your manual can provide the exact location. 

2. Once you’ve located the switch, it should be labeled to let you know which position it should be in to engage the hydrostatic drive. If not, you will test both positions to determine which engages and disengages the drive. 

3. Next, push the lever into the position that engages the hydrostatic drive. Once you’ve engaged the drive, your mower should move forward and in reverse without complications. If it doesn’t, switch the control to the opposite position and try moving the mower again to ensure it was set correctly. 

 3. Fix the Drive Belt

If your mower won’t move because of a worn or damaged drive belt, the only solution is to replace the belt. 

1. First, you’ll need to purchase the correct type of belt to replace the old one. Keep in mind that using a belt other than those suggested in the manual can lead to further complications. 

2. When you’re ready to begin the repair, you will start by unplugging the spark plug wire. 

3. Next, you’ll remove the blade from the deck. Before you start removing the blade, you should wedge a piece of wood (or a similar object) between the deck and the blade to keep it from turning while you work. 

4. Begin removing the old drive belt by freeing it from the crankshaft pulley and working your way toward the transmission pulley. Depending on the mower, you’ll likely run into additional parts that need to be removed to free the belt. 

5. Install the new belt in the reverse order that you removed the old one and reattach any pieces that were removed. 

 4.  Attach Friction Wheel to Friction Plate

If your friction wheel has become worn, you will need to attach a new friction wheel to the friction plate to fix your mower. The steps below will explain how to do this. 

1. If you’re replacing the friction wheel, you will start by removing the defective wheel. Be sure to place the bolts in a safe location where they’ll be easy to find because you’ll need these bolts to attach to the new wheel. 

2. The new part will come with a clutch liner, which you’ll use to line the inside of the wheel before you attach it to the friction plate. 

3. Carefully place the new friction wheel in place of the old one, making sure the holes for the bolts on the mower and wheel are aligned. 

4. Insert and tighten each bolt. You’ll want to ensure that the bolts are tightened securely, but use caution to avoid overtightening them. 

5. Once you have secured the bolts, test the mower to see if it will move. If it still won’t move, the friction wheel may not be attached properly. 

 5. Fix Broken Part

If there is a different part broken on your mower that is preventing it from moving, you will need to figure out exactly what the issue is. Once you find the cause, you can replace the part if the job aligns with your skills. 

Many of the things that are known to cause this issue are simple fixes that you do yourself. However, there are some that may require you to find a professional to do the repair. For example, if your riding mower has a transmission problem, it will most likely require a complex repair. 

If the repair is complex or you’re unsure about the exact cause of the problem, you should hire a professional to fix it. This is because some issues can easily be made worse if you make a mistake. It will also eliminate the risk of spending unnecessary time and money on the wrong things. 


If your riding mower won’t move forward or in reverse, you most likely just need to re-engage the hydrostatic drive. However, it can sometimes result from a faulty part on the mower, such as a worn drive belt or friction wheel. These things generally only require a quick and simple repair. 

Unfortunately, this issue can sometimes be a sign of a more severe issue, including transmission failure. If you’re unsure what’s causing the issue or the issue requires a complex repair, you hire a professional to fix your riding mower. 

When you run into minor issues with your riding mower, it’s critical that you repair them promptly before they lead to more severe issues. For example, if you run your mower frequently while it is low on transmission fluid, it will eventually lead to transmission failure. 

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