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Can You Push A Self Propelled Lawn Mower – Causes & Fixes

By: Author John Cunningham. Published: 2019/08/14 at 2:15 pm

Never a good time for the mower self-drive to quit; my yard is hilly, and I just can’t imagine pushing my Honda for an hour and a half.

So, can you push a self-propelled lawnmower? You can push a self-propelled lawnmower; it won’t damage the transmission in any way. However, it may be difficult to do so; self-propelled mowers are a little heavier than a regular push mower.

In this guide, I will help you diagnose why your mower won’t drive, if you can fix it now, or if you need to take it to a shop.

Mower in field

Sure, you can push it, but let’s first see if we can fix it. Pushing a self-propelled mower is tough work, especially on a hot day.

Self-propelled mowers are built more robustly than regular push mowers; obviously, being self-propelled, the weight of the mower is less important. They use stronger materials and pack them with extra features.

 It’s no surprise that regular push mowers are built like a desert when it comes to extra features. If you need video help, check out “Common self drive faults video”; it walks you through self-drive common faults and how to fix them.

How Does A Self-Propelled Lawn Mower Work?

Self-propelled systems are pretty simple really; of course, the more expensive higher-spec mowers may be fitted with a more sophisticated Hydro-static drive system. (More on Hydro-static later). Let’s begin with a brief outline of how a basic lawnmower self-drive system works.

This may seem unnecessary, but I think it will help you diagnose and fix your fault more quickly and accurately.
For a drive system to be effective, it must have a power source, it must have an assembly that converts engine torque into propulsion, and to make it really useful, it must be controllable.

Mower blade

Trans-axle and belt setup

Engine Power

The engine supplies the power for the drive system. The power is transferred from the engine to the trans-axle using pulleys and a drive belt. The pulleys and belts are crucial to the whole operation; any slip here and available power is lost. More on belts and pulleys later.
If the engine runs poorly, your drive system will feel sluggish and slow, but if the engine runs, your drive will still work. A mower should be serviced once a year; check out “Mower engine tune-up” (internal link).

Engine to Trans-axle – Trans-axle is driven by a belt which is driven by the engine pulley.

Mower engine


This is a fancy word for transmission and an axle that is combined into one assembly. Basically, without getting too far into the deep end, it’s what makes your mower move. I wrote a complete explanation of the trans-axle here (Internal link). The power from the engine is transferred to the trans-axle, and it, in turn, sends the power to each of the powered wheels, but only when the operator applies the drive lever. 

Mower transmission

Trans-axle – Trans-axle is the business end of moving your mower.

Drive Control

To make all this power at the wheels work, you need to be able to turn it off and on. Otherwise, it’s useless. A bail lever is used to apply the drive to the wheels on most mowers. A bail lever is also known as the dead man’s lever, which basically means if your hand slips from the lever, the mower will stop moving.
The same type of lever is also used on most mower starting systems. The bail lever is connected to the trans-axle control lever using a braided cable inside a shielded plastic outer, the same as a bicycle brake cable. If your bail lever lacks tension, it’s a good indication the cable has broken, detached, or needs adjustment. It’s all covered in this article.

Drive Control – Most mowers use a bail lever.

Mower handlebars

Drive Belts & Pulley’s

Mower drive pulley

Drive Belt – The most important is that the belt is in good condition and is the right size.

Drive belts are the most likely reason a self-drive system isn’t working. The belt, as you know, transfers the power from the engine pulley (located just above the blade) to the trans-axle. A faulty or worn belt may cause no drive, slow drive, throwing the belt, noise, and smoke. A belt can often cause other damage as it’s thrown; it can wrap around other components.

Belt faults are the most common root cause of self-drive issues.

Mower belts

A belt that’s too long or worn can be a real pain. Often, it’ll work fine when cold, but as the belt heats up, it can slip. The only fix here is to fit the correct belt. Pulleys are equally important but give less trouble, commonly made from metal or plastic, you know which one lasts longer.

Self-Propelled Lawn Mower Wheels Won’t Turn?

Now, we’ll get to the business end of this post – finding and fixing your self-drive fault. Most mowers are rear-wheel drive, which means the power goes to the rear wheels. But some mowers like Craftsman are front, and some higher spec models are four-wheel drive. 

The first job – find out which wheels do the driving.

To check, we’ll need to tilt the mower over. But before we can do that, we’ll need to remove the spark plug and turn the gas valve off if fitted. You can read more about tilting your mower correctly here. Or check out the video here.

Mower on its side

Turn Mower Over – Now we’re ready to turn the mower over, remembering to tilt its air filter side up.

Check – Check where the trans-axle is located; most will be rear-drive.

Mower drive

Test 1

Mower on lawn

Test 1 – Stat the mower and, with drive engaged, lift the driving wheels off the ground.


Two outcomes are possible:

1 – The wheels turn, even slowly – indicates the drive system itself is likely OK. It may just need drive cable adjustment. I wrote a post on adjusting a drive cable here (Internal link). Or you’ll find the subject covered in the “Self drive troubleshooting video” here.
2 – The wheels still don’t move; we’ll have to go deeper, see test 2.

Test 2

With all wheels on the ground again and the mower engine off.

Mower drive control

Test 2 – Apply the drive lever and pull the mower backways.


Two outcomes are possible:

1 – The driven wheels (usually rear) lock-up – which indicates your drive cable is in place. However, it could still need adjustment, so check out adjusting a drive cable post here (internal link). It could also indicate a problem with the drive belt. (see below)
2 – The rear wheels don’t lock up – likely indicates the drive cable is out of adjustment, detached, or broken. The mower will need to be disabled, turned over, and the cable inspected. 

Test 3

Mower crank pulley and belt

Test 3 Check Belt – Check the belt is on both pulleys…

…and that the drive control cable is connected to the transmission.

Mower transmission drive cable


  • If you find the drive cable is detached, then it is likely broken and will need replacing. Covered here in “Fix self drive cable”.
  • If after inspection you find a drive belt issue, common problems include – loose, broken, worn, or jumped off. The solution to all of these problems is to replace the belt; it’s all covered in the “Self drive troubleshooting video” here.
  • If, on inspection, you find both belts and drive cable in place, the problem may lie with the axle pins, drive gear, and wheels, or the axle may have failed. Testing and repairing axle pins, gears, and wheels are all covered in the “Self drive troubleshooting video” here.

If you need self-drive parts, check out the Amazon link below.

Amazon Lawnmower Self Drive Parts

Related Questions

Can you pull a lawnmower backward? You can pull a mower backward, but the quality of the cut will be poor. If your mower drive cable is over-adjusted, the mower won’t pull backward. Release drive cable tension by turning the adjuster until the mower pulls backward.