Can You Push A Self Propelled Lawn Mower?

Lawn Mower Starts Then Dies

Lawn Mower Starts Then Dies

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.

Lawn Mower Starts Then Dies

So can you push a self propelled lawn mower? You can push a self propelled lawn mower, 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.

Lawn Mower Starts Then Dies

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

Sure you can push it, but lets first see if we can fix it. Pushing a self propelled mower is though work, especially on a hot day.


Self propelled mowers are built more robustly than a regular push mower, obviously being self propelled the weight of the mower is less important.


Manufacturers are able to use stronger materials and pack it with extra features, that they can charge more for.


It's no surprise that regular push mowers are built like a desert when it comes to extra features.


Lawn Mower Starts Then Dies

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.


Pushing self propelled mower

Lawn Mower Starts Then Dies

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 more sophisticated Hydro-static drive system. (More on Hydro-static later)


Lets begin with a brief out line of how a basic lawn mower 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.


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 pulley's and belts are crucial to the whole operation, any slip here and available power is lost. More on belts and pulley's 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).

Self drive mower transmission

Engine to Trans-axle

Trans-axle driven by belt which is driven by the engine pulley.


This is a fancy word for a 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 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.


self propelled 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 mans lever, nice term, basically means if your hand slips from the lever the mower will stop moving.


The same type lever is 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, same as a bicycle brake cable.

Mower bail levers

Drive Control

Most mowers use a bail lever.

Drive Belts & Pulley's

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.


Bad belts can 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.


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 cause slip. The only fix here is to fit the correct belt.


Pulley's are equally important, but give less trouble, they can be made from metal or plastic, you know which one lasts longer.


Mower drive belt Mower drive belt pulley

Drive Belt

Most important that the belt is in good condition and is the right size.

Self Propelled Lawn Mower Wheels Won't Turn?

Most mowers are rear wheel drive, that 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, know which wheels do the driving. With that figured out, run the mower with drive engaged while the driving wheels are off the ground. 


If the wheels turn, even slowly, it indicates that 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).


If the wheels still don't move, we'll have to go deeper. With all wheels on the ground again and the the mower engine off.

Apply the drive lever, and pull the mower back ways. If the driven wheels (usually rear) lock up, it indicates that your drive cable is in place.


However it could still need adjustment, so check out my adjusting a drive cable post here (internal link) or there is a problem with the drive belt.


To inspect the belt we'll need to disable the mower and turn it over.


If the rear wheels don't lock up, it likely indicates that the drive cable is out of adjustment, detached or broken. The mower will need to be disabled, turned over and the cable inspected.


To disable your mower, remove the plug wire and turn off the gas, if you have a gas tap. Always turn your mower over with the carburetor side facing up, this prevents gas flooding the air filter, engine and your work area. 

Mower drive belt Mower drive belt

Check Belt

Carburetor side up
Mower drive belt Mower drive cable
After disabling your mower, check that the belt is on both pulley's and that the drive control cable is connected at both ends.

Related Questions

Related Questions

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


Related Questions

Auto Technician and Writer at | Website

John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on I've been a mechanic for over twenty years, I use my knowledge and experience to write "How to" articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of mechanical repairs, from lawn mowers to classic cars.