riding mower maintenance

Riding Lawn Mower Maintenance

If you want a reliable mower all season, and who doesn't? Then your Riding mower will need a tune-up at least once a year, preferable in the spring before the season starts.

If you want a reliable mower all season, and who doesn't? Then your Riding mower will need a tune-up at least once a year, preferable in the spring before the season starts.

So what is riding mower maintenance? To maintain a riding mower, the following components need attention:

  • Full mower inspection
  • Oil & filter change
  • Air filter change
  • Fuel filter change
  • Spark plug change
  • Axle lube
  • Blade sharpen
  • Tires pumped
  • Deck align
  • Throttle cable adjusted

At the very minimum the oil should be changed at the start of the season. If your mower is new, change the oil after the first 5 hours of use.

Some mowers will have a handy tune-up interval chart stuck under the hood or under the seat.

Topping Up Oil

Checking and topping up the oil is good practice but it's not a substitute for an oil change. If your mower has an oil filter, change it when changing the oil, this is where all the contaminates are trapped.


Knowing how to service and repair your own mower is a useful skill to have.

Modern lawnmowers are DIY friendly and pretty simple really.

Ride-on mower engine sticker

Info Sticker

Helpful charts are fitted to some mowers showing intervals and part numbers, however I've found the Husqvarna belt labelling to be wrong.

About Your Gas Engine

The 4 stroke single and v twin cylinder engines offered by B&S, Kohler, Kawasaki and Honda are all top drawer, and quality parts are easy to find. 


Your engine may be different to the demo models used in this guide, unless it's a diesel, they're all much similar.


All tractor mower engines are very durable, and failures in my experience are rare and when they happen are usually associated with poor or low oil. That's why checking your oil regularly and oil changes are so important. 

When To Tune-up Your Gas Engines

When should I service? I advise my customers to service their mowers at the start of the season not at the end. Mowers that overwinter without being prepared usually suffer from gummed carburetor issues. 

What Is Gas Stabilizer

Gumming of small engine carburetors is a real problem. Over the winter months the old gas eats away at the inside of the carburetor. This is so common, and it's so simple to prevent.


Use a gas stabilizer at the end of the season, simply dump a can into a full tank of gas and run the engine a short while. Check out tractor mower winterizing (internal link).


If your mower is running rough, changing the oil, plugs, air and fuel filter may not fix it. Gas mowers that run rough usually require carburetor cleaning. Check out "Carburetor troubleshooting".

Diesel Engine Difference

Some manufacturers offer small diesel engines in their mowers, the main advantages are fuel efficiency and lots of torque. Mostly they're fitted to the commercial range.


Diesel engines tend to be very reliable, however when they fail they cost a lot more than a gas engine to repair.

Diesel Tune-Up

A service to a diesel engine will include: oil; oil filter; fuel filter; air filter. Doing an oil and filter change is just as important on a diesel. 


Note, if your changing a fuel filter on a diesel engine, the air will need to be purged from the system before starting the engine.

Purging Diesel Fuel System

Fill the new filter with fresh diesel before fitting. Then pump the primer, if installed on the machine. 


If you don't have a primer - open the fuel lines at the injectors by about 2 turns, now crank over the engine until fuel spills from the fuel lines. Tighten up the lines and your good to go.


If your diesel still won't start after purging, then it needs to be purged again. 

What Tools Are Needed?

A tune-up isn't technical, and no special tools are needed. Like many tasks, it's about the right knowledge and good preparation.


When it comes to tools, you don't need top of the line kit, but do buy good quality tools, because good tools well cared for will last a lifetime. 



1/4 & 3/8 Drive Socket Set

Selection of Wrenches

Selection of Screwdrivers

Torx Drivers


Flat File

Wire Brush

Oil Catch

Air Pump


Inspection Light

Ride-on mower engine tune-up tools


Briggs and Stratton, Kohler, Kawasaki, Honda. All engines are easy to work and no special tools are needed.

What Tune-up Parts Needed?

All engines will have a model code and date stamped somewhere. Briggs & Stratton stamp their codes into the metal valve cover at the front of the engine. Kohler have a tag and Honda have sticker on the body.

Tune-Up Kits

Tune-up kits will include: plug(s); oil; oil filter (if fitted); air filter; fuel filter - everything you need. If your having trouble identifying your engine type, you can usually identify the right tune up kit by the shape of the air filter.


Check out your engine maker for part numbers:


Briggs and Stratton specification


Honda specification


Kohler specification


Kawasaki specification

Ride-on mower tuneup kit Ride-on mower tuneup kit

Id Your Engine

Knowing how to identify your mower engine is useful for parts ordering.

Ride-on mower id sticker Ride-on mower tuneup kit

Kohler Details

Inspection & Tune-up

In this guide I will tune-up a single cylinder engine. In addition to a tune-up, it's good practice to do an overall visual inspection.


Mowers create a lot of vibration so look for any loose or damaged components, check rear axle oil, belts, pulleys, deck spindles, deck arms, battery connections, cables etc.


Finding problems now is usually cheaper than them finding you later.


Your mower may not be the same as the demo model but that's not important, the process will be close to identical no matter what model you have. 

Engine Makers

There are many different makes of mower and many are fitted with the very reliable Briggs & Stratton single cylinder engine. Kohler, Kawasaki, and Honda are also quite popular engines. All these engines are simple and easy to work on.

Ride-on mower engine


Briggs and Stratton, Kohler, Kawasaki, Honda. All engines are very alike and easy to work on.


Ride-on mower plug wire

1 Wire

Remove the plug wire and leave it off until your ready to start the engine later in process.
Ride-on plug

2 Plug

Check that replacement plug is the same. Thread in new plug by hand before using the plug tool.
Ride-on mower plug wire


To avoid cross threading, thread the new plug in by hand before using the plug tool. Snug the plug down and give it a little tighten.... not too tight! don't fit the plug wire just yet.


Ride-on mower oil drain

3 Drain

Drain the oil while the engine is still warm, this helps the draining process.
Ride-on oil filter

4 Remove

If you can't find your oil filter, then you don't have one, so you can go ahead and skip this part.

Remove the old filter, you may need an oil filter tool, but their usually not that tight.

Ride-on mower oil filter

5 Fit Filter

When fitting the new filter, apply some oil to the o ring, it prevents distorting the seal when fitting.

Only tighten the filter - hand tight.

Ride-on oil top up Ride-on oil top up chart

6 Add Oil

If your mower has an oil filter, then check the oil level again after you test run the engine.

This can be done at the end of the tune-up.

Ride-on mower oil dipstick

7 Check Levels

Add oil a little at a time, and check the level. Over filling is not good for the engine.

It will cause oil leaks, misfiring and lots of smoke.

Ride-on axle


All controls and levers will benefit from a spray of WD40.

Check rear axle oil level. The front Axle will have greasing points, for this you'll need a grease gun.


Ride-on gas filter

8 Remove

Gas filters are found on the gas line between the gas tank and the carburetor. If you have a gas tap fitted, it's useful to turn it off before removing the old filter.
Ride-on gas filters

9 Replace

Gas filters may be directional, and if so will have an arrow which points to the carburetor.
Ride-on gas tank

10 Clean

Gas tank grit is common, I use a suction bottle and tube to remove it, and sometimes I have to remove the tank to clean it.
Ride-on mower air filter

11 Air

Remove the air filter and clean the air box being careful not to allow dirt into the carburetor.

Blade Sharpening

Ride-on jack

12 Jack

Be sure to use an axle stand or block of wood to secure the mower as you'll be working under it.

Don't take any chances. Check out the tools on the blade maintenance page.

Ride-on deck

13 Deck

If your not comfortable working under your mower, then remove the deck.

Some decks will be pretty simple to remove.

Ride-on deck blades

14 Balance

Removing Deck blades for sharpening and balancing is best practice. Inspect the blades for damage, replace if bent cracked or worn.

If the blades are in good condition, you can sharpen them in place.

Ride-on mower blade

15 Flat

Sharpening your blade is done with a good quality flat metal file.

Begin by dressing the face of the blade to remove any small nicks.

Ride-on oil blade

16 Bevel

Now we will file at the same angle as the bevel, some blades will have the bevel facing the other way.
Ride-on mower blade

17 Dress

Now dress the opposite side to remove the burrs.

A sharp blade is the secret to a beautiful healthy lawn, and it extends the life of your mower.

Ride-on belt

18 Check

Check the condition of the belts. Most mowers have at least two belts, one for driving the mower and one for driving the blades.

Some mowers will have more.

Ride-on belt

Flat Spot

These belts have a difficult job and can be the cause of various issues.

Regular inspection will tell you if your belt is at the end of its life.

Ride-on deck


Things to look for are flat-spotting, glazing, cracking and fraying.
Ride-on mower blade


Worn or damaged belts cause slip, which in turn will cause vibration.

The vibration can if ignored go on to cause lots of other issues.

Ride-on oil belt cracks


Better to take care of this now, waiting for it to break can cause other damage.

Deck Leveling

Ride-on tyre pump

19 Pump

Check tire pressure and set to 1bar/15psi. Some customers like a lower pressure, and that's okay, what's important is that they're all the same.
Ride-on deck level

20 Level

Decks tend to drop at the front over time. Place the mower on level ground.

Measure the height of the four corners of your cutting deck.

Ride-on deck level

21 Measure

Let your deck down approx. half way. Now measure the height of the four corners of your cutting deck.

Note the highest corner, and adjust all other corners up, so they match.

Ride-on deck

22 Adjust

You'll find adjusters at each corner, they'll have a lock nut that will need to be released first.

Turning these bolts adjusts the deck up and down. Spray with WD40 - makes life a little easier.

Ride-on deck level


Rear adjuster, wd40 helps.
Ride-on deck level

Clean Cut

Decks that sag will impact your lawn causing damage to your blades and your lawn.

Want a professional clean cut? - Sharp blades and a level deck.

Related Questions

Should I run my lawn mower out of gas for winter? No, it is best to use a gas stabilizer, it keeps the gas fresh and will protect your fuel system. Running the gas out of the mower doesn't prevent gumming of the carburetor over winter.

Can you store a lawn mower vertically? A lawn mower should be stored on its wheels, however if you drain the oil and gas from the engine you can store it in any position you like.


Auto Technician and Writer at | Website

John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Lawnmowerfixed.com. 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.