Completing routine annual service on your Craftsman riding mower will put you in the best position to get a good performance from your mower throughout the season.
Skipping the maintenance can lead to starting and overheating problems along with poor cutting results. Taking time to complete these steps can save you from a significant repair bill.
Service a Craftsman riding lawn mower to keep your mower in good operating condition. This includes changing the engine oil and filter; replacing the air filter and fuel filter; removing debris around the engine, transmission, and mower deck; sharpening the blades; scraping the mower deck, and greasing the riding mower.
Keep reading for a full list of items you need to check on your Craftsman lawn mower.
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Follow all safety instructions provided in your equipment operator’s manual before diagnosing, repairing, or operating. Consult a professional if you don’t have the skills, or knowledge or are not in the condition to perform the repair safely.
How Often Should You Service a Craftsman Riding Lawn Mower?
A Craftsman riding lawn mower should be serviced every 50 hours or annually, whichever comes first. You should also clean the air filter, grease the mower, check your tire pressures, sharpen the blades and scrape the mower deck several times throughout the mowing season in addition to the service.
Remove all debris, dirt, and grass clippings from your Craftsman riding mower before each mowing to keep it operating at its best. Debris on and around the engine and transmission can cause your mower to overheat.
Debris on the deck can interfere with the proper operation of the deck components and tensioner. Debris under the deck prevents a good-quality cut.
Checklist to Service a Craftsman Riding Lawn Mower
- Prepare Craftsman riding mower for maintenance
- Change engine oil and filter
- Replace spark plug
- Remove dirt and debris from exhaust, engine & transmission areas
- Clean battery terminals
- Remove debris around electrical components & wiring
- Replace air filter
- Replace fuel filter
- Check fuel system
- Check tire pressures & lug nuts
- Clean the top of the mower deck
- Inspect belt, pulleys, and spindle housings
- Sharpen or change mower blades
- Scrape the deck
- Level the mower deck
- Lubricate the riding mower
- Clean and wash riding mower
21 Steps to Service a Craftsman Riding Lawn Mower
Step 1: Gather Tools & Supplies
It is best to get all of the materials together before you start servicing your riding mower.
- Engine Oil
- Engine Oil Filter
- Air Filter
- Fuel Filter
- Spark Plugs
- Mower Blades
- Socket or Spanner Wrenches
- Drain Pan, Funnel, Filter Wrench
- Rags, Work Gloves, Safety Glasses, Work Surface Cover
- Deck Scraper, Wire Brush, or Metal Putty Knife
Step 2: Prepare Your Mower for Maintenance
Park the mower on a flat-level surface. Lay cardboard or newspaper on the ground to protect the surface from oil drips. Allow your Craftsman to run for a few minutes to warm up your engine oil. Warm oil flows better than cold oil for draining. Shut off the mower.
Before working on your Craftsman riding mower, you must take the following safety precautions to prevent the mower from starting and moving while you are working on it:
- Set your parking brake. Use wheel chocks to prevent it from rolling.
- Remove your ignition key.
- Disconnect the spark plug wires.
- Refer to your owner’s manual for additional safety procedures specific to your model.
Step 3: Change Your Engine Oil & Filter
Your engine oil and filter should be changed every 50 hours or annually to keep your engine lubricated with clean oil. Not changing your engine oil regularly can have damaging effects on the engine.
Note: If your engine is new, you need to change the oil after the initial 5-hour break-in period.
Remove Engine Oil Plug: Open the hood and locate the oil drain plug on the lower side of the engine. Clean dirt and debris from the area around the oil plug so you don’t contaminate the engine when removing the oil plug.
Place a drain pan under the oil plug, remove the plug, and allow the oil to drain into the pan. Remove the oil fill cap to allow the oil to flow better.
Some Craftsman riding mowers use an oil drain port where a hose is attached to drain oil. Open the drain port, attach the drain hose to the port, and place the opposite end in the drain pan. Remove the oil fill cap to allow the oil to flow better.
Replace Engine Oil Filter & Oil Plug: Using a filter wrench, remove the oil filter and replace it with a new filter. Once all of the oil has drained, reinstall the drain plug.
Fill with Engine Oil: Fill the crankcase with the quantity and type of engine oil recommended by your manufacturer. Most gas-powered engines in Craftsman mowers use a 10W-30 air-cooled engine oil.
You must make sure you have a sufficient engine oil level. It cannot be too low or too high as either level can cause damage.
Start Engine and Check Oil Level: Reinstall the spark plug boots and start your engine for a few minutes. Turn the engine off and let the oil cool. Recheck the oil level using the dipstick. Add more oil if needed.
Step 4: Replace Spark Plug(s)
Replace your spark plug(s) annually. Make sure the plug is gapped according to the engine manufacturer’s specifications.
Step 5: Remove Dirt and Debris from Exhaust, Engine & Transmission Areas
Dirt and debris that builds up around the engine and in the engine cooling fins restrict air movement around the engine to keep it cool to prevent overheating. Remove the engine shroud and remove dirt and debris around the engine and exhaust areas.
Remove dirt around the engine cooling fins and replace any damaged fins. Make sure the heat shield is securely in place.
Step 6: Clean Battery Terminals
Make sure the battery terminals are clean and make a good connection. If they are showing signs of corrosion, clean them with a baking soda and water solution consisting of 2 cups of water and 3 heaping tablespoons of baking soda.
Use a wire brush to clean your terminals. Apply a thin coat of white lithium grease to prevent corrosion on the terminals.
Step 7: Remove Debris Around Electrical Components & Wiring
Check your electrical components and wiring for debris. Remove any debris you find. Debris can hold moisture and cause your electrical components to prematurely corrode and fail.
Step 8: Replace the Air Filter
Your Craftsman requires clean air to run. Mowing stirs up dirt and debris that can plug the air filter. I find it best to start each mowing season with a new air filter and then remove and clean it several times through the mowing season.
If your Craftsman mower uses both an inner and outer air filter, replace both at this time.
Remove your air filter from the air filter housing being careful not to knock any dirt into the air intake. Wipe any dirt left in the housing with a dry clean cloth. Install the new air filter. Reattach the air filter housing cover. Learn more about air filters here.
Step 9: Replace the Fuel Filter
The fuel filter should be replaced annually. Dirt in the fuel system and the gummy deposits left behind by running gasoline with ethanol can clog the filter throughout the season. Old fuel can also cause the plastic to soften over time.
When installing the new fuel filter, make sure the arrow on the side of the filter is pointed in the direction of the fuel flow. The arrow should be pointing toward the carburetor and away from the fuel tank.
Step 10: Check Your Mower for Fuel Leaks
Check your fuel lines for dry and brittle fuel lines. Replace old fuel lines. I recommend using worm gear clamps in place of pinch-style clamps to prevent damage from the clamps.
Continue checking for leaks forming around your fuel components and make sure all fuel lines are securely attached.
Step 11: Check Tire Pressures & Lug Nuts
Check your lug nuts to ensure they are securely in place. Your tire pressures need to be at the level shown on the tire sidewalls. The tires need to have the same amount of pressure.
Uneven pressures can cause you to have an uneven cut due to causing the mower deck to not sit level.
Step 12: Remove Your Mower Deck
It’s easiest to adequately clean the top and bottom of your mower deck by removing the deck. Make sure your parking brake is on, the PTO is off, the engine is off and the deck is in its lowest position. Remove the key and disconnect the spark plug wires for safety.
- Do this if your Craftsman has a manual PTO then follow the standard steps for removing the deck: Loosen the hardware on the right and left idler pulleys, but do not remove them. Remove the hex screw that holds the rod in place over the engine pulley and remove the rod. Remove the PTO cable and unhook the spring by removing the pin that attaches the cable to the bracket on the deck.
Proceed with the standard steps to remove a Craftsman riding mower deck
- Move the deck drive pulley: Place a ratchet wrench into the square hole in the idler bracket and turn until the pulley is moved in the forward position.
- Remove the belt around the PTO pulley
- Remove the deck lift arms: There is a cotter pin located at the end of the deck lift arm near the rear of the mower. You will find a pin on both the left and right-hand sides of the mower. Remove these pins and then slide the deck pin out of the lift arms to remove the lift arms from the deck.
- Remove the front lift rod: You will find the lift rod toward the front of your mower. There will be another cotter pin attaching the rod to the deck. Remove the pin and slide the rod out of the bracket. To get the rod out of your way, you can adjust your deck lift lever to the highest position.
- Slide deck out from under mower: Confirm you no longer have any items attaching the mower deck to your Craftsman and slide your deck out from under your mower.
Step 13: Remove Dirt and Debris on the Top of Your Mower Deck
Debris collects on your mower deck and must be removed to keep your deck running in good condition. Debris can restrict the movement of the tensioner bracket and no longer keep tension on the deck belt. This can affect the quality of the cut and can cause the belt to come off the pulleys.
If your Craftsman mower deck uses belt covers, remove them and clean around the pulleys. Leaving dry materials on your mower deck puts you at increased risk of fire damage. The heat that is built from the friction of the belt can cause a fire hazard when combined with dry debris.
Step 14: Check Belts, Pulleys, and Spindle Housings
Now that you have cleaned the top of your deck, take a look at your belt and pulleys to make sure they are in good condition. Check for signs of wearing on your mower deck belt.
A belt is worn when it is cracked, stretched, or shredded. Other signs of wearing are when the belt has a glazed shiny appearance or when it sits deep in the grooves of pulleys.
Next, check your pulleys. They should be securely sitting parallel to the deck. Slowly rotate the pulleys by hand. They should rotate smoothly without resistance.
If you feel resistance or hear a bearing noise, the pulley must be replaced. Clean any rust you find on the pulley and replace the pulley if it is very rusty. Your Craftsman deck belt is more likely to dry out, crack and break when it becomes covered with rust.
Access the underside of your mower deck and check the bearings in your spindle housings for damage. Do this by grabbing a hold of each blade and rocking it up and down.
When you feel movement or hear a knocking noise, remove your spindle housing and check for damage. Replace any bad bearings or replace the whole cutter housing assembly.
Step 15: Sharpen or Replace Your Mower Blades
You can’t avoid wearing your Craftsman mower blades. The dirt that comes in contact with your blades will wear them over time. I like to replace my mower blades annually so I start the season with a fresh set of blades. I then keep them sharpened throughout the season.
Craftsman mower blades should be sharpened after about 25 hours of use or more frequently when mowing in sandy conditions.
Remove your mower blades and replace them with new blades. You can also sharpen your blades if they are in good condition. You can find more information on changing, sharpening, and balancing your Craftsman mower blades here.
Step 16: Scrape the Mower Deck
Keeping the mower deck clean will provide you with a better cut and better mower performance. Buildup underneath the deck compromises the air movement needed to create a good cut. The mower blade is designed to create air movement in the deck.
The blade along with the suction created in the mower deck makes the grass blade stand tall so the blade can pass by and precisely cut the grass blade. Scrape the deck using a deck scraper or metal putty knife. A good stiff wire brush also works well.
Your mower may be equipped with a deck wash port. Follow your manufacturer’s instructions to attach the garden hose and use the port. You may still need to scrape your mower deck if it has significant buildup.
Step 17: Reinstall the Mower Deck & Check the Deck Level
Now that you are done with your mower deck maintenance, slide your mower deck back under your mower. Reattach your mower deck in the reverse order you took it off.
Adjust Craftsman Riding Mower Deck Side-to-Side
With your mower deck on a flat level surface, adjust your deck lift to the middle position. Measure from the ground to the blade tip on the right side of the mower.
Do the same on the left side of the mower. If the two measurements are not the same, make the following adjustment:
- Adjust the left adjustment rod under the rear fenders. Loosen the upper nut, but do not remove it. Adjust the lower nut clockwise to raise the left side of the deck and counter-clockwise to lower the deck.
- Once your mower deck level on each side of your deck is even, tighten the top nut.
Adjust Craftsman Riding Mower Deck Pitch Front-to-Rear
To adjust your mower deck pitch, first, start off by confirming your mower is on a flat level surface. Adjust your deck lift to the middle position.
- The front of your mower deck needs to be 1/4” to 3/8” lower than the rear of the deck. Make the adjustment as necessary by adjusting the stabilizer bracket. You will find an outer and inner nut on the front of the stabilizer bracket. Loosen the outer nut, but do not remove it.
- Raise the front of your mower deck by tightening the inner nut and lower it by loosening the lock nut. Once the front of your deck measures between 1/4” and 3/8” less in the front than it does in the rear of the deck, retighten the outer nut.
Step 18: Check the Safety System
Your Craftsman mower is equipped with a safety system. There are safety devices to prevent your mower from starting without the parking brake engaged or shutting off the engine when you leave the operator’s seat with the PTO engaged.
Follow the guide in your owner’s manual to find additional safety features on your Craftsman model. Make sure your safety system is working as it should. Skipping this step can compromise your safety. You never know when you are going to need it.
Step 19: Replace Damaged, Worn, or Missing Parts. Secure the Hardware.
Check over your mower and replace all damaged, worn, or missing parts so your mower is in good operating condition. All hardware needs to be securely in place.
Step 20: Grease Lubrication Points
Grease your front wheels, front axle, and deck wheels. You will find a grease zerk on each of these items. Properly lubricate your lift linkages, pivot points, and brake to ensure they are able to move freely. I use a tube of high-performance grease and a spray lubricant.
Step 21: Wash Your Riding Mower & Allow it to Dry Completely
Wash your Craftsman with a garden hose to clean any remaining dirt from the mower. If you choose to use a pressure washer, do not use high pressure as this can damage sealed bearings. Once you are finished washing it, you need to let it completely dry.
I like cleaning my mower on a sunny day. Having a breeze is a plus. Leaving it in the sun to dry allows the moisture around your electrical components and other areas of your mower to evaporate and completely dry.
Using a leaf blower to blow air on your mower can also assist with drying the mower. Any moisture left in the mower can cause premature corrosion of your mower’s components. Read more about cleaning your mower here.