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14 Reasons a John Deere Zero Turn Starts Then Dies

It’s frustrating when you’re out mowing the lawn when your zero-turn suddenly quits and stops running in the middle of the lawn.

A John Deere zero-turn starts and then dies due to fuel restriction, air restriction, lack of spark, or an overheated or overworked engine.

Follow the safety precautions found in your John Deere operator’s manual. Remove the ignition key and spark plug wires before performing repairs. Allow the engine to cool.

John Deere zero turn won't stay running

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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.

Reasons a John Deere Zero Turn Starts, Stalls, and Dies

1. Bad or Old Fuel

Many problems that develop in your John Deere zero-turn are the result of old gas. It’s important to only use fresh fuel and consume it within 30 days before it begins to break down.

The ethanol used in most gasoline naturally attracts moisture from the air to the fuel system. Ethanol and water separate from gas and sink to the bottom of the fuel tank.

This mixture isn’t only corrosion to the fuel system and engine, but it also leaves a varnish and sticky deposits that can cause component failures and fuel restrictions.

This can cause your John Deere zero-turn to run sluggishly and quit running.

SOLUTION: Check the fuel in the tank. If it has been in the fuel tank for more than 30 days without an additive to keep it stable a little longer, you need to drain the fuel tank.

Only run fresh gas in the mower. John Deere zero-turns require unleaded gasoline with a minimum 87-octane rating and maximum ethanol content of 10%. Read more about choosing gas for your John Deere mower here.

Before adding gas to the fuel tank, mix it with a fuel additive like Sea Foam Motor Treatment to keep it stable, reduce moisture, and clean the fuel system.

Read Use Sea Foam Fuel Additive in a Lawn Mower to Stabilize Gas to find out more about its advantages.

Once the gas and additive have been mixed, add them to the gas tank. Start the zero-turn and allow it to run for about 15 minutes to work the mixture through the system.

If you are unable to start the mower, continue checking other items listed below.

2. Plugged Fuel Filter

The fuel filter strains fuel as it comes out of the fuel tank to keep dirt from entering the fuel system and wearing the engine. This is a maintenance part that should be replaced anually.

When the fuel filter becomes plugged with dirt and no longer allows fuel to pass through it, your engine will die from the lack of fuel.

SOLUTION: Replace a plugged inline fuel filter with a new one. When installing the filter, make sure the arrow shown on the side of the filter housing is pointed in the direction of the fuel flow.

3. Clogged Fuel Lines

An effect of running old fuel is a clog in the file line. The gummy substance can build up in the line narrowing the fuel passageway.

Your John Deere zero-turn may die when it isn’t able to get sufficient fuel due to a fuel line clog.

SOLUTION: Check for blockages in your fuel lines using the fuel shut-off valve to start and stop fuel flow while checking each section of the fuel line for fuel flow.

If you find a fuel line that has a blockage, turn off the fuel supply and remove the line from the zero-turn.

Spray carburetor cleaner into the fuel line. This is to loosen up the clog. Follow this by blowing compressed air through the line to remove the blockage.

If you are unable to dislodge the blockage to open the fuel line, install a new fuel line of the same length and diameter. Turn your fuel supply on.

4. Faulty Fuel Pump

A vacuum pump is used on most John Deere zero-turns. This type of pump uses the vacuum of the engine to move fuel to the carburetor. A fuel pump can fail over time or degrade from running old fuel.

SOLUTION: To determine you have a bad fuel pump, confirm you are getting fuel flow to the fuel pump by checking flow through the fuel line. You may have done this in the prior step.

Next, check the fuel flow out from the fuel pump. Turn off your fuel flow and remove the fuel line from the carburetor. With the line placed in a container, turn on your fuel flow and start your zero-turn.

Watch for a steady or pulsating flow of fuel out of the line indicating your pump is working. If you don’t get a good flow, replace the fuel pump.

5. Dirty Carburetor

The carburetor regulates the amount of gas and air that mix to form combustion to keep the engine running. The carburetor can fail to function right often due to the effects of old gas.

The varnish left behind by old gas can plug fuel passageways and cause the small internal parts to stick. Your John Deere engine won’t receive the right amount of gas to keep running.

Before you disassemble and clean your carburetor perform these simple checks to determine the problem is in your carburetor:

  • Confirm you have fuel flow to the carburetor. You should have verified this if you check the fuel flow out of your fuel pump.
  • Remove your air filter from the air filter housing.
  • Spray carburetor cleaner into the air intake and start your mower.
  • If the John Deere starts, runs fine, and then begins to bog down and shuts off, the problem may be in the carburetor.

SOLUTION: Remove the carburetor from your John Deere zero-turn. Disassemble it and clean the carburetor. Refer to this article for John Deere carburetor cleaning steps.

Bring your mower to a small engine repair shop if you choose to have someone else tackle this job for you. You may also choose to replace the carburetor assembly instead of cleaning it.

6. Plugged Air Filter

Another maintenance part that should be cleaned or replaced regularly is the air filter. The air filter provides protection to the engine to keep dirt from getting to the engine through the air intake.

If your John Deere zero-turn engine began running sluggishly or quit while mowing, a plugged air filter can be the problem.

Due to the dusty conditions zero-turns create, the air filter can build up so much dirt that a sufficient amount of air isn’t able to pass through the filter.

You should replace your air filter once a year and clean it several times during the mowing season to keep it clean. You’ll need to clean it more frequently when you are operating the mower in very dusty conditions or for commercial purposes.


Follow these instructions to clean a John Deere zero-turn paper air filter:

  • Remove your paper air filter element from the air filter housing. Be careful not to allow dirt to fall into the air intake.
  • Wipe out any dirt remaining in the housing with a clean dry cloth.
  • Tap the filter against a hard surface to knock out as much dirt as you can get to fall out of the filter. Don’t use compressed air as this can damage the paper element.
  • Hold your filter up to a light source. Replace your filter with a new one if the light is not shining through the paper element, it is damaged or covered in oil. If you can see light and it is in good condition go ahead and reuse it.
  • Install your air filter and reattach the filter housing cover.

7. Plugged Cooling System

The engine can overheat causing your zero-turn to shut down and die. One cause of overheating is a plugged cooling system.

Air must be able to circulate efficiently around the engine block and cylinder head. The area around the engine and the cooling fins must be kept clean or the engine can become so hot the mower will die.

SOLUTION: Remove any dirt you find on your cooling fins and replace any broken fins. Remove dirt from around the engine block and around your engine shroud.

Make sure your heat shield is correctly installed to help with air circulation.

8. Low Engine Oil Level

It’s important to check the engine oil level in your John Deere zero-turn before each use. Many mower owners skip this step. Checking the engine oil level using the oil dipstick is a fairly quick process.

Finding a low engine level before it causes engine damage can save you from a costly repair expense. Running your zero-turn with a low engine level can cause your mower to overheat and shut down.

When there isn’t enough engine oil to lubricate the internal engine components, friction among the parts will build creating heat in the crankcase. This excessive heat can begin burning oil and parts in your engine.

SOLUTION: When you run into a problem with your mower shutting down due to a low engine oil level, you can attempt to add more oil to correct the level and start your mower.

Most of the time, because the John Deere shut down due to a lack of lubrication, this simple fix of adding more engine oil isn’t going to work.

Most likely, significant engine damage was caused. It is best to have an experienced small engine mechanic take a look at your mower to find out how much damage occurred.

A good place to have the engine looked at is at your local John Deere service center or an engine dealer service center for the engine powering your zero-turn.

9. Too Much Engine Oil

Not only can low engine oil cause the engine to die, but also too much engine oil can make your zero-turn shut down.

Excess oil will cause pressure to build in the crankcase. Read more about the effects of running too much oil here.

SOLUTION: If you find, after checking your engine oil, that your level is too high, remove a little bit of oil.

Oil can be removed from the drain plug, oil filter, or from the oil fill area using an oil evacuator or turkey baster. Continue to remove and add engine oil until the level is at the full level on the dipstick.

10. Dirty Spark Plug or Loose Connections

A fouled spark plug can cause your John Deere zero-turn to die. Check your mower for a spark plug that is dirty or isn’t correctly gapped. Loose spark plug wires can also cause your mower runs sluggish or dies.

SOLUTION: Remove your spark plug and clean it using a wire brush if it is dirty. If it happens to be very dark in color or damaged, install a new spark plug.

Make sure it is correctly gapped according to your engine manufacturer’s specification and the spark plug wires are securely attached.

11. Bad Ignition Coil

The winding on the ignition coil can separate and short out when your mower is hot. When this happens, the spark plugs are unable to get the voltage they need to create a spark.

This can cause your mower to die after it’s been running for a while.

SOLUTION: Identify a bad ignition coil by checking for a break in continuity. Replace the ignition coil if you find there is a break.

12. Choke is in the Wrong Position

Your John Deere zero-turn uses the choke to allow a higher concentration of fuel to be allowed into the combustion chamber by restricting the amount of air allowed into the carburetor.

This is needed to start your engine when it is cold. If you leave your choke on after your engine heats up, your zero-turn will die because the engine needs more air to keep it running.

SOLUTION: Make sure your choke lever is in the right position. The choke must be in the on/closed position to start a cold engine and then adjusted to the off/open position once the engine warms.

13. Bad Gas Cap

The gas cap is designed to allow air to pass through the cap. This is to allow the fuel tank to vent. When the vent in the cap no longer works, the fuel tank will form a vacuum not allowing gas to flow out of the tank.

Your John Deere zero-turn may have started with a bad gas cap, but it will shut down once it has run for a while. This is because a vacuum will form in the tank when air isn’t able to pass through the cap.

SOLUTION: To determine if your fuel cap is bad, loosen the cap to allow air into the fuel tank and see if the mower’s engine runs better.

If it does, tighten the cap and see if you can replicate the problem by running the mower for a while to see if it begins to once again run sluggishly or shut down.

Replace a bad gas cap.

14. Plugged Mower Deck

A plugged mower deck can make your engine work hard, overheat, and shut down.

When grass collects under your mower deck, extra strain is put on the engine when it must turn the blades through a deck full of debris. Dull mower blades can further magnify the problem.

SOLUTION: Regularly scrape the mower deck and sharpen the mower blades. Not only will keeping the mower deck clean and the blades sharp reduce the amount of load on the engine, but it will also provide you with a nice cut.

The deck uses the blades and area under the deck to create air movement to lift and cut your grass.

Why is My John Deere Zero Turn Lawn Mower Battery Not Charging?

Make sure you are running your zero-turn at a high engine speed. Don’t allow your mower to idle for long periods of time. It requires the power of the engine to charge your battery.

Check out John Deere Lawn Mower Battery Keeps Dying for a list of items that can cause a dead battery.

If you continually have to charge your battery and have confirmed the battery and wiring are in good condition and securely attached, you may have a problem with the charging system.

SOLUTION: There are some steps you can take to check the condition of your battery and charging system which I explain in this article. If after performing these tests, you find you have a bad battery, replace your battery.

When you find the charging system isn’t working right, I highly recommend having an experienced mechanic diagnose and repair the problem.

There are so many components that can cause the charging system to fail that, unless you know the charging system, parts can be thrown at it hoping it repairs the issue.

Electrical components can get expensive and they most likely can’t be returned because they are electrical parts.

Still Having Problems with Your John Deere Lawn Mower?

As a John Deere owner, you will encounter a variety of problems over the life of the equipment. These can include problems with starting, dying while mowing, vibrating, cutting unevenly, and not moving.

To help you identify the reasons your mower is having problems, I put together a handy guide to help you troubleshoot your mower. Check out Common John Deere Lawn Mower Problems and Solutions.