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8 Reasons a Zero Turn Mower Won’t Move Forward or Reverse

It’s time to get out and take care of your lawn. Mowing is one of those chores that is enjoyable at the beginning of the season, but the fun tends to wear off the further you get into the season.

It becomes more frustrating when your mower just stops moving. How are you supposed to get the mowing done when your zero turn stops driving forward?

A zero-turn mower may not move forward or reverse due to a bad drive belt, tensioner pulley, or tensioner spring. Old or low hydraulic fluid; hot hydraulic fluid; air in the hydraulic system; and the drive release levers in the wrong position can cause the zero-turn to not move.

Follow the safety precautions outlined in your owner’s manual when working with your zero-turn. Follow this list of items to get your mower moving again.

Zero turn mower won't move or go forward

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.

8 Reasons Your Zero Turn Mower Won’t Move or Go Forward

Drive Release Lever Not in Operating Position

Zero-turn mowers have drive-release buttons, levers, or knobs to release the hydros. This allows the mower to free-roll so you can push it.

This is helpful when the mower quits in the middle of your yard and you need to push it onto a trailer. The mower will not drive forward if the drive release levers are not in the “operating” position.

The drive release can be in the form of a lever, push/pull button, or knob and vary by manufacturer and model. Refer to your owner’s manual for the type of drive release you have on your mower and where to locate it.

Drive or Pump Belt is Worn, Loose, or Broke

A drive belt can affect the movement of your zero-turn. Check your drive belt to make sure it hasn’t fallen off and is positioned correctly on the pulleys. If the belt shows any signs of wearing, the belt should be replaced.

Tensioner Pulley is Bad

The bearing in the tensioner pulley or the pulley itself can break. Most tensioner pulleys are made of hard plastic which can wear over time or break.

Replace a pulley that is worn or has a bad bearing. Keep the tensioner arm greased so it does not seize up.

Missing Idler Arm Spring

The idler spring places tension on the drive belt. Replace the spring if it is broken or has fallen out of your mower.

Low Hydraulic Fluid Level

While most zero-turn mowers must have the hydraulic oil changed at regular intervals, there are some entry-level zero-turns that have sealed hydraulic systems.

These systems are also known as non-serviceable. If you have a problem with a sealed hydraulic system, contact your local lawn mower dealership for assistance.

For all other zero-turn mowers, consistent hydraulic oil changes at the intervals recommended by your manufacturer must be completed to keep your lawn mower transmission system running at its best.

Running the transmission with old or low hydraulic oil can cause your lawn mower not to move or seem very weak while running.

Most manufacturers have a “break-in” period on the hydraulic system. This requires changing the hydraulic oil at a quicker interval than normal for the initial oil and filter change.

When your hydraulic oil is low, add more hydraulic oil until the fluid level reaches the full level on the overflow tanks. This measurement should be taken when your hydraulic oil is cool.

It’s also a good idea to check for hydraulic fluid leaks when you find your hydraulic oil level is low.

Hot Hydraulic Fluid

When you operate your zero-turn with bad hydraulic fluid or low fluid, the oil is not able to efficiently lubricate the hydraulic system causing increased friction and overheating of the hydraulic fluid. Hot hydraulic fluid can also result in more extensive damage.

I highly recommend taking your lawn mower into your local repair dealership if you experience leaking from your hydraulic pump or your mower runs fine when it is cold, but stops running when it gets hot.

Air in the Hydraulic System

Air trapped in the hydraulic system can cause your zero-turn to move slowly or not move at all. After changing the hydraulic fluid, you must bleed the air out of the system.

On most zero turns, air can be removed from the hydraulic system by raising the rear drive tires off the ground.

With your zero-turn running, move the drive levers forward and then reverse to allow the tires to rotate forward and backward. Repeat until you don’t hear excessive noise and the tires move at normal speeds.

It is important to refer to your operator’s manual for correct procedures to remove air from your model lawn mower’s hydraulic system. Procedures not only can change from manufacturer to manufacturer but also from model to model.

If you don’t find the fault of your moving problems with your hydraulic system, you can check these items that can prevent the fuel and air required to run your engine. Definitely check out these items if your engine starts to sputter or shuts off so you are no longer able to drive.

  • Battery and Charging System
  • Plugged Fuel Filter and Fuel Lines
  • Plugged Air Filter
  • Dirty Carburetor

To read more about items that can result in your zero-turn stopping while mowing and how to fix them read my article “Zero Turn Quits When Hot”.

Still Experience Problems with Your Zero Turn Mower?

Many different types of problems can develop in a mower. It doesn’t matter what brand you own.

While some mowers are built with stronger materials, bigger filters, better engines, and tougher spindle housings, they are all going to break down and cause issues at some time. Some may just not develop problems as quickly as others.

I put together a guide with common things that go wrong on zero-turns. In this guide, you will find a list of causes and solutions for a mower dying, smoking, vibrating, not starting, having cutting issues, and more.

Check out my guide at Common Zero Turn Mower Problems: How to Fix Them

If you still can’t find the solution to your problem or you don’t feel comfortable troubleshooting or repairing your mower, it is best to have an experienced mechanic check out your mower.

You can visit your local dealership that provides repair support for your brand mower. You may also find a lawn mower repair shop with experienced small engine mechanics.