How to Operate a Riding Lawn Mower


Modern riding lawn mowers are some of the best ways to cut large swaths of grass for the suburban homeowner. They come in two basic types, regular manual shifting and a hydrostatic version, which is another name for automatic transmission. Although the two types of transmissions are activated in completely different ways, the platforms which carry the deck and the blades, as well as the cutting methods are virtually the same.

Step 1

Check the oil and gasoline level before you get on the mower.

Step 2

Get on the mower and check to make sure the blades are in the off position, and if it's a manually geared mower, make sure the gear shift is in neutral.

Step 3

Insert the key in the ignition and start the lawn mower while pushing the throttle into the choke position. All modern riders have safety switches that will not allow the motor to turn over if the transmission is in gear, the blades are engaged or you are not sitting on the seat. If the motor does not turn over when you turn the key, check the shift lever and the blade switch.

Step 4

Pull the throttle out of choke and let the mower idle for a minute or two once it is started. This will allow the oil to circulate through the engine which will increase its life in the long run.

Step 5

Move the throttle up to about the 3/4s mark. Engage the blades with the switch. The faster the engine runs, the faster the blades turn, and faster turning blades give a better cut.

Step 6

Push in the clutch and select the gear you want to cut in. Gears 1, 2, 3, are cutting gears, and any gearing above those are traveling gears. As a general rule, the slower you go the better the cut, but for normal grass cutting, 3rd gear works fine. For heavy grass and weed cutting, gears 1 and 2 are preferred.

Step 7

Pushing forward on the automatic transmission pedal with your right foot will move the rider. Because automatic transmissions are variable, pushing anywhere between stop to about halfway down is the cutting speed, and pushing down forward of that is traveling speed.

Step 8

Lower the deck with the handle to the first notch. At each notch there will be an automatic catch, so once lowered to that position, the deck will stay at that height. Begin cutting by either releasing the clutch or pressing forward on the pedal, then as you are mowing check to see if this cutting height is satisfactory. If you want shorter grass, lower the deck another notch.

Step 9

Finish cutting the area around you, then disengage the blades with the switch and pull the deck all the way up. You can now shift into a higher gear or push further down on the automatic transmission pedal to travel to another spot where you will stop, and repeat the above procedure for mowing once again.

Tips and Warnings

  • Always be careful around cutting blades. Refer to your owners manual or consult with the pro where you purchased the mower from for safety tips.

Things You'll Need

  • Riding lawn mower


  • Briggs and Stratton: How to Find the Perfect Mower

Who Can Help

  • CPSC:Riding Lawnmower Safety
Keywords: riding lawn mowers, manual shift and hydrostatic, cutting grass, avoid cutting wet grass, select the gear

About this Author

Dale Yelich, the Maintenance Guy, has been involved with do-it-yourself projects, home repair, household maintenance, and as a consultant with home and industries, for over 25 years. His work has appeared in the Lacrosse Tribune, Women's Day and New Home Journal, among others. Yelich has a Master of Science in zoology.