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How to Operate a Riding Lawn Mower

By Dale Yalanovsky ; Updated September 21, 2017

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


Things You Will Need

  • Riding lawn mower


  • If possible, avoid cutting wet grass. Not only won't the grass cut very well, but it has a tendency to clump and stick which can clog discharge chutes, or make the blades work so hard on a mulching mower that the belts can slip and break.


  • 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.

About the Author


Dale Yalanovsky has been writing professionally since 1978. He has been published in "Woman's Day," "New Home Journal" and on many do-it-yourself websites. He specializes in do-it-yourself projects, household and auto maintenance and property management. Yalanovsky also writes a bimonthly column that provides home improvement advice.