Craftsman Lawn Tractor Won’t Go Forward Or Reverse: 12 Fixes


Craftsman riding mowers are dependable utility vehicles that make yard work much easier. Problems may arise, though, especially when your lawn tractor won’t move forward or in reverse. Regular maintenance can help you prevent most problems and keep your unit in top shape. But if the damage is done, this guide can help you identify the cause and fix it.

Transmission failure, dirty filters, or general engine problems can be the reason why your Craftsman lawn tractor won’t go forward or reverse. Using the wrong fuel type or mechanical errors can also hinder normal operation. Most of these problems are easy to fix, but some may require professional servicing.

12 Reasons Why Your Craftsman Lawn Tractor Won’t Go Forward Or Backwards

Like any other vehicle, a lawn tractor that’s not moving is a cause for concern. There are several possible causes you should focus on, but fortunately, most are easy to fix yourself.

1. Transmission Pulley

Depending on the model, your Craftsman riding mower may have a hydraulic or pulley-based transmission. If it’s the latter, the engine transmission pulley is linked to the drive belt pulley responsible for the blade movement. 

A bad transmission pulley or broken transmission belt could prevent the tractor from moving

Fix

You can fix the problem by replacing the transmission pulley. Follow the steps below: 

  1. Park the mower on a flat surface, turn off the engine, and engage the brake. Ideally, you should remove the spark plug or battery to prevent accidental starts.
  2. Set the deck to its lowest position and move the clutch actuator lever to the off position.
  3. Get under the tractor and remove the deck drive belt from the pulley and guides. 
  4. Loosen the pulley with a 5/8-inch socket wrench – use a pipe wrench to hold the mechanism still as you’re unfastening the mounting bolt.
  5. Remove the old pulley from the engine shaft and detach the engine drive belt.
  6. Hook the engine drive belt onto the new pulley and slide it onto the engine shaft, making sure to keep the belt on the inside of the guides.
  7. Secure the new pulley with the mounting bolt, then loop the deck belt into the new pulley and align it in the guides. You can now test your mower and see if it solves the problem.

2. Drive Belt

As explained above, the transmission pulley moves a drive belt that, in its turn, tells the engine to move in the desired direction. A broken or loose belt can keep your lawn tractor from moving, but replacing it is as easy as replacing the transmission pulley.

Fix 

  1. Park the tractor on a flat surface, turn off the engine, and remove the key. Locate the battery under the seat and remove it with a 7/16 socket wrench. 
  2. Remove the battery tray to gain access to the engine drive belt. 
  3. Make sure the transmission is disengaged, then remove the two bolts that secure the cooling fan on the pulley. 
  4. Remove the belt from the pulley. 
  5. Set the deck in its lowest position and follow the steps above to remove the engine drive belt from the transmission pulley. Replace it with a new belt and put everything back together by reversing the steps.

3. Axle Shaft Key

An axle shaft key is an important piece of hardware that keeps the wheel tight against the revolving shaft. If the key falls inadvertently when you’re replacing or servicing the wheels, your lawn tractor won’t go anywhere even if everything else works perfectly.

Fixing a missing key requires a new shaft key and about a minute or two. Turn the wheel so that the wheel and shaft recesses align. Slide the key into the gap and secure it with a washer and pin. 

4. Steel Rod Linkage

Another reason why the transmission won’t engage, and the tractor won’t move is a faulty steel rod linkage.

To understand its importance, know that the acceleration pedal is linked to the transmission through a steel rod. A C-clip connects the rod to the transmission, and if it breaks, pushing the pedal won’t engage the transmission.

Fix 

Remove the battery and locate the steel rod linkage. Replace the C-clip with an appropriate size one to fix the problem.

5. Transmission Release Levers

The transmission release levers are two rods located at the back of the mower, under the hitch. Their role is to disengage the transmission so that the mower can roll back and forth.

Mud and grime can accumulate on these rods and get them stuck. Sometimes, the transmission release levers also get jammed if something hits them (such as rocks if you have bumpy terrain). 

Fix

Lift the back of the tractor and access the transmission release levers from the rear. Clean any stuck debris and caked mud. If the rods are not engaged at all, wiggle them to release them.

6. Brakes

Your mower’s parking brakes could also be a reason why it doesn’t move when you start it. If the brakes get stuck when engaged, they won’t allow the wheels to spin.

Fix 

Remove the wheels and inspect the brakes. Clean them if necessary or replace them with new brakes if they are damaged. 

If the brakes are loose rather than stuck, here’s how to fix them. 

7. Not Enough Hydraulic Fluid In The Transmission

If your Craftsman lawn tractor has a hydraulic rather than pulley transmission, the problem could be a low level of fluid. Without this fluid, the transmission won’t be able to work properly and engage the motor or drive belt.

This problem has one of the easiest fixes – all you have to do is add more hydraulic fluid

8. Engine Problems

Craftsman lawn tractors are generally dependable, but mechanical errors or a lack of maintenance can put a strain on the engine

Frequent issues include damaged pistons, worn-out gaskets, or bad valves. Proper engine maintenance can help you prevent these problems. However, if you suspect an engine problem, the best thing to do is to have the mower serviced by a trained mechanic.

9. Dirty Air Filter

A clogged air filter is another reason why your lawn tractor won’t move. The air filter is generally hard to clean, so you’ll have to replace it.

Fix 

  1. Buy the right replacement filter based on the type of engine that equips your Craftsman lawn tractor. 
  2. Remove the hood and open the filter compartment on the left side of the engine. 
  3. Pull the air filter out – the operation requires no tools.
  4. Slide the new air filter in place of the old one. 
  5. Replace the filter compartment cover and fasten it. Replace the tractor hood and test to see if it solved the issue.

10. Carburetor Issues

Vehicles running on gasoline have carburetors that mix the fuel with air during the combustion process. Wrong adjustments or clogged passages can prevent the carburetor from doing its job. 

Fix 

The first thing to do if you suspect a carburetor problem is to clean it. Take the component out and clean it with a carburetor cleaner. Reinstall it and test to see if cleaning solved the problem.

If it didn’t, adjust the carburetor

Video: Craftsman Carb Tuning

11. Spark Plug Replacement

Alongside the carburetor, the spark plug is an important component for the ignition process. Spark plugs need little maintenance, but they wear out relatively fast. A corroded or dirty spark plug may not produce a spark, so the fuel will not ignite. 

Fix 

Remove the tractor hood and locate the spark plug. Remove it with a spark plug wrench or pull it out with a pair of pliers. 

Inspect its tip and wipe it with a paper towel if it is rusted or blackened. If you can’t remove the residues, replace the spark plug with a new one

If the spark plug is in good condition, also inspect the wires. Fix any loose wires or replace the broken ones. 

12. Dirty Fuel Filter

Like a dirty air filter, a dirty fuel filter can prevent the mower from running properly – or at all. Replacing this part is easy.

Fix

  1. Remove the tractor hood and open the engine compartment. 
  2. Locate the fuel filter and loosen the clamps, then secure it to the fuel hoses. 
  3. Pull the filter out and replace it with a new filter. To prevent fuel from spilling all over the engine, place a tray under the hoses before removing the filter.
  4. Place the new fuel filter in the same position as the old one and push the hoses on its ends.
  5. Secure the hoses with clamps, then close the engine compartment and the hood.

How Does a Hydrostatic Transmission Work?

A hydraulic drive system works by combining a hydraulic engine with a hydraulic pump. The pump uses pressurized oil to move the system’s pistons. Through their movement, the pistons transfer power to the engine that will engage the drive wheels.

The main advantage of a hydraulic system is the greater power packed in a smaller engine size. Hydrostatic mowers are easier to maneuver and react to commands faster compared to belt- or gear-driven tractors. 

Most hydrostatic lawn tractors also feature cruise control functions that help reduce driver fatigue when mowing large lawns.

Always Keep Your Lawn Mower Maintained

Maintenance is key to keeping your riding lawn mower in good operating order. Daily, bi-annually, and annually planned maintenance can help you detect potential problems before they arise or fix existing issues before they become bigger problems. 

A good maintenance schedule includes: 

  • Cleaning after each use 
  • Change of oil and filters about twice a year (every 25 hours)
  • Replacement of spark plug once a year 
  • Overall check-up and maintenance before winterizing 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why can’t I push my riding lawn mower?

A seized brake or faulty drive belt are the most common reasons why you can’t push your riding lawn mower.

Both problems are generally easy to fix yourself by cleaning or replacing the brake or by replacing the drive belt.

How much is a pulley for a lawn mower?

Craftsman replacement parts aren’t excessively expensive. An engine pulley, for instance, costs about $60. Spindle and idler pulleys are cheaper, generally costing between $15 and $40. 

What does a lawn mower pulley do?

A lawn mower pulley is responsible for sending power from the engine to the transmission, allowing the vehicle to propel itself across the lawn. If the pulley is damaged, the tractor may not be able to move forward or in reverse, so make sure you inspect the engine pulley regularly, keep it clean, and replace it promptly when necessary.

Craftsman Hydrostatic Mower Won’t Move: Summary

Troubleshooting problems when your lawn tractor won’t move seems challenging. Fixing your Craftsman mower should start with identifying the culprit. 

We recommend starting from the simplest things and working your way to the most complex reasons

Check the fuel and air filters first and replace them if necessary. Move to the spark plug, then check the fluid levels and add more oil, fuel, or hydraulic liquid, as needed. You can then move on to inspecting the transmission, drive belts, carburetor, and brakes.

Unless it’s a damaged engine, keep in mind that most problems are easy to fix yourself. We hope this guide can help you identify the culprit and resolve the issue.

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