Craftsman Lawn Tractor Won’t Go Forward Or Reverse

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About to trim your lawn and discover your tractor won’t move forward or reverse? This can be exhausting and leave you feeling helpless.

In this article, I share common reasons your Craftsman lawn tractor won’t go forward or reverse and share simple DIY troubleshooting tips you can use to diagnose and fix this issue.

Why Won’t My Craftsman Lawn Tractor Go Forward Or Reverse?

The reasons your Craftsman Lawn Tractor won’t go forward or reverse may include:

  • Disengaged transmission motor
  • Wrongly adjusted shift linkages
  • Slack/worn drive belt
  • Insufficient hydraulic fluid 
  • Brake issues
  • Transmission pump failure
  • Misaligned friction wheel and plate
  • Drivetrain power problems

Tools You Need For This Job

Some tools you may need to assist you in diagnosing and fixing this Craftsman mower problem include:

  • Work gloves
  • Screwdrivers
  • Wrench set
  • Penetrating fluid
  • Spring puller
  • Socket wrench
  • Replacement parts

Craftsman Lawn Tractor Won’t Go Forward Or Reverse: Causes, Diagnosis, and Fixes

1. Disengaged Transmission Motor

If your Craftsman lawn tractor won’t go forward or reverse, the transmission release levers should be checked to make sure they weren’t accidentally activated. 

The transmission disengagement levers underneath the hitch at the back of the mower need to be released so the tractor can be worked on without the wheels moving forward or reverse. 

They are usually made up of two parallel rods with handhold loops at the ends. The transmissions would be disengaged if they stumbled upon something and veered off. 


Check the levers at the back of the tractor. If they have been pulled out, the transmission motor may be disengaged.

Additionally, something underneath the unit may have damaged the rods, causing them to hit the transmissions and disengage even when the levers are pushed in. 

So inspect the levers for any damage that might prevent them from moving.


Raise the levers and push them in to re-engage the transmission motors and enable movement. Use a penetrating fluid like WD-40 to free the levers if they are stuck.

You can also check your owner’s manual for more information on engaging the transmission.

2. Wrongly Adjusted Shift Linkages

On a Craftsman riding lawnmower, the linkage between the control lever and the motor drive is critical.

If the linkage is too tight, shifting the control lever may be difficult; if the linkage is too loose, the control lever may not stay in the position you want it to.

If you have trouble getting the mower to move forward or backward, you must manually adjust the linkage with the mower’s adjustment bolt.

How To Adjust The Shift Linkage On A Craftsman Lawn Tractor


  • Hand-loosen the adjustment bolt on the front of the right rear wheel.
  • After loosening the bolt with your hand, slightly tighten it. Don’t over-tighten the bolt.
  • Start the mower by turning on the ignition and moving the control lever forward.
  • Turn the mower while holding the lever in this position.
  • Loosen the adjustment bolt while keeping the control lever in place.
  • Set the control lever to the “N” neutral position. Tighten the bolt completely. The linkage should be properly adjusted at this point.

3. Slack/Worn Drive Belt

The mower drive belt is a long, continuous loop that circulates power from the mower’s engine to the wheels. 

If the mower engine is running but the wheels aren’t moving forward or reverse, it’s most likely due to a worn or damaged belt.

The belt should fit properly; it shouldn’t be too tight, but it also shouldn’t be too loose. 

If you discover that your belt is slack or shredded, inspect the surrounding parts to find out the reason. It might be an issue with the idler, pulleys, or belt itself. 

Therefore, check these components to make sure they are intact and in good working order.


Remove the drive belt and inspect it. If it is torn, glazed, shredded, or too loose, it is worn.

Inspect the pulleys and idler springs for any damaged parts. Check for any stuck pulleys that may be causing the belt to wear out quickly.


Replace the belt and install the new belt. It shouldn’t be too tight or too loose. Replace any stuck or damaged pulleys.

4. Old/Insufficient Hydraulic Fluid

The hydrostatic transmission enables the movement of your lawn tractor and the transmission system needs hydraulic fluid to work and function effectively.

Insufficient fluid level or stale fluid can result in your Craftsman lawn tractor refusing to move forward or reverse.


Check the state and level of fluid in the transmission. 


It is best to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for checking and changing the hydraulic fluid. 

The owner’s manual for your Craftsman lawn tractor will tell you what kind of fluid to use and how much to add.

Do not change or add the transmission fluid if the transmission is sealed. Contact your dealer for assistance instead.

5. Brake Issues

The brake on the majority of Craftsman garden tractors is located next to the transmission. Your tractor may not move as a result of several brake-related issues.

Simple mistakes like forgetting to release your break could be the cause. Trust me, you wouldn’t be the first to make this mistake.

Additionally, dirt and by-products from your yard may have jammed or bent the brake linkage. Assess the linkages for damage and replace any broken components. 

Check that the drive belt didn’t jump the pulley and get stuck in the brake linkage. The belt may even break, preventing the brakes from releasing.


Check to see that the brakes are released and not engaged. Examine the brake and linkages for debris and damaged parts.


Release the brakes if engaged and repair any damaged components.

6. Transmission Pump Failure

If your lawn tractor is aged, it might be time to service or replace the transmission pump.

After many years of use, the transmission pump’s efficiency starts to decline. With time, it becomes less able to quickly supply pressure, which affects the vehicle’s ability to move.


The pump assembly should be disassembled and each component examined to determine whether it is in good working order and whether it was installed correctly. 

The most frequent problem areas are the pump shaft, connection, and filter. You can have a professional mechanic inspect the necessary parts.


Replace worn-out or damaged parts with new ones, or replace the pump altogether.

7. Friction Wheel And Plate Out Of Contact

Craftsman lawnmowers have a top wheel that can be moved and a rotating disc. 

Similar to a record player, the wheel generates varying levels of speed and torque as it moves across the disc/plate from the center.

The friction wheel and the friction plate need to be firmly in contact when the lawn mower is in drive to enable it to move forward or reverse. 


Rotate the friction wheel. If the friction wheel spins freely, it has worn out and needs to be replaced.

If it is out of contact with the plate, readjust it to be firmly in contact to enable it to spin correctly.


Replace the worn friction wheel and install it properly.

8. Drivetrain Power Problems

Your Craftsman lawn tractor may be experiencing engine power issues that prevent it from moving forward or backward, though this is unusual and uncommon. 

Your lawn tractor’s engine may not have enough power to move the tractor because of issues with the fuel system or other engine parts.


Check the oil and fuel level and condition. Inspect the air filter and spark plug to see if they are fouled and need to be replaced, and check for the fuel flow in the fuel lines and filters.


Inspect vital engine parts and clean or replace the necessary components.


The reason your Craftsman lawn tractor won’t go forward or reverse may include: a disengaged transmission motor, wrongly adjusted shift linkages, worn drive belt, brake issues, old/insufficient hydraulic fluid, misaligned friction wheel/plate, transmission wheel failure, or drivetrain problems.

Follow the diagnosis and repair guide outlined in this article to identify and solve the movement problem of your Craftsman tractor.