15 Reasons Why Your Craftsman Riding Mower Won’t Move Forward Or Reverse

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One of the common problems of Craftsman riding mowers is their problem with moving forward or reverse. And this can be caused by a bad drive belt, defective pulleys, missing key in axle or air in the hydraulic system.

In this article, we look at 15 possible reasons your Craftsman mower might not go forward or reverse PLUA quick fixes for this problem.

But before we jump right into that…

Some of the reasons why your Craftsman riding mower won’t move forward or reverse include:

  • Faulty drive belt
  • Missing idler arm spring
  • Drive release handle not in operating position
  • Air in the hydraulic system
  • Defective pulleys

1.  Faulty Drive Belt


Your Craftsman riding mower may not move forward or reverse due to a faulty drive belt. a A stretched or worn belt will prevent it from engaging properly. 

It can easily slip on the pulley, affecting the performance and functionality of your Craftsman riding lawn mower.

Fix: Replace the drive belt when it becomes stretched or worn. You may also replace or adjust the tension if it seems to be slipping on the transmission pulley.

2. Bypass Control Lever Not In “Engaged” Position

If the bypass control lever isn’t in the engaged position, the Craftsman riding mower may fail to move, affecting the operation and functionality of the mower.

Fix: Ensure that the bypass control lever is in the “engaged” position (pulled up and pushed in). 

You can contact your local authorized servicing dealer for evaluation and repair if the problem persists.

3. Missing Idler Arm Spring

The idler spring is responsible for placing tension on your mower’s drive belt. 

If you notice that there is no tension on the drive belt, the idler arm spring may be missing. This causes your Craftsman riding lawn mower not to move.

Fix: If you detect that the spring is broken, it is best to replace it. 

4. Defective Pulleys

Defective pulleys can also be a factor that won’t allow your mowing machine to move forward or backward.

Fix: Replace pulleys if they are in a bad condition. You can also contact an expert to help you fix it.

5. Missing Key in Axle

A missing key in your mower’s axle may cause the lawn mower not to move. It may occur that the key fell out of the axle while trying to change the tire of your riding mower. For your wheel to move, it is best to install it.

Fix: Install the missing key in the axle. 

6. Drive Release Handle Not in Operating Position

The drive release lever allows your Craftsman riding lawn mower to roll in a free manner. The drive release handle also enables the mowing machine to move in a forward position. 

This component can be in the form of a lever, push/pull button and knob.

If the drive release handle is not in the operating position, it may stop your lawn mower from moving.

Fix: Ensure that you check the manual to locate the drive release handle and make sure that it is in an operating position. 

7. Dysfunctional Shift Linkages

Your Craftsman riding mower may fail to move in forward or reverse position as a result of broken, damaged or bent shift linkages. 

In some cases, the debris can jam the linkage and will prevent your mowing machine from working well and shifting the transmission.

Fix: You need to clean the linkage and repair broken, damaged or bent parts. Lubricate the linkage according to the instructions in the user manual. 

You can also re-test the riding mower for proper transmission operation if everything seems to work well. 

8. Air in the Hydraulic System

It is necessary to bleed the air out of the system after changing the hydraulic fluid. Air in the system may make the mower not move and this will affect the functionality of the mower.

Fix: Follow Craftsman’s procedures for changing the hydraulic fluid and bleeding air from the system in the owner’s manual.

9. Hot Hydraulic Fluid

Hot hydraulic fluid may also be one of the reasons why the riding mower won’t go forward. 

When you operate your Craftsman riding mower with a low fluid or bad hydraulic fluid, the oil will fail to lubricate the hydraulic system well and this results in overheating and increased friction of the fluid.

Fix: It is advisable to take the mower to a local repair dealership to fix the issue.

10. Power Problems

It may be that your Craftsman riding mowers may be experiencing power problems that prevent them from mowing in forward or reverse position. 

The engine of your riding mower may idle and start perfectly, but issues with the throttle and fuel system may prevent the mower’s engine from developing enough power to make it move.

These issues can also include:

Dirty air filter: A dirty air filter can restrict air from getting through the carburetor. 

The engine may idle properly but the air and gas mixture leans out when the throttle is engaged. This also causes the engine not to operate well.

Other engine issues: Other engine problems such as f bad valves, leaking head gaskets, or defective pistons can cause the engine not to operate with adequate power.

Fix: Replace the air filter if it is in bad condition.

For other engine issues, it is advisable to seek the help of a trained small engine mechanic to help you. 

11. Blocked Fuel Filter

A clogged fuel filter can prevent gas from flowing to the engine in a proper supply, causing the riding mower not to move forward or reverse.

Fix: Replace the blocked fuel filter if it is in a bad condition. 

12. Transmission Failure

Transmission problems can result in an inability to shift gears which will prevent your Craftsman lawn mower from moving in a forward or reverse position.

Leaks in transmission lines or fluid reservoirs can cause shifting problems. This can cascade to engine parts like pistons and sticking valves

Fix: It is best to contact an expert to troubleshoot the problem for you.

13. Brake Issues

Several issues may occur with your brake that can cause your riding lawn mower not to move. The brake linkage may be bent or jammed by debris in your yard.

Furthermore, your Craftsman mowing machine may not be able to move forward or reverse because of dysfunctional brake pins. 

This will affect the operation of your Craftsman riding lawn mower. 

Fix: It is important to inspect the linkages for damages and repair any broken or bent parts. Ensure that the belt does not jump the pulley and become wedged in the brake linkage.

To fix dysfunctional brake pins, you need to take off the brake and clean the pins. Do a light brass brushing and put the brake back. 

If you know that you can’t handle it, it is advisable to seek the help of your professional to fix it. 

14. Craftsman Riding Mower is Stuck in Gear

The riding mower may get stuck in gear due to some factors such as operator error in adjustments or wear and tear. 

There are some instances where you adjust the brake tension instead of replacing worn pucks or brake disks. This will hinder the gear-shifting process.

Other likely causes may be dysfunctional brake pins or worn parts connected to the transaxle.

Fix: It’s advisable to hire a professional to help you troubleshoot this problem.

15. Carburetor Issues


A faulty carburetor can cause the gas-to-air mixture to become too rich or too lean, causing it to halt when you try to move the mowing machine forward or backward.

Fix: Replace the bad carburetor. 

How To Check The Transmission Fluid On A Craftsman Lawn Mower

Here are some tips on how to check the transmission fluid on a Craftsman lawn mower:

  • Squat or lay behind the rear axle on your Craftsman riding mower.
  • Locate the transmission case. The transmission is the large box on the rear axle of your mower.
  • Unscrew the transmission case lid. This is a small square plug that is located in the center and on top of the transmission. Adjust a crescent wrench and unscrew it.
  • Poke the popsicle stick into the transmission fill hole. Pull it out to see how far down the transmission fluid level is. The transmission fluid should be within one inch from the top.
  • Put the funnel into the transmission fill hole and add transmission fluid made for your type of Craftsman mower as listed in its manual.
  • Screw the plug back into the top of the transmission tightly.

Note: It is important to check the transmission fluid level before every mowing season.

Things You Will Need

  • Crescent wrench
  • Funnel
  • Wooden Popsicle Stick
  • Transmission Fluid


If your Craftsman riding mower isn’t moving forward or reverse, it is important to know what is causing it.

Some of the possible causes include air in the hydraulic system, hot hydraulic fluid, defective pulleys, and worn drive belts.

We hope that our recommended fixes will help you to solve the problem. If you have tried these troubleshooting tips and the problem persists, it is best to seek the help of a professional.