Can a Self Propelled Mower Go Backward?

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Self-propelled mowers are a favorite tool for homeowners and landscapers alike for all the right reasons. They are effortless to maneuver and are excellent on slopes. See What is a self-propelled lawn mower for more information.

They have a vehicle-like drive system that propels the mower forward. Thus, operating a self-propelled mower is a breeze. You don’t have to push it. You only need to guide it in the right direction. Additionally, the use of speed control across several models offers you the flexibility and freedom to choose a speed that fits your mowing needs.

Can a Self-Propelled Mower Go Backward?

Self-propelled mowers can go backward by releasing the blade brake clutches to disengage the drive motor and cutting blades. Doing so disenables your mower’s ability to propel itself forward, which of course, would have made moving backward extremely challenging. The wheels are now free, and you can move the mower in any direction, frontwards or back.

For some models, the mower wheels do not go “free” even after releasing the clutch. In these, you’ll need to point the mower up so that the wheels are off the ground. You can now roll it to the desired location. 

Releasing the blade brake clutch doesn’t turn the engine off. Thus, after moving the mower to the desired location, you’ll only need to re-engage the hand lever, and your self-propelled mower will continue to work as usual.

Self-propelled mowers are either front-drive, rear-drive, or all-wheel drive. The process involved in moving the machine in reverse is the same regardless of the mower type.

Some mowers are designed to propel both in reverse and the usual forward motion. They’re fitted with a bypass switch, which allows the blades to mow in reverse. For safety reasons, you’ll have to activate the bypass feature manually. This feature will come in handy, especially if your yard has plenty of obstacles or landscaping features that need you to keep moving in reverse. However, the cost of such mowers is higher than that of a typical self-propelled mower.

Benefits of Reverse Mowing

  • Saves you time

Sometimes, especially when mowing in tight or oddly shaped yards, you’ll need to angle your mower in the desired direction occasionally.  Usually, this would require that you turn off the mower’s engine, angle it then turn it back on, which of course, is time-consuming.

  • Convenient

Other than the time used to angle your mower now and then, the whole process will be extremely tiring. Reversing your mower is easier and more convenient.

Disadvantages of Mowing in Reverse

  • Your vision is compromised

Due to poor vision, you’re more likely to trip on an obstacle, pothole,  and in the worst-case scenario, your feet. Although self-propelled mowers have a protective flap, the risk of tripping and entangling your feet in the blades remains. The effects are fatal.

  • Irregular cut

The machine is designed to propel and mow forward. Thus, moving the mower backward causes the blades to reverse, which is against the mower’s design. As a result, your self-propelled mower gives an uneven and patched cut.

Safety Precautions You Must Take when Moving a Self-propelled Mower Backward

According to statistics, about one child per day is backed over by a lawnmower.  Surprisingly, most of these accidents do not happen when mowing in reverse. A majority of them happen when the operator is trying to turn around or maneuver an obstacle.

Thus, it is recommended that you avoid moving your self-propelled mower backward unless necessary. In such a case, here are a few precautionary measures you must take for your safety and that of your loved ones. 

  1. Ensure that children are away from the area you’re mowing.
  2. Clear the area of any obstacles such as toys, stones, and twigs before reversing.
  3. Stay an arm’s length away from the mower when moving it backward.
  4. Always wear fitting clothes as the chances of the mower blades entangling the operator’s clothes, such as a long skirt or baggy jeans, increases when mowing in reverse.
  5. Pulling a self-propelled mower is likely to cause clogging. Do not be tempted to use your hands to clear the grass clogs. Always use a suitable stick for your safety’s sake. 
  6. If you accidentally trip on something, release the grip on your mowers immediately. The blades and motor will automatically stop, preventing the mower from running over your feet.
  7. The safety risk associated with moving a self-propelled mower in reverse is not worth it. Do not mow in reverse unless in unavoidable circumstances.

Why Won’t my Self-propelled Mower Move Forward?

A self-propelled lawnmower stops working when one or more of its parts are faulty. Here is a guide that you can use to determine the root cause of the problem.

Step 1:  Determine the type of mower you have

There are three main types of self-propelled lawnmowers. The majority of them are rear-wheel drives, while a few are either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Check what wheels drive your mower to know your mower type. 

Step 2: Test the drive system

After determining what wheels propel your mower, tilt your mower off the ground and engage the drive motor. Check to see whether the wheels identified in step one above move.

Should you notice even the slightest movement, then your mower’s drive system is not faulty. Move to step 3. If the wheels do not move at all, return the mower to the ground and turn off the engine.

Engage the drive motor, and pull your machine in reverse. If the rear wheels of your rear drive wheel mower stop moving, your drive system is functioning well. Otherwise, the drive system is defective. 

Step 3: Inspect the self-propel cable

The self-propel cable connects the hand lever to the transmission. Ideally, this cable should move without any hiccups. If it isn’t moving as it should lubricate it, and it should start working well.

If lubricating doesn’t work, inspect the cable to see whether it’s faulty. Check for kinks, cracking plastics, and loose parts. These are signs that the self-propel cable is worn out, and you should replace it. 

Step 4: Inspect the drive belt

Disengage the plug wire and turn off the gas. Slowly turn over the mower with the carburetor side facing up. Placing it in this position prevents gas from leaking to your engine, air filter, and work area. 

Ideally, the rear wheels should automatically lock up. Otherwise, the drive belt is broken, detached, or needs some adjustments. 

Step 5: Check the wheel assembly and gearbox

The wheel assembly comprises several gears that work with the transmission to propel your mower. Lift the mower off the ground and check if all gears are working. You will also need to take off the wheels to double-check that the toothed gear is also working as it should. 

If any of the gears is defective, the transmission gear, too, won’t work well. You will need to replace your mower’s wheel assembly. 

Step 6: Inspect the transmission

Usually, the drive belt powers the transmission, which connects to the engine to move the wheels of your mower. If it’s faulty, of course, your machine doesn’t move.

To test whether the transmission is in good condition, turn on the mower and observe the transmission while the mower’s engine is running. If the transmission pulley is rotating but the mower wheels aren’t moving, check whether any grass has clogged the area.

Repeat this step and observe the transmission. If the wheels still won’t spin even after removing any grass clog, it’s likely that then the transmission is faulty.

Unfortunately, you cannot fix a defective transmission system. So, it’s probably time to replace your mower. 

Can You Push a Self-Propelled mower?

Now that your lawn mower won’t move forward, you’re probably wondering if you can turn your self-propelled mower into a push mower.

You can push a self-propelled lawnmower without damaging the transmission system in any way. However, brace yourself for a sweaty affair. A self-propelled mower is designed to move forward on its own. Thus, not much thought is put into its weight. Most are quite large and bulky. And you will need to apply much more effort than you would with a typical push mower. 

Closing Thoughts

A self-propelled lawnmower can go backward. However, you will need to disengage the drive motor and blade to reverse. You can also push a self-propelled mower, but it’s not an easy task. You’ll need to apply a lot of physical effort.

Finally, if your machine won’t move, there is probably a faulty part. Refer to the guide above on all self-propelled mower problems and answers to the most frequently asked questions to troubleshoot your mower.

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EL Mehdi (Medi), the founder and voice behind Desired Lawn Mower. He is a riding mower enthusiast who enjoys spending more time discussing and covering various ride-on mower topics. He has been active in the industry for years comparing models of different ZTR and lawn tractor brands.