How to Set Up a Riding Mower

How to Set Up a Riding Mower

How to Unpack and Start a New Riding Mower

A riding lawn mower is essential for anyone who has to maintain a large property. However, because of its size, a riding mower might seem daunting to set up not only for the first-time user but also for the veteran, whose last experience setting up a riding mower might have been a long time ago.

Don't worry. If you've been wondering about the best way to get your zero turn mower, lawn tractor, or garden tractor ready to mow, you're in the right place. 

As long as you have the proper safety gear (gloves, protective eyewear, and closed-toed shoes), your mower's product manual, a few basic hand tools, and the riding mower setup checklist below, you'll be able to get your mower ready to ride.


How to Start a Riding Mower

The riding mower category includes several different types of lawn mowers:

As different as those three types of mowers are, some steps for general setup are common to each of them. To get started, you might find it helpful to gather some of the most commonly used tools:

  • Hammer
  • Pry bar
  • Wire cutters
  • Wrenches (commonly used sizes: 7/16" and 3/8")
  • Socket wrench (commonly used size: 1/2" socket)
  • Drill and driver (commonly used size: 1/4" nut driver)

Tools Used for Uncrating and Assembling Riding Mowers


1. Uncrate the Mower

Several manufacturers deliver their riding mowers in steel crates, which the shipping company unpacks before bringing back to the warehouse. However, your mower might arrive in a wooden crate, which you will break down and unpack yourself.

Uncrating a Riding Mower

After detaching and separating the top sections of the crate, undo or cut any ties or cables that secured the lower parts of the mower to the crate. In order to roll the mower onto the ground, you might have to use the bypass lever to disengage the transmission.

Have another person help you gently roll the mower off the crate. Use wooden planks as ramps; never attempt to lift a riding mower by hand.

Be sure to look for important components included in the crate:

2. Check the Battery

Your mower’s product manual, which in many cases will come fastened to the mower, will inform you of the recommended amount of charge your mower’s battery should hold.

Check your battery’s charge using a voltmeter. If it is below the recommended amount, remove the battery and charge it according to the manufacturer’s specifications

Once the battery is fully charged, place it into its slot and attach the cables: red (positive) cable to positive battery terminal first, then black (negative) cable to negative terminal second.

Connecting the Battery on a Zero Turn Lawn Mower


3. Adjust the Handles or Secure the Steering Wheel

If your riding mower is a zero turn lawn mower, its lap bar handles or control levers might be secured in place over the mower’s seat, which means that you’ll need to adjust them before you can adjust the seat.

Loosen the bolts securing the handles with a properly sized wrench (in many cases, a 1/2" wrench). Adjust them to the open position and retighten the bolts.

Zero Turn Lap Bar Assembly

If your riding mower is a lawn or garden tractor, it likely has a steering wheel instead of lap bars (although some zero turns also feature steering wheels). Use your socket wrench as recommended in the manual to secure the wheel in place.

Lawn Tractory Steering Wheel Assembly


4. Connect the Seat

On many riding mower models, you’ll find a tether or cable that needs to be connected in order for you to be able to operate your mower. Make sure that the cable snaps into place.

Attaching the Cable on a Zero Turn Mower Seat


5. Check the Oil Level

Unlike walk-behind mowers, riding mowers generally ship with the oil tank already filled. However, check the dipstick to make sure that it still contains the correct amount of oil. Inspect the area around the tank for leaks or spills. 

Never start a riding mower without oil in the tank.

Checking the Oil on a Riding Lawn Mower


6. Check Additional Components

Be sure to inspect the other essential components of your mower to make sure they’re in working order:

  • Fill the gas tank
  • Check that the air filter is clean and inserted securely
  • Check the tires’ air pressure

7. Install the Bag, Mulch Plug, or Discharge Chute

Follow the instructions in the product manual to attach the grass clipping or discharge component that you prefer to use.

In some cases, a stop bracket that kept the deflector shield secured and upright during transit might be snapped into place. Pull out the bracket.

Removing a Stop Bracket from a Mower's Discharge Chute

Afterward, reengage your mower’s transmission.


8. (Optional) Level the Mower's Deck

In most cases, you won't have to worry about whether your riding mower's deck is level unless you've used it a few times and you see an uneven cut across your grass or ruts forming under one of the tires.

However, you can check that the deck is level before your first mow. Whenever you level your mower deck, be sure to practice good safety tips:

  • Wear gloves to protect your skin from sharp blades
  • Turn off the engine and let it cool if it's been running
  • Disconnect the spark plug 

Station your mower on a flat, even surface, preferably a concrete slab. Turn the blade so that the right side of the blade is pointing right as you sit on the mower. Use a ruler or tape measure to measure the distance from the bottom of the blade to the ground. (No mower deck leveling gauge is needed.) Repeat this on the left side.

Mower Deck and Blade

If the measurements are within 1/8" of each other, your mower doesn't need to be adjusted. If the difference is greater than 1/8", follow the procedures in the product manual adjusting the height. This may be as simple as loosening a hex bolt to manually lift or lower one side of the deck.

Then, check the front-to-back height of the deck by rotating the blade so that one end points to the front of the mower and the other points toward the back. Measure the distance from the front end to the ground and from the back end to the ground. Check the manual; for most models, the front end should be 1/4" lower than the rear. If not, adjust the mower height according to the manual.

A riding lawn mower is a significant investment; it makes sense that you would want to take care of it as best as you can. By setting up your mower properly start, you help ensure that you can enjoy your investment for years to come.

Always consult your mower's user manual for proper setup and maintenance operations. The information contained in there supersedes the information provided here.


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Dale, the Power Equipment Expert
Power Equipment Expert
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