If you have a lawn, probably one of the biggest downers to your weekend is to turn the ignition and discover that your riding lawn mower won’t start. What gives?
Lawn mowers often fail to start because they’ve been languishing unused for months (like during winter), which, on battery-driven models, can cause the power system to go dead. At this point, you might presume you have to buy a new battery, or get your mower to a repair center for servicing.
But what many people don’t know is that there’s a third option: You can jump-start many lawn mowers with your car.
I have personal experience with this, and it works. Last year, my mom’s riding mower wouldn’t start, so she wanted to try jump-starting it with her Honda. I told her she was insane, until I did a Google search.
So, with some YouTube tutorials under my belt, I headed to her garage to try it, hoping that my epitaph wouldn’t end up reading, “She exited the world in a flash of electricity on a grass cutter.” Thankfully, it was easy to figure out, even for a city girl, and I’m still here to tell the tale.
In case this happens to you, here are the steps to jump-starting a lawn mower with a car, along with some expert advice on safety precautions to take and pitfalls to avoid so you’re back to picture-perfect grass in no time.
Tools you need to jump-start a lawn mower
- Jumper cables
- 12-volt vehicle battery, or a battery charger
- Work gloves/eye protection
Step 1: Do a lawn mower brake and battery check
Before you do anything, make sure your riding mower is on a flat surface and it is turned off with the park brake on. No one needs a runaway riding mower!
Next, locate your mower’s battery.
“Most riding mowers hide the battery under the hood or seat, but depending on the brand, you might also find it beneath the drink holder, behind the wheel, and in other hard-to-find places,” says John Cunningham, founder of lawnmowerfixed.com.
If you cannot find the battery just by poking around, check your user manual.
Once you’ve located the battery, make sure it’s a 12-volt.
“Most modern riding mowers do utilize this type of small-engine battery, but if yours happens to have a 6-volt battery and you try to jump-start it with the car, you’ll blow the battery,” warns Cunningham.
So let’s emphasize this: Since most push lawn mowers have smaller engines of 6 volts or less, you should not attempt to jump-start a push mower, as you could blow the engine. For a 6-volt model, you can use only a battery charger.
Not sure what voltage you have? The voltage should be stated on the battery label, but if you can’t find it, you can also search Google for this information if you know the brand of the battery.
You’ll also want to make sure the battery is secure and isn’t wet, since leaking battery acid will burn your skin.
“Keep in mind batteries are inherently dangerous because of acid and the fact they can also generate explosive gasses,” says Cunningham.
If you determine that the battery is leaking, you’ll need to replace it, not jump-start it.
Step 2: Examine the battery terminals
Dirty, corroded, or loose battery terminals can inhibit the flow of power such that even if you do all the steps right, the battery won’t receive a charge.
“Battery connections often shake loose because of the vibration and bouncing that accompanies lawn mowing, so you’re going to want to check to make sure the cables are attached securely,” says Duston Maynes, technical team leader for RepairSmith.
You also want to make sure that your connections are clean.
“Corroded terminals can be spiffed up by sprinkling baking soda powder directly on the terminals, then go ahead and add a spoonful of plain water, and after about a minute the acid will be neutralized,” says Cunningham. “Next, wire-brush the terminals and add a coat of grease or Vaseline to help prevent additional corrosion.”
Finally, this is a good time to identify which battery terminal is positive (+) and which one is negative (-). The battery poles will typically be red for positive and black for negative. This is important to know for future steps.
Step 3: Turn off your car and pop the hood
Park your car close to your riding lawn mower, and turn it off. Keep it off for the whole process!
Pop the hood, prop it up securely, and locate your car’s battery. It should also be a 12-volt.
“You want to make sure that the vehicle’s system is the same voltage as the lawn mower,” says Maynes. “Some large trucks use multiple batteries and have components that run on a 24-volt system, which would be too much.”
Keep in mind, you may have to remove a plastic shield to access your car’s battery terminals. Once you have found the battery and terminals in your vehicle, again take the time to identify which battery pole is positive and which is negative.
Step 4: Connect the cables in the correct order
How you do this step is important: Order matters.
“Going terminal to terminal will make that vehicle part of the other’s electrical system,” says Maynes. “Precisely following these steps will reduce the chances of a spike, which would damage the charging system during a jump-start.”
Make sure you have a safe work area with no tripping hazards, and check that your cables are long enough to reach from the riding mower to the vehicle. Remembering that you will connect the same color cable to the corresponding battery pole, attach the jumper cables as follows:
- Connect one end of the red jumper cable to the positive battery pole on the battery in the lawn mower.
- Connect the other end of the red jumper cable to the positive battery pole on your car’s battery. Don’t let this end touch any metal on the car, or you could see a lot of sparks and potentially damage your car’s battery.
- Connect one end of the black cable to the car’s negative battery terminal. The negative cable is more forgiving, so you don’t have to worry as much about it touching metal, as long as you don’t hook it to the positive cable.
- Connect the other end of the black jumper cable to the metal mower frame away from the fuel tank and battery.
“The final negative jumper cable is connected away from the battery, because when connected, it creates a small spark or arc,” says Cunningham. “In theory, this could ignite battery acid vapors if it’s too close.”
Step 5: Turn the ignition key
Once everything is connected, turn the ignition key to start the mower. If the battery isn’t totally fried (meaning it needs to be replaced), this jolt should be enough to bring your riding lawn mower sputtering back to life.
“If you get the engine to turn over, go ahead and allow it to run for a few minutes while still connected in order to juice the battery up,” says Cunningham.
Step 6: Remove the cables in reverse order
With the lawn mower engine still running, remove the cables in the exact opposite order of how you connected them. In other words, disconnect the black cable from the mower frame first, and then disconnect the black cable from the car’s battery. Next, disconnect the red cable from the vehicle’s battery, then disconnect the red cable from the mower’s battery.
“This decreases the risk of damaging electrical components as you break the connection,” says Maynes.
Step 7: Fully charge or replace the battery as soon as possible
Once you’ve got the riding lawn mower going, you’ll probably have enough power to drive it for a bit. But in order to keep this from happening again, it’s wise to fully charge the battery with a battery charger as soon as possible.
“If the battery refuses to start even after you’ve attempted jumping it, you’ll need to test the battery with a volt meter,” says Cunningham. “You may have to buy a new battery, or there may be another issue like a faulty starter, which will require service to fix.”
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