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Back to Riding Lawn Mower Comparison Last update:

How to Start a Riding Mower Without a Key

Owning a riding lawn mower makes cutting and shaping the yard much easier and less taxing. Most riding mowers can and will last for years when maintained properly. This involves caring for them as one would a vehicle.

Riding Lawn MowerProblems can arise. Some require a mechanic, but others the riding mower owner can repair themselves. The owner can usually repair items with spare parts obtained at automotive supply stores such as AutoZone and Napa. Owners of Sears model riding mower may purchase replacement parts at Sears.

Riding lawn mowers come with ignition keys for two reasons. They provide a safety feature and it acts as a safety prevention device. Sometimes, the key to the lawn mower gets lost. It can break off into the ignition. Regardless of why the owner has no key to start the mower, they need the mower on to cut and shape the yard, unless they want to buy a goat. This section explains the methods by which one can start the lawn mower without a key. In short, one can:

  • hot wire the mower using jumper cables,
  • install a new ignition switch,
  • use a flat head screwdriver in place of the key.
  • The screwdriver method only works on certain models.

Caveats and Warnings

Only adults should attempt these methods, especially the jumper cable method. Mechanical work, especially bypassing the ignition to directly use the mower's electrical system, creates a dangerous situation. If someone under 18 years of age or with developmental disabilities needs to perform these activities, they should only do so with the assistance of a capable adult.

Do not use these methods to steal other people's machinery. Theft is illegal.

Bypass the Riding Mower Key Switch

Let's speak honestly. Bypass the riding mower key switch is simply a nice way of saying hot-wire the mower. Since on a mower, this requires direct access to the and use of the battery, it presents a safety concern. Take all recommended precautions.

An ignition key and its action create the bridge between the vehicle's solenoid and the starter by creating an electrical connection. The solenoid has two poles. The metal key touches both which sends electricity across the solenoid. That turns on the lawn mower motor.

Needed Equipment

The bypass method requires a few pieces of equipment. These include:

  • a pair of rubber gloves,
  • battery post cleaners,
  • jumper cables,
  • pliers.

The gloves must be made of rubber. Rubber gloves prevent electrical current conduction. The rubber keeps the user safe from electrical shock from the battery. Do not try to hot-wire the mower without wearing rubber gloves.

How to Bypass the Key Switch

With all of the tools and safety equipment collected, the user can begin the process of bypassing the riding lawn mower's key switch.

  • Put on the rubber gloves.
  • Engage the mower's brake.
  • Disengage the cutting blade.
  • Engage all other safety mechanisms so the mower cannot move on its own.
  • Open the riding mower hood.
  • Locate the battery.
  • Locate the solenoid. It's a small box hooked onto one side of the engine compartment. A live wire runs from the battery to the solenoid to the starter.
  • Disconnect the black and red cables from the solenoid's two electrical posts.
  • Clean the posts using the battery post cleaner. Remove any accumulated corrosion or dirt.
  • Reconnect the cables.
  • Clamp the black jumper cable onto the battery's negative battery post.
  • Clamp the other end of the black jumper cable to the mower's metal deck.
  • Clamp the red jumper cable to the battery's positive battery post.
  • Touch the other end of the red jumper cable to the piece of metal on the mower's starter.
  • Remove the red jumper cable from the starter when the engine turns over.
  • Remove the black jumper cable from the battery's negative post.
  • Close the mower's hood.

Using a Screwdriver to Start the Mower

start riding mower without keyTwo methods exist for using a screwdriver to bypass the normal key start. For both the user needs to wear the rubber gloves.

The Screwdriver Options

  • Use the screwdriver as the bridge mechanism instead of jumper cables. If the space between the two electrical posts to engage, the solenoid and the starter, sit very close to one another using the screwdriver as a bridge. Touch each connector with either end of a two-head screwdriver.
  • Use a flat head screwdriver in lieu of the key. Place the screwdriver in the keyhole and wiggle it like a key, turning it. This method works on some Craftsman and Cub Cadet model riding mowers.
To stop the mower and turn it off after using the bypass method, throttle down all the way. The kill switch won't function. Throttling down will take some time for the engine to die, but it will.

Install a New Ignition Switch

Unless the mower owner also works as a mechanic, this involves taking the mower to a repair shop. If the manufacturer does not make replacement keys for the mower, this becomes your last-ditch option. On the upside, unlike jump starting it to get the lawn mowed when you discover the problem, this provides a permanent solution.

The mechanic will remove the old ignition switch and replace it with a new one. The ignition switch is the part that the key slips into and turns inside to engage the starter. Replacing it means the vehicle then uses a new key which comes with the ignition switch.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.
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