How to Start a Riding Lawn Mower With a Screwdriver

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When you’ve set aside time to mow there’s nothing worse than finding your riding lawn mower won’t start. Maybe you’ve lost the keys. Maybe the key broke off.

Maybe the ignition is caked with debris. Whatever the cause, find out how to start a riding lawn mower with a screwdriver.

Can You Start a Riding Lawn Mower With a Screwdriver?

Whether or not you can start a riding lawn mower with a screwdriver depends on the state of the key and the ignition. Starting an electric lawnmower is a bit different than starting a gas powered mower.

Preparing how to start a riding lawn mower with a screwdriver on grass

To start the electric lawnmower, you’ll need to insert the screwdriver into the slot where the key usually goes. If the key is stuck in the ignition or broken off, this method won’t work.

If the keys got mangled outside of the ignition or went missing entirely, that’s another story. You can definitely start a riding lawn mower with a screwdriver in this case.

We’ve found the top riding mowers for a variety of situations:

Use a Screwdriver as a Key to Start a Riding Lawn Mower

The process is very simple: the screwdriver takes the place of the key.

  1. Remove debris from the ignition.  Brush off caked-on dirt or grass clippings and wipe the area down using an all-purpose cleaner and a rag.
  2. Get an appropriate key replacement. The make-shift key needs to be very flat and low profile, so flathead screwdrivers tend to work best.

Lawnmower ignitions aren’t picky; they’ll turn over as long as you find a thin enough piece of metal to use in place of the factory-issued key. You don’t have to use a screwdriver if you have another piece of metal that’s a better fit.

  1. Insert the replacement key into a clean ignition. Place the tip of the screwdriver at the entrance of the ignition, sliding it in until you meet resistance.
  2. Stay safe. Turn the parking brake on, and make sure the blades are disengaged. Not only is it safer, but some models of riding lawn mowers also won’t start unless you take both of these steps.
  3. Turn the ‘key’. Use the shaft or handle of the screwdriver to rotate the ignition and listen to the engine roar to life.

Curious to learn how much your riding lawnmower weighs?

Man showing how to start a riding lawn mower with a screwdriver

Use a Screw Driver to Bridge the Battery Terminals and Start a Riding Lawn Mower

This method has several drawbacks. It has the potential to create a spark in your engine, close to stored fuel. It also carries the risk of electrocution if you don’t scrupulously follow safety protocols.

  1. Safety first. Turn the riding mower off. Put the parking brake on. Disengage the blades. Put on insulating gloves to protect yourself from electric shock.
  2. Find the battery. Look at your owner’s manual or search online if you’ve never inspected the battery on your riding lawn mower before. Usually, they’re located under the seat or under the hood.
  3. Find the solenoid. When your lawn mower key is working properly, using it to turn the ignition sends a small jolt of electricity to this electromagnet. The solenoid then gives the engine a burst of electricity, enabling it to power on.
  4. Use the screwdriver to generate a jolt of electricity. Do not touch any part of the lawnmower with your body. Make sure your clothes and the floor around you are dry. The solenoid has two terminals — one positive, and one negative. Start by touching the screwdriver only to the negative terminal.

Make sure you are gripping only the screwdriver handle (not the metal shaft) and wearing insulated rubber gloves. Bridge the terminals by moving the screwdriver so that it has contact with both the positive and negative terminals.

  1. Remove the screwdriver. The engine should start immediately. The screwdriver/solenoid terminal contact can create sparks, so be vigilant. If the engine runs, you’re ready to mow. If it starts and immediately dies, try this technique a few more times. If the engine still won’t run, you’ve probably got a problem with your solenoid or spark plug. Your engine might have also seized.
Preparing how to start a riding lawn mower with a screwdriver

Conclusion

A screwdriver can be used in place of a lawnmower key, enabling you to start the engine even if your key has been misplaced. You can also use a screw driver to bypass the ignition, sending a jolt of electricity directly to the battery.

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.