How to Start a Riding Lawn Mower without a Key

When you own a riding lawn mower, you quickly realize the ease of shaping and landscaping your yard without the expending of too much effort and energy. The good news is that riding lawn mowers can last for many years; as long as you maintain them properly – in fact, you can even approach their caring strategy as you would a vehicle.

However, things become complicated very fast when you fail to take care of the lawn mower. All riding mowers will come with 2 ignition keys, which have different purposes; one is for safety prevention, and the other is a safety feature. When you experience the unfortunate event of a key breaking in the mower’s ignition or getting lost, it can be a huge problem trying to start the lawn mower – but fortunately, there are some ways to get around the mess and continue with your mowing activities.

In short, you can choose to start the mower through:

  • Using a screwdriver (this will only work on specific models though)
  • Installing a new ignition switch
  • Using jumper cables to hot wire the mower
  • Using a flat head screwdriver as a substitute for the key

Just a fair warning:

Only adults should perform these methods, especially for the jumper cable method. Leaving it to people under 18 years of age or people with developmental disabilities will create dangerous situations that you are better off avoiding. Additionally, never use the methods on other people’s lawn mowers; you risk incurring heavy damages, and it is illegal to do so.

Starting the lawn mower

Bypassing the key switch

This is just a sophisticated way of referring to the process of hot wiring the mower. Since you are dealing with a riding mower, the process will need you to access the components and battery directly, and will easily present safety concerns – so do it with caution.

Needed equipment

  • Battery post-cleaners
  • A pair of rubber gloves (to prevent electrocution)
  • Pliers
  • Jumper cables


  1. Put on your rubber gloves, and then engage the brakes of the mower
  2. Stop the cutting blade from moving, and engage all the other safety mechanisms to prevent the mower from self-starting.
  3. Open the hood of the mower and locate the position of the battery
  4. Look for the solenoid (this is a small box that is on one side of the engine). Where the solenoid is, you will notice a live wire connecting the battery to the starter through the solenoid.
  5. Disconnect both the red and black cables from the 2 electrical posts of the solenoid.
  6. Use the battery post cleaner to clean the posts, and remove any dirt or corrosion present.
  7. Rewire the cables
  8. On the negative post of the battery, clamp the black jumper cable. Attach the other end of the black jumper cable to the metal deck of the mower.
  9. On the positive post of the battery, clamp the red jumper cable, and attach its other end to the metal on the starter deck of the mower.
  10. When the engine turns over, remove the red jumper cable from the starter. Additionally, remove the black jumper cable from the negative post of the battery.
  11. Close the hood of the mower.

Using a screwdriver

There are 2 methods available in this case, and you will still need to wear your pair of rubber gloves for both cases.

The options available

  • Instead of using the jumper cables as the bridge mechanism, you use the screwdriver. If the space between the two posts (the starter and solenoid) sits very close to each other, you can use the screwdriver as a bridge to connect them. Use a 2-headed screwdriver to touch each connector.
  • In place of the key, the other option is using a flat-head screwdriver. You just place it in the keyhole and turn it as you would turn a key. This method does not work on all mowers though; only some Cub Cadet and Craftsman models.

Installing a new ignition switch

This is mostly a last-resort option, and you can resort to it if the manufacturer does not make replacement keys. The good thing about it though is that it will give a permanent solution, instead of the temporary mechanism of using jumper cables to start the mower.

You take the mower to a mechanic (unless you happen to be a mechanic yourself), and they will remove the switch for the old ignition, then install a replacement. The ignition switch will be the section that the key enters and turns, then engages to switch on the engine. Replacing it means you will use a new key, which then comes with the switch.

Important warnings and tips

These are important tips to keep in mind to maintain the best performance and keep the lawnmower running efficiently:

  • Always placing the lawnmower in its correct place, and maintaining it for optimum performance.
  • Avoid leaving the machine outdoors, since external weather conditions leave the machine prone to rusting or developing other problems. Always use the lawn mower cover to protect the mower, and store it in your shed.
  • Do your inspections and cleaning of the lawn mower in an area that is properly ventilated and has enough lighting.
  • Always using the parts approved by the manufacturer to replace other parts
  • Always removing the keys from the ignition area when you switch off the lawnmower engine.


How can I test ignition switches?

You can do this by opening the fuse panel (this is under the steering wheel area). To get a starter signal, pull the fuse, along with the fuse pullers inside the panel. After this, you can check the metal strip for any signs of damage or burns, and then open the hood and turn the voltmeter dial to Volts.

What does it mean when I turn my key in the ignition and nothing happens?

This means that the starter motor cannot turn the engine, and could be due to dead battery.

How can I know if the ignition key is bad?

This can be through 4 ways: burned relays, motor failing to start, motor suddenly stalling in the middle of operation, and a dead battery.

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