[Push or Rider] Correct way to Tip a Mower for Maintenance


I’ve been working on generators, lawnmowers, and other small engines for 7 years as a side hustle and I have never once had a problem with tilting a lawnmower on its side… well, not since I made the dreaded “wrong way” mistake my first year.

If you tilt or tip a lawn mower in the wrong direction, you run the risk of hydrolock, getting gas in your crankcase oil, spilling gas everywhere, soaking your air filter with oil or gas — just to name a few.

There are two ways to safely tip a push mower in order to access the bottom deck for maintenance. The first is tipping it back so that the handle touches the ground. The second is on its side so that the carburetor and air filter are facing up. Always remove the spark plug boot before working under the mower deck to prevent injury.

A riding mower (or lawn tractor) can be tipped on its side with the gas cap facing up for maintenance with the battery removed and the fuel line pinched off next to the carburetor. This will ensure that battery acid will not spill out and that fuel will not leak out of the carburetor. If gas cap is centered, tip so that the carburetor is facing up.

Lawn Mower TypePreparation StepsWhich Way to Tip Mower
Push MowerRemove Spark Plug Boot

Ensure gas cap and oil dipstick are secure
Backwards so that handle is on the ground

or

On its side so that air filter and carburetor are facing up towards the sky — make sure piston is in the top position on the compression stroke
riding mower, lawn tractorRemove mower deck and blades

Remove battery

Pinch off fuel line by the carburetor (or turn off inline fuel valve if applicable)

Ensure gas cap and oil dipstick are secure
Tip so that gas cap is facing up towards the sky

*If gas cap is centered, tip so that carburetor and air filter are facing up towards the sky

Let’s get into why these are the only ways to safely tip a push mower on its side.

How to Tip Over a Push Mower for Maintenance

A push mower is definitely easier to tip on its side to access the blade or to clean the underside of the mowing deck. However, if you do it incorrectly, you could be looking at problems ranging from difficulty starting it to a lawnmower catching on fire.

It doesn’t have to be difficult or scary at all. Let’s get you ready to tip over any push mower with confidence that you’ll be able to start it up immediately afterward.

Before you attempt to do anything on the underside of the deck, make sure you remove the boot from the spark plug first!!!

I cannot stress this enough. If you value your hands and fingers, remove the boot. See the picture below.

In my hand is the rubber boot which has been pulled from the spark plug.

Your blade is spun by a shaft that is in the center of the blade. That shaft rides up to the top of the engine where it connects to the flywheel. On the side of the flywheel is a magnet that will spin around and each time it lines up with the ignition coil, it causes the spark plug to spark.

The odds aren’t very high that it could happen, but if the conditions were right (like if you are performing working on your blades after the mower had just been running), then you could theoretically spin the blade by hand which would cause a spark and start the combustion process in the engine.

You’ve got things like the break lever (the thing you squeeze to the handle at the top) which also needs to be pushed down which serves as a safety system and allows the blades to spin when disengaged, but since it only takes 5 seconds to pull the boot from the spark plug, there’s really no reason to not do it.

Now, make sure you put your piston in the cylinder to the top position on the compression stroke. This will eliminate the chance for hydrolock if something were to leak internally.

To do this, remove the spark plug boot, hold the break leaver to the handle and pull gently on the cord. It will go through about 4 various tensions as you pull it (the rope will get tight and then release). It will take you a few cycles to identify it but stop when it’s on the hardest one to pull back. Now the valves are closed and this will stop any flow of oil that makes its way passed the piston rings.

Now, to the tipping of the mower.

All push mowers can be tipped backwards so that the handle is on the ground. Unfortunately, this only allows for the deck to raise up off the ground 30-45 degrees. Beyond a simple glance under the deck, that is really not an acceptable angle with which to perform any maintenance task.

What you need to do is identify which side the carburetor and air filter are on. They will be together as one unit.

The carburetor and the air filter need to be pointing up towards the sky when you tip the mower.

That’s it. Simple.

carburetor on push mower
This is what one typical carburetor looks like on a lawn mower. The bowl on the bottom is a defining characteristic.
alternate carburetor type on push mower
Other carburetors commonly look like this (the red button is the primer bulb on the carburetor).
correctly tipping a push mower on its side
Carburetor and air filter assembly are facing towards the sky — this is the correct way to tip a push lawn mower.

Now, I always make sure to verify that my oil dipstick is securely in place before tipping and that the gas cap is tight.

With those steps performed, you should experience no issues removing your blades for sharpening, cleaning the underside of the deck, removing an obstruction, or doing whatever other maintenance task that you need to perform.

Pro Tip: Break down a cardboard box and use that under your lawnmower when you tip it in case you do experience an oil or gas leak to prevent staining your garage floor.

How to Tip Over a Riding Mower (Lawn Tractor) for Maintenance

It’s not often that you’ll need to tip a riding mower (or lawn tractor) over on its side. Changing out the drive belt is one of those situations where having it on its side would make the task way easier though.

Unlike the simple push mower, a riding mower involves a little more effort in defeating gravity to put it on its side.

However, the steps to take before hand are simple, but a little more involved.

The first step is to remove the mower deck. That’s a discussion for another day, and will vary based on the type of mower you have. You should have no problem finding a video on YouTube where someone has removed the deck from your particular model.

The second step is to remove the battery from your rider. Lawn tractor batteries are flooded lead-acid batteries. They key word in that is “flooded”. Instead of being “sealed”, they have the removable caps where you can pour more distilled water in the cells if the electrolyte evaporates out.

remove battery before tipping riding lawn mower
Remember to remove the battery if tipping over your riding lawn mower!

Since they have all of the liquid sloshing around, you don’t want to tip that battery on its side and have sulfuric acid spill all over your engine and garage floor.

Simply remove the negative (black) cable first, and then remove the positive (red). Lift the battery out and place to the side.

Once that’s done, the third step is to pinch off the fuel line that leads to the carburetor. Do this as close to the carburetor as you can to eliminate excessive spills. You may find that the closest place to pinch it off is on the opposite side of the engine from the carburetor.

If your riding mower has an inline shutoff valve, you can simply close that valve instead.

Either use the fuel shutoff valve (the red twist tab just right of center) or pinch off the fuel line with needle nose vice grips if you don’t have a shutoff valve. Either one is fine, both together are not needed.

Remember that gasoline goes to the carburetor through the fuel line that comes from the gas tank. When the gas goes in the carburetor it is just sitting in the bowl with the help of gravity and the float needle is keeping unneeded gas from flowing in.

When you tip the mower over (without cutting off fuel flow to the carburetor), then the gas from the bowl would flood out the top and the float needle would dislodge and allow gas to freely flow into and out of the carburetor — and onto the floor.

Pro Tip: If you’re tipping your riding mower on its side to change the drive belt, you’ll want to remove the steering linkages where they connect at the front wheels before you begin and engage the parking brake.

To pinch off the fuel line, you can use a set of vice grips, or they make clips that are a little more gentle on the rubber. I’ve never had a problem with vice grips and haven’t damaged anything in 7 years. It just takes that tool out of play in the event that you might need it during a repair.

Okay, with the battery removed and the fuel line pinched off, make sure the gas cap is secure and the oil dipstick as well.

You will now push the mower over to whatever side will make sure the gas cap is higher to the sky than it is to the ground. If your gas cap is in the center, then I always tip it so that the carburetor and air filter facing up.

The biggest problem you now have is to make sure you don’t crack the engine cover. You will want it down and in its secured position when you tip it.

We’re going to use something to break the fall of the generator and to make sure it doesn’t fully tip over — just 90% of the way.

Something like a chair is perfect for placing on the tipping side so that you can rest the steering wheel on the chair. Do not place anything below the engine cover or you run the risk of cracking it.

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Robert Van Nuck

Robert lives in central Michigan and enjoys running, woodworking, and fixing up small engines.

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