How JustAnswer Works:
  • Ask an Expert
    Experts are full of valuable knowledge and are ready to help with any question. Credentials confirmed by a Fortune 500 verification firm.
  • Get a Professional Answer
    Via email, text message, or notification as you wait on our site.
    Ask follow up questions if you need to.
  • 100% Satisfaction Guarantee
    Rate the answer you receive.
Ask Rick Your Own Question
Rick, Factory Authorized Trainer
Category: Small Engine
Satisfied Customers: 8063
Experience:  Outdoor Power Equipment technical trainer since 1990, covering eight states.
Type Your Small Engine Question Here...
Rick is online now
A new question is answered every 9 seconds

My MTD riding mower will only engage in 5th gear. Ive got

This answer was rated:

My MTD riding mower will only engage in 5th gear. I've got new belts (and I've double checked that they're the right ones, installed in the right places), though I have NOT tried to replace the springs that pull tension on the pulleys/belts. If it's not the springs, is there any way to lube the transaxle? I'm wondering if it has too much friction, hence won't go unless it's in high gear. I am aware that these types of mowers don't really have "gears", it's just a matter of how much tension is on the "saucer pulley" (I believe that's what it's called). Mower is an MTD LT 1842 Model 131-678G118

You could have a few issues, but let's start with the most common and also the cheapest. These units are notorious for getting wear on the thin nyliner bearings and not correctly allowing the plates to pivot. Please check them to make sure there's no wear and that they are pivoting freely. If they need to be replaced, be sure to use Neverseez when reinstalling.


Attachments are only available to registered users.

Register Here


Let me know and we'll continue.


I'm posting this as an answer, but it may NOT be the FINAL answer. This is just the first step in troubleshooting, so please hold off on accepting until we pinpoint the problem.

Let me know and we'll continue.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Thanks for the diagram. So, if the nyliner bearings are shot, it won't really matter how much grease I put on the axles of the pulleys, they still may not turn properly. Is that what you're saying?

What's the cost of these bearings (roughly speaking)? It looks to me like it will be major surgery to get at these bearings, no? A cheap part, but not easily installed, from the looks of it.

Let's assume I've installed these bearings (a big assumption, I know) but the tractor still only engages in "5th gear". What next?

If you've replaced both the belts, and are using original equipment belts replaced as a set, then one of the other areas to look at would be the variable speed pulley itself. The center sheave should move up and down very freely, even if you try to cock it to one side by lifting up on one side while pushing harder down on the other, or vice-versa. There should be no lubrication on the shiny center part.


I'm assuming you have not made any adjustments on the linkage? And that you have inspected the springs to all be in place and not stretched? Those are some other areas to look at, but my experience is that 80% of the time it's the bearings. You can do a visual inspection for movement to verify before tearing into it.


As far as price and part numbers, it takes (2) of(NNN) NNN-NNNNand (1)(NNN) NNN-NNNN They run between $2-$3 each, depending on where you buy them. A good online source is M-and-D since they are reputable and sell at a discount. (No, I'm not affiliated with them).


Here's the procedure for doing the adjustment just to make sure:


When operating the unit initially or after replacing
the belts, there will be little difference
between the highest two speeds until after the
belts have gone through a break-in period and
have seated themselves into the pulleys.
1. First, adjust the speed control lever by pushing
the clutch/brake pedal forward until the stop on
the speed control rod is against the running
board rod (or until the stop on the brake rod is
against the frame, if so equipped). Have
another person hold the pedal in this position
as you make the following adjustment. Place
the speed control lever in parking brake position.
Remove the hair-pin cotter and flat
washer, and adjust the ferrule on the rod so it
is against the back end of the slot. Then
lengthen the rod one more turn. Replace the
flat washer and hairpin cotter. See Figure 7-25.
2. Adjust speed control link as follows:
a. Start the engine.
b. Place the shift lever in neutral position.
c. Place the speed control lever in high
speed position.
d. Release the clutch/brake pedal completely,
then slowly depress the pedal all the way
(to park position). Hold the pedal in this
e. Turn the engine off.
f. After engine stops completely, release the
clutch/brake pedal.
g. Position speed control lever as follows:
(1) 7-speed units—Place speed control
lever in second position.
(2) 6-speed units—Place speed control
lever between first and second position
(hold in this position).
(3) 5-speed units—Place speed control
lever in first position.
h. Remove the cotter pin and flat washer
which secures the speed control link to the
variable speed torque bracket assembly.
i. Push the clutch/brake pedal backward by
hand as far as it will go using light pressure.
Hold it in this position as you thread
the speed control link in or out of the ferrule
until it lines up with the pin on the variable
speed torque bracket assembly.

j. Secure speed control link to variable
speed torque bracket assembly with flat
washer and pin cotter.



Customer: replied 6 years ago.
This sounds good. Let me clarify:
1. Neverseez: Is that a brand name of nyliner bearing? Or something else?

2. Installing nyliner bearings: it looks to me like I'll have to remove most, if not all, the belts and pulleys in order to install these bearings. Is that correct?

3. Variable-speed pulley: I'm assuming this is what some call the "saucer pulley"? It's the pulley that has TWO belts attached to it: one from the engine, and one to the rear transaxle.

4. Center sheave: I assume "sheave" refers to the actual pulley itself? As in, the round piece that the belts actually come in contact with? And you sat that this pulley should be able to move up and down easily: since this pulley is oriented horizontally (I'm looking at a circle when I look down on it) and the thing it spins on (axle? spindle?) is vertical, you're saying that this pulley should slide up and down easily on this axle/spindle.

5. Stretched springs: That is my next thing to check. How can I tell if they're stretched? This mower is from 1991, and it looks as if they're original to the machine. Also, the last guy I had working on it said he broke off the hook to one of the springs (the biggest one - marked 34 on the diagram you sent me). The hook it was attached to is right near the letter A on the same diagram - this is what was broken and was welded to repair it. How finicky are these springs? If the guys who repaired it made the hook slightly longer or shorter, would that have a major effect on the spring tension?

6. Linkage: I adjusted the shift linkage, though I might have to go back and follow your directions to the letter. Here's one thing I thought interesting: Once I had adjusted it, and I put the tractor in 5th or 6th gear (since it won't move in any gear lower than that), as I slowly let out the clutch pedal, I am able to make the mower go slowly, but only if I maintain pressure on the clutch pedal. It seems to be a very delicate balance - and not practical for normal use. Does this help diagnose the problem better?

Thanks for your continued answers.

1. Neverseez is a brand of anti-sieze grease available at auto stores and home centers.


2. Drop the deck off the tractor and get the belts and pulleys out of the way. They'll need to be partially removed, but you can leave them close at hand. Don't take off more than you need to.


3. Yes.


4. The center sheave is the saucer-shaped item that moves up and down between the upper and lower pulley on the variable speed pulley.


5. If you see spacing between the coils of the springs, that's a good sign they've stretched. Weakness is more of an experienced guess, unfortunately. They should be "crisp" to go back to their relaxed position when tension is removed. If we're talking a 1/4" change that's not a problem. If we start measuring the change in inches it well could be.


6. Let me include a quote from an old manual I taught technicians from for many years and actually help write:


Attachments are only available to registered users.

Register Here

Edited by Rick on 10/26/2010 at 11:03 PM EST
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Okay, I think you've clarified pretty well. A few last questions, and then I'll "accept" and you can be done with me.

Deck is already off the tractor. Is there an "easy" way to remove the other (drive train) belts & pulleys? I've not done it before (this is what I had the other guy do, who broke the spring) and I hear it's a bit of a pain-in-the-neck. Will I have to remove the belts in order to install the nyliner bearings you mentioned earlier?

Sheave: Is the sheave more or less a spring that maintains some sort of distance/pressure equilibrium between the variable speed pulleys? I'm assuming that the two pulleys always turn at the same rate, and that the thing that controls the speed is the tension on the belt - the more tension, the tighter the grip, the higher the speed. At lower speeds, the belt deliberately "slips" a little, no?

I've watched the movement of the springs as I shift through the gears - and see that the parts all seem to move properly - I just wonder if they're getting the proper tension. Is one of the springs more suspect than the other? And you think I can find these at Lowe's, or will I have to go to an MTD dealer to find them?

And how can I get a copy of said manual?

Thank you thank you thank you!

A good general rule is to swing the idler pulleys out of the way and then take the belts off them first. That will sometimes be all the room you need. Other time you need to actually remove the idlers by loosening the shoulder bolts and nuts that go through the bracket.


Springs can be best removed by a spring removal tool. A long metal rod with a hook on the end and a handle to get a good grip on. Barring that, a good makeshift tool is to use a length of strong cord like starter rope and use it to get some leverage. The big warning is to keep your hands away from the springs because they can bite hard in an instant. Think bear trap and you've got a close comparison.


The sheave is another word for pulley. In our discussion I've been referring to the center portion of the variable speed pulley as the sheave. This is what it looks like when removed:



Attachments are only available to registered users.

Register Here


When the brackets pivot, the belts will tighten and loosen on one side other other and ride deeper or further out on the pulley when the center slides up or down. Without the belts and the pivoting of the brackets, the center sheave will just fall down due to gravity. It's not spring loaded. The system works like a multi-speed bicycle. When you are on the large front sprocket and small rear sprocket you go faster (assuming you pedal the same speed) than when the chain is on the small front sprocket and large rear sprocket. This system follows the same concept only with pulleys and belts instead.


#66 (732-0384) and #34 (732-0556) are the most common springs to fail. They can be purchased from an MTD dealer of from online sources. They can be special ordered from Lowes or Home Depot, but I recommend a dealer who will be more knowledgeable.


The manual is available from MTD or from a local dealer. MTD is quite protective over their copyright and I've not found the full manual posted anywhere. However, I'll post a portion for you under the legal concept that small quotes are permissible for the purposes of review or education.


Manual Excerpt


The full manual can be purchased at:


The part number is XXXXX


Hope this helps!

Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Okay then. I hope to give this a shot tomorrow and get back to you. I'm gonna keep this thread open in case I run into any other difficulties. I'll accept once I've had a chance to actually crawl under the thing and make sure I really understand what you're talking about. Thanks.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Just took a look at the mower. Here's what I think might be going on:

According to your description of the variable-speed pulley, it seems that the center sheave should move up and down. (I know you're thinking "That's what I've been saying all along!", but I need to clarify to make sure I really understand what you're talking about.) When the sheave is "up", the top pulley (to the transaxle) is narrow, so the belt can't get in as deep, and the bottom pulley (to the engine) is wide, so the belt is as deep as possible. When the sheave is "down", the top is wide, and the bottom is narrow. This is what you were referring to re: multi-speed bicycles. Assuming this is correct, I'll move on.

When you asked if the center sheave moved up and down, at first I just grabbed the entire variable-speed pulley assembly, and slid it up and down on its axle. It seems to have a little play. What I now realize is that it's just that middle sheave/plate/saucer-shaped-thingy that should move, and the top and bottom of the pulley should stay "put" relative to the movement of the center sheave.

If all of the above is correct, then my problem is that my center sheave is frozen in place. (The springs and nyliner bearings might help, but this is the big problem). Hence, I either need to free the movement somehow, or order an entire new variable-speed pulley assembly, which on is $109.45. (part #(NNN) NNN-NNNN).

Any suggestions as to how to free the sheave, or where to find the part cheaper?

Oh, and since Rick may be offline at the moment, if there's any way to make sure he's the one to answer this question, since we've already been going back-and-forth for a while, that would be great. I'm willing to wait...

Sorry for the delay. I had some family responsibilities last evening that took me out of town.


Everything you are saying is exactly correct. If the center of the pulley is not moving freely, you will not get the full range of speeds. To be certain, this is being checked with the belts out of the way, correct?


I've not seen much success with trying to free them once frozen, so replacing is the best solution if you are running a shop and want to keep happy customers, but since this is your own machine, I'd sure give it a try first. Remove the pulley, and get some PBlaster or Liquid Wrench (not WD-40) penetrating oil (most Walmarts have them in the auto section) and let it work between the center sheave and the middle shiny shaft. If it frees it up remove all the oil and polish up the shaft as best you can to make it as smooth as possible. Make sure you leave no oily residue at all since it'll cause belt slippage and prevent the unit from driving properly. Use a bit of grease on the needle bearings on the top and bottom ends as well.


I'm including a search below that will give you a few options to save a little bit of money in case this doesn't work.


Customer: replied 6 years ago.
You da man! No worries about not being around last night - you were around plenty long enough, and your answers are worth waiting for. I stopped by my local parts store and they said they can get the pulley for about $85 - and they're usually the cheapest place locally, and they know their stuff. Already bought the new springs from them

Any chances you could send me an excerpt from that manual re: removal of said variable-speed pulley? And maybe also excerpts re: replacement of the nyliner bearings? If not, that's fine, too. I think I'll be able to figure it out, but the step-by step is always nice to have, if available. If nothing else, what's the easiest way to remove the funky cotter-pin thingy that holds the variable-speed pulley in place, since I don't have that specific tool.

Thank you, XXXXX XXXXX thank you!

Glad to hear this is working out for you. And $85 is a very reasonable price for the part. As far as the manual goes I'd be happy to post anything I've got but unfortunately not all procedures are detailed as well as one would like. I'll post the additional information I have but I'm not sure that it'll provide much additional help. The real meat of the manual was what I've already posted for you.


As far as the retainer on top of the pulley, the parts list is referring to it as a snap ring. So I'm assuming that's actually what the item is. Although I have seen c-clips and e-clips used there as well. If it's a clip you can use the tip of a screwdriver blade in the hollow area between the clip and the shaft opposite the open side and just pry it off. However, if it's actually a snap ring, you'll need a pair of snap ring pliers. They are not expensive and make sure you get the ones that will fit the hole in the snap ring that you have. If what I am picturing below is the type you have, then you will need the snap ring pliers.

Attachments are only available to registered users.

Register Here ing+pliers&


Please keep me posted and let me know how I can help.


Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Off to the store I go to get the snap-ring pliers. I'll keep you posted.
Good deal. Looking forward to hearing...
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Well, I got the variable-speed pulley off and that sucker is indeed frozen. You know how you mentioned the "shiny part"? Well, there ain't much shine to this thing - mostly rust. I sprayed the heck out of it with Liquid Wrench, and I'll check it in the morning, but I'm pretty sure I'll be calling my local place and have them order a new pulley.

Hey, one related question - when I was adjusting the linkage, I noticed that one end of the rod was fastened with a "hitch pin" (straight on one side, bent on the other - slide it on and it clicks in place) and the other fastened with a "cotter pin" (one long piece of metal bent in half, you push it through the hole and then bend the ends apart). Is there any reason to use one or the other? The cotter pins seem to break and so I'm tempted to use hitch pins - though I had a thought that they might slip off with vibration, and then I'd have a runaway mower.
As long as you don't have any interference with any other part, the choice between a hitch pin or cotter pin is really one of personal preference. At the factory it's one of cost. Since the cotter pin is cheaper than the hitch pin they use it whenever possible. As I say the biggest concern is to make sure that it doesn't interfere with any other part that would limit movement. If that's the case you should be good to go. If you put the hitch pin in from the top, then you shouldn't have any problem with vibration loosening it.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Nyliner bearings: ordered. Variable-speed pulley: Ordered. Snap-ring pliers: purchased. Nyliner bearings won't be in until next week so we'll have to wait to see how they work. Guy at the parts store said he didn't have Neverseez, so he recommended either WD-40 or White Lithium Grease. WD-40 sounded like a bad idea to me, but White Lithium Grease sounded more feasible. Any thoughts, and/or recommendations as to where to find Neverseez or a similar product?

I've also got a tiller that needs help. How can I start a new thread and make sure you're the guy answering my questions?

In related news, I found a self-propelled troy-bilt leaf vacuum/shredder/bagger today at the GoodWill for $80 - and it works perfectly, and came with all the attachments. Gotta love goodwill.

If you aren't finding Never-Seez locally, it can be ordered online, but rather than going to the trouble white lithium grease is a very reasonable alternative. WD-40, as you stated, isn't the right product for this. Grease will stay put. Just don't overdo it, since any lubrication also attracts dirt. It's a trade-off requiring a good balance.


Glad to hear about the shredder/vac. That's a REALLY good deal. Kinda jealous... ;-)


As far as the new thread, just ask for me by name in the subject. Most of the experts here are very respectful and will leave the question open and we even alert each other via private message if someone is specifically requested. If it's a problem I know about, I'll be honored to help. If it's not, I'll let you know and leave it for another expert.


Thank you!





Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Parts have finally arrived! Found the NeverSeez locally as well; decided to buy the spray instead of the brush-on variety as I thought it might make it easier to re-lube a few things without having to completely disassemble them. Any other words of wisdom before I reassemble this beast and she if she works?
Just go slow and methodical and check the assembly of each part as you go and you should be fine. Test each part for free movement and proper tightness and I'll bet you have it whipped.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Does the variable-speed pulley have a "top" and a "bottom"? Or can it go on the spindle either way?

Anything else I should lube with the neverseez (or anything else for that matter) while I'm in re-assembly mode? Or anything I SHOULDN'T lube? (You already mentioned not putting anything on the shiny part of the variable speed pulley - anyplace else where lube of any sort is a no-no?)

And if the paint's flaking off of a few of these parts, do should I just rub off the paint flakes (and the rust underneath) or do I need to do something to these partially rusty parts to protect them? The tractor will be stored inside from now on.

The variable speed pulley can be installed either direction. It's symmetrical. You can use some light oil on the needle bearings, but it's not necessary. I mention that as part of yearly maintenance for next season. The Never-Seez can be used in the pivot area of the nyliner bearings. Those are about the only spots to worry about. As I mentioned previously, lubrication is kinda a Catch-22. You need it for ease of movement, but it also attracts dirt and everything else small that gets in the area, so go sparingly.


As far as areas to avoid, make sure you don't get any on the belt shoulders, or on the shoulders of the pulleys. Belt slippage will occur.


If parts are rusting, cleaning off the rust and dabbing a bit of metal paint over it is certainly not a bad idea. Spray paint, such as Rustoleum, is easier if you remove the parts. And you can even use it while may are installed if you're careful. Otherwise the rust will come back. Realistically, it will anyway. Equipment is just not built to last anymore. But you want to get as much life out of it as possible, and that small step since you're already there will help.

Rick and other Small Engine Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Finally getting ready to assemble the tractor today. Took the hood assembly off last night to try to clean the gunk off the insides - there was a ton of gunk inside where the steering mechanism is - looks like the tractor was stored outside in a previous life, and a mouse or two must have made a nest in it. I think I got most of the gunk/mouse poop/dirt/old leaves out, but I'm wondering if any residual gunk might have a negative effect on the operation of the tractor. So, a few more questions:
- Any recommendations for de-gunking/de-greasing the insides? Motor, steering, any other moving parts. I've already poked and prodded with an oily rag and scraped out a lot of gunk with an old screwdriver, and am going to hit it with the shop-vac soon. But is there a need to use some sort of degreaser? What about spraying the insides with the hose? I know I don't want to hit anything electrical with water, but is there anything else I need to worry about?

- I'm also going to try to get the electrical working properly - it started fine before, and I'm assuming it will again, but I wanted to see if I could get the lights to work. Any recommendations for troubleshooting the electrical?

- On a mostly unrelated note, do you have any experience with putting new handles on hammers/axes/hatchets and such? I'm trying to figure out if I should use any sort of wood glue when inserting a wooden wedge in the eye, if I should put anything on the handle where it's inserted into the eye, and if there's anything I should put on the eye/wedge part once I'm done to "seal" it. I've looked around online and found some very scary DIY videos that look like accidents waiting to happen. I haven't found a step-by-step from a handle maker as to how to best go about replacing handles. I'm looking for the finer details, not just "remove old handle, clean eye, insert new handle, insert wedge, done". Let me know if I need to open a new thread for this.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Hey Rick. Hope you didn't think I'd given up on you. Not sure if you got my last additional random questions. Wanted to let you know that I finally assembled the mower and had it mowing today. I ended up having to replace all the tires, and since the back rims had rusted/fused themselves to the rear axles, I ended up loading the mower in the back of the truck (with help from a few neighbors) and then brought it to a tire shop where a guy they call "grandpa" put the new tires on the back rims while it was sitting in the back of the truck. The mower deck went on fine, and while I'm not sure it's perfectly level, it engages and disengages well, and I was able to mow the lawn without a problem. Since all seven speeds work now, I was even able to go slow enough to avoid the roots and rocks. Thank you a million times over for all your assistance! I'll try to send more people your way.

Glad it's running. Leveling can be a bit challenging since an adjustment on one side affects the other. Here's some tips:


  1. Use a flat surface like the driveway.
  2. Make sure that all tires are properly inflated, since that will throw your adjustment off more than anything else will.
  3. Put the blade tips to the sides and measure from each tip to the ground. Rotate the blades and measure the opposite tip an verify the measurement is the same. This will point out a bent blade or spindle.
  4. Set it level from left-to-right.
  5. Check the level from front to back. It should be 1/8" lower in front.

As far as cleaning, I'd avoid water since it can cause rust and older mechanical transaxles would often be inadequately sealed and water in the grease it a real problem. If you have access to compressed air, that's a better choice, then finish up with a rag. You can use a screwdriver to clean cooling fins if something's stuck. I'd remove the engine shroud and check under there too. Rodents tend to like the covered area to build their nests.


When you removed the wheels did you use a bit of the NeverSeez on the axles as well? If not, it's a really good idea. Should be done once a season to keep the wheels from rusting to the axles which I'm sure you discovered is not much fun.


If Grandpa did it with the wheels installed, some PBlaster, Kroil, or Liquid Wrench penetrating oil and a lot of patience will often work. In extreme circumstances you can use an air hammer to knock some of the rust loose, or a torch to expand the wheel with the tires removed. I'd hold off on the last two methods until you actually need to remove them if the oil doesn't work.


As far as the handle, I'm not an expert on this. I've replaced some over the years, but I'm not qualified to give advice on that.


Thank you so much, and be blessed in all you do!




Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Mower deck: Not sure how to level it. Only adjustment I can see is on the following diagram:

where there's a hex net attached to an L-shaped bolt that attaches to the front left of the mower deck. (Labelled 'c' on the top section of the diagram.) Are there other adjustment points? The mower seemed to be mowing relatively level - I didn't notice obvious patches or stripes of high/low grass.

Cleaned a lot of gunk out with rag & shop vac, so I think it's good. Seems to run fine so I'm not gonna worry about cleaning beyond that. Thanks for the tips.

Didn't put Neverseez on the front axles, just used plain ol' axle grease. The front wheels have plastic bushings on them as well so I'm not concerned about them rusting to the axle.

Rear rims are pretty well fused to the axles, as far as I can tell. Blasted the heck out of them with Liquid Wrench, and then pounded on them, and then doused them with PB Blaster (which I'm told is better) and beat the heck out of it again. Used a hand-sledge and a crowbar to hit the inside edge where the rim meets the axle. Wanted to whack it hard enough to break up the rust and free the rim, but didn't want to whack it so hard I tweaked the rim. And I get the sense that when I had the tractor balanced on a cinder block or two (since it had rims but no tires) that every time I whacked it, instead of getting all the force to the rim, I was just moving the whole tractor. Not sure I could find a vise big enough to hold the whole tractor still while I beat the heck out of the rim. When 'Grandpa' said he could probably put the tires on the rims while they were still attached to the axles, I gave up. Especially considering I already spent $150+ on new tires alone, and I think the rims are at least 50 bucks a pop. Not sure it's worth taking the risk of destroying both rim AND axle by using more destructive methods, but if you still think diligent PB-blasting and pounding will do the trick, I'm willing to give it a go.

As far as the handle question, JustAnswer doesn't have a 'hand tools' section. Think any of your cohorts might be able to answer this one?

Thanks again!