Lawn Tractor Transmission Types

Lawn Tractor Transmission Types Updated: January 2014

30-40 years ago gear drive transmissions were about the only transmission available for your tractor. They were built just like the transmissions in a Model A Ford or a 1953 Farmall tractor. Big, strong gears. Heavy axles and cast housings. They didn’t break but they were hard to use. You had to stop the tractor to change gears and most of the time you had to wiggle the tractor to move the shifter from one gear to another.

Because the transmissions were so heavy there was a lot of weight on the rear wheels and you could pull just about anything with them including moldboard plows. Because they were so heavily built they were also very heavy and would put grooves in your lawn if you mowed the same way more than once or twice.

Over time we asked for lawn tractors that mowed faster, turned better and didn’t cause so much damage. We no longer had the huge Victory Gardens that required plowing with the garden tractor and if we did we used rototillers instead. So the manufactures listened and changed from the heavy, cumbersome tractors to lightweight tractors that mowed well, mowed faster, turned easier and didn’t cause damage to our lawns.

By Paul Sikkema. Find Paul on 

Seven Types Of Transmissions:

1977 Sears_Attachments There are now seven types of transmission found in today’s lawn tractors and zero turns.  They are gear, friction disk, automatic or CVT, hydrostatic, pump/motor, electric and hybrid.  I’ll spend a few paragraphs going through each type so you have a better idea of the best type for you. I am not going into the details of how each one works.  Just Google the transmission type and you can read to your heart’s content.

Gear Transmissions

Twenty years ago the gear drive transmission was the most popular but today automatic hydrostatic and automatic CVT transmissions have replaced them in popularity. Often called Manual transmissions this type uses a series of gears to change the ground speed of your tractor. These transmissions are not like the older styles though. They shift better, are much, much lighter and easier to use.  They use and inline gear selector instead of the old H-pattern. The biggest downfall of this type of transmission is you have to stop the tractor to shift to a different speed (range).  This makes them harder to use when you have a lot of garden beds and landscape features to go around.

To drive the tractor you must push in on the clutch, shift the transmission to the gear you want to use, release the clutch, and hang on.  This is a dependable  transmission that will give you years of service.

Some manufactures have a shift-on-the-go transmission. This is sometimes listed as a manual transmission but it is actually a CVT. These transmissions are found on the least expensive lawn tractors and are usually listed as 6 or 7 speed.

Friction Disk Transmissions

This is actually the transmission of choice for snow blowers but there are a few mowers like the Snapper Rear Engine Rider that still use this trans.  It is a good, dependable transmission when used properly.  It uses a friction wheel and disk to change the forward speed of your rider.  Don’t use this transmission to pull heavy loads…you will tear up the friction wheel.

You can shift-on-the-go with some models but to get the longest life most brands suggest you push down on the clutch/brake pedal and then shift to the speed you want.

Automatic or CVT

Element CVTJohn Deere originally used a CVT in conjunction with a manual transmission on the Model 110.  Now days, CVT’s have now matured to the point where you find them in cars, snowmobiles, snow blowers and even heavy-duty farm tractors. There are very few parts that wear in these transmissions and the recently introduced Element V from General Transmissions for your yard tractor is now stronger and requires less worry than all the hydrostatic transmissions. CVT’s for lawn tractors essentially a belt and variable pulley system similar to the drive system in a snowmobile or mini-bike.

I predict that CVT transmissions will replace most of the hydrostatic transmissions within the next 5 years.

MTD is using this on many of it’s least expensive lawn tractors. Using one is very much like driving your car. Put the lever on the fender in F and then press the right foot pedal. The farther you push the pedal the faster you go. To go in reverse put the fender lever in R and press on the right foot pedal. This trans is designed to mow lawns and is not designed to pull heavy loads.

The Element V from General Transmissions is another CVT that you will now find in Yard Tractors. This transmission is tougher, lighter weight and takes less power than the very popular Tuff Torq K46 and Hydro-Gear T2 hydrostatic transmissions. In fact the RS 800 Element V transmission is power rated very close to the most popular garden tractor transmission, the Hydro-Gear G730.  These transmissions are very easy to use. Either a fender mounted lever or foot control varies the speed and direction just like the hydro transmission you are used to. These transmissions do not need maintenance and I expect them to last the life of the mower.

To see how tough these new transmissions really are check out spot 1:27 in the next video!

There is one other form of CVT that has the possibility of also replacing the hydrostatic transmisson. Fallbrook has announced a commercial partnership with Hydro-Gear to bring NuVinci technology to the lawn & garden market. Instead of a variable pulley system uses a variable disk or ball/disk system.  This is the transmission of the future because it uses fewer moving parts than a gear trans, can pull heavier loads than an automatic and uses less oil than a hydrostatic. At this point in time though they are not yet cost effective for lawn tractor applications.

Hydrostatic or Automatic

The most common transmission for lawn tractors today is an internal pump and motor drive system called the hydrostatic transmission. There are two types of these transmissions used in Lawn & Garden equipment, hydrostatic enclosed single and hydrostatic enclosed dual. Everything is enclosed in an aluminum housing.  Hydrostatic transmissions are more expensive than mechanical transmissions but they are much easier to use.

Hydrostatic – Enclosed Single

spin_prod_922106912 Most lawn tractors, yard tractors, garden tractors and estate tractors in the last 20 years have an aluminum housing and inside that housing is the pump, motor, differential and drive axle. These transmissions are sized to the mower application so a lawn tractor trans is designed for mowing and light hauling. A garden tractor transmission is heavier duty and can be used not only for mowing but ground engaging tasks like pulling a DR Power Grader/a>.  Hydrostatic transmissions are very easy to use.  Either a fender mounted lever or foot control varies the speed and direction.

The residential models you find on today’s lawn tractors are sealed units and are not serviceable by you. Most of the transmissions have to removed from the tractor for any repairs. As an owner the only maintenance you have to do is periodically clean the outside of the case with a leaf blower or garden hose.  They are designed to give you hundreds of hours of service for normal use. The garden tractor and estate tractor hydrostatic transmissions are heavier and built to handle heavy loads and ground engaging attachments. Most of the hydrostatic transmissions in lawn tractors do not have posi-traction or differential lock.

These transmissions are very easy to use.  Either a fender mounted lever or foot control varies the speed and direction.  The pedal on the left side of the tractor is the parking brake.  You do not need to depress that pedal to shift the tractor.   The forward and reverse is controlled by either a lever on the right fender or two pedals on the right side floorboard.  To go forward push the fender lever forward or press on the large pedal on the floor board.  To stop the tractor pull the lever back to the middle position or lift your foot off the pedal.  To back the tractor up pull the fender lever to the rear or press the small pedal on the floorboard.

On the fender mounted control you HAVE to move the lever to the middle to stop your tractor.  It will not go to neutral by itself like the foot controls.

Hydrostatic – Enclosed Dual

694594Titan-Hydro-Gear-ZT3100CO2282_ttn_hydro_gear.jpg Two hydrostatic transmissions are mounted side-by-side in the residential zero turns.  Each trans controls a separate rear wheel.  That is the primary reason why zero-turn mowers cost more than the lawn tractors. Again these trans are designed for the application and most are not designed to pull loads, just mow and bag. If you want to pull a leaf vacumn or move dirt in your yard cart this is not the transmission for you.

Most of these transmissions are controlled by individual levers called lap bars that sit in front of you.  This type of transmission takes practice to keep the tires from digging into your lawn but with a little practice these are very easy to use.  A large lever on each side of the seat controls that side transmission.  To go forward push on BOTH levers.  To stop, pull them back.  (The easiest way to explain how to drive a two-lever zero turn mower is to  use a shopping cart as an example.  With the mower turned off sit on the seat and put your hands on the two large levers in front of you.  Close you eyes and pretend you are gripping a shopping cart.   What do you do to move a shopping cart forward? Right, you push on the handle.   To back up? Right, you pull back on the handle.  To go left?  To go right?  Correct, you PUSH the handle in the direction you want to turn the cart.  Two lever zero turns work the same way.  Instead of one bar like a shopping  cart, the bar is split in two and you move each side to make it move.)

Hydrostatic – Pump & Motor

3000z-feat-5 The more expensive commercial zero-turn mowers, stand-ons, and some golf course mowers use a separate variable displacement pump near the gas engine connected to the wheel motors with hydraulic hose or metal lines.  These are usually cast iron for long life and durability. A few of the high-end commercial mowers are now using enclosed cast iron hydros.

Electric

HyBrid Electric/Gas

raven 7100s The Raven MPV-7100/a> uses a hybrid drive system.  A smaller gas engine (13 hp) charges batteries. These batteries then are used to power the lawn mower just like an all electric lawn mower. The batteries alsodrives an electric motor that powers a cast iron geared transmission for the rear wheels. This technology is beneficial because it uses less fuel to mow your lawn and is quieter than using lawn tractors with larger engines.  This will be a great alternative to the gas powered lawn tractor.

All Electric

cxr62barcontrol Electric drive systems are found in the mowers like the Cub Cadet Zero/a> and Mean Green Products consist of batteries, electronic controllers and electric motors.  The huge advantage of this design is it uses no belts, filters or fluids so they take less yearly maintenance. If you want green technology, no gas engine emissions and 30% less noise on your lawn this is an up and coming alternative to gas powered lawn mowers. You charge the mower using normal household current. They are currently limited by battery technology and battery price but that is changing fast. Electrics are coming and I feel in the next 5 years you will see affordable homeowner versions. These machines are not lawn tractors with electric motors replacing the gas engine but true state of the art electric vehicles. There are already commercial models that will mow all day long on a single charge.

Please give your city and state when you comment

  1. Thanks for a great and informative website. One question, as I can’t seem to find the answer on my own.

    Do the GT RS 800 CVT transmissions drive both rear wheels? From their video, it looks like it may. That alone is a deciding factor for me in m choosing of a mower…

    Eric, Denver CO

    • Hi Eric, The RS 800 has a differential in the transmission just like your car. It is not a solid axle where both wheels drive at the same time.

  2. I have a 4 yr, old Craftsman Model # 917.288570 lawn tractor that will not engage in Forward or Reverse. I tried purging the transmission which I thought had solved the problem but it returned very quickly . Any sugestions ?

    Thanks , Guido

    • Hi Guido, I’m not a mechanic. You have already done what I suggest. The next thing is get it to a mechanic.

  3. Would you say that all machines sold today as “Garden Tractors” with hydrostats would have sufficiently-beefy units for hills, 300-600lb towing, ground-engage etc (Obviously, I wouldn’t hold you to it)? If you were potentially looking to buy a garden tractor sometime within the next five years (of 2015), what type of transmission would you most favor/wait for (besides manual)? I ask because for my next garden tractor, I want to make sure I don’t end up with a fragile transmission. Many people seem to have high-hopes for CVT transmissions. Also, if you have any general opinions on Craftsman vs. Cub Cadet vs. John Deere, I’d love to hear them.


    Background, in case you’re curious: I manage between eight and 16 acres of residential terrain (mostly my parents’), much of which is quite hilly. For mowing, I have a Hustler Super-Z which, aside from the Kawasaki motor–an absolutely unreliable POS [pardon my candidness] since year two, has been a phenomenal zero-turn. It’s commercial-grade, and I recall reading it has some of the strongest hydro motors you can buy; so I have no concern for that mower (other than the Kawasaki–I’ve never cursed at one object so much…sorry, can’t express how much I hate that mill). For grass collection, spraying/spreading, and general hauling/towing duties, I pull out my late-’90s Craftsman 917-273061 garden tractor which dependably oversaw all jobs up until I got the Hustler five years ago. Despite its I-don’t-even-know-how-many-hundreds-of-hours of neglect (including running on e10 for half of its life [not under my supervision]), the Kohler starts right up and runs healthily (more dependable than the much, much newer Kawasaki) and the HydroGear 222-3010 has been phenomenally reliable despite negligent use (ie towing uphill at full speed, dethatching at 1/2 engine speed, wheelies lol–again, not under my supervision). It wasn’t until I inherited the Craftsman that I started reading up on hydrostats and learned that people generally don’t favor them for anything but casual mowing. Really makes me appreciate how great that Craftsman has been to us; unfortunately, it also now has me worried about using it as we have all these years…hence, my questions above :)

    Lastly, I’ve noted that you’re a very helpful person to people who have questions. On behalf of all of the lurkers who don’t post questions/comments: thank you for your dedication to helping/informing others. It has been tremendously helpful to me and undoubtedly many thousands of others.

    • Hi Guy, You are very welcome, You have to get into the X500 Deere’s to get a “garden tractor” trans.

      The 2015 Cub Cadet’s and Craftsman Pro’s use a K58 Tuff Torq. They say it is heavy enough for ground engaging work.

      The Red Craftsman, Poulan Pro and some Husqvarna GT’s use the G730 Hydro-Gear. It’s pretty much bullet-proof.

      Some of the Higher end Husqvarna’s use the K66. It’s also tough enough for anything you’ll ever pull with it.

      Simplicity uses all three. You have to get up to the Regent to get the GT transmissions.

      CVT’s currently are only in the lawn tractors. They are tough but General Transmissions does not have one for Garden Tractors yet.

    • Good morn Paul,

      I currently have a 2000 or 2001 Craftsman LT 1750 ( 917.272220) with a Kohler Pro 17.5 hp and ?Automatic transmission? along with a 12 gauge deck for the past 14 or 15 years. The engine is just about shot. Buts it’s been a great mower.

      I have an 1/2 acre with mostly hills with some trees and bushes. A Kohler or Kawasaki engine with a CVT transmission and heavy gauge deck with mulching included would be great.

      Suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

      Thanks again,

      Clay

        • Thanks Paul-

          Looked at Husqvarna’s equivalent…have to admit my old Craftsman LT 1750 has features like: 10 inch rear wheels, electric PTO, heavier gauge deck, and hand control clutch that the current model doesn’t have..

          Thanks again,

          Clay
          Kimberton,Pa.

  4. JoeBillyBob, I have a Craftsman 42″, 21 VTwin, DYT 4000, Model #917-274040, SR 072204B005810. It starts and runs ok, but the transmission will no longer engage. This model has a shiftier on the fender. I have misplaced the manual but I think this is a hydrostatic transmission. Is this transmission repairable or do you suggest buying a new Lawn Mower?
    Thanks,
    Joe

    • Hi Joe, Well your tractor has gone well over 10 years so it may be time for a new one. Generally, You tractor is worth about $400 in great shape. It will cost between $400 and $800 to replace the trans. Is your steering wore also?

      You can get a Craftsman Model 25081 for around $1450 and is the direct replacement to your old Craftsman. Craftsman has made many improvements including better steering, more legroom room, better seat, better engines and the the new CVT trans. The 25081 is a lot easier to get on and off.

      Use this link to check it out on Sears.com:
      19HP 42 in. Turn Tight® Automatic Riding Mower

      Go here to read my review: 25081 Review

      Are you sure it’s the transmission? If you haven’t checked the engine to transmission belt please do that before you give up on the tractor. Trans replacements are usually around $800 if you have someone buy new parts and do the work. If you find the transmission yourself off of ebay or someplace similar and do the work yourself you can usually get the project done for half that. The trans is a Hydro-Gear 314-0510.

      If you like to work on them and you want to take the time you can sometimes get a really good deal on a tractor with a bad engine. Then take the two and make one. For example over a 12 month period I picked up a 2004 Craftsman with a bad motor for $20 and then later on picked up a “dead” 2001 and a 2002 for free. The 2001 looked bad but come to find out the only thing wrong with it was a bad battery and bad fuel. I took the engine out of the 2001 and put it in the 2004 and ended up with a good running tractor that we used around the yard here until I found the Husqvarna Riders. The rest of the parts tractors went to two handy guys who couldn’t afford new and they used them to keep their own Craftsman’s running.

  5. I’m looking at purchasing a new cub cadet 18 hp or higher but have seen a lot of mixed reviews about them and purchasing them from Home Depot. I have a very hilly and uneven 4 acres and haul things around with a trailer too. Can you clear up my concerns and do you know if the 2015 models have improvements that may help assist me? I’m looking at spending no more then 1699 and really don’t want to spend the money and find out I have invested in junk. Any opinion appreciated since I have spent hours among hours researching and basically can’t find any reliable consistent information that is helping me make up my mind. I have been using a 17.5 hp crafts man that’s about 13 years old and it gets stuck on the hills and has been abused and in wearing out. It now only starts when it wants to and the grass is only getting taller!!!! Help

    Thank you
    Laurie

    • Hi Laurie, I have bad news and good news for you. The bad news is: Four acres is a lot of lawn to mow and I really can’t think of any tractor under $1699 that will be dependable and do the job for you. The good news is Cub Cadet does have two tractors that will work for you and are rugged enough to last a long time on your property.

      You need a lawn tractor with the heavy duty transmission. The two I will show you have the Tuff Torq K58. That transmission can handle hills and uneven ground well.

      The transmission in all the other Cub Cadets is a K46. It is a good transmission but has a reputation of not holding up on hills. It is strong enough for your normal suburban lawn but not strong enough for hilly properties.

      The first model is the XT1 GT50″. You can get this tractor at Home Depot or you local Cub Cadet Dealer. It has larger wheels to give you a better ride and the heavy transmission. The 50 inch deck will get you mowing done in a couple of hours. You can see it here: Cub Cadet Lawn Mowers XT1 Enduro Series GT 50 in. 25 HP V-Twin Kohler Hydrostatic Gas Front-Engine Garden Tractor with Cub Connect Bluetooth GT50

      The second tractor is a dealer only model. It has two additional features over the GT50. Traction control and fabricated deck. If you have had problems going up your hills in the past the XT2 GX54″ with Fabricated Deck has a feature where both rear wheels will get traction to pull you up the hills. (traction control) This feature is found on very few lawn tractors and really makes mowing a safer experience. The fabricated deck is stronger than conventional decks and takes a beating well. If you have problems with the deck on your last lawn tractor this deck will be a lot better.

      You can see the XT2 GX54″ with Fabricated Deck at your local Cub Cadet dealer and you can read about it more here: XT2 GX54″.

      Laurie, The biggest problem with lawn tractors and hills is the transmissions. The majority of the tractors are designed for you normal, suburban lawn. The Cub Cadet tractors I showed you will do the job and last but they are twice the money you have budgeted. So I am going to suggest you look at one other lawn tractor. It is closer to your budget. It has a transmission strong enough for your hills and a deck that will hold up well. (It’s also a good driving tractor)

      This tractor has been around for two years and has proven to be a great lawn tractor. 2014 Craftsman T3200 Model 20391 48 in Automatic 22 hp Yard Tractor Review

      Please read these articles and reviews. Feel free to ask any other questions you may have.

      • http://www.cubcadet.com/equipment/cubcadet/lawn-and-garden-tractors/xt2/lx42
        This is the one I was leaning towards. Has the traction control but still the k46 transmission. Is the k46 transmission really that much different? I have been using a 17.5 hp 2002 craftsman for 13 years and its main problem with the hills has been losing traction ? I want to get what will work the best and if need be will save a little longer for the better transmission of needed but if the one above will work I’d rather get it. So confusing. How important would traction control compared to the transmission be in your opinion? I may give up the traction control if it is to save some money. As for craftsman I need the better seat that only cub offers and have not been happy with Sears lately..thanks again

        • Hi Laurie, The transmission in the XT2 is different than the standard K46. I have never heard of anyone having issues with the K46 with traction control (the one that’s in the XT@ you are looking at)

  6. Hello Paul. I am considering the Craftsman 20386 manual transmission yard tractor to replace my Craftsman 917.271831 which I’ve had for about 15 years. Engine still works but it won’t move, and other things are starting to go so it’s time to replace. I can’t find any reviews and am hesitant to buy a model that I don’t know anything about other than what the manufacturer says. I have about 4 acres, flat, not too many obstacles. I know I want a 42″ deck, 22 HP, 2 cylinder B&S engine, preferably Craftsman. I do some very light hauling (branches). I don’t want to mow with my foot on the pedal, sounds tiring and I’ve read complaints about that very thing. Basically I want what I had-but I don’t want to end up with a clunker. I know these manual transmission models are being phased out. I’ve also looked into the 25081. Not a manual but I believe that it has a cruise control feature. But there are some negative reviews that are scaring me on the 25081. I have to watch what I spend (no more than $2,000). I would appreciate any suggestions. Great site. Thanks so much.
    Lynn
    Marlton, NJ

    • Hi Lynn, I do not recommend a manual transmission. Why? There is no clutch in these tractors. When you press on the left foot pedal you only release the v-belt between the engine and the transmission. When you release the pedal the belt tightens. The tractor usually jumps or jerks. If you are in a higher gear like 4, 5 or 6 the front wheels may jump off the ground.

      But you know that already – that’s the same way your old mower worked. The rest of the mower is a nice step up from you old tractor. It’s only about 4 inches longer but has a lot more room to get on and off. It steers easier and the steering doesn’t get all that play your old one got. The new Briggs Platinum is smoother than your old 21 HP “boxer.” For you I feel this may be exactly the mower you are looking for.

      If you have spare blades or a bagger it will still fit on this tractor.

      42″ 22HP Vtwin BS Manual Gear

      You’ve done your research but the 25081 does not have any reviews up yet on Sears.com. You may have been looking at the 20381. About half of the negative reviews there are not for that tractor. The biggest issue people were having – the trans has been replaced this year with a more dependable unit (that’s why the model number change)

  7. Hi, Paul. I’m considering purchase of the new for 2015 Sears Craftsman Pro Model 20442, 24 HP, 46″ mower. Sears’ web page for this model provides no specs for the transmission. From your research, does this tractor use one of the ne Element V transmissions? If not, which transmission does it use, and what are your thoughts about that transmission.

    Thanks, Paul. Great site!

    Wayne
    Chesterfield, VA

    • @Wayne, The Pro uses the K46 Tuff Torq hydrostatic.

      My view point on the K46. It’s the most popular transmission installed in lawn tractors. John Deere uses it on all of the D140, D150, D160, D170, X300 and X304. Cub Cadet is using it on all of the 2015 Enduro series and Troy-Bilt lawn tractors. Craftsman uses it in the 20401 tractor and the new 2015 Pro series. It holds up well for lawn mowing and normal yard duties like pulling a yard cart, sweeper, snow blade, etc.

      If your yard is all hills or you regularly pull 500 lb loads uphill then it does have a history of needing repair around 300-400 hours. For most people that’s 8 to 10 years of use. I have one here in an old Yard Man that’s almost 20 years old. It’s working even though the tractor has fallen apart.

      Also take into consideration – You can find people who have problems with anything – particularly if you read the tractor forums. You can find people who have had problems with the K46 in the heavier D160, D170 Deere’s and the LGT Husqvarna tractors. But also remember there are about 1,000,000 million of these transmissions sold EACH year. All the complaints you read don’t add up to a “recall” problem with the trans.

      The GT Element V has an edge for working hills. It will take more abuse. But I also have people who don’t like the high foot control and the slow reverse in the Element V.

      So I recommend the K46 if you mow lawn and do light yard work. If you burnt up the transmission in your last two yard tractors then the CVT is a better choice.

  8. I guess I’ve been spoiled by my old Sears Craftsman II. I bought this mower new I guess it was back in 1986. It has the 12 HP Brigs engine and the manual 5 speed transmission. The engine is shot and uses about a half quart of oil for every tank of gas I put in. Trying to find a suitable replacement for this mower is becoming a real chore. I have been looking at the Poulan Pro PB20A46 with the 20 HP Kohler engine and the cvt transmission. I run up and down some pretty steep grades pulling a trailer loaded with fire wood. My big question is, does the cvt transmission allow you to use the engine as a brake while going down hill? Also, if not the Poulan Pro, is there anything else you would recommend as a suitable replacement for the old Craftsman. I mow about an 1.5 acres on rough hilly land.
    Thank you
    Bill

  9. Paul , is there any NEW info. on the CVT transmission from G.T. I’ve read some reviews about a grinding noise in reverse and the Sears people can;t figure it out, and have actually told consumers to trade it for a machine with a hydro-static trans. That must raise a few eyebrows ! It sounds like the ideal trans, but why are there so few machines that utilize it ?? Is G.T. aware of the issue ? Have they re-called them ? Thanks for any info. you can bring concerning this issue, Ted M.

    • Hi Ted, Yes, there is a lot of new info on the GT CVT’s. It is such a good unit that over half of the new 2015 tractors this year were introduced with them installed.

      The biggest thing to understand is the grinding noise does not mean the transmission is going bad. The reverse portion of the RS 800 is a high speed to very low speed gear reducer and the speed reduction is all done with gears. So it is “noisier” than a hydro.

      A hydro’s speed reduction is mainly done with the internal pump. The trans takes the full engine RPM at the pump. That pump then drives an internal motor that runs a lot slower. That motor then drives the differential at a very low RPM. The only sound you hear is the pump. With the RS 800 there is more mechanical reduction using gears so you will hear more “noise” from the trans. The way the RS 800 is designed it actually has a lot more torque available to the rear wheels. You can stall out a hydro to the point where the wheels stop. It is almost impossible to stall out the RS 800. It will keep spinning the tires even if you put 1200 lbs on the rear of your tractor.

      Now, GT realized that the new owners are used to a quiet transmission so they made a change in early summer to keep more lube up in the gear set when the trans in in reverse. If you buy one this year it’s quieter.

      To get the “their’s so few machines” into perspective. MTD has their own CVT. So they are not going to use the General Transmissions brand. Husqvarna is using them in all models of the Poulan Pro and Ariens tractors – except the Garden Tractor Models. Craftsman is now using them in all Husqvarna built tractors except the Garden Tractors. John Deere is continuing to use them in some of the 100 series lawn tractors. In addition there are a bunch powered of landscaping items like top dressers and aerators that are using it. I would guess GT has tripled their sales for 2015 over last year.

      I don’t know what division of Sears you are talking to. The store sales associates are not part of the repair loop. The Repair techs should have a spec sheet that helps them to understand if the trans is bad.

      The biggest problem has been that owners are used to the old style gear drive transmissions and hydro’s so they expect this transmission to “behave and sound” in a certain way. The GT CVT is different and is designed completely different. It’s not bad – it’s just different.

      One way that I look at this. Say, you only drove passenger cars all your life. You are used to the sounds of a passenger car. You are used to the fact that lifter noise means the engine is going bad. You went in and purchased a new car but the sales associate didn’t tell you it now has a diesel and you’ve never have any experience with one. What would your first reaction be? It would be, “This engine is bad! Take it back! I want one that sounds like my old car!” That is really what is going on with most of the reviews of the CVT.

  10. muskogee,ok 74401 where can I find part for cvt trans that plastic part on top of trans/cam configuration controls forward an reverse ? I have ariens A22A46 auto trans , the cam configuration for forward an reverse broke seems pretty flimsy. Ariens’ parts says you have to buy whole trans at $600 poor design any ideas

    • @james, Yes, the tractor manufactures typically are parts changers so they only carry the major components.

      To research your parts you really need the numbers off of the transmission itself. They should be in the back of the trans near the bottom. Copy all those numbers

      I don’t have a good source for individual parts but here is a place to start General Trans Parts page.

      If you get nowhere with those 2 companies find a dealer in your area that uses the ARI Parts network. They should be able to find parts breakdowns for the transmission.

  11. Recently got a 917_259530 hydro by craftsman that was running fine but now it won’t move either direction now and I feel a slight tug. I’m thinking it’s either the transaxle or clutch. Any ideas?

    • @Dixie, The guys over at mytractorforum would be able to help you more than I can. But in the meantime check to make sure no one has pulled out the coast lever on the back of the tractor. Also, I would check the belt and idler springs that put tension on the belt before I would blame the transmission.

      Your tractor does not have a clutch. When you press on the left pedal it releases tension on the transmission drive belt.

  12. I just bought a 1978 8 hp craftsman mower the gear box gets very hot and brown sludge starts leaking from where gear shift goes into gear box,any body know why? and can I fix that problem?thanks,shane.

    • @Shane, We really don’t do troubleshooting here (even though sometimes I can guess what’s wrong) I suggest you go over to http://www.mytractorforum.com/ and ask those guys. They will be able to quickly help you with your antique Craftsman.

  13. Lynden Wa
    I have the transmsision shown in video # 2, gentrans RS 800, the gear selector cam shown at 1.10 sec has shattered ,where can I gat a replacement cam?
    thx
    JB

    • @John, Exactly what tractor do you have?

      Until then, I have to assume you bought your tractor in the last year so it should be under warranty. Go back to the dealer where you purchased the tractor to get the parts. If it’s a Craftsman call 1-800-4MY-HOME and get a tech out to repair it.

  14. Paul,

    I recently entered the market for a new lawn tractor in the $1000 to $1300 price range. I noticed that some of the manufactures are using Plastic! hydro-static housings. How long has the industry been doing this? Have these plastic housings proven them selves in the field for say 10 years?

    Howell, MI

    • @James, Actually none of the tractors in your price range use a hydro anymore. The $1000 ones like the Craftsman T1000 have a manual, shift-on-the-go transmission. The $12-1300 machines are now all using a light duty CVT. These low priced tractors are designed just for mowing lawns and most are not capable of anything else.

      The current range for good quality lawn tractors is between $1350 and $1999. Many of these still have a hydro but even at this price range the manufactures are quickly switching to the more dependable medium duty CVT. Here are 2 typical tractors that I recommend. 42 inch hydro and 42 inch CVT. These tractors have many more features like 6 inch turning radius, long life engines and nice seats.

  15. Chaska, MN Paul, I greatly appreciate your articles and education on riding mowers. I have a walkout, so there is a hill on each side of our yard with about 5-6 foot gradual drop over about 20-30 feet. I currently have a Simplicity Regent Hyrdro 14 (leaves a mohawk cut with net gator mulching blades and also mohawk with old mulching blades) and I picked up a 2011 John Deere D130 this winter. After reading your articles and realizing I have a quality 14HP Vanguard Briggs engine, I am second guessing myself for buying the JD (not sure how well it will handle the hill with the transmission, and lower quality engine. Looking for your advise on whether to try to figure out the mohawk issue on the Simplicity, or keep the D130, or look for something that is better suited for the hills. There is quite a bit of landscaping and 5 trees to maneuver around on our 0.6 Acre lot. I only cut grass with the mower, and may pull a cart with bags of mulch down the hill each spring.

    • Bob, If the Simplicity is leaving a strip of grass in the middle with new blades usually that means you have the wrong blades. Get a set of original equipment blades (from a Simplicity dealer) and compare them to your blades. If the blades you have are shorter…there’s your problem.

      If it’s leaving a stepped cut where one side is longer than the other, it may be a major issue with the deck (shell is bent) Look under the deck and meet the two ends of the blades. There should be less than 1/4 inch difference in height.

      The D130. The guys destroy transmissions by mowing those long slopes or constantly pulling a leaf vac, using a bagger with wet grass or more hauling than 300 lbs in a yard cart. The max weight for the K40 transmission in a D130 is 650 lbs. That’s 150 lbs. for the tractor’s rear weight, plus you, plus the trailer, plus the load.

      Don’t pull anything up the slope. Get in a habit of checking the oil and keeping it filled. Don’t have the engine running on the slope for more than 30-45 seconds at a time. If you are mowing up and down that slope you are not on it for more than 30-45 sec.

      • Thanks Paul.
        The new Gator blades are almost 1/8″ longer than the originals, and the mohawk eventually showed up on the original blades as well (not sure when it happened…after sharpening the old blades?), and a little less of a mohawk on the new blades…I notice the mohawk more when I have left the grass to grow an extra 1-2 days. I was wondering if I put one or both of the new blades in upside down (or even the same on the old blades after sharpening them). Thanks for the feedback….I will likely try to fix the mohawk and sell the D130. I weigh about 250. Any concern on the transmission of the ~2004 Simplicity Regent Hydro 14? (I always change the engine oil with synthetic, every year)
        Note: I am never on the slope for more than 10-20 seconds, but don’t want to stress the tranny to early failure. (Do you ever rate/review the Simplicity mowers…I did not see it on a search of Todaysmowers.com…I was impressed they used Vangard and Command engines…back in the day).
        Thanks Paul!

        • @Bob, Yes, It was rumored that Briggs was completely changing the Simplicity line so I haven’t been in to big of a hurry to review the current models. To be honest, new Craftsman owners have been keeping me almost too busy to write for the last few weeks. The new Craftsman tractors are really doing well.

  16. Do you know what tranny the new 2014 ariens from home depot uses? Looks like they could be the element rs800 as there’s no selector gear just petals.. And they’re not hydro.. Any idea?

      • Yeah I looked they’re black on the 2 auto models in store… Are they the element v rs800-rt400 or is there another company making auto CVT these days? The older ones were hit or miss.. But the new gentrans in the Deere d105 are getting good reviews was just hoping this auto is similar to the Deere and not some junk knock off one

        • @Joe, I don’t know. I don’t know which models are at your Home Depot. If you have the stock number go to the page on homedepot.com. Near the bottom of the page is a section called “Inof & Guides” Click on the replacement parts list. In there you can find the trans part numbers. Do Google search using the trans part number. If the trans part number comes up at searspartsdirect it’s a rs800.

  17. Paul, I just found your info, this is fantastic.

    I have a 3 yo DT3000 Craftsmen that has been great. At the end of the season, it started “jerking”, and then it seemed as if the gears were mashing (usually during a turn). If i went back into neutral, and then back into gear, the mashing sound stopped. I replaced the belt, and purged per the instructions, but with no luck.

    This is different than any other description I have found concerning transmission problems on this tractor, so I was wondering if you had any thoughts?

    Thanks,

    • @Greg, That’s a tough one to diagnose over the Internet. Let’s try a couple of things though.

      – Raise the rear end of the tractor off the ground (you can use your car jack) an inch or so. Spin the rear wheels by hand. One wheel should turn forward and the other in reverse. It should be smooth and no grinding noises.
      – Next, place one rear wheel on the ground and spin the free wheel. It should turn smoothly without grinding noises. If there more than a 1/2 inch of play before you can feel the gears inside the trans?
      – Check the other wheel.
      – In front of the right wheel is the parking brake (usually) it should be loose but not bent. Spin one wheel to see it spin.
      Read this article and use the info there to check the transmission bolts.

      If everything looks good at this point take it to a mechanic you trust. Everyone uses the same transmissions so it doesn’t have to be a Craftsman Mechanic.

      • Thank you so much for your very prompt reply. I will follow up with you once this deep freeze ends and the snow melts. Best regards,

      • Paul, My tractor is a DYT4000 built by AYP, so it is a bit older than I originally thought.

        I would like to check the bolts, what is the article you are referencing in your earlier reply?

        Thank you,

        Greg

    • @Anthony, The brands are treating transmissions just like another component like a starter, tire or steering wheel so it is very hard for a consumer to figure it all out. That’s why I’m here to help you find the best for you.

      As of right now Craftsman is the only brand that has this CVT. If the price of the tractor is less than $1500 it’s not the heavy duty CVT.

      • Paul, I’ve read your review on the craftsman 20385 but on the sears site it lists the trans as a hydrostatic, not a cvt auto. Thy list the 20390 as an auto.

        • @Anthony, at this time I am not trusting the descriptions on sears.com. Go to searspartsdirect.com and enter 917.20385 as the model number. Parts listings pop up there and it shows a CVT. I will check an actual tractor tomorrow.

  18. In this price range would you recommend a auto cvt trans or a hydrostatic? Also I’ve read some not so great reports on the kohler courage line of engines. It becomes confusing.

    • @Anthony, as of right now Craftsman is the only brand that has this CVT. So if you are looking at any other brands stick with a hydro.

  19. Paul, I’m looking at two craftsman models and hoping you could clarify their “automatic” trans. Item#7120374000 lists the trans as an auto. Would this be a cvt variable pulley type? Would you recommend it for mowing, light to medium pulling? On models with a hydrostatic trans they list it as a hydrostatic one. I’m looking for a simple tractor/mower with longevity/reliability in mind. Thank you, Anthony.

    • @Anthony, Yes, the 20374 is a light duty CVT that uses the variable speed pulley. The 20374 will work for mowing, and light pulling. It does not have cruise so you have to keep your foot on the pedal all the time when you are moving. It’s a good basic mower at a great price.

      If you would like a heavier duty 46 inch look at the 20385. I just posted my review of that tractor. It uses the new heavy-duty automatic CVT.

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  21. I have an older z 3050 toro time cutter. The hydrostatic drive started making a lot of noise this year. It functions properly but it just to loud! Is there anyway to service this unit?

    • @PJ. I am assuming you have the Toro zero-turn mower and not the Toro 3050 greens mower. The time cutter trans are sealed units and there are no user serviceable parts inside. You may want to talk to a large Toro dealer to see if it is cheaper to just replace the drive or if it can be rebuilt.

  22. Thanks Paul. I will be using it about 2-4 hours each week for about 6 months in the summer but not use much if any for about 6 months in the winter. I have a large hilly yard with most inclines less than 5 degrees but a couple of areas are perhaps 20 degrees. I am considering the 4 year extended warranty.

  23. Paul, you have a great site. I looked for a review about the Deere d110. I purchased one about a week ago and it works great. I sold my old lawn mower to a repair shop. The owner suggested that I get an extended warranty on the d110 because some of the d110 hydrostatic transmission have experienced problems after about 2 years. Should I be worried about the transmission?

    • @Don, If you mow about 2 hours a week, 25 times a year. (50 hours) If you don’t use it on hills more than 15 degrees. I would say that you will have no issues with the trans. If you use it more than that, I would consider the extended warranty.

  24. What Zero Turn Mower(s) would you recommend for less then one acre, residential usage, some hills (20-30 degrees), durable for 10 years, and less than 4000$. The names that I see locally are John Deere, Toro, Husqvarna, X Marks, Craftsman, Cub Cadet, Ariens, Kohler, Poulan, and Stihl.
    Thank you for your comment.

    • @Hank, There are no zero-turns under $4000 (residential) that will handle 20 degree slopes and last 10 years. If you really want a zero-turn look for a used 48 inch ExMark. Please make sure the drives (transmissions) and engine are good before you buy one.

  25. We have a manual trans mission Gt 5000. (yrs old and well maintained. We are stumped. Out of the blue the deck stopped engaging, the PTO switch popped out. My husband changed but still no luck. Thought it must be the clutch so we ordered one from sears. While waiting for it to arrive I read the manual and researched the web and found that it might be the 30 amp fuse,so we found and changed it and it started right up. Then the PTO popped again. Cant be the clutch because it initially engaged when we changed the fuse, and it never made any noises prior to this to indicate any problems. What do you think. Sears just kind of fluffed us off.

    • @Kathy & Jim, Sears will gladly send a tech out to diagnose and repair your problem. But they do not have anyone at a call center or store that can troubleshoot your problem over the phone. Only the computer industry has phone techs, but they charge for their time. That said,

      If you go and replace the fuse and it works again…the problem is the clutch. I have a clutch out of a Dixon zero-turn lying on a shelf in my garage with the same problem. You put in a new fuse and it works for about 10 minutes and then blows the fuse. I replaced the clutch with new and the mower works fine.

      The clutch is basically an electromagnet and the windings don’t always go bad all at once. The insulation around the individual wires of the coil fail over time and eventually the whole winding will short out (and catch on fire if you put too big of a fuse in the wiring)

      So even though it works after you change the fuse, the windings are failing and the problem will only get worse.

      If the clutch is bad the timing of the fuse blowing will be consistent. (every 5 seconds, 30 seconds, 5 minutes etc.) If there is a wiring problem the timing will not be consistent. (it blows when I hit a bump, or raise the deck, etc.)

      When you change the clutch please take pictures as you disassemble it. Use a camera or the camera on your phone. There are quite a few different belt guides and brackets that can trip you up if you don’t get them all back in the right place. Loosen bolts on the guides and brackets, don’t bend them out of the way. Be careful to route the clutch wire in the same way as the one you took off or it could catch and tear itself up when you go to use it after the repair.

  26. Help! I’ve read a number of your posts and I still can’t decide between the manual and hydrostatic versions of the Craftsman LT3000 42″ turn tight lawn tractor.

    I have less than three-quarters of an acre with moderate slopes and lots of bumps, ruts, roots, etc. I’m replacing a 38″/14 hp MTD with a 7 speed shift-on-the-go manual. It lasted through fifteen years of modest maintenance and serious abuse. The engine is still fine, but the transaxle seems to be shot — makes a clunking noise, oozes goo, and won’t go. I’m not crazy about the idea of having to stop every time I need to shift gears, but I’m also not crazy about having to use my right hand (instead of my left foot) to control my speed. More importantly, I’m a bit worried about how the hydro will hold up to handling my hills. If this tractor came with a shift-on-the-go version, I’d definitely go with that just because it’s what I know. Other than cutting grass, I might occasionally drag a small cart, broadcast spreader, dethatcher, or spike aerator. Possibly put a snow blade on it, too. Based on what I’ve read, I’m pretty sure that you’ll recommend that I go with the hydro, but I want to make sure I’m not missing something important. The price difference is down to around $50, so that’s not really an issue.

    Thanks for the great site and any helpful advice.

    • @Michael, The hydro on the YT3000 Model 28851 will hold up just fine. Typically you will need to replace the engine to trans belt a little more often using it on hills (every 3-4 years instead of every 6-8 years)

      I have been using an older LT2000 Craftsman with the same transmission in it as the YT3000 Model 25022. I have been using it to mow last fall and so far this year (my Dixon zero-turn has failed permanently) I also use it to pull 600-800 lb loads of dirt, sand and landscape rocks. My yard slopes 8 feet in 300 ft and I am always pulling the loads uphill. The mower previously was used to mow a flat lawn and the drive belt is about 10 years old. In the six months I have been using it I have noticed significant wear on the drive belt. When you let out the clutch it is now really jerky. (In higher gears it will pop the front wheels off the ground) I expect the belt to fail completely sometime this year. The transmission will last. I hear of very few transmission failures (maybe 1 in 50,000) no matter what you do with the tractor. I also don’t like to stop to shift, but I live with it because I’m too cheap to buy a better tractor at this point in time.

  27. I am looking at the Ariens 42in. 21 HP Briggs & Stratton Automatic gas Front Engine Riding mower (from Home Depot), and comparing it to a Craftsman of the same HP and deck size. Both are made by Husqvarna. The question is about the trans? the craftsman is a Hydrostatic, but the Ariens is just called an automatic? Both have the same type of fender controls. Is the Ariens a belt drive or a hydrostatic? What about the new composite axles?

    Thank You

    • @Mark, From what I can tell you are looking at the Model # 960460054 Ariens and either the 28884 or 28851 Craftsman.

      The Ariens uses a Tuff Torq TRANSAXLE, T2-CDBE-5X1A-18C1, The 28884 uses a variable speed drive and the 28851 Craftsman uses the tried and true K46 Tuff Torq trans. I was unable to get a parts break down of the Ariens but it does have a variable speed pulley on the top of the trans so it is not a true hydro. I don’t expect it to be a true hydro for the cheap price HD is asking for it.

      The Ariens compares favorably to the 28884 craftsman made for them by MTD. Briggs-Intek motor, tube steel front end and automatic trans. They are both good machines for flat lawns, no hills and pulling only light loads.

      The 28851 Craftsman has a better Briggs Intek Plus engine (they call it a platinum) has a better seat (whoopie!) has a heavier trans, and has the turn tight steering (6 inches verses the 14-16 inches on the Ariens)

      Composite axle – Let’s be honest. Ariens makes some great equipment but in this case this Ariens lawn tractor is made a cheaply as possible so HD can pull you away from Craftsman and all the others. And they will sell a ton of them to people who only want the lowest price and don’t care about quality. But people who want a good reliable tractor will see right through the plastic front axle, cheap motor and duplicate hood and see that HD is just out for their money on this one. Of the 3 lawn tractors in this discussion the 28851 Craftsman is clearly the best deal (and it’s only $200 more than the Ariens)

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  51. Hey Paul I have asked questions about my '09 Exccellerator before and from what I understand it has a hydrogear G730 trans. in it however I have not been able to get any specs on it. By specs I mean how musch it can to what the best tire sizes are and any other info I can get on it. I push my tractor to the limit a lot and I question myself sometimes whether or not I should tow 1000 lbs. of logs in my tow behind cart up a hill or pull a 30 foot tree out of the woods or pull cars out of the snow and I need to know some info on this trans. that way I can know when I should be careful about what limits I can push this transmission to.

  52. This site is great and thank for all the advice. I am currently looking at either a manual or automatic transmission model, but wondering about the reliability and maintainability aspects of the two compare. Not planning on using a tractor for ground type equipment, but possibly for carts, etc for a large flat open lawn. Any recommendations for a new kid on the block?

    • @Zack,

      I will always recommend a pedal control Hydrostatic Transmission over a manual or an “automatic” for the new kid. (Sometimes called a automatic hydrostatic)

      Why,

      1. A foot control “hydro” is the easiest to use. On the right side of the tractor you push on the big pedal to go forward and push on the little pedal to go backwards. Maintenance-wise the hydro is the most dependable. The belt from the engine to the transmission is always at the proper tension and usually lasts for years.
      Safety-wise the hydro is the easiest to learn and if you get in trouble just lift your foot off the pedal and the tractor will stop. The hydro also has “built in” braking. Under most conditions the transmission will hold the tractor in position without having to step on the brake. (Always set the parking brake when you get off the tractor though. It is normal for these transmissions to slowly creep (move forward or backwards) if left unattended.

      2. A fender control hydro is just as dependable, but it takes a little more practice to drive. You use your right hand to set the speed of your tractor, to stop the tractor and to make the tractor to go in reverse.

      3. An “automatic” transmission on the gray Craftsmans is a variable speed belt drive. The ground speed is controlled by your right hand and the forward/reverse is control with your left hand. You usually set the ground speed and then “shuttle” tractor forward and reverse as you mow. The “automatic” has two belts and if you ever use your tractor to pull heavier loads (like loads of dirt in your cart) you will wear out these belts. The tractor eventually will go slower than normal or slow to a stop going up a slope. You will have to change these belts more often than the one belt in the hydro model. I have had belts last 10 years in “normal” use and I have destroyed the belts in as little as a day trying to pull loads of dirt.

      4. Manual transmissions today do not have a clutch like a car or truck has. They use the belt tensioner from the engine to the transmission to start and stop the tractor. When you engage the clutch (lift your foot off the clutch with the transmission in gear) you are just tightening the belt tensioner. The problem is it is almost an on/off type of device. The “clutch” is either engaged or disengaged. This tends to make the tractor “jump” when you left out the clutch and I have a lot of people complaining about how jerky this is. If you have the transmission in 4 or 5 and the engine at mowing rpm many times you can pick the front wheels off the ground when you let out on the clutch. It takes some practice to start and stop a manual transmission tractor.

      What else would you like to know?

    • Thanks Paul! You answered all my questions. Understand your description of the manual drive train and see they all use belts, but is just a matter of how they are engaged. I’ll leave comments on my “new to me” home owner purchase. Thanks again, Zack

  53. I ended up with the hydrostatic – it's great. Went the whole summer with no issues. If you have hilly property a manual tranny might make sense as the hydrostatic doesn't have any "engine braking" so it speeds up some when you go down a hill. It takes a little getting used if it's hilly to but overall it's been a great mower – no issues.

  54. I have a 15 horse hydrostatic drive craftsman lawn tractor.

    I have had it about 9 yrs. The transmission wears out after about 4 years of use. I plow my drive in winter and my yard is on a hill so I use the transmission heavily.I need to rebuild the transmission again but think I would be better off buying

    a tractor that will hold up to the hill and snow removal. Is this a common complaint and what tranny do I need. Shifting gears on a hill is tough. I like the hydrostatic but it wears out fast.

    • @ Michael,
      This is not a common problem. In fact the Sears Service Techs feel the hydro is stronger and will hold up better than the manual trans.

      I suggest you look at the <code>GT 5000</code> It has a heavy-duty hydrostatic transmission. Sears calls this heavy duty unit a "Premium Hydrostatic Transmission"

  55. @joebillybob, The Sears service techs tell me the hydrostatic trans have the least repairs. The belt that drives the hydro also lasts longer than the one for the manual trans.

    But, the manual is usually 200 to 300 dollars less so you can buy a lot of belts over the life of the mower for that.

    I personally like the fender hydro controls because my foot gets cramps using the foot controls for a long time. But the hydros with foot controls on all the Craftsman mowers comes with cruise control and drives very similar to a car so many people like that.

    That said, if you have a lot of landscaping to mow around the hydro is easiest to drive. If you have large open areas to mow the cheaper manual works just as well because you just put it in a gear and go…go…go

  56. Your site was very helpful, thanks. One question re: transmissions. I'm going to buy a YT3000 and am trying to decide between the 6 speed and the hydrostatic. Many years ago I used a JD 212 w/ a 4spd manual and the manual suited me fine. Durability wise which type would you recommend?

    thx.

    • JoeBillyBob,

      What did you decided on? I am trying to make the same decision…it seems the hydrostatic would be easier cutting the grass. This will be my first yard tractor…and my yard is relatively flat with a small drainage ditch and some trees to go around. However, the 6 speed is a lettle less expensive and I understand repair bills are usually lower.

      Thoughts?