I use a riding mower to cut my grass. My yard has a short but somewhat steep slope on one side.

The instructions for my lawn tractor say to only cut up or down a hill, not across it, but doesn't explain why. The mower can make it up the hill but it's clearly struggling and I'm worried about needlessly stressing the powertrain. Is there some technical reason I can't mow across the hill, or are they just worried about the mower tipping over?

It seems like it would be a lot easier on the mower to go across it, and I'm confidant it wouldn't tip over, but I don't want the engine to seize up or something else dramatic. Does it make a difference if the engine is splash-lubricated or has a pressurized oil system (and if so, how can I tell?).

  • 2
    "somewhat steep slope" Can you specify how much (in degrees or percent)? If you say the engine is struggling going uphill, I guess it might be 15 % or more?
    – Suma
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 7:36

4 Answers 4


Rollover is, indeed, the major concern. And it's one that kills a number of people each year, all of whom were probably just as sure as you are that it wouldn't happen to them...

Don't be a statistic. If the maker of your mower recommends mowing up and down the slope, it's for a reason.

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    Had it kill a high school friend, it's why a lot of tractors come stock with rollbars now. Lawn tractors don't fall under the same rules as farm equipment, but being crushed and then hit by the business end of the mower deck should give a lot of pause for thought. Confidence that it won't tip isn't the same thing as avoiding a very dangerous mode of operation... Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 1:24
  • Well it certainly seems like this is the consensus. I may have been overstating the steepness of the hill, but I was also probably underestimating the risk. I will be careful, thanks for the tip!
    – Hank
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 3:08

The reason is potential for roll-over like Fiasco and Ecnerwal say.

Perhaps you should invest in a used smaller hydraulic walk-behind mower. That is what professionals do. Match the mower to the job. You can find them almost free.

Slopes are tricky to mow properly, have you considered making the sloped area into a planting bed?

Lawns should be mowed in a different pattern each mowing. Otherwise, you will get ruts, then the mower's wheels get in a rut and your grass gets scalped. Very evident on slopes.


How about splitting the difference and mowing on a diagonal? I mow my slope with a hand mower that adjusts its speed based upon how hard I push. I tend to mow the slope exactly the same all the time, but "exactly" is a relative term here. I don't worry about ruts and such, because I never really mow exactly the same twice in a row. But in the case of diagonal mowing, you could reverse the diagonal direction each time.

  • It has been awhile and obviously I didn't read this answer. Yes, and no. One direction is all it takes to make ruts. Usually that is horizontal to the slope. Diagonal does give you better and longer results with the ability to change directions by 2. I would never use a mower with drive to go up, always get up to the top of the slope and use gravity to assist to go down. You'll get grass stains on the walks and grass crowns killed by using traction to go up. There is a reason grass ain't the best answer for slopes of short depth. For a reel mower you just have to walk backwards up...
    – stormy
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 22:14

What is the approximate square footage of the area and what is the "curb appeal" of this section of your lawn?

I ask this because as a possible solution to the problem (struggling mower + rollover risk) would be to purchase/rent a trimmer and do the area manually with that.

  • Using a weed wacker/line trimmer is never the answer to lawns on slopes or anywhere. Pasture is fine but these lawns an absolute no. They are fine when you use a badly sharpened blade and come out with mohawks or weren't aware your settings were off on your deck. The edges, have to be done lightly, not short, at the same length as the body of the grass. Cool season no shorter than 3"!!!. Large areas would also need raking as the clippings would be very bad to leave on the lawn. The best answer is to NOT plant lawns on narrow slopes such as those you see all of the time in developments.
    – stormy
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 22:20

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