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Lawn Mower & Tractor Buying Guide (Interactive Video) | Consumer Reports


Every year in the
dead of winter, Consumer Reports Chief Power
Equipment Tester Peter Sawchuk heads to Florida. Tough gig, right? Actually, he spends six
weeks cutting, mulching, and bagging on
five acres of grass to test which lawnmowers make
the Consumer Reports cut, all so you have an easier
time when you go shopping. You’ll want to match
a mower to your lawn. There are three major
categories, manual reel, walk-behind, and riding mowers. Looking to put the manual
back in manual labor? The reel mower offers
a touch of nostalgia. When you push this mower, it
turns a series of curved blades that cut your grass. Generally, reel mowers
run from $70 to $200 and have a cutting width
of 14 to 18 inches. Reel mowers are best for small
plots of land, about an eighth of an acre. They’re quiet, inexpensive,
relatively safe to operate, easy to maintain, and good for
the environment since there’s no gas engine. But, our experts say,
keep these things in mind before buying one
of these throwbacks. Reel mowers tend to
bounce over bumpy terrain. If your yard surface is uneven,
consider a different style of mower or look for one without
small front wheels that might get stuck in divots or holes. You’ll need to keep your grass
height under three inches or it will get too hard to cut. That means trimming
more frequently, roughly every four days in
the height of growing season. Reel mowers leave grass
clippings on your lawn. So if you don’t
like that, you’ll have to get out
a rake or blower. But clippings are a
good source of nitrogen. Walk-behind mowers are the
most popular mowers in America. They’re best for small to medium
sized lots, about a half acre, depending on which
type you choose. They use a spinning rotary
blade to slice through grass, and usually have a cutting
width of 15 to 22 inches. You can choose
between models that run on gasoline engines, battery
power, or an electric power cord. More on that in a moment. First, you’ll need to
decide whether to opt for a push walk-behind mower
or a self-propelled one. Push mowers are less
expensive walk-behinds. A basic one costs
less than $200. They can tackle lawns
about a quarter of an acre or less, and most mulch,
bag, and discharge grass. While walk-behind push mowers
supply power to the blades, keep in mind, you’re still
doing all the pushing. Look for a push
mower with little to no flex in the handlebar. That way, you can
keep a sturdy grip. You’ll find models sporting
this indentation more comfortable to hold. Self-propelled
models do everything the push models
can, but can handle bigger yards than push
mowers, generally, anything under an acre. They’re a great
place to start if you don’t want to do all the
pushing because the engine also drives the wheels. They typically come
with cutting widths of about 21 to 22 inches,
and range from $250 to $800, depending on
features you choose. You’ll see side valve and
overhead valve gas engines. Overhead valve engines are a
premium option and only cost about $20 more. Plus, they start
easier, are quieter, and tend to last longer. Look for the letters
OHV on the engine. Next choice, single
or variable speeds. Single speed, self-propelled
mowers tend to cost less. But variable speeds let you move
faster when the job is easier, or slow down for thick grass. Variable speeds are available
in front, rear, and all wheel drive. If you’ve got a
relatively flat lawn, a front wheel drive mower
may be all you need. If you’ve got hills,
Consumer Reports says consider a
rear wheel drive. It delivers better
traction on slopes. It also helps if you bag grass. A mower’s front wheels tend
to rise as the bag in the back fills up. Most single speed mowers
have front wheel drive. You’ll generally need to
move up to multiple speed mowers for rear wheel drive. All wheel drive mowers boast
superior traction on hills, but they come at a premium. Now let’s talk power. Gasoline mowers perform
significantly better than corded electric and
battery powered mowers in Consumer Reports tests. Today’s gasoline models
are easy to start and offer stellar cutting
power, especially in tall, thick grass. Battery powered,
walk-behind mowers typically use a 24 to 80 volt
battery to power the mower. They’ll cost $300
to $500 or more, depending on whether you want
a push or self-propelled model. They’re generally quieter
and require less maintenance than gas engines. But they have smaller cutting
widths than gasoline mowers, 14 to 20 inches. And some batteries can make
the mower heavier and harder to push. Lithium ion batteries are
lighter than lead acid batteries and more powerful. And remember, batteries
require some maintenance. They need to be charged
even in the winter. Skip this step and your
battery may die for good. A well cared for battery
can last about five years. A new one costs over
$100, so factor that in. Then there are corded electrics. They’re inexpensive,
$160 to $250. But Consumer Reports
says the cord makes maneuvering extremely
difficult and dangerous if you run over it. And like battery
powered mowers, they have smaller cutting widths
than gasoline mowers. If you’re looking for
advanced features, you’ll find them mostly on
self-propelled walk-behinds. Here are the ones that
our testers like the best. Electric start on gas engines
is easier than pulling a cord. Single lever cutting
height allows you to move the deck up and
down with a single lever rather than
adjusting each wheel. Washout ports make it easy
to clean all those clippings under the deck. A blade brake engagement control
lets you release the handlebar and stop the blade while
the engine stays on. That way, you can empty
the bag or move an obstacle and not have to restart. If you got more than
an acre of land to mow, or you’re mowing for more than
an hour with your walk-behind, it might be time to
consider a riding mower. Almost all ride-ons are
powered by gas engines, but we checked out one
electric ride-on mower and we expect to see
more coming to market. Today’s riding mowers are a lot
more high tech, often souped up like cars with hydraulic power
steering, cruise control, satellite radios,
smartphone connectors, and some manufacturers
now offer apps that use a Bluetooth
connection to tell you when it’s time for maintenance. Nearly all ride-on mowers are
equipped with an overhead valve engine, either single or
twin cylinder engines. Consumer Reports says
twin cylinder engines provide a little more power,
particularly in heavier grass, run a little smoother, and
offer longer engine life. There are three types of
ride-ons, lawn tractors, zero-turn radius mowers, or
ZTRs, and rear-engine riders. Lawn tractors generally
cost $1,000 to $4,000, and have 42 to 54
inch cutting decks. They can bag, mulch, or
side discharge clippings. You drive with a steering
wheel, and some go as fast as 7 miles per hour. But Consumer Reports
says stick to 3 and 1/2 to 4 miles per hour, or you’ll
end up with clumps of grass on your lawn. Consider a narrow turning
radius on a tractor so it’s easier to cut
around obstacles like trees. For more money, a few tractors
have four wheel steering, where the front and back
wheels turn together for even tighter turning. But Consumer Reports
suggest skipping it. Turning radiuses are narrowing
on new two wheel steering tractors. Many tractors offer added
attachments like snow throwers, plows, and rototillers. We’re also seeing
hybrid machines like this utility vehicle. It can mow, tow, and
generate electrical power for all your other tools. Then there are
zero-turn radius mowers. This is our highest
rated category, and also the most expensive–
$2,300 to $4,000. These riding mowers are similar
to the ones landscapers use, with a rear engine and
rear wheel steering. They offer cutting widths
from 42 to 60 inches. Most ZTRs you drive using
a set of levers that accelerate, steer, and brake. That can be tricky if you’re not
accustomed to the design, which is why more manufacturers
are offering ZTRs with steering wheels. ZTRs can turn circles in one
place and are the fastest way to cut your grass. Like tractors, they can
side discharge, bag, or mulch your grass clippings. But on hills, ZTRs
can lose traction and are hard to
steer and control. And if you’re not careful,
the rear steering wheels can tear up your grass
during turns, especially at higher speeds. There are also
rear-engine riders. In many cases, these are
less expensive than ZTRs or tractors, about
$1,000 to $1,600. Since the engine is in
the back like a ZTR, there’s more trimming visibility
than with a lawn tractor. Rear-engine mowers also
tend to take up less space, so storing them is easier. However, they have
narrower cutting widths, about 24 to 33 inches. And while they provide a
decent cut, in general, Consumer Reports tests
find they don’t go as fast or handle as well
as tractors or ZTRs. As for features, ride-on
mowers have plenty. You’ll see conveniences like
high backed, comfortable seats, padded steering wheels,
and cup holders. Here are some other key features
our testers say to consider. Infinite drive
speeds is like having an automatic transmission
for your mower. An electric power takeoff
engages the blade electrically, instead of requiring
you to do it manually. Reverse lets you
mow going backward, helpful in tight areas. Look for fuel levels you
can see from the seat while you’re riding. Plenty of ride-ons come
with hour meters that track the number of hours the
engine has been operating, so you know when to
service your mower. A washout port makes it
easy to clean up the blade. You just connect a hose in
the port, turn on the hose, start up the machine,
and engage the blades and wash out clippings. This is easier than trying
to get under the tractor. Having a robot do all
your mowing sounds great, but you’ll pay for that. Prices typically start at $1,400
and go up to more than $2,000. That’s the cost
of a lawn tractor. You’ll need to set a
perimeter wire to keep the machine in your yard. The robot will randomly
crisscross within the wire and reverse direction when it
hits the wire or an obstacle. You can program
some using an app. They can mow when
you wouldn’t want to, at night and in the
heat, for instance. Consumer Reports
tests in the past found cut quality wasn’t as
good as conventional mowers, but we plan on checking
out some new robotic mowers this summer to see
how they perform. No matter which
mower you choose, it’s important to
take good care of it. Here are some top tips
from Consumer Reports. Store your mower
in a covered space. Wash away grass
clippings after each use. With powered mowers,
have the blade sharpened at the start of
each season, and about three to four more times after that. Sharp blades save fuel and
cut the grass more cleanly, making it healthier. Sharpen reel mower
blades every two years. Also, set the bedknife. This is the stationary
part of reel mowers the blades pass over
to cut the grass. The bedknife has to be
close enough to the blades so that they graze it
without hitting it, kind of like cutting
shears or scissors. You can buy kits to do
this, but Consumer Reports suggest finding a pro. If your mower won’t start,
bad gas is likely the culprit. Empty the old fuel and
make sure to add a fuel stabilizer next time. Replace spark plugs every 100
hours, or two to three years. Change the oil. For ride-ons, check
the manual to see how many hours the
machine can operate before it needs an oil change. For walk-behinds, change it
at the start of the season. Change the air filters
according to the owner manual instructions. If the belts look worn, frayed,
or cracked, get new ones. Check the tire pressure at
the start of the season. Finally, mow safely. Wear hearing protection,
keep children and pets away from running mowers, and
be careful mowing on hills. Most manufacturers include a
diagram in the owner’s manual you can use to figure out
whether the slopes in your yard are too steep. And keep gasoline in
an approved container, away from ignition sources. For all of our latest ratings
and reviews on lawnmowers, be sure to check out
consumerreports.org.

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22 thoughts on “Lawn Mower & Tractor Buying Guide (Interactive Video) | Consumer Reports

  1. I bought the Honda Mower in 2006 and 9 years later, I couldn't be happier with it.  The selling point for me was the ability to slide a lever from full bag to full mulch and anywhere in between.  The fact that it still starts on the first or second pull is just another plus.  

  2. I already knew most of this, since we have sold lawn and garden products for over forty years.
    Many of their trip rated products we sell, and have sold, for many years.

  3. I tried this and forget it it DOESN"T work on AT&T phones. So I bought a CALL Blocker from Amazon.com. It is called Sentry, and it works, just plug it in. You MUST have Caller ID for it to work.

  4. I'd like to see them review a few battery powered reel type mowers one year and compare how they compare to each other as well as battery powered rotary mowers. I'm certain that they'd perform best for most people, last longest, and require the least maintenance.

  5. Why buy new when a 30 year old used mower costs 50$? And it often cuts better, looks better than today's plastic toys and is easier to work on.

    I bought an early 1980's John Deere 116 lawn tractor a few years ago for $300, put another $100 in repair. It works perfectly and will probably last another 10 years.

  6. Regarding mower maintenance, that's my personnal tips here:
    Oil: Change at the start of each mowing season, 10W-30 is pobably fine
    All-around greasing of tractor: Before each mowing season
    Air filter: Change when dirty
    Fuel: Don't bother emptying the tank at the end of the season, don't bother with stabilizer
    Blade: Sharpen with a file before each mowing season, change when too much metal has been filed away
    Spark plug: Don't tough them unless engine runs bad
    Belts: Change when they break, get any belt that fits, don't need to be a "LAWN MOWER" belt
    Tire: Check pressure at the start of each mowing season, 10 psi all around is probably good
    Store your machine indoors and clean the deck after 5 cuts. Never had any trouble.

  7. Go with John Deere for lawn tractors, Toro for ZTR's and Honda for push mowers. They will last forever if you take care of them!

  8. IMHWO: bias against battery powered mowers here; some info absolutely not not correct. Research info for yourself, folks. PLEASE.

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