You see an ad for a snazzy lawn tractor at a good sale price. The ad is so vivid and attractive that it's easy to picture yourself riding instead of walking -- and with a cool can of refreshment right at hand. No more hard labor! Well, we hate to be pessimists, but here's the thing. In all the years we've been analyzing reviews of lawn tractors, we've never found a single model or brand that never, ever breaks down. Belts slip and keep slipping, a mowing deck can't be leveled because of a factory defect, the dealer misses a vital part of setup. You name it: it can break. That's why looking at the warranty and your options for service are an important part of finding the right lawn tractor.
Lawn tractor warranties vary
Of course the manufacturer provides a warranty. On a budget lawn tractor, it's apt to be two years. Toro warranties its zero-turn mowers for three, and John Deere provides a four-year warranty on its higher-end tractors such as the John Deere X304. It's important, though, to read the fine print. Note, for example, that the John Deere warranties are quantified in two ways, whichever comes first -- the number of months, or the number of hours of use (as reported by the tractor's hour meter, so be sure to check that when a new lawn tractor is delivered). Other fine print will limit the scope of what's covered so that the maker is only on the hook for problems caused by a manufacturing defect, not by poor maintenance or damage caused by the owner.
Typically, lawn tractor and riding mower warranties cover parts and labor (on manufacturing defects) but not transportation. Repairs, at least while the machine is under warranty, must be done only by an authorized repair service. The mechanic's transportation to your place isn't covered by the warranty. Nor is whatever it costs you to have your machine taken to the repair shop. Thus distance matters! Be sure to check the distance to the nearest authorized repair center for the brand you're considering, and give them a call yourself to be sure it's still there and still servicing the brand as brochures and websites can get out of date.
Also be sure to check how the dealer or other retailer you're considering handles problems that crop up within the first 30 days after delivery. Expect a retailer to let you exchange a problem machine for another new one -- but be sure of the exact policy before you make the buy.
The same considerations regarding manufacturer's warranties also apply to extended warranties. In addition, don't forget that, as always, an extended warranty is a calculated bet. Depending on its cost, the cost of the tractor, the extent of the coverage (for example, does it cover transportation costs to a repair center even while the manufacturer's warranty is still in effect), and the track record of the lawn tractor brand, an extended warranty might be worth considering in some circumstances. However, also keep in mind that many experts say that extended warranties pay off for the warranty company far more often than they do for the warranty purchaser. A better course is to stick with brands with better feedback for reliability, and we name top performers in that regard in our just updated lawn tractors report.