Types of Lawn Tractors
Lawn Tractors For Large Properties
If your lawn is two acres or larger, a traditional lawn tractor is your best bet. These front engine tractors boast tough frames, powerful drive trains and reliable performance. The best ones sport good ergonomics and features such as cruise control to make the time spent in the seat less tiring. These lawn tractors are also your best bets if you want to tackle more than just mowing -- for example plowing snow with a plowing attachment or hauling wood in an accessory cart.
A zero-turn mower puts the engine is in the back, leaving the front deck wide open for extra legroom and visibility. True to their name, zero-turn mowers are extremely maneuverable so are a good choice if you have a lot of elaborate landscaping. However, experts don't recommend them for yards with lots of hills or dips because they lack the traction and stability of a traditional lawn tractor. Zero-turn mowers can bag clippings and pick up leaves, but they typically aren't suited for hauling heavy garden carts or using attachments such as fertilizers, sprayers and snowplows. They're also pricier, in general, than typical lawn tractors.
Riding Mowers For Small Properties
Rear-engine riding mowers are meant for lighter duty but can typically handle regular mowing for lawns up to 1 to 2 acres. These riding mowers are often smaller and quieter than larger tractors, great for easy storage or fitting through typical garden gates, but they may be slower and less precise too. If all you want is a clean-cut lawn, there are a few riding mowers that can mow, mulch and bag at a cost of around $1,000. Pricier models perform better, however, including a cordless electric model that also eliminates most of the headaches of maintaining a gas engine.
Is a riding mower right for you?
Lawn tractors and riding
mowers are ideal if you have a large
yard or simply want a more comfortable way to cut your grass than a push mower or
even a self-propelled mower can provide. They can significantly reduce mowing
time and keep you from breaking a sweat. However, they aren't the ideal solution for every lawn or situation.
Even compact riding
mowers will still require a fair amount of storage space in your shed or garage,
so beware if space is tight. Lawn tractors also require more routine
maintenance, guzzle more gas and spit out more exhaust than push mowers, though
cordless electric riding mowers are available, and one rates highly enough to
be a consideration for those with smaller properties (up to two acres). Homeowners
with a lot of hills and landscaping need to choose even more carefully; some riding
lawn mowers can handle these tasks, others aren't quite as adept as a regular
lawn mower -- and it can be downright dangerous to use a riding mower --
especially zero-turn mowers -- on steeper slopes.
Finally, if your
property is on the small side -- a half acre or under -- a riding tractor might
simply be overkill, making a self-propelled mower or even a basic push mower
the less expensive, more practical choice, and
those are covered in our lawn mower report. To put the finishing touches
on your yard work, we also offer reports on string trimmers and hedge trimmers.
Make safety a priority
Most riding lawn mowers have
similar safety systems, including mechanisms that shut off the engine if you
leave the seat while the mower isn't in park. But there is much more to mower
safety, particularly when it comes to cutting grass on slopes. Be sure to read
your lawn tractor's manual for safe-operating practices. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) also offers a guide. And while they can
sometimes seem to be a nuisance, don't try to override a tractor's built-in
safety interlocks. Finally, check for recalls -- several mowers have been the
subject of recalls for reasons including fire risks and laceration hazards in
recent years. The CPSC also has the latest information regarding lawn
Finding The Best Lawn Tractors
"Lawn Mowers & Tractors"
"Pick the best riding mower for your property"
"Riding Lawn Mowers"
To find the very best lawn tractors, our editors turned first to expert
reviews. Currently, no reviewer looks at more riding mowers than
ConsumerReports.org, which reports on around 50 lawn tractors, including zero
turn mowers. No expert has more insight on lawn tractors than Paul Sikkema of
TodaysMower.com. While it appears that his hands-on testing is limited, he
still provides valuable information on the pros and cons of many tractors. Popular
Mechanics offers a four-tractor comparison of sub-$2,000 tractors, but it
appears that most are now discontinued. User reviews provide the rest of our
research. We looked at thousands of reviews spread across sites such as
HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com, Sears.com, MowersDirect.com and elsewhere.
With that research under our belts, we analyze the feedback to rate
factors such as performance, ease of use and safety. The results are our picks
for the best lawn tractors, riding mowers and zero turn mowers available, including
some that are suitable for smaller properties and/or smaller budgets, and
alternate choices that are worth considering.