What the best lawn tractor does

  • Cuts, bags and mulches cleanly and evenly. When cutting, the mower should disperse clippings without clumping and not scalp the lawn or leave marks in the grass.
  • Mows closely around obstacles. A close cut near landscaping elements, fence lines and other obstacles will save you time cleaning up edges with a walk-behind mower or string trimmer.
  • Offers a comfortable, intuitive ride. Controls should be easy to reach and use, the seat should be adjustable and cushioned, and the tractor should move smoothly with a minimum of jerking or excess vibration.
  • Includes several safety features. Among other safety features, riding lawn mowers' engines should shut down if the operator leaves the seat when the machine isn't in park, and most will require a special setting for reverse mowing.

Know before you go

What's your terrain like? Landscaping elements -- slopes, ditches, flower beds, ponds -- can be a challenge to keep tidy. If you have hills, especially those steeper than a 15 percent grade, select a lawn tractor that has adequate traction and stability. For properties with lots of obstacles, a zero-turn mower or a lawn tractor with a tight turning radius and reverse mowing will shorten your mowing time and reduce post-mowing cleanup.

How big is your property? For flat lawns up to an acre, experts recommend a riding mower or a light-duty lawn tractor with a 42-inch deck. Lawns between one and two acres are best maintained by a light- or medium-duty lawn tractor with a 46-inch deck. For properties larger than two acres or with numerous obstacles, a larger lawn tractor or a zero-turn mower might be best.

Will you use your lawn tractor for more than just mowing? With attachments such as garden carts, front blades and snow throwers, many owners use their lawn tractors year-round. Not all models are tough enough to haul wood or plow snow, however. If you plan on tasking your tractor with other chores, make sure it can handle the load and the proper attachments are available.

It's OK to ask for a demonstration. The dealer should take time to show you all the features on the lawn tractor and even demonstrate deck-height adjustments and other controls. Many consumers say this instruction helps them better understand their lawn tractors and improves their mowing.

Check all fluids and settings. Even with pre-purchase inspections, plenty of owners say they need to add oil and adjust the deck before the first mow. New owners often complain of uneven mowing, and many say an easy fix is to correctly adjust the level and height of the mowing deck.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

Experts say lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers are among the more fix-prone products on the market. That may make springing for the extended warranty seem like a no-brainer, but it's not so simple. These service plans are a huge moneymaker for retailers, and they're subject to frequent consumer complaints. To lessen your risk of landing in the shop, invest in a brand with a reputation for reliability, and don't skimp on routine maintenance. Check the strength of your manufacturer's warranty too -- two years is standard, but some companies back their riding lawn mowers for three or even four years.

Lawn Tractors Runners Up:

John Deere D110 Est. $1700

4 picks including: HomeDepot.com, PopularMechanics.com…

Toro TimeCutter SS5000 Est. $3300

2 picks including: HomeDepot.com, ConsumerReports.org…

John Deere Z235 Est. $2500

2 picks including: HomeDepot.com, PopularMechanics.com…

Cub Cadet LTX 1045 Est. $1600

2 picks including: HomeDepot.com, PopularMechanics.com…

Craftsman 420 cc 30-inch 6-speed Rear Engine Est. $1000

1 pick including: Sears.com, YouTube.com…

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