What the best lawn tractor does

  • A clean, even cut is essential. The best mowers leave a neatly trimmed lawn in every cutting mode: side discharging, mulching and bagging. When cutting, the mower should disperse clippings without clumping, and not scalp the lawn or leave marks in the grass.
  • Mows closely around obstacles. By getting a close cut near landscaping elements, fence lines and other obstacles on your property, you save time because you don't have to go back and clean up edges with a walk-behind mower or string trimmer.
  • The ride feels comfortable and stable. The seat is cushioned and adjustable, controls are accessible and straightforward, and the tractor has adequate traction so it feels well balanced.
  • Meets safety guidelines. The best lawn tractors meet American National Standards Institute safety recommendations: a switch to stop the mower blades when you get off the seat, a seat at least 4.5 inches high, and reverse mowing allowed only with an override. Only with zero-turn mowers can you mow in reverse without switching on the override.
  • Quieter engine noise. Typically, two-cylinder engines vibrate less and are quieter than one-cylinder engines. No matter what engine type powers your lawn tractor, safety experts say you should always wear hearing protection.

Know before you go

What's your terrain like? Landscaping elements -- slopes, ditches, flowerbeds, ponds -- can be a challenge to keep tidy. If you have inclines, especially those steeper than a 15 percent grade, select a lawn tractor that has adequate traction and stability for hills. 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 the amount of post-mowing cleanup.

How big is your property? Don't get pressured into buying more mower than you need. 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 1 and 2 acres are best maintained by a light- or medium-duty lawn tractor with a 46-inch deck. For properties larger than 2 acres or with numerous obstacles, a larger lawn tractor or a zero-turn mower is 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.

Consider a service plan. These cover regular maintenance for new mowers. Even if you intend to service the lawn tractor yourself, make sure there's a service center nearby for potential warranty issues.

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