Lawn tractors are ideal if you have a large yard or simply want a more comfortable way to cut your grass than a push mower can provide. Also called riding lawn mowers, lawn tractors cut way down on mowing time and keep you from breaking a sweat. If you're in search of a more traditional push mower, check out our lawn mower report, and if you want more futuristic options, we recommend some robotic lawn mowers. To put the finishing touches on your yard work, see which string trimmers are best.
Whatever your needs, lawn tractors can get the job done. Riding lawn mowers meant for lighter duty can typically handle regular mowing for lawns up to 2 acres. Though their engines aren't as powerful as more expensive lawn tractors, they can tackle jobs such as mulching and bagging, and they can haul small carts and other attachments. They're often smaller and quieter than larger tractors, but they may be slower and less precise too. Light-duty tractors run from under $1,000 to about $3,000. If you have more acreage or want to take on jobs such as hauling wood or plowing snow, a lawn tractor for medium or heavy-duty jobs might be a better pick. These machines boast tougher frames, two-cylinder engines and reliable performance. They'll cost more upfront, but can save you money in the long run because of their longer life spans. These souped-up machines may cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000.
Most lawn tractors share similar cons. Whether you pick a light- or heavy-duty machine, all require a fair amount of storage space in your shed or garage, so beware if space is tight. They also require more routine maintenance, guzzle more gas and spit out more exhaust than push mowers. Homeowners with a lot of hills and landscaping also need to choose carefully -- though some riding lawn mowers can handle these tasks, others aren't quite as adept as some push mowers.
Zero-turn mowers make cutting around obstacles a breeze. A zero-turn mower looks different from a typical lawn tractor. The engine is in the back, leaving the front deck wide open for extra legroom and visibility, and in place of the steering wheel are two levers that control direction. There's a bit of a learning curve when operating a zero-turn mower for the first time, but most owners say they quickly become accustomed to models with user-friendly steering and controls. True to their name, zero-turn mowers are extremely maneuverable if you have a lot of elaborate landscaping, but experts don't recommend them for yards with lots of hills or dips because they lack the traction of other mowers. 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 than typical lawn tractors, ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 -- or even more for commercial-grade machines.
Cheap lawn tractors get the job done without a lot of extras. If you simply want a clean-cut lawn, there are a few riding mowers that can mow, mulch and bag for around $1,000. These are best for smaller yards of up to an acre. Some are more compact, which means you'll save on storage space, and they may have narrower cutting decks that can fit through standard gates. Most cheap riding mowers lack the standard features of larger lawn tractors such as high-back seats, cruise control or headlights. Many can't mow in reverse, which can be inconvenient, and some aren't built for hauling or using complex attachments like a snowplow. They might not be built to last quite as long as pricier models, and warranties may be shorter. But if all you want to do is knock down your lawn in a shorter time, these are for you.
Read up to ride safely. 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 also offers a guide. Finally, check for recalls -- several mowers have been the subject of recalls for reasons including fire risks and laceration hazards in recent years.
ConsumerSearch has analyzed expert and customer reviews to evaluate performance, ease of use and safety for popular lawn tractors. The results are our picks for the best lawn tractors on the market.