Lawn tractors and riding lawn mowers are ideal if you have a large yard or want a more comfortable way to cut your grass. Riding mowers are lighter and cost less than lawn tractors, which are capable of mowing larger properties and handling heavy work. Prices start around $1,000 for a basic mower, with deluxe models costing upward of $4,000. Experts caution that spending more doesn't guarantee a better cut. Instead, match your needs with your budget to find the best lawn tractor for you.
Professionals say brand reliability is important when choosing a durable lawn tractor: A brand with a solid reputation can save you money you may otherwise spend on repair bills. Keep the warranty in mind when comparing brands and consider annual maintenance costs when purchasing a new lawn tractor. Experts recommend keeping your mower in top running order to prolong its life. If you don't have the mechanical skills to maintain and repair your lawn tractor, you'll need to either take it to a repair shop or pay for an on-site mechanic to come to your home.
Besides delivering a neatly trimmed lawn, mowers must handle these basic functions: disperse clippings evenly, mulch clippings into fine pieces and have the option to bag clippings into an attached bagger. Not all models can do all three jobs equally well, and most lawn tractors require owners to purchase separate mulching blades. The best lawn tractors also use an electric power takeoff (PTO) button to engage the mowing blades; without it, a lever is used to manually start the blades. Step-through designs are common, allowing drivers to sit down without throwing their leg over a hump in the middle.
Manufacturers like to attract customers with claims of hefty horsepower, but this isn't the most important number to consider. "You can easily drive a 50-inch-wide cutting deck with a 15-hp engine, which means that 26 hp really isn't necessary," says Oscar Will in Capper's magazine, which discusses gardening and rural living. Instead, determine which deck size works best for your yard; the larger the deck, the faster you'll get the job done.
According to the acreage chart at TodaysMower.com, a 42-inch deck can mow about 1.4 acres in one hour when driving a steady 4 mph. A bigger deck isn't always better; if you have a lot of slopes and ditches, a smaller deck is a better way to get an even cut.
If you have a smaller yard, a lawn tractor may be more frustrating than useful. Instead, consider using a walk-behind lawn mower for lawns of less than half an acre. ConsumerSearch.com reviews the best gas and electric lawn mowers in our full report.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission tracks recalls for lawn tractors. Recent recalls include numerous models of Cub Cadet and John Deere lawn tractors for issues such as fuel leaks, faulty mower blade-brake assemblies and hydrostatic transaxle problems.
The most comprehensive comparison of lawn tractors is at ConsumerReports.org, where editors test more than 60 models. TodaysMower.com posts the most up-to-date information on new models, and reviews a wide variety of mowers and tractors. We also found side-by-side comparisons at Popular Mechanics and The Telegraph, and analyzed hundreds of owner comments posted at Lowes.com, HomeDepot.com, MowersDirect.com, Deere.com, Sears.com and Amazon.com.