Ride-on mower buying guide: How to find the best ride-on mower
Compare ride-on mowers to get the best results for your lawn.
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Quick facts about ride-on mowers:
- The best ride-on mower for you depends on the size and slope of your yard, the obstacles you need to mow around and your budget.
- If you've got a big lawn to mow, tackling it with a conventional push mower can be sweaty, back-breaking work. However, with a ride-on mower, keeping your lawn looking good is much quicker, easier and more convenient.
Why should I consider a ride-on mower?
If the lawn you need to mow is half an acre (2,000m²) or more, a ride-on mower could be a smart purchase for several reasons:
- Simple and convenient. Rather than sweating it out with a walk-behind mower, ride-ons offer an easier and gentler way to keep your lawn looking good. All you have to do is fire the mower up and sit back in comfort, steering it around while it does the hard work for you.
- Practical. Getting a ride-on mower will help you stay on top of physically demanding lawn maintenance.
- Designed for large lawns. Most walk-behind and push mowers have a maximum cutting width of 50cm. Ride-on mowers offer cutting widths ranging from 70cm to more than 135cm, meaning you can cover more territory.
- Fun. While the fun factor will hardly be a major consideration for prospective buyers, it's hard to deny that there's a certain level of enjoyment to be found zipping around your yard on a ride-on.
Why shouldn't I consider a ride-on mower
- Not needed for small yards. If you've got a small suburban yard, a ride-on mower is overkill. For anything up to 500m², a walk-behind or push mower will usually be more than adequate, and a ride-on nothing more than an unnecessary expense.
- Cost. Ride-on mowers aren't cheap, so if you're going to part with well over $1,000 of your hard-earned cash, you'll want to be certain that it'll actually be spent on something you need.
What types are available?
There are three main types of ride-on to choose from, each of which is suited to a specific type of lawn:
- Lawn and garden tractors. These mowers use the traditional design most people think of when they picture a ride-on mower. They feature an engine at the front, steering wheel and pedals, and they usually eject grass out the side. They feature large cutting widths and are usually best suited to lawns without too many obstacles. "Garden" tractors are typically bigger than "lawn" varieties and boast more power along with wider cutting decks.
- Rear-engine ride-ons. The most basic and usually the cheapest option, rear-engine mowers also feature a steering wheel and are known for having a smaller chassis and cutting width. They can't match the power of other ride-ons, but their size and manoeuvrability make them worth considering for smaller lawns and those with limited storage space. Think of them as the next step up from a self-propelled mower.
- Zero-turn mowers. Known for their tight turning circle, these mowers feature a rear engine and are controlled using a pair of levers. While these levers can take a while to get the hang of, the manoeuvrability of zero-turn mowers is a big selling point. They also boast large cutting widths and lightweight frames, allowing you to cover more ground faster.
How to compare ride-on mowers
Before you choose a ride-on mower, take a moment to think about your lawn. How big is it? Is it flat or sloping? Are there obstacles like trees and garden beds you need to mow around? This will help you narrow down your mower choices and decide what features you want in a ride-on.
When comparing ride-on mowers, consider the following:
Engine and power output
Rear-engine mowers tend to be smaller and have less power than their front-engine counterparts. More power means more cutting ability but it also uses more fuel, so compare the power output figures for all models. While 16-20Hp will be sufficient for lawns of up to an acre, larger areas may require more power.
Check the torque figures as well, as more torque means a better cut in tall or thick grass. Finally, don't forget to consider the type of engine. V-twin engines offer more power and less vibration than single-cylinder engines, and the reduced vibration generally means longer engine life and greater comfort.
Safety features include a seat safety switch that shuts off the blades when you get off the seat, and automatically shutting off the blades when you select reverse.
The ideal cutting width will depend on the size of the area you have to mow; however, remember that any obstacles and the type of terrain you have to mow could influence the width you choose. As a general guide:
- For 1 acre or less, a cutting width of 30-42 inches (approx. 76-107cm) will suffice
- For 1-2 acres, 42-50 inches (approx. 107-127cm)
- For 2+ acres, look for a cutting width of 50 inches (approx 127cm) and above
Just like cars, ride-on mowers come with a choice of either automatic or manual transmission. While automatic/hydrostatic transmissions are easier to use, manuals are generally cheaper.
Check the maximum and minimum cutting heights of any model you're considering. Find out how many different height settings are available so you can mow your lawn to your precise requirements.
Comfort and ease of use
It's a good idea to actually sit on any model you're thinking of buying to check how comfortable it'll be for long periods of use. Also look to make sure that all the instruments and controls are within easy reach. For example, is the fuel gauge easy to see at all times? How can you adjust the cutting height? What is visibility like around the mower? Is there an hour meter to help you track when engine maintenance is due?
The top speed isn't the be all and end all. While motoring along quickly is great in open spaces, you may also want something that's easy to control in tight areas.
Some models also offer cruise control if you want to lock in a specific speed.
Check the fuel capacity to get an idea of how much territory you'll be able to cover before needing to refuel. Unfortunately, fuel economy figures aren't widely available.
Other things to consider
- Mulching, catching and accessories. While your mower can just spit out the cut grass if you want, many models offer catchers or an on-board mulcher to provide a neater finish. Some models also come with other towable accessories, such as sweepers to clean up leaves and debris or spreaders to distribute fertiliser.
- Safety features. Safety features include a seat safety switch that shuts off the blades when you get off the seat, and automatically shutting off the blades when you select reverse.
- Maintenance. What regular maintenance tasks are required and how easy are they to perform? For example, is it easy to access and change the air filter and oil? What about servicing requirements?
- Reliability. Read independent user reviews to find out whether ride-on owners have experienced any reliability issues. In situations where they have, were those issues fixed under warranty?
- Manoeuvrability. If you've got tight corners or obstacles to navigate, a tight turning circle and easy manoeuvrability are crucial.
- Size and weight. The dimensions of a mower will not only affect how easy it is to manoeuvre but also how much storage space it takes up. If you have limited room in your shed, this could influence the model you choose.
- Warranty. Check how long the manufacturer's warranty is and exactly what it covers.
- Cost. From around $1,500 for an entry-level garden tractor to more than $5,000 for larger and more advanced models, ride-on mower prices vary substantially. Make sure you understand exactly what you're getting for the price so you know whether a mower offers good value for money.
Which ride-on mower is best for me?
The best ride-on mower for you will depend on your personal circumstances. For example, if you've got roughly a half-acre of grass to mow among obstacles like trees and garden beds, the right model for you will be different to the best choice for someone with a few acres of wide-open grass.
The most important thing you can do is compare the features of ride-on mowers in line with your requirements. To help make this easier, we've compared five popular ride-ons in the table below:
|The good||The bad|
|Troy-Bilt TB30 R Neighbourhood Rider|
|Cub Cadet XT1 LT42|
|Poulan Pro PPX46Z|
Ride-on mower safety tips
- Protect yourself. Wear glasses or safety goggles as well as ear muffs/plugs and closed-toe footwear when mowing.
- Check before you mow. Give your ride-on a once-over to ensure that it's safe to use. Check that the fuel filler cap is closed, the spark plug lead is secure and that nothing is clogged with grass clippings.
- Clear debris. Before starting your mower up, make sure the lawn is clear of debris like branches, sticks and kids' toys.
- Be careful on slopes. Mow up and down on slopes – never across them – to avoid tipping over. Remember, many models weigh in at 150kg or more, and with a person on top, their centre of gravity rises. You may also wish to consider an all-wheel-drive model for extra grip if mowing sloping terrain.
- Take care when reversing. Always check behind you to make sure there are no people, animals and objects before reversing.
- Take it easy. Drive slowly and use caution when turning to prevent your mower tipping over.
- Shut down blades. Make sure the blades are shut down before getting off the mower, even if you're only climbing off briefly to move debris out of the way.
- Not for kids. Keep children away from ride-on lawnmowers at all times.
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