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Since the Middle Ages, the people who could, kept lawns for aesthetic and recreational purposes. A large and well-kept lawn is a thing of beauty, however, if you own or work a relatively larger lawn (a half acre or more) it can be not only time-consuming but physically difficult to maintain – especially when dealing with uneven terrain. If you don’t want to do the work yourself, you can pay professionals, but that can be extremely expensive when done on a regular basis.
A riding lawn mower lets you work and maintain an extensive property without the physical and time-consuming strain of push mowers and the expense of hiring outside help. In many ways, they are an investment in both time and money.
Our Top 3 Picks
With this purpose in mind, we have assembled a list of the ten best riding lawn mowers available for purchase today. We combed through an extensive list of many possibilities before deciding on the ten that should be showcased. Not all riding lawnmowers are built the same. Some riding mowers can quickly prune and clean up 6 or more acres, while others struggled to efficiently accomplish much simpler tasks. Theoretically, this list should help you wrap your head around this big purchase and find the right product for your needs. I will guide you through not only the top ten list but a breakdown of the criterion which was factored in, as well as answer some common questions about riding lawnmowers in general.
Something else to note: An effort was made to avoid duplicating similar mowers from the same brands, for example, the Troy-Bilt Mustang Zero-Turn Rider – there are a couple of models with almost the same specs with the biggest difference between these similar products being a traditional steering wheel versus lap bars. Due to the nature of the list, we only included one version of these near identical products. Typically the machine with the better value was added if applicable.
The ranking on this last was done in with a price/value ratio. Although a riding lawnmower like the Husqvarna 967324101 is all around more powerful and efficient than the Troy-Bilt 382cc, its ranking wasn’t as high since it was decided that the Troy-Bilt was of a better value for your dollar. This criterion is explained in more detail later on in the article. It is also worth considering both of those tools are best suited to completely different sized lawns, and the Husqvarna 967324101 would be a much better purchase for those working lawns of many acres in size.
Fairly Powerful Engine
Good turning radius
Strong cutting power
Perfect for smaller even-terrain properties
Lacks the power and cutting deck for larger jobs.
Some areas like the seat spring design and footrest are rather low quality.
Great overall performance of most tasks.
Excellent air filtration and cooling make this useful for extended periods of time.
Bumper and headlights give a very good level of safety even at night.
Top Heavy, issues on steep slopes.
Complaints of the plastic console is rather flimsy.
Easy to clean and easier to operate.
Good ergonomic design.
Requires consistent pedal leg pressure (can be tiring in long jobs).
Only really suited for obstacle-free terrain.
Large fuel tank.
Great maneuverability and control.
Three blade trimming for a great even cut.
Comfortable to use.
May slow down on hills.
Adjustments can be difficult.
Well suited for a medium sized piece of uneven terrain.
Not as smooth as a hydrostatic transmission.
The battery can be fussy - some people complain of starting problems.
Highly effective commercial level rising mower.
Avoid steep downgrades.
Cleaning can be difficult.
Can take some effort to master speed and steering controls.
A basic device that does exactly what it is built for.
Able to operate on inclines that other riding mowers would have trouble with.
NO parking brake.
No reverse blade operation.
Not the most maneuverable.
Great cutting and operational power.
Advanced and thoughtful design.
Outclasses many more expensive riding mowers.
Size and turning radius can make it difficult to use in small spaces.
Zero-point you can actually use on inclines.
Classic Steering wheel design.
Heavy Duty design that doesn’t feel as heavy as it is.
Can be fitted with double bags, mulching kit, snow/dover hook up.
Like most other ride mowers, certain console pieces are easily breakable/flimsy.
A bit too much play in the wheel.
Extremely well engineered and assembled.
Fast, powerful and versatile.
Easy to clean and maintain.
Mediocre turn radius.
Not great for tight spaces or angles.
When making this list, we went through an extensive list of lawnmowers and rejected a large number of them. We then had to roughly rank those that we deemed worthy of the top ten list. In order to make these complex decisions a solid amount of criteria was weighed and measured. Certain criteria are fairly obvious – Price, Speed, Maneuverability, etc. though other criteria are much more subjective – like comfort. It may not be immediately obvious why a seemingly superior lawn mower was excluded from the list or ranked lower than one that did make the list and/or was ranked higher. In order to clarify the decisions made I have listed here the criterion we judged on and provided a small description of how it was approached.
Keep in mind that many of the mowers we listed are superior to one another depending on the job you are doing. You want the larger more expensive mower if you are working a large plot of land – even though it may have ranked lower in overall “value” – to you it will be much more valuable. Evaluate the power and abilities of the mower you are considering before making a purchase. In the FAQ later in this article I describe the lawnmower size, power, and maneuverability and what type of work they are best suited to.
Since this list rates riding lawnmowers ranging in price from around $1,200 – $5,000, we had to rank it on a curve of a value/price ratio. For example, if one mower was 50% less expensive but could still accomplish around 75% of the same tasks as a superior lawn mower – it ranked higher in overall value since you were getting more for every dollar spent. Average lifespan, when known, was also considered. Even if you spend twice as much on a product and it lasts four times longer overall – it definitely demonstrates an overall value. Sadly we were not able to get a predicted lifespan for every tool.
If you are trying to work a half dozen acres, the speed of the mower is something you should strongly consider. It could make the difference between an hour long job and a three hour long one in some cases. If you are a professional, a high-speed tool will help you finish the job quicker and move on to other tasks – increasing your daily profits.
Depending on the type of mower, the engine may either have back or front placement and will vary in horsepower availability. The larger the area you are working, the more power you will typically want. Generally speaking, the more horsepower a tool has, the more work it can do in a given amount of time. This, of course, overlaps heavily with the speed rating – though they are not synonymous.
Not a huge difference was made between gear driven and automatic lawnmowers – though in actual usage this difference can be quite significant. This is explained further in the FAQ section.
In the FAQ I go into more detail about standard turning styles, four-wheel turning, and zero-turn lawnmowers. Suffice to say here, the easier it is to maneuver a riding lawnmower, the better it is suited to more complex jobs. Most jobs require a bit of dexterity – some require a lot.
This is an entirely subjective viewpoint – and most lawnmowers just need a little getting used to. With that said, there are a few that either standout in comfort or in discomfort for whatever reasons – and these considerations were factored in.
Have you ever wondered if you should get a garden tractor or lawn tractor to replace your regular mower? Do all the different features and options on tractors seem overwhelming to you? What do all those words mean?
Here’s an expert overview of garden and lawn tractors and how they stack up against both traditional mowers and each other. Read on to learn why you might maintain your yard or garden more efficiently with a tractor, and save time and money with these unbiased, honest reviews of the best garden tractors.
This tractor has a tough transmission that can handle hills, yet it’s quiet. Users like the push-button differential lock and its level cut even on uneven lawns. They also like its easy steering and relatively tight turning radius. The fabricated deck is a nice touch.
There’s no real user manual with this machine (although you can download PDF files), and some DIYers have had a hard time ordering parts because of this. Users sometimes have a bit of trouble attaching the front brush guard. The fabricated deck can get clogged with clippings; some users recommend cleaning it manually first before using the hose with the deck washout.
This is a popular model that gets a lot of users switching from other brands. There’s lots to be had for the money here, and with its sturdy frame and body, as well as its fuel efficiency, this Husqvarna is a good deal at this price point.
Users like the smooth operation and easy steering of this tractor, yet it’s sturdy enough to easily handle ground-engaging tasks. Users also laud its starts-every-time reliability.
This tractor may need more weight for winter operation. (Weights can be purchased separately and self-installed.)
This model can handle hills and large surfaces with ease, summer or winter. Winter users will like the LED high illumination headlights and durable corrosion-resistant frame.
The best feature of this tractor is its ability to handle tight turns. Users also praise it reliable start, hill-climbing ability and comfort (armrests are standard).
The same thing that makes this model so popular can lead to problems with it. Some users feel the front end is not up to the stress put on the tractor by tight turns, which can result in issues with the front axle and wheels. By having to slow down considerably on turns to avoid over-stressing the front end, users are seeing longer hours logged on some jobs. With a manual transmission, having to constantly slow down can also be a nuisance.
This tractor is a good buy at a lower price point. Users who need to perform numerous tight turns at speed may be better served by going up a level. Also, there are a fair number of plastic parts on this model, so if you’re hard on your machinery, a tractor with more metal may be a better choice. If you’re less concerned with turning and want a good price on a vehicle that can climb hills, this is a solid contender.
These top three tractors were chosen based on expert evaluation of features and user lawn and garden tractor reviews, as well as independent testing for performance. These machines have to pass rigorous exams for things like hillside stability, where tractors have to haul full bags of clippings uphill without wobbling and handle jack rabbit starts. Lawn cutting is scrutinized for evenness, and each tractor’s turning radius is recorded for ease of operation and efficiency on tight turns, plus stability. They represent a cross-section of user needs, so there is a vehicle for virtually everyone in this top three selection.
This question is often the first place buyers get caught up when thinking about making a purchase. Of course you’re familiar with push-style mowers, but what about riding mowers? How are they different from lawn and garden tractors? It’s confusing, because many people, even manufacturers, use these terms interchangeably when really they shouldn’t.
First, a riding mower is just that: a mower. It’s not designed or equipped to perform tasks other than cutting grass. Often the decking (the part of the mower where the grass is expelled) is positioned more forward on a riding mower.
A lawn tractor is the next step up in duty. It can cut grass like a riding mower, but it has a hitch, or can take a hitch, so you can attach other equipment for light lawn tasks, such as pulling a bagger or cart.
A garden tractor is the most versatile of the three. While it can mow grass, it can also perform many more functions. Like a lawn tractor, it has a hitch for rear attachments, so you can pull items with it. The big difference with a garden tractor, however, is that it can do more heavy-duty work in tougher terrain. Garden tractors have larger wheels, which give them higher clearance in rough soil, such as a freshly tilled garden. Visually, you can tell if you’re looking at a garden tractor, because the rear of the frame slopes upward to accommodate this feature.
Garden tractors also have more rugged transmissions to handle pulling heavier equipment (plows, tillers, box scrapers, etc.) and traveling up steeper slopes. Traction control or differential lock (makes the rear wheels work in unison) can also be found on garden tractors to prevent slipping on uphill climbs, and they can manage slopes greater than 15 percent, which riding mowers and lawn tractors cannot do safely.
If you have more than acre of grass to mow, you should consider switching from a push-style mower to a riding machine. If all you’re going to do is cut grass, a riding mower may be fine for you. However, if you think you’re going to want more features and flexibility, you may want to look at lawn and garden tractors.
More amenities often mean an increase in price, but it may be worth it in the time and energy you save maintaining your yard and garden. If you’re an avid vegetable gardener and want to create a larger plot, a garden tractor can help you till it and keep it turned over in the future. Are you tired of keeping up your horse arena by hand? Consider being able to drag it with a garden tractor. Maybe you won’t ever take your vehicle off the lawn or pavement, but would like to haul firewood or bagged clippings. A lawn tractor may be the perfect choice.
Check out our reviews for the following garden tractors:
There are a number of factors you need to take into consideration when buying a tractor, so you may want to create a checklist or chart for yourself when you’re out shopping or looking online. Take a walk around your yard and look at all the tasks you’d like your tractor to perform. The best garden tractor or lawn tractor for you is the one that suits your individual needs.
In addition to reading the garden tractor reviews below, talk to the folks at your local farm or garden equipment center. Have a chat with your neighbors too. Chances are if you’re in a more rural area, your neighbors have properties similar to yours. Ask them how their tractors fare on hills, in heavy soil, or with repairs.
If you are buying a tractor primarily to cut grass, first think about the terrain you’ll be mowing. Do you have a lot of hills or steep slopes? You may want to limit your selection to garden tractors.
Do you have a lot of trees or other obstacles in your yard, such as permanent hardscaping elements (fountains, barbecues, etc.)? A zero-turn radius tractor may be the best in that case. Zero-turn radius tractors take a bit more skill to operate and cost more too, but they may be well worth it if you’re mowing every week. These machines can perform super tight turns, allowing you to mow close to obstacles and save yourself having to go back to trim them with a weed whacker. The only downside to a zero-turn radius machine is that it cannot be used safely on slopes of ten percent or more.
What mode do you plan operate your tractor in? Tractors can be used in three different modes:
Expect to pay extra for mulching or bagging kits added to a tractor. When considering mulching or bagging, think realistically about how tall your grass gets between mows and how often you will need to be emptying a bag if you go with that mode.
Look at performance reviews for the tractors you are entertaining purchasing. Cutting should be uniform with no ridges of uneven height. Horse power may come into play with other ground engaging tasks, but it does not equate to better cutting performance. Mulching systems should yield no clumps. In general, tractors with large decks cut less evenly, and they have more blades, so there is more on the machine to maintain. They also take up more space, so they are best for wide expanses of lawn with few obstacles.
The best garden tractors and lawn tractors handle easily. For the smoothest operation, an automatic tractor is your best bet, though it will cost a bit more than a geared machine.
Other performance features that you want to consider include:
In addition to attachments for your hitch, there are some built-in tractor attachments you may want to look for. There are two ways to engage your blades for mowing. You can activate them manually with a spring-loaded lever. However it’s easier with an electric PTO (power takeoff). While this feature demands more money, it can extend the belt life of the vehicle.
A deck wash-out port that you can attach to your hose is another handy feature. This keeps the underside of your tractor clean by getting rid of accumulated grass there. This can be a particular problem with mulching tractors. Many of the best garden tractors have elements like these as part of their standard specifications.
While there used to be over 100 tractor brands on the market in the US, there are now significantly fewer. You want to pick from one of the top brands (see below) that have a history of solid performance and good customer service. Choosing a reputable brand will give you durability and a reasonable warranty. If you are working within a certain budget, try to find the best combination of features and proven performance for your money.
You may be able to save money on a used tractor, but unlike with cars, there is no Bluebook or equivalent to help you gauge the price. In general, used tractors run about half their original price, if they are in good condition and have been well maintained. Many newer tractor models come equipped with hour meters that record how much use they have had; that’s a good indicator of how much wear you might expect.
You will see a lot of used tractor on bid sites, but it’s probably best to buy one in person, so you can test it out and know exactly what you’re getting. (Don’t buy a used tractor from anyone who won’t let you test it to see how it handles and cuts.) Buy one from a reputable dealer or a trusted source, like a neighbor, and just like with new models, go with a known top brand (see below). If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Another reason not to buy a used tractor from a bid site is that you will wind up paying exorbitant shipping costs. While some online merchants selling new tractors will ship them in a crate for free and local retailers will deliver, if you buy one used from an individual, you’ll be responsible for arranging transportation. Make sure you have that planned out if you wind up getting a good deal through, say, a local list site.
It’s worth checking to see if the machine is still under warranty or service contract, and if so, if it could be transferred to you.
Avoid machines that have been used commercially (too many different operators and too much wear and tear). Also stay away from residential tractors that have had multiple owners.
The late fall is the best time to look for used tractors. By then, everyone is done with their late-season lawn and leaf work, and prices are usually a bit lower.
There are as many types of lawn and garden tractor attachments and accessories as there are tractor models on the market–maybe even more. You can find an attachment for nearly any garden or yard task these days. Check with your manufacturer about what attachments are compatible with your tractor and how to rear mount them using a sleeve hitch (sold separately with most models). There are even some attachments that can work on the front of your machine, such as rotary brooms and snow plows.
Here’s a list of some of the possible attachments and accessories you might want for your tractor.
Husqvarna was originally a producer of muskets for the Swedish army. Founded in 1689, they have long since diversified to produce a range of household, garden and construction equipment.
John Deere began in 1837 when the company’s namesake started producing small tools in Illinois. Inventing a self-cleaning steel plow was the start of John Deere’s evolution into larger agricultural equipment, and they are now known world-wide for their residential and commercial tractors.
Toro has made a name for itself producing lawn maintenance and snow removal equipment since 1914. Headquartered in Minnesota, Toro also now sells consumer and commercial irrigation products.
Craftsman is a name synonymous with Sears, and the company has garnered many accolades for producing top quality tools and garden equipment. Since 1927 Craftsman products have been equated with excellence and strong, consumer-oriented warranties.
Kubota is based in Osaka, Japan. Founded in 1890, they produce agricultural equipment, as well as construction and water treatment materials. Kubota began exporting tractors to the US in 1969. They now have dedicated tractor companies headquartered in California, as well as in Canada, Europe and Australia.
Cub Cadet was part of International Harvester until 1981, when they were acquired by MTD Products. The company/brand has made tractors and lawn care equipment since 1960. They are known for bringing innovation to the tractor market, including the first zero-turn radius riding mower.
Simplicity has been manufacturing garden tractors since 1939. From their headquarters in Wisconsin, they now produce a range of lawn and garden equipment for a variety of other companies, including Snapper.
Huskee is a brand name under MTD Products of Cleveland, Ohio. While the Modern Tool and Die Company has been around since the 1930s, it did not enter the garden equipment market until the late ’50s. They make some low-end garden tractors for Toro and they purchased the Cub Cadet brand in 1981.
The best garden tractor or lawn tractor is the one that meets all your needs and fits in your budget. There are super models on the market today that have some terrific features (see above), but you may not need all those elements. The same lawn tractor that handles a flat yard with 50 trees won’t be right for the hilly plot or large vegetable garden. Buying a tractor is like dating: beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
A light garden tractor (LGT) is a sort of hybrid between a garden tractor and a lawn tractor. It has the more rugged frame of a garden tractor with the lighter transmission of a lawn tractor. Because it doesn’t have a heavy-duty transmission, an LGT isn’t meant for ground-engaging tasks, like plowing or tilling. Where you may like it, however, is for lawn mowing or light hauling over a bumpy yard or if you’re particularly hard on your lawn equipment–the heavier frame will help the tractor hold up better.
Aren’t lawn tractors and garden tractors really the same thing? Aren’t garden tractors just a way to get you to spend more money?
This can’t be stressed enough: there really is a difference between lawn tractors and garden tractors. You cannot perform heavy ground-engaging tasks with a lawn tractor or rider mower. You need a garden tractor with its larger wheels and bigger transmission to handle digging and towing heavy items. In most cases, you get what you pay for with lawn and garden tractors. You’ll get the most versatility with attachments from a garden tractor. Be sure to let your tractor retailer know which attachments you plan to use. That way you can get the machine that can handle the tasks specific to your yard.
Lawn and garden tractors are not for everyone, but if you have a large yard to mow or maintain or if you are an avid gardener, they can save you hours every week. They can also come in handy when the snow falls, if you purchase the right attachments. Take your time looking for just the right machine for you, and know that when you find it, you’ll have lots more free time to relax and just enjoy your yard.
This depends on the size of the area you are mowing. There is no exact science to this, but generally front or backyards (less than about 2 acres or so) will not require machines with a lot of horsepower or a very large cutting deck. Vast areas (maybe 6 acres or more) will need a larger horsepower and cutting deck. If there are a lot of obstacles and maneuverability is important, but you also have a large area to cover – perhaps greater horsepower coupled with a smaller cutting deck is a smart combo.
The cutting deck refers to the amount of grass cut at a time. The horsepower refers to the overall power (typically translates into speed) of the machine.
A 30” deck is best suited to home lawns or when you have to move the mower through narrow spaces, like a gate.
A 42″ – 48” deck will be suited for anything up to 2-4 acres and/or areas that require greater mobility. A 48” deck is about as large as you will want to go while still being able to manage tricky maneuvers or sloping hills.
A 50” deck or above are better for larger properties going above 5 acres or so. Sloping hills and dexterous movements may become harder to manage with these more extensive decks.
Basic Riding Mower
The basic riding mower can be thought of as a powered lawn mower with a seat with which you can ride and control the device.
A zero-turn mower is a mower that can turn in a very tight radius – making them well suited to making complex and difficult maneuvers. These are the best choice for complex obstacles, but since the engine is placed in the back they generally have less overall power. They can also be a liability on steep slopes.
Lawn tractors are more powerful mowers that are generally of a larger size (42”+ cutting decks). They typically have a front engine design and two-blade cutting mechanisms. Four-wheel turning features available on some also allow for a tight turn radius.
Depending on what you plan on doing with the debris from your mowing job you should look into an extended bagging capacity or an automatic mulcher. Both have their upsides and downsides – and it depends entirely on what you are looking to accomplish.
One-bladed mowers can do a great job with enough horsepower behind them, but if you are looking to tackle tall grass or pervasive weeds, a two or three blade design will ensure you can address the problem in a single pass.
If you are covering a large area cruise control is one of those features that can be hard to live without once you get used to using it.
Some riding mowers can be turned into mini snow plows in the winter, as a tractor for moving large amounts of debris and a whole host of other gardening/home care tasks. If you plan on using your mower in these additional tasks – make sure it has enough power (and the attachments) to effectively utilize these add-ons.
Anti-scalping wheels are great for hills and uneven terrain. They ensure your riding mower maintains traction even on slippery or loose materials.
A sun shade or snow cab will protect you from the harsh realities of nature. Many mowers allow you to purchase a sun shade separately. If you have a few hours of work each time you mount up on the mower – it may benefit your long term health to ensure you are adequately protected from the sun.
You can choose between an automatic, a manual or a hydrostatic transmission. The difference between an automatic and a manual are quite similar to the differences you would find in the transmissions of a car. A manual will require less overall work and is preferable when you have to make a lot of maneuvers – while a manual can provide a more steady/customized ride over long distances.
A hydrostatic transmission is more or less an automatic – however it functions through the use of fluid. It generally provides an overall smoother ride.
This list and guide should give you all the tools you need to go forward and make a smart riding lawn mower purchase. Making such a large purchase can often be a confusing and frustrating experience, especially if you do not have a large amount of expertise in the field beforehand. With that in mind, we did our best to provide you with a list of quality mowers accompanied by a brief description of who should consider buying them. While you may disagree with some of the conclusions we have drawn, even that disagreement is likely to help drive your purchase. No one ever agrees fully on tools – but a discussion always helps lead to a smarter purchase. Weigh your options and investigate for yourself whether or not a tool you find interesting here is the best choice for you overall if you do that it is unlikely you will come away from this important purchase dissatisfied.
So whether you are a landscaping professional or someone who simply has a lot of lawn to manage – there is something here suited to your needs. Good luck – and remember – build smart, build safe, and build big.