With over 50 different riding lawn mower brands to choose from, this makes it pretty confusing to predict which mower will be right for your yard. Let’s break it down to make things a bit less confusing and arm you with the knowledge to make a great buying decision.
Smaller yards are considered to be 1/4 acre to 1 acre – The smallest riding mowers with a 38″- 42″ deck work very well for this size yard. Smaller yards tend to have more obstacles in them and a smaller rider will make it easier to negotiate the yard.
A medium sized yard would be from 1 to 2 acres – A medium sized yard can be maintained well with a deck size of 42″ to 48″.
For yards that are 3 or more acres, it is best to get a deck in the range of 48″ to 54″ to make your cutting time shorter. A smaller deck size is going to make the job take longer and put more wear on the mower over time.
If your yard is flat or has some gentle slopes to it, all riding mowers will perform the job and a larger mower with more power is not necessary unless of course you have a large yard.
For hilly terrain, a wider and more powerful lawn mower should be used. Wheel weights or chains may also be added for traction but you should not install them on a riding lawn mower. Their frames and wheels can crack and break because of the extra force applied to them. Only install wheel weights and chains on garden tractors.
A garden tractor with a pressurized oil system should be used. Look for an oil filter to tell if it is pressurized or not. Four wheel drive is also preferable. A rule of thumb is that anything over 15 degrees is too steep of an angle for most mowers and is too steep to mow unless you have a mower that is especially designed for that. The chances of a rollover make it very risky to mow at such angles.
Riding Mower or Garden Tractor?
A riding mower is just that, a mower. It is designed as a lightweight machine that only cuts grass.
A garden tractor however is a different kind of machine. It will have a heavier frame or chassis and larger wheels. It is designed to pull a load such as a garden plow and use different attachments such as a snow blade or lawn vacuum. It could also have an external PTO shaft and have wheels that are spaced wider.
Today, you can buy a very basic riding lawn mower for $900. You will spend between $1,500 – $2,000 for a better quality rider. Garden tractors range from $2,500 – $4,000 or more.
38″, 42″, 46″, 48″, 52″, 54″, 60″ and 72″ are all common deck sizes. With the larger, more powerful mowers, they will have a larger deck size.
10-19hp for single cylinder engines and 17-27hp are common for twin cylinder engines.
Today, there are 3 major brand name engines in riding lawn mowers but others are coming into view as the fuel injection systems are coming onboard riding mowers.
Briggs and Stratton, Kohler and Kawasaki are the “big three” if you will for mowers today. MTD has delivered their own engine now for riding lawn mowers and surely others will follow.
CVT or as some call them, “Automatic Transmissions”, can be found on smaller riding lawn mowers. A CVT Transmission is a sealed unit that uses a wide and dense rubber belt to drive the transmission gears. These units claim to never need any maintenance or fluid changed out over their lifetime.
Larger mowers almost always will use a Hydrostatic Transmission. They do however require periodic maintenance and are needed for heavier duty lawn mowers and garden tractors.
Storage and Gates
This is one factor that may dictate what sized mower that you purchase. Say you have a storage shed that only has a 40″ door in it but you really need a 48″ mower to get your yard mowed more quickly. You may have to install a larger door on your shed.
Or your space in the garage will not hold a 72″ mower deck without leaving one of the cars outside. Consider this factor when choosing which mower to purchase or make changes to where it will be stored.
Check ALL the reviews of the different models you are interested in buying and check independent sources for those reviews. Sites like Consumer Reports or Google reviews can be more transparent and less likely to be screened by the manufacturers marketing professionals.
The riding lawn mower manufacturers have taken some of the confusion out of buying a lawn mower by installing the common deck and engine sizes to the chassis.
But in later years they have all seemed to be in a race to put the biggest engines in mowers that don’t require them. Customers want “more power” whether they need it or not and this has driven the manufactures to respond.
When you are shopping for a new riding lawn mower, choose one to fit your yard size, the type of terrain, the amount of power you need, your storage size or gate requirements and the price that fits your budget.
For example, if I had a medium sized flat yard and a 48″ wide yard gate, I would want a 46″ deck, a Briggs and Stratton twin cylinder engine with a Hydrostatic Transmission and is in the price range of $2,500 – $3,000.
By matching the right components to fit your landscaping situation and checking the reviews of the riding lawn mower, you can be assured that you will choose the perfect lawn mower that will last for years and provide great service.