What's the current wisdom on riding mowers?
July 18, 2014 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I need to buy a new riding mower. What am I going to need to be looking for when comparing models? What's good and what's bad these days?

My riding mower is a second-hand Craftsman and dates from 1998. They threw it in when we bought the house, and a new battery gave it new life. But now we want a new one (plz don't try to convince me to keep this one), and I am curious what the state of the art is.

I am keen to hear firsthand experiences good and bad, as well as general advice about mower ownership. Some relevant points:
  • We have a pretty big suburban yard, but not like multiple acres big.
  • A teenager or my wife usually mows.
  • We don't want one that carries a snow plow or anything, though a bagger is important.

    Thanks in advance!
  • posted by wenestvedt to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
    I wish I had bought a zero-turn mower, tho they're much more expensive.

    In the low-buck arena, you have, basically, two options - MTD and Ariens. Most small lawn tractors and ride-ons are made by one or the other and re-branded. I bought an MTD (Troybilt brand, from Lowe's.) It was on-sale for a few hundred less than competing models, and came with a free garden trailer. In retrospect, I should have gotten an Ariens model, as they mow in reverse, which is handy for odd-shaped lots. If your yard is bumpy and rock-strewn, bogie wheels on the mower-deck are invaluable. The cheapest models don't generally have them. If you don't want MTD or Ariens, you'll pay a pretty big premium, and generally have a bigger machine than you need.

    Most lawn tractors are ludicrously overpowered as it is - mine is 20hp, and it was the second cheapest model. It does have a Kohler engine, which are fairly well regarded and fuel efficient, and has been reliable, apart from a dead battery when I fired it up in the spring.

    Most non-tractor, non-zero-turn ride-ons are too narrow to make good large-lot mowers, and not really much of a deal compared to the tractor styles.
    posted by Slap*Happy at 11:36 AM on July 18, 2014

    Personally, I'd look at another Craftsman. I think you get a bit more bang for the buck. The good news is everyone should have their mowers on sale now, or very soon.

    ...though a bagger is important.

    You'll find that almost all mowers these days (both riding and push) come standard with mulching blades. Is there a particular reason you want to bag your lawn clippings?
    posted by Thorzdad at 11:44 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

    I have one of these Snapper Rear-motor riders for nearly an acre of lawn, and I love it. Cuts thru deep grass and weeds, bullies thru fallen branches, mulches fairly well, too.
    posted by ikahime at 2:13 PM on July 18, 2014

    I like Consumer Search for these kinds of questions - they pull from a number of different reviewers and give you a good overview as well as recommendations.
    posted by metahawk at 5:51 PM on July 18, 2014

    Response by poster: Thorzdad: Is there a particular reason you want to bag your lawn clippings?

    Um… Habit? *shrug*

    There is some wild land across the street where we hurl our clippings and weeds, making a vast compost pile that I turn periodically with my Manly, Chromed Zombie-Killing/Garden Fork. Often we mow/mulch and leave them, though: I guess I never thought about not even having the option to bag them! :7)
    posted by wenestvedt at 6:30 PM on July 18, 2014

    My dad - who mows 40+ acres on a big tractor as a side job - just bought this John Deer Z255 zero turn mower for personal use on his half-acre yard, and is very happy with it. His wife is comfortable using it, and if you have a lot of trees or bushes to mow around, it is very nice.
    posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 1:48 PM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

    I'd say look for one with a variable ratio transmission or whatever they call the kind where you don't have to shift. I don't know if any lack reverse, but you definitely want to be able to move (and mow) in reverse.

    As a data point, I have a Cub Cadet with a Kohler engine, and like it pretty well.
    posted by randomkeystrike at 2:04 PM on July 19, 2014

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