The Top 10 Best Riding Lawn Mowers of 2015 & 2016

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Riding Lawn Mowers: Questions & Answers

How many horse power (HP) should my riding lawn mower have?

Riding lawn mowers (also called yard, lawn or garden tractors) are meant for yards too big for walk-behind mowers, so they need to be really powerful. The engines are typically measured in horsepower, and the more horsepower, the more aggressive the mower will be on tough grass and weeds. Engines like Briggs & Stratton and Troy-Bilt are especially well-regarded because they are very durable and reliable. For a big yard, a lawn tractor with a 15-20HP range should be sufficient and strong enough on rougher spots.

What does “cc” mean?

Frequently, you’ll see riding mower engines measured in “cc” instead of, or alongside, the horsepower. These letters stands for “cubic centimeters”, so it basically measures the size of the engine. The higher the number before that “cc”, the bigger and more powerful the engine will be. The most compact and very small riding mowers have around 200cc, a medium sized lawn tractor about 400-500cc and the most powerful machines are in the range of 600 to 900cc.

Should I get a mower that’s CARB-compliant?

Riding lawn mowers can use up a lot of gas and oil, and that costs money. The fumes that a yard mower emits also contribute to global warming and poor air quality. If you want a garden tractor that’s more fuel-efficient and “greener”, there are a couple of things to look for. One is to check to see if the engine is CARB-compliant. If you live in California, this is a guarantee, because California won’t sell any machine unless it meets the standards of the California Air Resource Board. If you live anywhere else, you’ll need to make sure. OHV engines, which are overhead valve engines, are also a good indicator of better fuel-efficiency, because they’ve been designed to weigh less and reserve more fuel. In general, 4-cycle OHV engines are the best type of overhead valve design.

How much do lawn mower cutting widths matter?

If you have a big yard, cutting widths are very important. This measurement determines how wide of a path the lawn mower can cut at once, so a higher number (like 40 inches and above) means you don’t have to make as many passes. Bigger isn’t always better though; if you have a lawn with narrow areas, a smaller cutting width might be better because the mower will actually fit and do a better job on the edges. Lawn mowers with narrow cutting widths are also easier to store, especially if you have limited space.

How fast can I mow my lawn with a riding mower?

Cutting width determines how many passes you need to make in your yard, but the actual speed of a lawn mower also factors into how much time you’ll spend mowing. The average forward speed of most lawn mowers is 4-6 mph, and many have reverse drives, too. Backward driving tends to be much slower for safety reasons, so expect to go as slow as 2 mph. However, keep in mind that features like a really good cutting deck, tires that are good on rough terrain and hills, and a reliable engine are probably more determinant of how long each mowing session will take.

How important are the blades on a lawn tractor?

Riding lawn mowers don’t all use the same type of blade, or the same number. Some mowers use just one blade, while others use as many as three. In general, to get a great cut, the number of blades isn’t as important as cutting deck width or engine power. Though brands like to throw in a lot of terms, there are essentially only two types of blades: standard blades (also called 2-in-1) and mulching blades. Standard blades are designed to cut grass and discharge the clippings into a bag or out the side. Mulching blades are more curved with more cutting surfaces on the blades themselves in order to achieve a much finer cut for mulch. They are often called 3-in-1 blades, so if you want to be able to mulch with your lawn tractor, look for this type of blade.

What discharge options should I look for in a garden tractor?

Before you purchase a riding mower, look at the clipping discharge options because they are not all the same. Many mowers do include all three discharge options – bagging, mulching, or side discharge – but there are a lot that don’t allow bagging or mulching. Bagging is when the yard tractor literally has a “bag” attached to it so all the grass clippings go inside, while mulching very finely cuts the grass and leaves it on your yard. Side discharge just sends the grass clippings shooting out the side so you can rack it up later, or leave it, though leaving grass that isn’t mulched won’t be as beneficial to your yard. Whether or not you want all three options depends on your needs, though it should be noted that riding lawn mowers with all three abilities tend to be a little more expensive. Many riding lawn mowers can also be outfitted for bags later on.

What kind of gear transmissions are the best?

Gear transmissions play a big role in how maneuverable your riding lawn mower is. With a lever shift, you get more control, which is important for really powerful, large mowers. Gear transmissions also vary by speed, with some being 4-speed or even 7-speed transmissions. Generally, the more speeds available, the more versatile and smooth the mower will be. This is crucial if your lawn is especially uneven or rocky.

How short can I cut my grass with a lawn / garden tractor?

Most riding mowers have adjustable cutting heights so you can choose a length that’s best for your grass. Certain types of grass need to be kept longer, like 4 inches, so if you have a cool-season grass like Kentucky bluegrass or the majority of your lawn is in shade, you’ll want a riding mower that can leave the grass on the longer side. In terms of getting grass really short, the shortest cutting length on most mowers is about 1-inch.

What kind of upkeep do they require?

Riding lawn mowers are gas-powered machines, so they need some maintenance to stay in good shape. Besides gas, oil, and filter changes, you’ll need to sharpen the blades of the mower about once a year. Some mowers come with special blades that require less sharpening, but those mowers tend to cost a bit more. To help you remember, many garden tractors include a digital dashboard that will alert you to oil changes and when it’s time to sharpen your blades, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting.

How much do riding lawn mowers cost?

Riding lawn mowers can be pretty pricey and cost upwards of $5,000. Mowers meant for bigger yards tend to be more expensive because of their superior engines, and ones that include features like an advanced dashboard and attachment also cost a lot. Troy-Bilt and Husqvarna are two brands that make quite a few affordable garden tractors priced between 1000 and 2000 dollar. There are also more compact mowers, which are a great option if you don’t have as much storage space or your yard is just over the size where a walking mower would work. Compact lawn tractors are more affordable and are often even under $1,000. When thinking about cost, factor in the price of gas and oil, and if the riding lawn mower is known for its efficiency, or if it’s a gas-guzzler.

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