A gas or electric push mower is fine for a many suburban lawns. But you'd probably prefer a self-propelled gas model for yards with slopes and a lawn tractor for on that's half an acre or larger. While an old-fashioned manual reel mower without an engine or motor is the greenest choice for small areas, our tests have show than many require more effort than you might expect while delivering less-than-stellar mowing. This lawn mower and tractor buying guide will help you narrow down your choices.
Forget about numbers
Our latest tests confirm that larger or higher-torque engines don't necessarily mean higher-quality mowing. Those same results have held for the horsepower figures still used for rider and tractor engines. Check our Ratings (available to subscribers) for top performers.
We've also found that you don't have to pay top dollar to get a great mower or tractor. Several models cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars less than our top-scoring machines, yet they perform about as well. But our tests also show that paying just a little more often buys a lot more mower, especially at the lower end of the price spectrum.
And no matter which mower you buy, use common sense when operating it. Wear ear plugs or similar protection; all of the gas-powered machines we tested emitted more than 85 decibels, the level at which we recommend hearing protection. Don't mow on grades steeper than 15 percent. Look behind you when you mow in reverse. Some respondents to our recent lawn survey drank, listened to music, and even texted as they mowed. We suggest saving these and other distractions till you're done.
How to choose
Consider your mowing. Most mowers come ready to mulch, bag, or side-discharge clippings. But mulching or bagging with a riding machine usually requires a kit that costs $50 to $500.
Check features and controls. Most tractors and riders let you speed up or slow down with a convenient pedal instead of a lever. Among self-propelled mowers, several models let you vary speed simply by pushing the handlebar, while some let you adjust the ground speed without removing your hands from the handlebar.
Think twice about zero-turn riders on hilly properties. Rear-steering wheels give zero-turn-radius riders their tight turns but make them more difficult to control on steep slopes. Exceptions include mowers that have steerable front wheels and steering wheels instead of the usual levers—though a relatively high repair rate in our brand-repair surveys has kept some such models off our list of top picks.