Lawn mowers & tractors

Lawn Mower & Tractor Buying Guide
Lawn Mower & Tractor Buying Guide
Find the Best Mower or Tractor for Your Yard

Whether you’ve got acres of lawn or just a tiny patch of grass, you'll want a capable mower that gets the job done. Consumer Reports has tested all types of mowers for mulching, bagging, ease of use, and maneuverability, and evaluated features that save you time and effort. We also asked more than 13,800 readers to sound off on mower brand reliability.  

Turns out you don't have to pay top dollar to get a great mower or tractor. Some models cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars less than our top-scoring machines, yet they perform nearly 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.  

Oh, and, of course, mow smart. All of the gas-powered machines we tested emitted more than 85 decibels, the level at which we recommend hearing protection.

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Types of Lawn Mowers and Tractors

Your options for the best walk-behind or riding lawn mower range from budget manual-reel models ($100) to lawn tractors and zero-turn-radius riders that can cost $4,000 or more.

A manual-reel lawn mower.

Manual-Reel Mowers

The only energy needed to move these old-school grass cutters is yours. You push to turn a series of curved blades—it's that simple. Making these perfect for environmentally-conscious home owners. Note: We haven't tested these in a while, so—for now—you won't currently find ratings.

Pros: These mowers don't pollute, and you don't need to store gas, plug in a power cord, or charge a battery (usually—see below). They're quiet, inexpensive, and relatively safe. And you'll get a workout unless you opt for a model that uses a battery-powered motor to spin the blades while you push.

Cons: Most can't cut grass that's taller than 1½ inches or trim closer than 3 inches around obstacles. Cutting swaths are typically a smallish 14 to 18 inches wide. These super-green mowers don't disburse clippings like a rotary version, so you'll need a bag (or a rake) if you're fussy. And be prepared for some strenuous pushing if you let your lawn grow too high.

Upkeep: A manual-reel mower will need an occasional blade adjustment and sharpening.

Best for: Unless you have a small lawn, you may want to re-think this choice because it takes dedication.

Lawn Mower & Tractor Ratings (but no manual-reel)
A self-propelled lawn mower.

Self-Propelled Mowers

These come in gas (mostly) and electric. The latter use a cord or battery, but their propulsion quickly eats up a charge. Gas models typically have a four-stroke engine, with a 160- to 190-cubic-centimeter displacement—a measure that replaced horsepower on walk-behinds. 

Pros: Most gas self-propelled mowers cut a 21- or 22-inch swath, can handle long or thick grass and weeds, and can bag, side-discharge, and mulch clippings. Electrics start with the push of a button and produce no emissions.

Cons: Gas mowers are noisy and produce emissions. All-wheel drive provides the most traction (more than front-wheel drive) on hilly lawns, especially uphill with a full bag of clippings. But mowers with AWD can be hard to push when the engine is off because all four wheels are connected to the transmission.

Upkeep: Gas engines require regular tune-ups and oil changes. Electrics require little upkeep beyond blade sharpening.

Best for: They blend ease and performance and are good for most lawns.

See how self-propelled mowers did in our Lawn Mower Ratings.
A push lawn mower.

Push Mowers

These come in gas and electric models. The gas versions we've tested have a four-stroke engine, typically with a 140- to 190-cubic-centimeter displacement. Our latest tests confirm that larger or higher-torque engines don't necessarily mean higher-quality mowing. Electric models use a motor (powered by a cord or battery) to turn a rotating blade.

Pros: Like their self-propelled counterparts, most gas push mowers also cut a 21- or 22-inch swath, can handle long or thick grass and weeds, and can bag, side-discharge, and mulch clippings. Cord and cordless electrics start with push-button ease and produce no exhaust emissions. Most offer a rear bag and a mulching mode that cuts clippings finely enough that they settle in and fertilize the grass as they decompose. Today's cordless models run longer per charge than previous models.

Cons: And just like gas self-propelled mowers, gas push mowers are noisy (so use ear protection) and produce emissions. Electrics take a smaller bite with each pass—about 18 to 20 inches wide.

Upkeep: For gas, plan for regular tune-ups and oil changes. Electric needs only occasional blade sharpening.

Best for: Medium to small lawns with little incline.

Find out where push mowers ranked in our Lawn Mower Ratings.
A lawn tractor.

Lawn Tractors

These gas-powered, front-engine riding machines are often priced comparably with older, smaller, and less-capable rear-engine riders. 

Pros: Most models mow a 42- to 48-inch swath and can bag, mulch, and side-discharge clippings. Some cut an even wider swath and offer four-wheel steering for tighter turns. All accept snow blowers and other tools, though the add-ons are typically expensive and a chore to attach and detach. (Models costing about $2,000 and up have transmissions that are better suited to these attachments.)

Cons: Bagging kits are extra and tend to be expensive—a major reason the majority of tractor owners mow in side-discharge mode. And even today's cleaner machines create exhaust emissions and require lots of storage space.

Upkeep: Gas engines require regular tune-ups and oil changes.

Best for: If your lawn measures a half-acre or larger and you've got a large shed, barn, or garage, this is for you.

Which lawn tractors headed the pack in our Lawn Mower Ratings?
A zero-turn-radius rider.

Zero-Turn-Radius Riders

The ZTRs we tested are gas-powered, except for one electric model.

Pros: These are similar to the mowers landscapers use, with a rear engine and rear-wheel steering. Maneuverability is good. Some have steering wheels, though most have twin steering levers that let you power the two rear wheels individually—with one in forward and the other in reverse, you turn circles in place. They can also side-discharge, bag, and mulch clippings and typically mow a 42- to 50-inch swath.

Cons: Costing more than most tractors, they don't cut as well. Rear-steering wheels can tear up grass during turns. They can lose traction and be hard to control on hills, and their lever controls require practice. Exceptions include mowers that have steerable wheels instead of levers. Bagging kits can be pricey.

Upkeep: Gas engines require tune-ups and oil changes. Electrics need at least blade sharpening.

Best for: For a large lawn with lots of obstacles, consider a four-wheel-steer tractor.

These zero-turn-radius riders rode high in our Lawn Mower Ratings.
A rear-engine rider.

Rear-Engine Riders

We've only seen gas-powered models in this category.

Pros: If the usual lawn-tractor behemoth requires more storage space than you have, this rider is more compact. When it comes to our top picks, cutting can be impressive in both side-discharge and mulch mode, and the same goes for ease of use.  

Cons: For the majority of those tested cutting can be less than impressive. Where these often fall short is in maneuverability—due to a jerky gear drive, rather than the smooth hydrostatic drive on most tractors. You'll have to engage the blades the old way, with a lever. We also found that those tested weren’t great at dispersing clippings or fully filling a bag. You also may not get higher-end features like a high-back seat or a fuel gauge you can check while seated.

Upkeep: Gas engines require regular tune-ups and oil changes.   

Best for: Pick this one if you have limited storage space and a medium-sized lawn or larger.

Which rear-engine riders took the lead in our Lawn Mower Ratings?
A robotic lawn mower.

Robotic Mowers

Robotic mowers buzz along within a wired perimeter.

Pros: These mow-bots are designed to crisscross randomly, reversing direction when they reach the wire or an obstacle, and return to a charge station when necessary. You can set a schedule and the mower will start on its own—although we recommend someone keep an eye on it. Another plus: They produce no emissions.

Cons: You need to set up a perimeter wire to delineate the mowing boundaries. Performance varies widely and cut quality is often less than a conventional mower's, and they're expensive.

Upkeep: Regular blade sharpening and cleaning underneath.  

Best for: Techies who have a flat, obstacle-free lawn, and can supervise a mower.

For More Check Our Robotic Lawn Mower Ratings
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Video Buying Guide

For more buying advice and shopping tips, watch our lawn mower and tractor buying guide below.

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What to Consider Before You Buy

Lawn Mowers: Consider Convenience
Easy mode changes.
Most mowers allow easy mode changes—going from mulching to bagging—without tools.
Washout port.
When it’s time to clean up, a washout port accepts a hose connection for clearing clippings beneath the mower deck without the need to tip the machine.

Lawn Tractors: Consider Comfort
Hour meter. This indicates how long the engine has run since the last oil change or other maintenance. A few models from Cub Cadet can link to a smartphone app via Bluetooth, to keep track of maintenance and order parts.
What's your landscape? Get a tractor that best matches the size and slope of your property. And, if your yard resembles an agility training obstacle course, you might want to consider a Zero-Turn-Radius model favored by professionals.
Easy mode changes.
For tractors, this feature is less common and takes a single blade through multiple mowing modes rather than needing to change blades. Mulching or bagging with a riding mower usually requires a kit costing $50 to $500.
Power steering.
Several tractors now offer car-like features such as this one. You'll typically pay a premium for it, so just know that we haven't found that conventional steering tractors required more effort in our tests.
Translucent fuel tank or a fuel gauge.
A tractor with a translucent fuel tank or a fuel gauge shows at a glance when you’re running low.
High-back seat and cup holder.
The first is more supportive and comfortable than a conventional seat, and the second is for when you’re sweltering in the hot sun—you'll appreciate it.
Cruise control. As with a car, cruise control lets you lock in a ground speed with a riding mower.

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Features We Favor on Mowers & Tractors

Depending on how much you want to spend, there's a wide selection of mower features and options available. Don't load up on those that you won't use—it's best to cut costs and the grass.

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Craftsman is one of the market leaders in mower and tractor sales. Many models in the Craftsman line are made by Husqvarna; others are made by MTD. Craftsman lawn tractors run the price spectrum from gear-drive models priced at about $1,000 to fully featured, hydrostatic-drive units that cost more than $2,000. Most Craftsman lawn tractors feature Briggs & Stratton engines, and the 42-inch-deck models are among the most popular. The majority of Craftsman walk-behind mowers are gas-powered, but the company offers corded- and cordless-electric models. Most models feature either a Honda or Briggs & Stratton engine and have side-discharge, rear-bag, and mulching modes. Craftsman also markets a line of garden tractors and zero-turn-radius riders. Craftsman products are sold at Sears, Kmart, and online at Sears.com.
Honda is a prominent engine maker and sells a premium line of lawn mowers. Honda lawn mowers are known for innovative features and come at top-dollar prices. Honda makes gas-powered lawn mowers with unique drive systems, mulch control, and steel and plastic decks. Honda does not make electric mowers. Honda mowers are among the most expensive on the market and are sold through dealers and Home Depot.
Husqvarna makes mowers, tractors, and zero-turn-radius riders for the consumer and the commercial market. Husqvarna has a large dealer base, and Sears and Lowe's carry the brand. Husqvarna lawn tractors are fully featured and have deck widths in the popular 42- to 54-inch range. Most models have hydrostatic-drive systems and Briggs & Stratton engines.
John Deere makes and markets one of the best-selling lines of lawn tractors at retail. John Deere lawn tractors are fully featured and have deck widths from 42 to 54 inches. Most models have hydrostatic drives and Briggs & Stratton engines. John Deere lawn tractors are sold at dealers, Home Depot, and Lowe's. The company also markets a line of garden tractors and zero-turn-radius riders.
Briggs & Stratton, one of the top engine makers, has moved into marketing mowers, tractors, and zero-turn riders by acquiring Snapper and Simplicity and introducing mowers and tractors under the Briggs & Stratton name. Although relatively new to the market, the Briggs & Stratton lines appear to be aimed at the value segment at retail. Snapper and Simplicity are dealer brands and are premium-priced compared to products found in most home centers and Sears.
Toro makes and markets lawn mowers and zero-turn-radius riders under the Toro and Lawn-Boy names. Most Toro and Lawn-Boy lawn mowers are self-propelled and fully featured, and they have Briggs & Stratton and Honda engines. Toro and Lawn-Boy mowers are sold through dealers and at Home Depot.
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