Lawn Mower & Tractor Buying Guide

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.

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 trim closer than 3 inches around obstacles. Cutting swaths are typically small at 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: Flat yards up to 1/8 acre. 

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

Self-Propelled Mowers

A step up from a simple push mower, these models draw energy from the engine (or motor on electric models) to power the wheels, which makes them a better bet if you have a larger lawn or live on a sloped lot. All wheel drive offers the best traction on slopes, followed by rear wheel drive. Front wheel drive, which is standard on most models, is still well suited for flat parcels. 

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: All wheel drive models can be tough to navigate with the motor off, because their wheels are connected to the transmission. Gas self-propelled mowers are noisy and produce emissions. Electric self propelled models solve those problems but will use up to 20 percent of the battery charge to power the wheels, so you won't be able to cut as much grass unless you buy a larger, or second battery. 

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

Best for: Flat yards from 1/4-1/2 acre or sloped yards up to 1/4 acre. 

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

Push Mowers

Push mowers are what most of us imagine when we think of a lawn mower. An engine or motor powers the blade, and you push the mower forward. In our latest tests, the best electric models (powered by lithium-ion batteries) match gas for cutting performance, and get rid of the need for gas, oil, and engine maintenance. Plus they're much quieter. But they're pricey and the batteries have a limited charge. Plug-in electric models solve this problem but don't cut nearly as well.

Pros: Most gas push 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 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. 

Cons: Gas push mowers are noisy (so use ear protection) and produce emissions. Electrics have a limited runtime—usually enough to cut 1/3-acre. And they're pricier than gas models, though you'll recoup that cost over time.

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

Best for: Yards up to 1/4 acre. 

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

Riding Lawn Mowers & Tractors

These gas-powered machines can cut 2 to 3 times faster than simple push mowers, making them best suited for larger lawns. They offer better traction on hills than ZTRs and in the past have provided a more even cut. Models with hydrostatic transmissions are best suited for plows and other tool attachments. 

Pros: Most models mow a 42- to 48-inch swath (though wide deck models cut 54 inches or more in a single pass) and can bag, mulch, and side-discharge clippings. Steering them is easy and familiar, since they use a wheel, just like a car. The best models have comfy, high-backed seats and make it easy to engage the blades and adjust your cutting height. 

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. And tractors have a wider turning radius and lower top speed than zero turn radius mowers. 

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

Best for: Yards larger than 1/2 acre. 

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

Lawn Tractors Zero-Turn

Think of these like souped up tractors. Rather than a wheel, you control a zero-turn with a pair of levers—pushing one forward causes the mower to turn in place. They also have nimble handling and higher top speeds than tractors. All but one model in our ratings are gas-powered, and the best now cut as well as lawn tractors. 

Pros: These are similar to the mowers landscapers use, with a rear engine and rear-wheel steering. Maneuverability is excellent around obstacles like trees and flower beds. Some new models have steering wheels. They can side-discharge, bag, and mulch clippings and typically mow a 42- to 50-inch swath. Their nimble handling and high top speed makes it easy to get across your property quickly. 

Cons: Costing more than most tractors, not all models cut as well as tractors. 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. And higher top speed won't save you time when cutting—you'll still want to go at 3 1/2-4 miles per hour to get an even mow. Bagging kits can be pricey.

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

Best for: Yards over 1/2 acre without too many hills. 

These zero-turn tractors rode high in our ratings.
A rear-engine rider.

Rear-Engine Riders

Bridging the gap between walk-behind and push mowers, rear-engine riders are typically cheaper than tractors but don't cut as well, or as quickly, because they have narrower decks, typically around 30 inches wide. 

Pros: If the usual lawn-tractor behemoth requires more storage space than you have, this rider is more compact. It's also cheaperœ—some start at $1,000, a few hundred dollars more than the best self-propelled mowers. 

Cons: Even the top-scoring models won't cut as well as some of the lowest-scoring tractors in our ratings. They also usually cut in 30-inch wide swaths, more than a walk-behind mower for sure, but far less than the four feet many lawn tractors will mow. Many have a jerky gear drive, rather than the smooth hydrostatic drive on most tractors. We also found that those in our tests 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. Electrics need annual blade sharpenings.   

Best for: Yards 1/2-1 acre. 

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: Yards up to 1/4 acre—provided you have someone at home who loves tech and is willing to set up and monitor the mower. 

For More Check Our Robotic Lawn Mower Ratings

Video Buying Guide

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

What to Consider Before You Buy

Lawn Mowers

Landscape needs. Consider the size and slope of your yard to find the perfect walk-behind mower

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.

Electric start. On gas models, this feature let's you power the engine with push-button ease, rather than yanking a pull cord. All electric mowers start this way. 

Folding handle. Models with a folding or collapsing handle require less space to store. 

Upright storage. Nearly all electrics can be stored vertically in a cramped garage. Some gas models have special engine seals that allow for upright storage too, without the risk of oil or gas leaking out. 

Uniform wheels. Some mowers boast larger rear wheels. Skip them. Our tests confirm mowers with uniform wheels are easiest to maneuver. 

Lawn Tractors

Landscape needs. 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.

Hour meter. This indicates how long the engine has run since the last oil change or other maintenance. A few models can link to a smartphone app via Bluetooth, to keep track of maintenance and order parts.

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.

Ability to check fuel. A tractor with a cutout that allows you to see your fuel level—preferably from the seat—is ideal. 

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.

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.

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
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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