Lawn Mower & Tractor Buying Guide

Whether you have acres of lawn or just a tiny patch of grass, you’ll need a capable mower that gets the job done. And the right one for the job, at that.

Consumer Reports tests all types of mowers for mulching, bagging, ease of use, and maneuverability, and evaluates features that save you time and effort. We also asked thousands of CR members to sound off on mower brand reliability and owner satisfaction, the results of which we now incorporate into each model’s individual Overall Score.

Our tests show that you don’t have to pay top dollar to get a great mower or tractor. Some models cost hundreds—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.

And if you’re worried about noise, know that our tests show gas mowers are much noisier than their electric counterparts. In fact, all the gas-powered machines we tested emitted more than 85 decibels, the level at which we recommend hearing protection.

How CR Tests Lawn Mowers and Tractors

To get you ratings and reviews of the latest models by early spring, our testers travel to Florida to conduct tests in late winter at grounds we maintain year-round. We plant 1,800 pounds of grass seed (predominantly annual rye, prized for its dense growth) and spread 500 pounds of fertilizer. For our tests, we cut 450,000 square feet of grass in three modes—mulching, bagging, and side-discharging—covering level turf, slopes, and in ditches to get a feel for each and every model. We also review the convenience features on every model we assess.

The Overall Score for each model in CR's mower ratings incorporates all that performance data, along with predicted reliability and owner satisfaction ratings from our latest member survey. The survey leverages data on more than 43,916 lawn mowers and tractors that members purchased between 2008 and 2018.

Types of Lawn Mowers and Tractors

Your options for the best walk-behind or riding lawn mower range from $150 gas push models to lawn tractors and zero-turn-radius riders that can cost upwards of $4,000.

A battery-powered walk-behind lawn mower.

Battery Mowers

No longer second-class citizens, the best battery-powered electric mowers cut grass just as well as their gas counterparts. Battery mowers utilize rechargeable lithium-ion battery packs and are available in both push and self-propelled varieties. They are much easier to store and maintain than gas mowers, but their relatively short battery run times make them better suited to smaller yards.

Pros: Most battery mowers cut a 20- or 21-inch swath, and their batteries are interchangeable with other outdoor power tools from the same brand. They also start with push-button ease, produce no exhaust emissions, and run more quietly than gas models. They don’t require oil changes or frequent tuneups.

Cons: They have a limited runtime—usually enough to cut 1⁄3 acre. Battery-powered self-propelled models 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 larger or additional batteries. And they’re pricier than gas models, though you’ll recoup that cost over time.

Upkeep: Battery mowers require little upkeep beyond blade sharpening.

Best for: Yards smaller than ⅓ acre.

Battery Mowers Ratings
A gas walk-behind lawn mower.

Gas Mowers

Tried-and-true gas-fueled mowers aren’t limited by rechargeable batteries and can cut much larger yards in one go. They come in both push and self-propelled varieties and usually cost less than their electric counterparts, though you might spend more in the long run on fuel and maintenance.

Pros: Most gas mowers cut a 21- or 22-inch swath, can handle long or thick grass and weeds, and can bag, side-discharge, and mulch clippings. They also cost less and run much longer than their battery-powered counterparts.

Cons: Gas mowers are noisy (use ear protection), produce emissions, and require more frequent maintenance.

Upkeep: Gas mowers require regular tuneups, oil changes, and blade sharpening.

Best for: Yards from ¼ to ½ acre.

Gas Mowers Ratings
A lawn tractor.

Lawn Tractors

These gas-powered machines can cut two to three times faster than simple push mowers, making them best suited for larger lawns. 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 because 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 cost 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 mowers require regular tuneups, oil changes, and blade sharpening.

Best for: Yards larger than ½ acre.

Riding Lawn Mowers & Tractors Ratings
A zero-turn-radius rider.

Zero-Turn-Radius Lawn Tractors

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 regular lawn tractors.

Pros: These are similar to the mowers landscapers use, with a rear engine and rear-wheel steering. They’re easy to maneuver 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: ZTR models cost more than most tractors, and not all of them cut as well as tractors. Rear steering wheels can tear up grass during turns. They’re not well-suited for hilly properties because they can lose traction and be hard to control on slopes. Their lever controls also require practice. And while they offer a higher top speed, that won’t necessarily save you time—you’ll still want to go 3 1⁄2 to 4 mph to get an even mow. Bagging kits can be pricey.

Upkeep: Gas engines require tuneups and oil changes. Electrics need at least blade sharpening.

Best for: Yards larger than 1⁄2 acre without too many hills.

Riding Lawn Mowers & Tractors Ratings
A rear-engine rider.

Rear-Engine Riders

Bridging the gap between walk-behind mowers and tractors, 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: Many of the usual lawn-tractor behemoths require more storage space than you might have, but this rider is more compact. It’s also cheaper—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 4 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 might not get higher-end features such as a high-back seat or a fuel gauge that you can check while seated.

Upkeep: Gas engines require regular tuneups and oil changes. Electrics need the blades sharpened annually.

Best for: Yards from ½ to 1 acre.

Riding Lawn Mowers & Tractors 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

Push vs. self-propelled. Push mowers tend to be more affordable. Self-propelled models draw energy from the engine (or motor on electric models) to power the wheels, which makes them easier to maneuver 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.

Yard size. Consider the size of your yard to find the perfect walk-behind mower. Gas self-propelled mowers will be best for larger yards, while push mowers (electric or gas) are better for small yards. Check out our guide to finding the right mower for your yard size.

Washout port. You should clean the underside of your mower after each cut. When it’s time to do so, a washout port makes it easier: It 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 lets 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. Almost 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. In our tests, mowers with uniform wheels are easiest to maneuver.

Riding Mowers

Landscape needs. Get a riding mower or 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; that type is 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.

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 any you won’t use—it’s best to cut costs as well as the grass. 

Lawn Mower & Tractor Brands

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 also offers corded and battery-powered 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 Ace Hardware, Kmart, Lowe’s, Sears, and online at Sears.com.
Cub Cadet produces and markets lawn mowers, tractors, and zero-turn-radius riders. Cub Cadet makes both self-propelled and push mowers with engines made by Cub Cadet and Honda. Models are sold at Home Depot and independent dealers. Cub Cadet’s parent company is MTD.
Honda is a prominent engine maker and sells a premium line of lawn mowers. Honda lawn mowers are known for innovative features and tend to 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 at 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 Lowe's and Sears carry the brand. Husqvarna lawn tractors are fully featured and have deck widths in the widely sold 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-radius riders by acquiring Simplicity and Snapper, 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. Simplicity and Snapper are dealer brands, and are premium-priced compared with products found in most home centers and Sears.
Toro makes and markets lawn mowers and zero-turn-radius riders under the Lawn-Boy and Toro names. Most Lawn-Boy and Toro lawn mowers are self-propelled and fully featured, and they have Briggs & Stratton and Honda engines. Lawn-Boy and Toro mowers are sold through dealers and at Home Depot.
Troy-Bilt, owned by MTD, makes and markets self-propelled and push lawn mowers, tractors, and zero-turn-radius riders. Engines are made by Briggs & Stratton, Honda, and Troy-Bilt. Models are sold at Home Depot and independent dealers.
Other notable brands of lawn mowers and tractors include Ariens, Black+Decker, Ego, Greenworks, and Ryobi.

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