Should you buy a used lawn tractor at a yard sale?

Consumer Reports News: June 10, 2011 03:38 PM

A: "Most residential lawn tractors are made to last 250 to 300 hours, so you really need to know how many hours the tractor was used," says Peter Sawchuk, who directs Consumer Reports lawn mower and tractor tests. "There's no point spending $500 for a machine that's only going to last a year."

A tractor used to mow a two-acre yard in the northern U.S. usually logs 50 to 60 hours a year. "Ask the owner how long he had the machine and how often he used it, and then do the math: 50 hours per year times five years equals 250 hours—and that means you should pass on it," Sawchuk advises.

The exception may be some Cub Cadet, Husqvarna and John Deere lawn tractors intended for commercial use, which are designed to go for 400-500 hours. Many of these higher-end mowers have hour meters that track their usage. If you're considering buying a used machine, look for these warning signs.

  • Low oil levels, dirty oil, and dirty air filters are signs the engine hasn't been well maintained.

  • Bent blade tips indicate the blade has hit something. The spindle that connects the blade to the engine could also be damaged. Such replacement parts can cost $200.

  • Upward and downward play in the blade means the bearings are worn—that's another expensive repair.

  • Hydrostatic transmissions are pretty trouble-free, but a manual transmission might have been damaged by grinding and missed shifts. The only way to know is to take the tractor for a ride and work through every gear.

  • Loose steering is usually not expensive to replace, but it could be a sign that other parts like belts and pulleys could also be near end of their serviceable lives.

"You might be able to find a good deal, but keep in mind that some decent tractors in our latest mower tests start at $1,000—and you can get a very good machine like the Craftsman 28885 with a 46-inch deck for $1,300," says Sawchuk.

Gian Trotta

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