Why it pays to buy a mower with a premium engine

Consumer Reports News: May 25, 2012 02:38 PM

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When you're shopping for a mower, a number of considerations may go through your mind. Will it be easier to start than the last one? Will it last longer? To determine a mower's long-term odds, take a close look at the engine. Of two common designs, one type runs cleaner and quieter and is easier to maintain. And the cost of these so-called premium engines has been trickling down to lower-priced mowers.

Engines for mowers (and snow blowers) have two basic designs: side-valve and overhead-valve. Of the two, overhead-valve engines traditionally cost more and not long ago could be found only on feature-heavy, self-propelled mowers at the high end of the price range. Today, almost all snow blowers have overhead-valve engines. And, as we found in our latest mower tests, you can now find them on push mowers that cost as little as $200.

Any mower you buy, even with a side-valve engine, will start easily when you first gas it up. As it ages, however, models with overhead-valve engines are less likely to give you trouble. Because overhead-valve engines have a more efficient design (cleaner for the environment), they use less gas and leave fewer carbon deposits, which can wear down any engine over time. They also tend to run more quietly.

"Having a premium engine doesn't mean you can neglect it," says Peter Sawchuk, Consumer Reports' mower program leader. "But presuming you're keeping up with the maintenance, it might give you another three or four years, if not more, before you have to replace your unit."

To find one, look for the letters "OHV" on the valve cover, as shown on the Toro 20370. (On Honda mowers, it might have "OHC," for overhead cam, instead but the difference is minimal.) It's simple to spot on Kohler engines like this one, but you might have to look a bit harder on models with other engines. On Briggs & Stratton engines, for example, the valve cover is black.

Ed Perratore

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