2 Consumer Reports testers standing with headphones in a field with 3 riding lawn mowers
Testers prepare to judge riding mower performance at Consumer Reports' Ft. Myers, Fla., testing grounds.

Consumer Reports tests riding lawn mowers to help you find models that cut evenly and handle with ease. And while performance is key, you'll also want a riding mower that’s built to last. After all, these machines can cost $1,200 to $4,200.

Our latest member survey shows that the experience isn't always problem-free. Almost one-third of riding mowers are likely to develop problems or break in their first five years of ownership.

"The most commonly reported problem among riding mowers has to do with the mower belt, affecting 14 percent of riding mowers," says Martin Lachter, a senior research associate at Consumer Reports. "The next most common problems are related to the engine and mower deck."

More on Lawn Mowers

To help you find a reliable riding mower, Consumer Reports incorporates brand reliability and owner satisfaction into its Overall Scores for lawn mowers and tractors. The information is provided along with data collected during our extensive field testing, which covers everything from how well a mower cuts in three modes (mulching, bagging, and side-discharging) and its noise output at the user's ear and at 25 feet.

To calculate predicted reliability, we survey our members about the products they own and use the results to make projections about how new models from a given brand will hold up over time. Models from brands that rate Fair or Poor for predicted reliability aren't eligible for our recommended lists of products, regardless of their performance.

We also ask members how likely they are to recommend their mower to friends or family, and that question serves as the basis for our owner satisfaction rating.

These latest findings come from the Consumer Reports 2018 and 2019 Fall Surveys, which leveraged data on more than 18,000 riding mowers that members purchased between 2009 and 2019.

Below is a detailed breakdown of the winners and losers across the three riding mower categories we test. The results cover brands big and small, including Craftsman, Cub Cadet, Husqvarna, John Deere, Toro, and Troy-Bilt.

(For our reliability results on walk-behind mowers, check out our guide to the most and least reliable walk-behind mower brands.)

Lawn Tractors

Lawn tractors are your quintessential riding mower, with a big engine in front and a seat and steering wheel mounted over the cutting deck. They make up a whopping 61 percent of the riding mowers in CR’s survey purchased in 2019, far and away the most common type of riding mower owned by CR members.

And it turns out that an old marketing tagline is true: Nothing runs like a Deere. Among the 9 lawn tractor brands in our survey results, John Deere is the only brand that was rated Excellent for predicted reliability and owner satisfaction.

The runner-up is Husqvarna, which was rated Very Good both for reliability and owner satisfaction. Two other brands, Cub Cadet and Simplicity, received Good ratings for predicted reliability and Very Good for satisfaction.

Three other brands—Craftsman, Snapper, and Troy-Bilt—earned Good ratings in both predicted reliability and satisfaction.

Murray lawn tractors are the only riding mower to be knocked for reliability, receiving a Poor rating. For this reason, CR cannot recommend Murray lawn tractors at this point in time. Another brand, Poulan Pro, was rated Good for reliability but Poor for owner satisfaction. (Neither Murray nor Poulan Pro lawn tractor models are currently tested by CR.)

Here’s a top-performing John Deere—the only brand with reliability and satisfaction ratings of Excellent—from our lawn tractor ratings:

Quick Take

John Deere E130

Price: $2,000

Side discharging
Mulching
Bagging
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Zero-Turn-Radius Lawn Tractors

ZTR lawn tractors are growing in popularity, thanks to their speed and ability to turn on a dime. Among CR members, they're not as common as traditional lawn tractors, but ZTRs still account for 33 percent of the riding mowers purchased in 2019 in our surveys.

Here again, John Deere stands alone. Of the eight ZTR brands in our survey results, it's the only one with Excellent ratings for both reliability and satisfaction.

Coming in behind John Deere are three brands with Very Good reliability ratings: Ariens, Craftsman, and Toro. For owner satisfaction, Toro and Ariens were rated Excellent, and Craftsman was rated Very Good.

The four other brands of ZTR mowers—Cub Cadet, Husqvarna, Snapper, and Troy-Bilt, all rated Good for reliability. Cub Cadet and Troy-Bilt excelled in owner satisfaction; the other two were rated Very Good.

Here’s a highly rated model from John Deere, the most reliable ZTR brand in our ratings:

Quick Take

John Deere Z355E

Price: $2,900

Side discharging
Mulching
Bagging
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Rear-Engine Riders

Rear-engine riding mowers aren't very common, making up just 6 percent of all riding mowers in our survey purchased in 2019. They’re smaller than lawn tractors, and the engine is placed below the driver’s seat, hence the name. Rear-engine riders are a good middle ground between wide-deck self-propelled walk-behind mowers and lawn tractors.

Our results have ratings for three rear-engine rider brands. None of them earned an Excellent rating for predicted reliability, but none of them earned an unfavorable reliability rating of Fair or Poor, either.

Cub Cadet and Troy-Bilt received Very Good reliability ratings, and Snapper was rated Good. As for owner satisfaction, Cub Cadet received an Excellent rating. The other two earned Good Ratings for satisfaction.

Here’s a rear-engine rider from Cub Cadet that offers commendable performance based on our tests:

Quick Take

Cub Cadet CC30e (Battery)

Price: $2,800

Side discharging
Mulching
Bagging
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Finding the Perfect Lawn Mower

Is your lawn mower failing to make the cut? On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports expert John Galeotafiore explains to host Jack Rico how to find the best mower for your needs.