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Most and Least Reliable Riding Mower Brands

How to pick a model that will keep you cutting for years

Someone drives a riding mower across a lawn

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 $1,000 to $4,000.

Our latest survey shows that the experience isn't always problem-free. Almost half of all 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, impacting 13 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 now 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 product, and that question serves as the basis for our owner satisfaction rating.

These latest findings come from the Consumer Reports 2018 Fall Survey, which leveraged data on more than 12,000 riding mowers that members purchased between 2008 and 2018.

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. If a brand receives an unfavorable reliability rating of Fair or Poor for a given category, its models in that category can't be recommended by CR.

(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 63 percent of the riding mowers in CR’s survey purchased in 2018, 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 11 lawn tractor brands in our survey results, John Deere is the only brand that rates Excellent for predicted reliability and owner satisfaction.

The two runners-up are Ariens and Husqvarna, which rate Very Good for reliability and Good for satisfaction. The only other brand with a passable reliability rating is Troy-Bilt, which receives a Good rating. Troy-Bilt also gets a Good rating for owner satisfaction. We don't currently have any Ariens lawn tractors in our ratings, but the Husqvarna and Troy-Bilt models we've tested generally perform well (though not as well as John Deere models).

The seven remaining lawn tractor brands in our survey results receive unfavorable reliability ratings of Fair or Poor. Craftsman, Cub Cadet, and Poulan Pro rate Fair for reliability, and Murray, Simplicity, Snapper, and Yard Machines rate Poor. But a few of those brands fare better for owner satisfaction.

Cub Cadet and Simplicity rate Very Good for satisfaction, and Snapper rates Good. Craftsman receives a Fair satisfaction rating, and the remaining three brands (Murray, Poulan Pro, and Yard Machines) receive Poor satisfaction ratings.

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

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