Riding lawn mowers aren’t just a tool for clearing out parks or sports fields – they can be a useful tool for anybody with a lot of grass they need to trim on a regular basis, whether it is for your job or just part of maintaining your garden at home. They are not quite the same as regular lawnmowers, though, and they can be more dangerous if you don’t handle them correctly – they are practically a miniature tractor, so knowing what to look for in a riding lawn mower you are interested in is incredibly important.
Things You Should Look For in a Riding Lawn Mower
Size and Cut Width
The biggest and most obvious difference with a riding lawn mower is the size. You are not just pushing around a handle or steering a chair-sized mower with a bar – you are actively riding a large mowing unit that has its own engine, wheels and self-propelling mechanisms. Regardless of the power source it uses, you’ll need to treat it like a small vehicle, rather than a large gardening tool.
Because of this, the size of whatever unit you are using is much more important on a personal level: it should be comfortable and safe without being too large or small for you to properly use, especially if you think you’ll be bringing it out quite regularly. However, size also affects how much it can cut at any one time, especially when you start looking into the cutting width of the blade.
Ridable mowers can be hard to control under certain conditions, and if you miss a tiny patch of grass, you’re going to have to slowly reverse or turn around to fix the problem. Keep in mind that the blade of the mower is also limited by the wheels, so smaller designs will have smaller cutting widths. This might not be a problem for small domestic gardens, but when you get into land over 1 acre in size, it makes a huge difference.
A 30-inch blade will cut 1 acre of land at a slower rate than a 42-inch blade since each line of grass you cut will be thinner. However, there is no need to go for the largest option every time: 60-inch blades are usually kept for lawns over 5 acres, and they become cumbersome if you are only cutting three-quarters of an acre every time.
Not all mowers use the exact same internal or external designs, so there’s more than one major type on offer. These can include:
Any mower that isn’t built for a specific purpose is simply known as a riding mower. There are no special criteria behind them, other than they have to be a grass cutter that you can ride like a normal vehicle. Designs and components will vary, so there’s not really a single way to describe them, but they almost always use a high-seated design that’s very reminiscent of old farming tractors.
The laws surrounding these mowers can vary from place to place, so you might not be able to treat them as regular vehicles. They’re usually legally classed as real vehicles, but you still need a driver’s license most of the time, and you’ll probably also need insurance if you’re using it somewhere that could be considered a public place (such as the gardens at your workplace, or a shared outdoor space.
Zero Turn Mowers
A Zero Turn mower, or ZTR mower, use a pair of front caster wheels that can be pivoted for better steering, which you can control using some built-in lever-like bars. Although they don’t have the usual steering wheel you might expect, which can be unusual to first-time users, they’re usually much faster and have a far better turn radius for smaller spaces.
They’re basically just a faster and lighter version of a regular mower, with more mobility and a greater reliance on special attachments. It’s not as versatile, and it can’t deal with all kinds of terrain, but they’re useful for very flat gardens. Physically, ZTR mowers look more like go-karts than tractors and have lower seating.
A garden tractor is essentially just a heavier, more versatile riding lawn mower that’s almost large enough to be classified as a real tractor or vehicle. They can accept a larger range of attachments and have durable bodies and tires, but function in more or less the same way. It’s worth noting that these mowers are usually almost more powerful and reliable, and they can sometimes even be used for the same jobs as an actual tractor, including towing small trailers.
Thanks to their bigger engines, they can keep going for longer and will have more force behind their wheels, so they can move faster on solid surfaces. However, their added bulkiness makes it harder for them to turn in tight spaces.
Engine and Transmission Features
The engine used in your mower will affect how it can move on different surfaces. While the motor behind the blade is also a key part of it, it doesn’t matter as much, since you’ll rarely find one that’s too weak to cut grass and plants.
Manual engine transmission will give a select set of speeds to choose from, while automatic transmissions are controlled with a pedal. Hydrostatic transmissions are similar to automatic setups, but use fluid as the power transfer method, making the mower slightly smoother and making maintenance less regular.
When you’re comparing engine sizes and statistics, you’ll want to make sure you understand what each acronym or shortened name stands for. The HP (horsepower) of your engine is its total power output across everything it’s connected to, and the CC (cubic centimeters) is a measurement of the cylinder size within the engine itself. Both of these relate to the torque, which is the amount of force it can provide onto the blades and/or wheels.
You might also want to look out for things like cruise control (automatic driving for cutting straight lines) and deck wheels (to help your blade move over rough ground). Even if they’re not applied to the engine itself, they can still make a significant difference depending on what you’re using your mower for.
There’s quite a wide range of attachments you can find for various riding lawn mower models. This can be small things, like seating pads or better grips on the steering wheel, to larger attachments such as entire carts or trailers. The larger and stronger your mower is, the bigger the attachments can be, but not all of them will be necessary for day-to-day use. Some of them can even be season-specific, such as brushes to sweep away leaves or sprayers to help spread fertilizer and weed-killers. Whether or not you buy them is entirely up to you, since very few of them will come with the mowers as standard.
There are various other factors, attachments, and extras that are worth looking into when you’re buying a new riding lawnmower. For example, if you’re planning to spend a lot of time riding your mower, you’ll want to look for extra comfort features like lumbar support or more legroom. Most mowers are quite bulky, so it’s easy to end up with cramped legs or poor arm and back support – this might not matter in the short-term, but it can quickly add up if you’re regularly using the mower, especially if it’s part of your day-to-day job.
Brakes are also important, but they’re very easy to overlook when you’re buying one of these riding lawn mowers for the first time. Being able to stop suddenly is always useful, especially if you have a garden with stone or concrete surfaces that can damage a mower blade if you drive over them.
To help reduce mess, it’s a good idea to look into whether or not each mower can bag or mulch the grass cuttings you’re taking in. While it doesn’t necessarily have to (and many mowers are designed so that the cuttings are dropped right back onto the grass), it’s not always the healthiest option for your garden, and it’s not very clean on windy or wet days. Keep in mind that these features might be sold as separate attachments by certain manufacturers, so you’ll need to include it in your budget.
Speaking of wet days, waterproofing can have a big impact on where you can use the mower, too. Durability doesn’t come into play very often, but protection against weather is one of the most useful elements of a good mower, especially in wetter or colder climates.