Tuesday Tips: Buying a Lawn Mower

There's nothing like the smell of fresh-cut grass. But oh, the headache to get that smell. I spent many summer weekends as a teenager (my parents may dispute this) pushing a mower across our lawn, my Walkman blasting Duran Duran over the roar of the engine. These days lawn mowers make grass-cutting a bit easier. To get some tips on shopping for a new one, I spoke to Peter Sawchuk, a lawn mower expert at Consumer Reports. Here's what he had to say:

Tip #1: Before heading out to the store, look at the size of your lawn and the terrain. A small, flat lawn will be just fine with a push mower or an electric mower. Lawns that are more than 15,000 square feet can justify the expense and prestige of a riding mower. Just make sure you have a place to store it.

Tip #2: If your grass-cutting excursions are 45 minutes to an hour each time, then the mower will likely last about eight years. After that, it's probably time to consider replacing it.

Tip #3: Look at buying a mower as a long-term investment. "With a mower, $100 can make a huge difference between an acceptable mower and a great one," says Sawchuk, Consumer Reports' program leader for home improvement.

Tip #4: Consumer Reports says the best brands of mowers are Honda, Toro and Lawn-Boy. John Deere is top-rated for riding mowers.

Tip #5: If you're having trouble getting your mower started after it's been sitting for the whole winter, consider replacing the gasoline or buy a fuel stabilizer solution at your local hardware store before replacing the whole mower. Gas will go bad after a month of sitting in a mower, making it impossible to start the thing, says Sawchuk.

Tip #6: For a few dollars more, consider buying an electric start mower rather than a pull start. The difference in price is about $50 and much less aggravation.

Tip #7: Buy a second set of blades for your mower. That way while one set is on the mower, you can get the other set sharpened. Your grass will love the sharp cut.

Tip #8: It's tempting to hit the big home improvement stores when it's time to buy a mower but it's definitely worth it to shop around. Sawchuk recommends going to lawn mower dealers instead of home improvement stores because you'll likely get a higher level of service, especially if you need the mower repaired in the future. Toro has even been known to match prices offered by competitors. "Service and repair is an important factor," Sawchuk adds. "When it breaks down, Home Depot will send you to a servicing dealer."

Tip #9: If you're considering shopping online, be prepared for high shipping costs. Electric mowers will likely be the best online purchase because they're smaller, lighter and easier to ship.

Tip #10: Scout out stores for end-of-season deals on mowers. Many will sell refurbished mowers, which were returned by a previous customer but are in perfect condition. The store will usually knock $100 to $150 off the original price. Start looking for those deals in mid August.

What are your tips for lawn mower shopping? Who has the best deals on mowers? What are the best kinds of mowers? Post a comment below.

By Tania Anderson |  March 18, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Tuesday Tips
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Very good points (many of which I wish I had known five years ago) that most people will ignore in order to save a few bucks. I made the mistake of buying a high-end Toro at Home Depot, thinking that it was a better deal than what I would find at Brandell's in Fairfax. Then my wife ran over the grass catcher that was sitting in the driveway. You cannot buy a replacement directly from Toro, Home Depot will not order it and it is not on the standard parts list for Toro dealers since the models sold by HD are "consumer" and they only deal with "professional" models. The professional models, I learned, are better constructed, have better warranties and cost about $100 more. Brandell's eventually got me the grass catcher as a "special order" for nearly $90 - for a part that should have been no more than $30. Neither Toro nor HD were any help with this.

I would strongly heed Tip #3, #7 and #8. I actually have three blades and change them at least every 3-4 times I cut the grass. It really looks a lot better and you are only talking about $20 plus $6 to sharpen (free if you learn how to do it yourself).

A cheap mower from Sears is a lot more aggravation than it's worth and they do a lousy job of keeping the grass neatly trimmed. Now, if all that you care about is keeping your lawn from looking like the Amazon rainforest it probabably doesn't matter what you buy, but if you want to make mowing the lawn a bit less of a pain follow this advice.

Posted by: Lester Burnham | March 18, 2008 12:04 PM

any thoughts on push mowers (manual!)?

Posted by: Steve | March 18, 2008 11:01 PM

I am a little confused about the quality of mowers for sale. Case in point, Toro uses a Briggs and Straton engine so do the less expensive companies.It carries a two year warrantee.Cub Cadet has an engine made by Honda. It carries a three year warrantee. If after analyzing my needs why would I spend more money for a less expensive mower with the same if not more features, using the same engine carrying a longer warrantee

Posted by: bob | April 21, 2008 4:03 PM

I am going to purchase a push mower. Any comments on front or rear drive? Rear drive works better on hills. How about going around posts and trimming? Would a front drive be better for that? It is easier to turn with a front drive. Any comments or suggestions.

Posted by: Paul | May 2, 2008 8:38 PM

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