A riding lawn mower is an essential, ease of use gardening tool if have large areas of land you have to maintain. There are so many types of riding lawn mower it is hard to know to know what one is best for your garden. As this area is littered with so much confusing terminology it can be hard to determine the best riding lawn mower for your own personal preferences.
Do you want to know if you need a riding lawn mower, a garden tractor, or even a lawn tractor? Or even if there is even a difference between these terms other than clever marketing? Our buying guide will talk you through all these questions, and differences to help you find the best riding lawn mower to maintain your grounds. We’ll also talk you through all the common features, and how they’ll impact you in the garden.
If you need to mow your lawn quickly, and want a quick recommendation the John Deere E180 scored highly across all our scoring criteria. This powerful, easy to use riding lawn mower is versatile and works across well across hilly landscapes, as well as, flat plains.
John Deere E180
This mower has everything you need for heavy-duty use in residential areas, whether your yard is small or large. Its 26-horsepower engine and wide cutting path make mowing your lawn a cinch.
Troy-Bilt TB30 R
If you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend, consider the Troy-Bilt TB30 R. It costs a fraction of the price of the best models and still has the cutting power and versatility to get the job done.
Cub Cadet RZT-L
If you need a compact mower at a reasonable price, the Cub Cadet RZT-L is worthy of consideration. It combines a small form factor with a powerful engine and zero-turn technology.
This machine makes quick and easy work of cutting any size yard, and it easily navigates terrain other mowers may struggle to traverse. It features a front-mounted V-twin engine that produces up to 26 horsepower and can reach speeds up to 5.5 miles per hour. The fuel gauge sits in plain view as you mow so you know exactly how much gas you have left.
The John Deere E180 has an impressively wide cutting path of 54 inches. You can adjust the blades to 11 different height positions, anywhere between 1 inch and 4 inches, and it has a turning radius of 18 inches. These features make it easy to customize the cut to your lawn so it looks just the way you want. The machine’s hydrostatic transmission is pedal-operated, so you don’t have to take your hands off the steering wheel while you drive. This John Deere mower also has a cruise control that lets you set the speed you want to mow at. Both of these features limit distractions, so you can focus on your lawn and not the lawn mower.
An inexpensive riding lawn mower doesn’t really exist, but if you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend, the Troy-Bilt TB30 R is definitely worth considering. With a price of less than a thousand dollars, it’s more accessible to an average homeowner. It’s good for small- to medium-size lawns and has most, but not all, of the features we look for.
This mower features a rear-mounted 344cc engine and can reach speeds up to 4.25 miles per hour. It has a 30-inch blade, which isn’t the longest we saw but more than long enough for most users’ needs. It’s a bit slower and doesn’t cut as wide a path as our top pick, but the TB30 R’s power and maneuverability make it a good compromise, especially for its price.
It also has some convenience features, chief among them the FastAttach accessory system that lets you quickly attach accessories such as baggers and mulch kits. However, these accessories don’t come with the mower – you have to buy them separately. We liked this model’s six-speed, shift-on-the-go transmission, which allows you to quickly shift gears without stopping to adjust the clutch. Its operator-controlled reverse system even makes it possible to mow the grass while in reverse.
Best Small Riding Lawn Mower
Storage space for large equipment such as a riding lawn mower is often limited, so you may be left with the choice of sacrificing power and utility for a machine that has a smaller frame. With the Cub Cadet RZT-L, you can have all three. This riding lawn mower is compact yet still delivers power, speed and versatility. You’ll pay a premium, however: It generally costs about $2,500 and is one of the most expensive riding lawn mowers we evaluated.
This machine is constructed of very durable materials. Its 12-gauge steel body enhances protection against the occasional collision with rocks, trees and other lawn debris. The drive deck uses a Kevlar belt, which increases efficiency, performance and lifespan. The deck also incorporates a float system that keeps your mower level as you travel across rough terrain or inclines.
One of the things we look for in this category is zero-turn technology, which this lawnmower boasts. It can navigate around trees, shrubs and other obstacles without leaving uncut grass around them. The engine found in this lawn mower is impressive for a machine of its size. You get a 725-cc Koehler engine that delivers 23 horsepower and reaches a speed of 7 mph. Some of the full-size lawn mowers can’t compete with those specs. It also has a 2.8 gallon gas tank, which is large for a compact mower.
Most Compact Lawnmower
Compact lawn mowers that produce high quality results are hard to come by. In our evaluation, the Husqvarna YTH1852 is one of the most compact, yet powerful machines we reviewed.
It’s smaller than most riding lawn mowers, but it has several features that put it on par with the best models we saw. It has a 42-inch cutting width, which is about double what you get with a traditional push lawn mower. It also features a unique air induction system that enhances airflow through the deck, resulting in a cleaner and more consistent cut. It is constructed out of flat-stock steel, which stands up to harsh weather. Finally, it has a great cruise control feature that keeps a consistent speed during your mow.
Best for Professionals
If you have a landscaping or lawn care company, you need a riding lawn mower that will work every single day for years without fail, and one that you can expect to perform at the highest level consistently.
eXmark Lazer Z X-Series is the perfect fit for such a situation. It has 12 models to choose from that feature powerful engines and solid, heavy duty construction that can withstand a daily beating. Additionally, they utilize eMark’s unique RED technology.
It has on-board computer that helps different parts of the machine communicate with each other and optimize the performance based on what’s happening at the moment. It monitors engine temperature, oil pressure and electrical components. If there’s ever a problem, it will automatically correct or shut the machine down if it gets too dangerous.
Why trust us?
We put in dozens of hours collecting data on brands, models and types of machines. We compared specifications, combed through user reviews, consulted professional literature and more to make sure we picked the right models for the right purposes. We also spoke with each company’s support staff to assess whether you can get the assistance you need when you need it. We periodically re-evaluate the riding lawn mowers we feature to make sure they’re the best and most current models available.
How we picked the best ride on mower
As we evaluated each mower, we accounted for things like speed, cutting width, overall design, engine power and transmission type. Since these are very expensive machines, we also considered price, so we could find the best riding lawn mowers that offer the greatest value.
Our top choice had a favorable balance among all of these criteria. While we believe it is the best riding lawn mower for most people, it isn’t necessarily the best fit for kind of terrain or purpose. For example, if you own a lawn care business, you need a machine that is built to handle more than the weekly mow.
Every model we feature was subject to scrutiny based on its specifications, feature set, and feedback from real-life users. Our final choices represent the best riding lawn mower each brand offers.
We also reached out to professionals who use riding lawn mowers on a daily basis. We spoke to Steve Hough of Hough Landscaping, who has used a dozen different types of riding lawn mowers for more than two decades, about what he looks for when he buys a mower for his business.
When he selects a new riding mower for his service, Mr Hough considers productivity, price, and the lifespan of the machine. Other considerations include serviceability, reliability and down time. For professional situations he prefers eXmark machines because they’re lower priced and functional.
However, for his personal use he does prefer John Deere because “It's been a trusted name across multiple generations; always reliable, high-quality service from the dealer, and eliminates a lot of headaches.”
We've identified criteria that can help you select the best riding mower for your projects. Speed, cutting width, zero-turn design, engine placement and transmission are key factors when determining which one is right for you.
How much do riding lawn mowers cost?
The cost of riding lawn mowers can be quite expensive. But there’s a model for nearly all budgets. Among the lawnmowers we reviewed, the cheapest was about $750, while the most expensive is over $10,000. So, there is a wide variation in price, and if you really want one, there’s one out there that fits your needs and budget.
What types of riding lawn mower are there?
There are four main types of riding lawn mowers: rear-engine riding lawn mowers, lawn tractors, garden tractors and zero-turn riding lawn mowers. These are basically categories for how powerful the riding lawn mower is the sort of ground maintenence tasks they can undertake.
Rear-engine riding lawn mowers
Rear-engine riding lawn mowers are the most basic, entry level models. These are typically powered by a rear engine, and have a front loaded cutting deck. These riding lawn mowers are designed to be bridge gap from a standard push along lawn mower to a lawn tractor. They are best for areas of land that are an acre or less in length.
Rear-engine riding lawn mowers are designed to just cut the grass and nothing else. The widest cutting length to expect with this kind of riding lawn mower is 30 inches. The cost of these riding lawn mowers typically ranges between $700.00 and $12,00.00. These models generally have lever operated transmission which means you have to take your hands off the wheel, giving you less control.
These models are becoming increasingly less popular, and most buyers prefer a zero-turning riding lawn mower, for their ability to turn on a dime.
Advantages of rear-engine riding lawn mowers
These riding lawn mowers maybe entry level machines, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any advantages. Out of all the riding lawn mower types, they are usually the easiest to use, mostly due to the design.
The front cutting deck, central seat place and rear engine means that you can control the area of the lawn you’re mowing with greater ease than the other types of riding lawn mowers. The front cutting deck also helps the lawn mower access areas that other models can’t, like under benches or around shrubs and bushes.
They’re are also a lot more compact than other types of riding lawn mower. This means they are great choices for people who have small gardens or don’t have a lot of space for storage.
The most obvious advantage is price - they are meant to provide a ride-on lawn mower experience for a lower price.
Disadvantages of riding lawn mowers
Most of the disadvantages of a riding lawn mower stem from them being an entry model. The engines are not as powerful, the cutting deck has less width, they do not have as many accessories and they do not have comfort features like a cup holder or padded steering wheels.
Is this the best riding lawn mower for me?
We recommend this style of riding lawn mower for people that have small gardens or tracts of land that are an acre or less in length. They are also a great option for people who have a tight budget - and just want to cut grass, nothing else.
When people think of riding lawn mowers, this is the type of riding lawn mower that they have in mind. This is the next class of riding lawn mower above the entry models. The cutting blade is located in the middle of the machine, which gives it a wider cut. The typical cutting deck ranges between 38 - 52 inches.
Unlike rear-driven riding lawn mowers, lawn tractors have enough power to use a limited range of accessories, like a grass collection box or tow a collection of garden tools. But these loads shouldn’t be too heavy - as the name suggests, these tractors are more focused on maintaining your lawn. Most lawn tractors come with a pedal operated transmission that gives you good control over the machine. They also have low level creature comforts like a cup holder.
The lawn tractor is best for lawns that are between 1 and 4 acres in length. The typical cost of a lawn tractor ranges between $1200 - $2200.
Advantages of lawn tractors
Lawn tractors have many advantages over rear-driven riding lawn mowers. They have a wider cutting range, a more powerful engine and offer a wider range of accessories. This means they cut the grass faster and give you a greater range of versatility.
They are a good compromise if you are seeking a faster lawn mower, will not wanting to increase storage space by a large degree.
Disadvantages of lawn tractors
When compared to rear-driven riding lawn mower they are a little harder to control due to the placement of the engine and blades. The engine is placed towards the front of the machine, which makes it hard for you to see over when steering.
As the cutting deck is placed in the middle of the machine, the machine has trouble cutting under objects like benches unlike rear-driven riding lawn mowers. Lawn tractors are also a little bigger and require more storage space.
When compared to the garden tractor they are less powerful, and offer a lot less versatility.
Is this the best riding lawn mower for me?
A lawn tractor is best for people with a large amount of land to maintain, but is mostly going to use a ride-on lawn mower to maintain their lawn and trim grass. Lawn tractors are good compromise between the power and speed of a garden tractor and the price and size of a rear-driven riding lawn mower.
Garden tractors are the elite class of ride-on lawn mowers and are built for heavy duty garden care. These tractors are the most powerful, offer the widest cutting range that can extend up to 72 inches, and the widest range of accessories.
Garden tractors can use heavy duty accessories like tillers, cultivators, plow blades and even snowblowers. These machines are built to do a lot more than just maintain your lawn. Many models come with optional features, like the ability to run a generator off their engine making them invaluable tools on large areas of land.
These machines are designed to handle rougher terrain that the other types of ride-on lawn mowers, coming with specially designed transmission for hilly, rocky ground and wider tires with deeper treads.
The cost of garden tractor can be from $2000 to $10,000 depending on the model.
Advantages of garden tractors
These are the best kind of ride-on lawn mowers. They offer the greatest versatility, speed, and cutting width. They also have an extremely durable, strong build.
Disadvantages of garden tractors
The biggest disadvantage is the cost. Garden tractors are very expensive - almost prohibitively expensive when compared to the other types of riding lawn mowers.
They also the biggest lawn-mower, and require a lot of room to store.
The large engine on a garden tractor also means that is less visibility when driving.
Is this the best riding lawn mower for me?
This riding lawn mower is the best for people who own over 5 acres of ground they have to maintain and care for. It is a great tool that will help in all aspects of landscaping, due to the large amount of tasks it can handle. We only recommend these machines for people who need professional level gardening.
Zero-turn riding lawn mowers
Zero-turn riding lawn mowers are designed to turn on a 180 degree angle meaning you have to make less passes. These machines are all about cutting at speed. They are the fastest ride-on lawn mowers available.
These machines are steered using two levers instead of a steering wheel. One controls speed, the other causes the machine to turn on the spot. This can be difficult to learn, but once it is mastered, these lawn mowers over the greatest maneuverability and control. This greater control allows zero-turn riding lawn mowers to trim grass right up to the edges of the border and weaving around shrubs and bushes.
They are often less versatile than garden tractors, and are only used for cutting grass.
Advantages of zero-turn riding lawn mowers
They are great for tight turns, and for gardens where there are a lot of obstacles to steer around.
Zero turn lawn mowers are speedy machines that can turn on the spot. This saves you time and having wide circles of uncut grass when you turn.
Disadvantages of zero turn riding lawn mowers
Zero turn riding lawn mowers are not very good on slopes or hilly terrain because the casters on the side of the machine dig into the ground. This limits their use to flat gardens only.
Although they offer great maximum speeds, you often find yourself going as slow as other kinds of riding lawn mowers to achieve an even cut lawn.
They are also one of the more expensive types of lawn mowers.
Is this the best riding lawn mower for me?
A zero turn riding lawn mower is best for people who have flat gardens, want to cut their gardens at speed, and have a lot of obstacles to steer around.
Features to look for in a riding lawn mower: speed
The speed of a ride-on lawn mower is one of the most important aspects to consider. How fast the lawn mower can travel impacts how long it will take to complete the job. High speed is important if, like a professional groundskeeper or landscaper, you have large tracts of land to mow. The faster you mow the lawn, the quicker you can focus on other landscaping projects.
The cutting width of ride on mower blades
A wider blade cuts a larger area with each pass, which allows you to get the job done faster. However, as the blade width increases, so does the size of the ride-on lawn mower. This means that some lawn mowers might be too wide to maneuver comfortably through your property. Measure the areas you need to mow and maintain to choose the mower that is most suitable for the space. There is nothing worse than having a mower that can’t get in the smaller, tighter spaces.
Ride on mower cruise control
Some of the more well designed riding lawn mowers come with cruise control built in, that let you to control the speed of the lawn mower. This is the ultimate ease of use function, that allows you to maintain the best speed for even cut.
Zero-turn lawn mowers have the tightest turning radius, which translates to excellent maneuverability and makes it easy to get around trees, shrubs and lawn statues. However, they do have some difficulty maneuvering on hills because they tend to turn too sharply on steep terrain.
Ride on mower engine placement
In general, the mower’s engine placement determines its power. Rear-engine models are smaller and have less power, and zero-turn mowers normally have rear engines. Front-engine tractor models have larger engines and more power and cutting ability.
Just like a car's transmission, a manual transmission on a mower means more work for you. If you prefer to focus on steering instead of shifting, you’ll want a riding mower with an automatic transmission.
When you’re making a purchase as expensive as a ride-on lawnmower, the warranty period becomes increasingly important. If something goes wrong early in the lifespan of your lawnmower, the warranty can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars on replacing parts or the whole unit. And from our experience, the longer the warranty period, the longer you can expect your products to last.
The most common warranty period for ride-on lawn mowers is two years. Most of the models offer two-year warranties. The longest warranty period we saw was five years offered by the eXmark Lazer Z series.
However, you should check to see if the lawn mower you choose has additional limitations. For example, the John Deere E180’s warranty expires when you’ve used the machine for 120 hours.
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