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Guide To Choosing The Best Riding Lawn Mower – Plus Our Top Picks

A new riding mower is a pretty big investment that should pay off over several years. You want one that offers everything you need at a price you are happy with. A couple cool features never hurt anyone either.

We want to help you compare the most popular models and decide which is the best riding lawn mower for you.

You have to take several key aspects into account. After reading this, you will have a good understanding of what model specifications to look for. Understanding the character of your yard is key here. A zero-radius turn mower is a blessing for some. You may even decide that an electric riding mower is ideal for your yard.

Since all major brands compete by offering similar models, we will talk a bit about the most popular brands and whether or not a name means anything.

Finally, we share our info-packed reviews of the best of three categories. There are also two honorable mentions.

Consider Your Yard's Size And Terrain

Having a large yard doesn't necessarily mean you need a wide deck. You need a mower that can mow your entire yard, including between bushes and other lawn features, so weigh the time you spend mowing open lawn together with time mowing in more crowded areas. Smaller decks can save time too. 

Hilly yards require a strong motor, good tires and a wide chassis base. If your lawn is nice and flat, you can probably save some money by buying a cheaper mower. But don't go cheap on engine power if your lawn is thick or you mow long grass often. You'll end up paying for an expensive engine repair if you demand more than the mower is designed to deliver. 

Zero-turn Radius: The Pros And Cons

They are amazing on large flat lawns and pretty awesome in general.

Total maneuverability saves time, but the whole zero-turn thing takes some getting used to. Beginners shouldn't use zero-turn radius mowers on any hills other than the most gentle. They offer great visibility because the engine is on the back, but having nearly all of the weight on the back wheels causes some stability issues regardless of which way you negotiate a hill.

If your lawn's slope is less than about 15 degrees and you have several obstacles to mow around and between, a zero-turn mower may be worth the higher price. Get a model with a steering wheel instead of bars if you have a hilly yard. They are easier to control. 

Which Brands Are Reputable

There are several things to be said for sticking with a well-known brand. No company can survive long if they put their name on a substandard product. A reputation for quality creates brand recognition and builds a loyal base of customers. Riding mower manufacturers know this, and they compete ferociously.

Definitely go with a big name. They offer quality machines and great customer service, if you ever need it.

The warranties that the big names offer are better too. Sometimes they cover blades damaged by the mower's owner. But the best thing is they stand behind their warranties. It is usually easier to find a shop that does warranty repairs for a top-name mower.

Here are some of the top riding mower manufacturers:

  • John Deere
  • Poulan
  • Cub Cadet
  • Craftsman
  • Ryobi
  • Husqvarna

Gas vs Electric

Before the beginning of the 20th century, the only practical lawn mowers had four legs. The first gas-powered riding mower was made in 1921. Since then, gas mowers have dominated the market. But every year brings innovation to electric mowers. Today's electrics give gas mowers a run for their money in every respect.

The fact that they are so new is a small drawback. About 100 electric models have been offered over the past 10 years. Only three are still on the market. It is hard to say how many of these failures are due to design flaws inherent to electrics and how many are just victims of the fluctuating economy or other problems.

Rather than comparing the differences between gas and electric mowers, I am going to list the main pros that electrics have over gas models and areas where they may fall short. 

PROS

  • No exhaust - No fumes and better for the environment
  • They are much quieter - You can literally hear the grass being cut
  • They require less maintenance

CONS

  • Little variety in the market
  • Electric motor repair is expensive
  • Maximum run time is two hours
  • Long recharge time

And here is a list of improvements to electric riding mowers we would like to see in the coming years. Are any mower engineers listening?

  • Smaller, lighter, batteries that charge in two hours
  • A hybrid model
  • A good zero-turn model

Which Riding Lawn Mowers Are Best?

This wasn't easy to choose our top recommendations, but we want to help you decide on a riding mower that you will love, so we've done extensive research and after analyzing product specifications and real users' experiences, we've come up with a list of the best riding mowers that we recommend.

Best Overall - Troy-Bilt 420cc OHV 30 Inch Premium Ride-on Lawn Mower

troy-bilt 30-inch riding mower

This compact mower has a strong engine and a medium-sized cutting deck.

It has enough power to cut wet and long grass. The mulching deck adjusts to five heights. This is less height range than most other riding mowers, but how much range do you actually need? Five is fine.

You shouldn't have any stability issues with this mower unless you have very steep hills. Most of the weight is on the back, remember, so the front wheels may lose the traction they need to keep the mower going straight if you go up a steep incline and it tries to do a wheelie. 

PROS

  • Compact and light
  • Decent price
  • 3-in-1 deck
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    Strong engine combined with a 6-speed transmission

CONS

  • Tires are a bit narrow
  • Some buyers report the engine is a little loud
  • A 34 or 36 inch deck would be ideal for this mower's power

This is a great mower at a really nice price. It's a basic riding mower that fits the needs of most homeowners.

Best Electric - Ryobi RM480E

Ryobi RM480E

Don't dismiss electric riding mowers. This one runs for two hours on an overnight charge, so you can mow about an acre and a half before parking it for the night. Thick, long or wet lawns will drain the battery quicker. So will long hills, but not by as much as you may think. I wouldn't shy away from mowing a hilly yard with this mower.

Each blade has its own motor, and so does the engine. this means that you will not lose speed when you run into thick or long patches of grass.

This electric riding mower rivals any similar gas-powered model!

PROS

  • Nice 38" cutting deck
  • Quiet and clean operation
  • May qualify for "Going Green" rebates
  • check-square
    Excellent traction
  • check-square
    All of the other pros of electric mowers discussed above

CONS

  • Not for lawns over 2 acres
  • Replacement motors and batteries are expensive
  • Only 2 hours of run time per about 8 hours of charge time

Best Budget Pick - Poulan PRO 960460075 Gas Front-Engine Riding Mower

Poulan Pro PP175G42

My first reaction when I saw such a great price coming from such a big name was to look and see how often this model breaks down. What I found is that it has the dependability you would expect from Poulan.

The most frequent maintenance complaints were about wear and tear components like belts and blades. So it is not a cheaply-built mower.

The 17.5 horsepower engine is impressive at the price. So is the 42" deck.

Honorable Mention - Cub Cadet XT1 Series

Think of this series of mowers as a step up from our budget pick. They come with bigger decks and stronger engines. Of course, their prices are higher. Take a closer look at these if you like the Poulan we've reviewed but have some extra cash for a bigger mower. 

Honorable Mention - Husqvarna YTA18542

This model's engine is a bit stronger than the Cub Cadet series'. It shares most of the important features as the XT1 series as well. We give it a mention here for its hydrostatic transmission. This gives you infinite speed control instead of five to seven choices. If this appeals to you, this may be your mower.

Hopefully these tips and suggestions has helped you narrow down your choices so you can decide on the best riding mower based on your specific needs. If you have any specific questions or would like to offer some advice to your fellow shoppers, please leave a comment below!

Ed Kirkland
 

Hi, I'm Ed, and I've been doing lawn work since my mid teen years, picking up jobs here and there mowing and helping with basic landscaping projects. I worked at a couple different lawn care / landscaping companies throughout my college years, and now thanks to the internet I'm able to make a share my knowledge and advice with people about lawn care and landscaping.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 1 comments
Tiffany Locke - October 17, 2018

I’m glad that you mention how it’s important to find a mower that works for your entire yard, such as being able to get around plants and other features. This would be important to ensure you can maneuver the lawn equipment easily in order to keep all the grass at the level you want. Knowing the size could help you search online so you can quickly go through the different brands and models to find one that will help you keep your yard healthy and beautiful.

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