Two lawn mowers that look the same may have a huge price gap between them – which can be as big as $2,300 in some cases. So what do you expect to get when you spend more cash on your lawn tractor?
What is the Best Riding Lawn Mower for the Money?
Pricey features can include a larger cutting deck with ‘gauge wheels’ to minimize ‘scalping’ when the tractor comes across a low spot. The top of the line models also have a power deck lift (instead of a manual lever lift). The majority of high end lawn tractors pack power steering, and may even come with tilt-wheel capability for extra comfort.
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Some expensive models have hydrostatic transmissions that are input sensitive, providing superior pedal control and lesser jerky movements when they are being operated at low speed around trees and garden edges.
Many expensive models also come with robust V-twin engines that output more torque at lower revolutions and have lesser noise and vibration. These models also have bigger gas tanks, so you don’t have to refill as often. Their seats are also more comfortable.
The bottom line – the best riding lawn mower for the money for you depends on your particular requirements – and to ensure that you’ll make an informed decision, here is a breakdown of the various types of riding mowers available today:
What are the Different kinds of Riding Mowers?
Rear Engine Riding Mower
These mowers are engineered to perform the sole task of cutting grass. Normally, they cost less than a similarly sized lawn tractor. This is why they are popular with homeowners who only want to deal with grass and not spend a lot of time riding on the machine. RER mowers’ popularity has waned in the last few years as homeowners shift to the more modern ZTR mowers.
- Cost the least among all the different types of riding mowers.
- The noise and heat of the engine are behind you, as opposed to under you.
- Visibility is better since there isn’t an engine ahead of you.
- Don’t need a lot of storage room.
- Can fit through gates.
- Movement speed is slow – 1.5 to 4.5 mph.
- Cutting width is narrower (28 inches).
- Limited accessory options.
- Lever operated transmission is less convenient.
Lawn tractors happen to be the most liked of all riding mowers. They are excellent at cutting through large lawns, as well as light-duty gardening tasks. Most basic models come with 38 in cutting decks, while the pricier models have a cutting width of as much as 54 inches!
The majority of these are strong enough to run a supplementary grass collection mechanism, or pull a garden cart of supplies. However, these tractors aren’t designed for heavy duty work, or for pulling especially large attachments.
- Larger cutting widths – starting from 38’’.
- Hydrostatic transmission allows speed to be controlled easily.
- Faster mowing speed of about 5.2 mph.
- Most come with bigger engines that have pressurized lubrication systems that keep the oil flowing on steeply angled slopes.
- Can accept certain accessories.
- Require more storage room.
- Those with larger decks might not fit your gate.
- Since the engine is ahead of the driver, the visibility is reduced.
- Can’t work with ground-engaging attachments like cultivators and tillers.
These tractors are engineered from heavy steel frames and have bigger engines, so they are able to have larger cutting decks (as much as 60’’) than lawn tractors. Plus, they’re strong enough to use attachments such as plow blades, snowblowers, cultivators, and tillers. Lots of these pack a power takeoff (PTO) to run pumps, and in certain cases, whole generators! But on the downside, they are quite costly.
- Their robust construction lets them tackle any task.
- PTO feature available in some models.
- Widest cutting decks among all 4 styles.
- Strong enough to work as tillers or snowblowers.
- Hydrostatic transmission, power deck lift and power steering are standard features.
- Require more storage space.
- Limited visibility since the engine is at the front.
- Heavy and hard to maneuver in tighter spots.
Zero Turn Radius
ZTR riding mowers are made to bring your mowing time down to half. They move a lot faster (as much 7mph), and since they are able to turn on a dime, they shave off the time you’d need to make the full turn to cut the new row in your yard.
Since they are highly maneuverable, you can use them to cut right up close to garden edging and trees. This also does away with the need of using a weed trimmer separately. If all you want is to cut grass as quickly as possible, a ZTR mower is the one for you.
- Fastest of all 4 kinds of riding mowers.
- Most maneuverable of all 4 kinds of riding mowers.
- Can’t be used on steep inclines.
- Can accept only a few attachments e.g. a vacuum grass catcher or a cart.
- It takes practice to learn how to drive these.
- Most expensive.
Our picks for best riding lawn mowers
Here is our selection of top rated riding lawn mowers categorized according to the various designations described above:
Costing less on average than ZTR riders for properties greater than 0.5 acres, lawn tractors are the better choice for bagging clippings, and they are easier on rough ground and hilly terrain. Some topnotch features make the $3,000 costing John Deere X300 a good choice for its cost.
You can also get the Craftsman 20442 for $800 less – it has a larger deck, mulches more uniformly, and can also turn better. You may also prefer its 6.5mph ground speed. For $2,800, the Snapper NXT2346, has commendable cutting performance and an LED dashboard screen with an hour meter as well as timers for changing filters, oil etc.
The S240 Sport by John Deere costs $2,500, and has an extra-wide, flat chute that has better side discharging capabilities compared to some of Deere’s older offerings.
Top wider-deck tractors
Lawn tractors with wider decks haven’t performed as well in terms of even cutting compared to their smaller cousins, but here’s the trio of best rated lawn tractors that proves to be the exception. Priced at $3,000, the Craftsman 20445 has the largest cutting deck at 54’’, and lets you make sharp turns around obstacles (including trees).
The Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP 13WQA2KO, at $1,900, is a 50 inch bargain that matches the Craftsman in terms of cutting and comes with the same kind of electric power takeoff, dashboard and other bells and whistles. There’s also the moderately priced ($2,200) John Deere D155 that has a somewhat smaller 48’’ deck, but still managed to impress us with its cutting prowess in all modes.
Top zero-turn-radius riders
ZTRs have the fastest ground speed – although you should stick to around 4mph – and can easily navigate hurdles on fairly flat terrain. If you’re looking for the best cutting performance, the 42’’ deck Troy-Bilt Mustang 17WFCACS, at $2,300, and the 46’’ Troy-Bilt Mustang Pivot 17ARCBDTT, are the two ZTRs we recommend.
If you’re looking for more stability on hilly ground, go for the Pivot or the $3,000 Toro SW4200 74784 – they come with a steering wheel / steerable front wheels combo as opposed to the standard control levers / caster-style front wheels.
Not to be forgotten is the Poulan Pro P46ZX Briggs Riding Mower which both budget friendly and an excellent machine.