We all know that high quality products are worth having, but what exactly determines a high quality self-propelled lawn mower? We decided to tackle this question in two general areas: durability and design. Let’s look at what long-lasting and thoughtful features are integrated into the best mowers on the market today.
The average maximum life expectancy of a well-maintained lawn mower is seven to ten years, with most people hitting about 6 years before they change to a newer model. Gas engines in consumer models last around ten years, tops. That translates to about one hour per week of use for about six months every year.
Most mower manufacturers usually offer 1 to 3 year warranties. This doesn’t seem like much, but there are reasons for such a short term compared to the life expectancy of a mower. Designs change, models get upgraded, and a lot of companies don’t want to be responsible for hanging on to old parts stock for years just in case someone might need a repair. It used to be that you could buy something backed by a long warranty because then you’d be confident that the product would last. Not so now. So how can you determine if a product will be durable?
The sum of its parts
You know that old saying, “Keep it simple.” Look for self-propelled lawn mowers that have fewer parts to break and lose. Avoid ones that need all sorts of accessories to change between discharging, mulching, and bagging. Stick to one-lever height changes instead of four levers for setting each wheel’s height independently. Prefer button starters over ones that require a key, and avoid gas models that need priming and choking.
Finally, blades are a key part that you’ll need to maintain and replace. Consider whether you’ll bag or mulch more, because there are different kinds of blades that do each kind of work. Some self-propelled 3-in-1 models have both kinds of blades onboard, which raises the cost of maintenance. Some warranties require that you use only blades approved by the manufacturer.
Solid like a rock
Electric and cordless self-propelled mowers often have plastic decks, or bodies. This makes them a lot lighter to move around. Plastic is not bad. Some manufacturers guarantee those plastic decks for the lifetime of the mower because they are strong and will never rust. Meanwhile, you’ll mostly see steel decks on gas mowers. Look for ones that are marked rust-resistant, but remember you’ll still need to keep them clean to protect them over the long run.
Respect for the reputation
When in doubt, buy a mower from a company that’s been making them for a good long while. If you don’t find all the features you want in one of the big name models, don’t despair. Some manufacturers assemble their mowers with parts from other companies with great reputations for quality. For example, many gas mowers run on Briggs & Stratton engines. Honda has been making lawn mowers since 1979, and Toro since the 1980s. These companies make some of the best mowers on the market. Check to see which manufacturers currently get the most positive reviews.
We just discussed having a lawn mower that will endure well. The second sign of a high quality self-propelled lawn mower is thoughtful design. Is it made to be comfortable and easy to use?
Self-propelled mowers make cutting the lawn a lot easier, but you still have to guide them. First off, look for mowers with adjustable cushioned handlebars. You’ll want the bar to hit the right height for you to control the mower comfortably, especially if you have slopes or rough terrain. If the bars collapse down afterward for storage, that’s even better. The cushioning is important, too, when you have to mow in 95-degree heat. That metal gets hot in the sun.
We’re back to “keep it simple.” The best-designed mowers have sturdy, well-marked adjustment levers in easy-to-reach places. Need to change from discharge to bagging? Flip the lever. Want to raise the blade a little higher? One lever clicks forward and backward. Need to go a little faster? Some self-propelled models use the bail handle to control the speed. Squeeze it and go faster. Others have a fixed throttle. If at all possible, see and touch (and even test-drive) the mowers you want to buy.
Thoughtful design also means the operator has the most flexibility possible to accommodate their lawn’s needs. Look for models that offer a good range of deck height adjustments, as well as plenty of speed settings. Think of it this way: you might have fescue in your yard now, so you’ll be leaving it longer. Maybe your weather only hits the 80s in the summer, so you cut the whole yard quickly. But maybe next year you’ll be living somewhere hot with centipede grass, which means you’ll be cutting it short and possibly moving a little slower while you work. You’ll be glad for all those deck heights and speeds at your command!
Finally, good design means that the manufacturer makes it easy for you to clean up after you mow. Keeping the machine clean will extend its lifetime. A washout port in the deck is a good example. All you have to do is connect a garden hose and let it run for a minute or two to wash out the clippings. A gas mower will have an easy way to drain the tank for winter storage. A cordless mower will have a battery that’s simple to remove so that you’ll have options for charging it wherever you have need. An electric mower will have hooks for storing the extension cord. If you have a small storage area, look for collapsible handlebars.
Get the best you can afford
This mower will be your working companion each week for a good long chunk of the year. If you want a beautiful lawn, but don’t want to kill yourself maintaining it, get a great mower. Get the best you can afford, because over the long run it will save you time and money. Before you hit the store, read more about the best-selling models and the critics’ favorite riding lawn mowers.