Updated: April 6, 2016
Lawn Tractor Reviews:
- What is a lawn tractor?
- Benefits of using a garden tractor
- How much do lawn tractors cost? Which should I buy?
For most of us a smaller lawn mower is sufficient enough in taking care of our lawns at home but anyone with a lawn of 1/2 acre or more should definitely consider buying a lawn tractor or riding mower. The cost of a quality lawn tractor has come down in price significantly over the last few years and many have added to their versatility.
For just a little over $1000 you can purchase a reasonable lawn tractor that will turn your acres of lawn into a well-groomed landscape. One of the reasons for their newfound affordability is that they are now carried at stores like Home Depot, Lowes and Sears. The increased volume of sales has allowed the manufacturers of these lawn tractors to lower prices and market them to the masses.
Many owners say they like the fact the light-duty lawn tractors can accept attachments for towing carts, plowing snow, or lawn aerating. The larger garden tractors can handle grading blades and tillers with no problems.
The video below shows the basic functions of a lawn tractor so you know what to expect:
What to look for in a lawn tractor?
Homeowners have complained for years that lawn tractors just weren't practical enough around obstacles like trees or shrubs and that they always had to make a double pass to get the lawn cut properly. Within the last few years, the zero turn radius (ZTR) lawn tractors have become quite popular. These tight-turning riders are great for mowing in tight spots and give you lots of maneuverability.
Feedback is positive on the ZTR mowers although you will pay extra for their ability to cut lawns faster as well as being more agile while doing it. The zero turn radius lawn tractors do have some drawbacks - they are harder to learn how to drive since they incorporate lots of pulling and pushing of levers, they don't take garden attachments, and they are not meant for mowing slopes due to their tendency to roll over. Lawn tractors range from $1000 to $2500 while the ZTR mowers go from $2500 to $7500.
What features should you be looking for when buying a lawn tractor?Gear-driven models are cheaper since you operate them by using a brake/clutch combination with a shift lever when changing speeds. For a little more money you can get a smoother ride with a model that has a clutchless automatic drive. Speed changes on these types are easier because you have a hydrostatic transmission or a continuously variable transmission.
Most models have easy to read fuel gauges and the ones with cruise control will let you relax while mowing long stretches of grass. Some of the more automated lawn tractors do away with manual levers to engage the cutting blades by offering an electric power takeoff switch that does it for you.
When shopping for a lawn tractor remember that all models do side-discharge clippings and some with a mulching plate will cut up the grass so finely that the clippings will go back into the lawn itself. If you want to bag the clippings, expect to spend a few hundred dollars more feature. Overall reviews show that higher horsepower engines don't mean better performance so don't be pulled into a sale just because the model has 20+ HP.
Brands like Craftsman and Husqvarna sell at Sears while Wal-Mart carries Yard-Man and Yard Machines. Home Depot offers Cub Cadet, John Deere, Poulan, Yard Machines, and Toro with Lowes stocking Troy-Bilt, Bolens, and John Deere. Lawn tractors from Craftsman and John Deere have shown to require less repairs over time than brands like Yard Machines and Cub Cadet.
We were able to draw from reviews done by Popular Mechanics and Consumer Reports magazine. The CR study was much more intensive with over twenty models being tested for evenness of cut, side-discharging, mulching, bagging, handling, and ease of use. The Popular Mechanics article got into more of the heavy-duty garden tractors from makers like Kubota and showed us just how versatile the more expensive models can be in all seasons. We have tried to list the best in several categories below as a buying guide for you. You can browse the most popular lawn tractors online here.
Best Overall Lawn Tractor:
John Deere has an unparalled name in lawn tractors and farming equipment that seems to push it to the top of all reviews. The John Deere X304 ($3500) was the top rated automatic drive model in the Consumer Reports study. Not only does the John Deere lawn tractor rate excellent bagging, handling and ease of use, it has cruise control and an hour meter. It's recommend for lawns with lot of obstacles because its four-wheel-steering allows it to maneuver quite easily through tight spots in your yard.
The X304 is powered by a 17 HP Kawasaki twin-cylinder engine and the 42-inch cutting deck lets you cut grass in large batches. In lawn tractor forums online, we found several owners who say the John Deere X304 is almost as adept in tight turning maneuvers as the Toro TimeCutter ZX440 (see below) and it costs less. The John Deere LA105 was given a best buy award from CR since it cost only $1500 and does an excellent job. The only drawback is that it is gear-driven instead of being an automatic drive like the X304.
RECOMMENDED - Take a look at the Snapper 7800545 LT130 - features a 23 HP Briggs & Stratton engine, optimum maneuverability, it's very efficient, and the mower deck comes equipped with anti-scalping wheels. This helps prevent damage to turf when on uneven terrain. The 46 inch deep profile mower deck and quick response all wheel steering with cruise control will make quick work of your lawn - no matter what size.
To check out how to use a lawn tractor as part of your lawn care routine - click the image below to go to video.
Entry-Level Lawn Tractor:
If you are looking at mowing roughly 1/2-1 acres of lawn each week but don't need a machine with lots of extras, consider the Toro LX420 ($1300) for a great value. Rated highly by Consumer Reports, the Toro LX420 has an automatic drive, cruise control, and an 18 HP single cylinder Kohler engine.
The one feature you give up is the electric power take off, this model has a manual PTO. A mulch cover is included but the bag will cost you almost $400 extra. Owners say the Toro does well with mulching and works well even in tall grass. For the money when compared to the more expensive lawn tractors, the Toro seems like a bargain.
GOOD VALUE - We also suggest taking a look at the Poulan Pro Lawn Tractor - with a 42 inch deck, a 19.5 HP Briggs & Stratton engine, hydrostatic transmission, and 18 inch rear tires. The high back seat provides enough comfort and the added support lets you mow your lawn without getting worn out.
At $1700 the Poulan may be a bit expensive, in that case, consider the Yard Machines 13AN772G000 for $1350 which also features a 42 inch deck and a 17 1/2 HP engine. The Yard Machine mower has a 7 speed shift on the go transmission and a 2 year limited warranty. This brand is rated near the bottom in terms of needing repairs for their lawn tractors, but reviews on this model are favorable so far.
Best Zero Turn Radius (ZTR) Mower:
As we mentioned earlier in the article, zero turn radius lawn tractors are gaining popularity amongst buyers and the Toro TimeCutter ZX440 is leading the pack with excellent performance ratings in bagging and mulching. For a zero turn mower, the ZX440 is expensive at over $4000, but its ability to pivot on turns and cut accurately is what users say makes this machine special. If your yard is spotted with trees or shrubs, the Toro ZTR will let you maneuver and finish the job in no time. You will need to change blades to bag and mulch.
The bag is $910 extra and the mulch kit is $130 so we are not talking cheap by any means. The TimeCutter can go up to 7 MPH which should help reduce time mowing your lawn and cleaning the Toro under the deck is easy via the washout port. For the price you do get a solid 3-year warranty with free pickup and delivery. The Toro TimeCutter Z420 at $2600 has a few less features, but feedback on this value model is pretty good which means you could save $1600 by going with this cheaper model. You can view the top selling ZTR mowers online here.
Most Versatile Garden Tractor:
Not everyone wants a lawn tractor just to mow their lawn, so we included this category for those of you who want a versatile garden tractor that can mow large lawns and multitask in the off seasons. The Kubota GR2100 ($8200) is diesel powered with a hydrostatic transmission and performs very well at basic grasscutting in summer months but doubles as a property management tool in the fall/winter/spring. Great for pulling firewood around your property, grading driveways or moving debris.
The 21 HP engine had a 54-inch mowing deck and does reverse mowing. Some of the features include power steering and a deck lift. The Kubota brand of garden tractors are time proven and durable which is what any homeowner would want in a product. The GR2100 from Kubota has a tight turning radius similar to the X304 from John Deere thanks in part to its all wheel drive system. The high back suspension seat offers support and comfort. For the newest products from Kubota, visit their website at Kubota.com.
Best on Open Spaces:
The Craftsman 28858 ($2000) comes highly recommended for it's 54-inch deck which should make mowing large areas of lawn really easy. The 26 HP Briggs & Stratton engine has more than enough power and the Craftsmans ability to cut evenly for a wide-mowing tractor is what sets it apart. The 28858 has a foot operated hydrostatic drive, a very comfy seat, cruise control, spring loaded deck lift system, headlights, and 4 adjustable gauge wheels and nose roller. Overall reviews on the Sears website are pretty solid for this model.
A few people mention issues with dead batteries and one guy even had a wheel fall off. The engine runs strong and the cutting ability is first rate. Several owners talk about mowing their lawns in 'half the time' and another consumer says 'it's the best turning radius' on any lawn tractor he's owned. Cub Cadet may get superior rating points from CR, but Cub Cadet also has more reliability issues that may deter you from buying their brand.
More videos and resources are here on our Garden Tractor Resource Page.
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