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Riding Mower Buying Guide

Compare the different types of riding lawn mowers so you can choose the best one to maintain your lawn. A riding mower is good for a yard a 1/2 acre or larger.

Riding Mower with Bagger.

Match Your Riding Mower to Your Landscape

Mower Size Comparison Chart.

The size of your lawn is a factor in choosing a riding mower. More powerful mowers with larger cut widths handle large areas more efficiently and allow you to spend less time mowing. You should also consider the type of terrain – whether it's level or hilly – and the obstacles — such as trees and flower beds — you need to work around. If your lawn is 1/2 acre or smaller, consider a push mower. See Lowe's Push Mower Buying Guide to see what's available.

In addition to different size mowers, you can choose between different types and find a machine that works best for your landscape and the type of work you need to do.

Lawn Tractors

Lawn Tractor.

Lawn tractors have a traditional design and operate with a steering wheel. They work well for lawns from 1/2 acre to 2 acres or more. With optional attachments, you can bag clippings and leaves, haul landscaping materials, spread seed and — with some models — aerate, dethatch and remove snow.

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Good to Know

You may see mowers designated as garden tractors. They have the same design as lawn tractors but can use more attachments and have more powerful engines and heavy-duty transmissions. They're good for mowing several acres.

Zero-Turn-Radius (ZTR) Mowers

ZTR Mower.

ZTR mowers can navigate a variety of obstacles; these mowers feature front caster wheels that pivot at sharper angles than lawn or garden tractors. You control a typical ZTR with a pair of lap bars or levers rather than a steering wheel, although some models do feature a traditional steering wheel. While a ZTR mower doesn't handle the variety of tasks a tractor does, it has a higher forward speed for open areas and can cut closely around flower beds, trees and landscaping.

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Riding Mower Transmissions

Woman Operating a Riding Mower.

You'll notice different transmission types in riding mowers, each with different capabilities:

  • A manual transmission offers a range of set speeds you can select. Look for mowers that let you shift up or down without stopping or using a clutch.
  • An automatic transmission performs much like the transmission in a car — you control speed with the gas pedal. Easily changing the speed can be useful if you need to slow down often to work around obstacles.
  • A hydrostatic transmission works like an automatic transmission, but uses fluid rather than belts to transfer power from the engine to the wheels. This transmission offers a smoother ride, requires less maintenance and lasts longer.

Riding Mower Features and Options

Man Operating a Riding Mower.

There is a wide range of features and options available for riding mowers. Understanding what's available can help you find the best mower for your needs:

  • Engine horsepower (HP) measures the power output of the engine that's available to share among mower components such as the transmission and blades.
  • Engine displacement describes the size of the cylinder in the engine. Manufacturers measure displacement in cubic centimeters (ccs). A higher cc measurement means a more powerful engine.
  • Engine torque measures — in foot-pounds (ft-lbs) — the force that keeps the mower blades spinning. Higher torque offers a more even cut in tall or thick grass.
  • A V-twin engine on a larger tractor or ZTR mower provides more power than a single-cylinder engine, as well as reduced vibration. Less vibration means less wear, quieter operation and better comfort. A V-twin engine also runs cooler and burns fuel cleaner, extending engine life.
  • Cruise control is available with some automatic and hydrostatic transmissions, allowing you to engage one speed to mow long, straight stretches.
  • Cut width describes how wide a swath of grass the mower cuts in a single pass and is directly related to the blade number. Some small tractors have only one blade, but two or three blades are typical for tractors and ZTR mowers.
  • Deck wheels help maintain mowing height over uneven terrain.
  • Turning radius describes how tightly you can turn the mower. A smaller turning radius means you can make sharper turns — especially useful if your lawn has obstacles.
  • Speed varies by model, but lawn and garden tractors typically offer forward speeds up to 6 miles per hour (mph) while ZTR mowers have forward speeds up to 8 mph.
  • Mulching and bagger capabilities describe whether you can use mulching or bagger attachments with a mower. Riding mowers typically don't come with these attachments, but may be able to accept them.
  • Automatic parking brakes on ZTR mowers improve safety and convenience, activating as you move the lap bars outward.
  • Comfort features like a high-back seat, armrests, lumbar support, extended leg room and rubber foot pads make your mowing less tiresome.

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Good to Know

Remember factors such as gates in your landscape and your available storage space when considering a mower with a large cut width.

Handling Grass Clippings

Side-Discharge Riding Mower.

There are alternatives in how a riding mower handles grass clippings:

  • Side-discharge mowers direct the clippings back out onto the lawn — helpful if you have grass that is coarse or tall. If the clippings are thick, you need to rake up them up and dispose of them.
  • Bagger-capable mowers can collect clippings with an optional collection bag you purchase separately. This feature keeps your lawn looking clean without raking and reduces the spread of weed seeds. In the fall it's also useful for clearing leaves. Keep in mind that emptying the bag — especially for large or tall lawns —adds time to your mowing and you have to dispose of the clippings.
  • Mulching-capable mowers can turn clippings into mulch that adds nutrients to the soil. Mulching works well if you mow regularly and the grass isn't too tall. Some mowers have mulching capability built in, but many require an optional add-on kit. The kit typically includes a plug for the deck to contain the clippings, mulching blades to cut them to a smaller size and the necessary attachment hardware.

Some areas don't allow yard waste in landfills. If you rake or bag clippings and your community doesn't have a collection program, you can compost some of them. Read Learn to Compost for information on turning yard waste into nutrients for your soil. If the clippings are free of weed seeds and you haven't applied pesticide to the grass in the past month, you can use them as mulch around the yard. See Landscaping with Mulch for tips on using mulch.

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Seasonal Yard Care with Riding Mower Attachments

Riding Lawn Mower with Dump Cart.

Many riding mowers can help you maintain your landscape not only during mowing season, but year-round. Lawn tractors use a wider range of attachments than ZTR mowers, but capabilities vary by model. Make sure you know what a mower can handle before you make your purchase. Here are some ideas to make the most of your riding mower:

  • Take care of your landscape in the spring by rolling out uneven spots, spreading fertilizer, hauling plants and mulch and bagging early growth. If you have a warm-season lawn, aerate the soil, dethatch the turf and spread seed.
  • During summer, bag clippings when the grass grows too tall and mulch the rest of the time. Add a canopy for shade while you mow.
  • Rejuvenate your yard in the fall by sweeping leaves, spreading fertilizer and — in cool-season lawns — aerating, dethatching and spreading seed.
  • Haul away winter debris and clear snow from sidewalks and driveways.

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Caution

Always follow the mower and attachment manufacturer's operating, maintenance and safety instructions, including instructions on safety gear.

Riding Mower Maintenance Considerations

Riding Mower on a Dropcloth.

All types of riding mowers require regular maintenance to run correctly and efficiently. See How to Maintain a Riding Mower for an idea of some of the procedures you need to follow to keep a riding mower in top shape.

Part of maintaining a mower is fueling it properly. Follow the manufacturer's requirements and read Fueling Power Equipment for tips on keeping your machine running properly.