Riding lawn mowers vs. self-propelled lawn mowers
Self-propelled vs. riding lawn mowers
If you dread having to mow the lawn in hot summer weather and wish the job were easier and would go faster, you might want to invest in a powered lawn mower. Both riding lawn mowers and self-propelled lawn mowers simplify mowing your lawn.
Both machines have motors, which move the mower forward (no pushing!) and power the spinning blades that cut the grass.
Choosing between these two types of mowers can be challenging. Ultimately, a riding mower allows you to sit and drive while mowing, taking large cuts on each pass. A self-propelled mower requires you to walk behind it and steer as it moves forward, but you’ll save some money, since riding mowers are more expensive. To figure out which is right for your needs, keep reading.
Riding lawn mower
A riding lawn mower looks a bit like a mini-tractor or a four-wheeler.
In a gas-powered riding mower, typically, the motor sits near the front, while you sit in the seat in the back (small gas-powered riding mowers and electric riding mowers may have the motor in the back). The mower deck, which usually has two or three mowing blades, is underneath the middle of the riding lawn mower. You can change the height of the mowing deck, depending on the length of cut grass you want.
Riding mowers are available in a number of different sizes. The manufacturer lists the riding mower size in terms of the width of the mower deck (or the cut it makes). Mower decks typically range between 30 and 60 inches. A 60-inch mower deck will cut the yard nearly twice as fast as a 30-inch mower deck, but you’ll spend far more money for the larger deck.
Another consideration with the riding mower is the type of turning system it uses. A standard steering system uses a steering wheel, but it results in wide turns. A zero-turn system riding mower uses levers to make instant sharp turns, which is more ideal to avoid doubling back over areas you missed when turning. Zero-turn mowers range in price from $2,500-$7,000 and are much more expensive than standard turning mowers, which range from $1,000-$3,000.
Riding lawn mower pros
- Mows the lawn much faster than push-mowers
- Moves forward faster than a self-propelled mower
- You can sit while you mow
- Cuts extremely thick grass successfully, as well as slightly damp grass
- Usually starts with a key turn, which is easier than a pull rope start
- Includes multiple safety features to protect you
- Multiple mowing speeds
Riding lawn mower cons
- If mowing on steep hills, you have the risk of a rollover
- More expensive than other types of mowers
- If you want to bag the grass, you’ll have to purchase an add-on kit
- Doesn’t work well in small areas with many obstacles
- Regular maintenance is more involved than with push-mowers
Best riding lawn mowers
Cub Cadet 50-Inch XT1 22 HP Gas Powered Riding Lawn Mower: available at Home DepotThis riding mower has easy maneuvering around obstacles in your yard and has a V-twin OHV engine and pedal start-stop for smooth riding.
Ryobi 38-Inch Battery Powered Rear Engine Riding Lawn Mower: available at Home DepotThis riding mower is an expensive option, but it comes with a lot of bells and whistles, including three brushless motors for the most power when mowing, and it is fully battery operated - zero emissions and a full charge can mow for two hours or up to two acres.
Toro 60-Inch 24.5 HP Gas Powered Zero Turn Riding Lawn Mower: available at Home DepotWith a 60-inch mowing deck and IronForge cutting system, this mower doesn't mess around. Cut grass precisely, and it's zero-turn steering cuts your mow time by 50 percent.
Self-propelled lawn mower
A self-propelled lawn mower looks like a push mower, and you must walk behind it to steer it. However, you can flip a lever to use the mower’s engine to propel the mower forward, rather than pushing it.
The self-propelled mower should allow you to adjust the speed of the forward movement; slow down the mower’s movement to walk slower and more comfortably. Make the mower move forward faster to speed up the mowing job.
With a self-propelled mower, you may want a model with a wider mowing deck, so you can finish the job faster. The extra weight of the wider mower won’t be a problem in a self-propelled model versus having to push it. Mower decks for self-propelled mowers may range from 18-30 inches, but 20-22 inches are the most common.
Expect to spend between $300-$1,200 for a self-propelled mower. Mowers with larger decks will cost more than those with smaller decks.
Self-propelled lawn mower pros
- Requires less effort than pushing a regular lawn mower
- Works with a collection bag or as a mulcher
- Works nicely going up and down hilly mowing areas
- Multiple mowing speeds available
- A heavier, wider mower deck is not a problem because the mower propels itself
- Allows you to finish the job faster than a regular push mower
Self-propelled lawn mower cons
- If the self-propel mechanism locks up, the back wheels may not turn, preventing you from pushing it
- More expensive than push mowers
- Struggles to cut thick grass if you’re going forward too fast
- Not as fun to use in areas with quite a few obstacles
Best self-propelled lawn mowers
Greenworks 21-Inch Battery Powered Self-Propelled Lawn Mower: available at AmazonThis battery-powered mower has zero emissions and about an hour run time, depending on the length of your grass. It also has rear wheel drive to maneuver any type of terrain.
Honda 21-Inch Gas Powered Self-Propelled Lawn Mower: available at Home DepotWith cruise control for precision speed control and a four in one Versamow system, maneuver your yard while quickly switching from mulching, bagging and leaf-shredding.
Toro 22-Inch Gas Powered Self-Propelled Lawn Mower: available at Home DepotThis lawn mower never needs its oil changed! Just add oil when it's needed. Additional hassle-free maintenance features of this Toro model include a durable 22-inch steel deck, easy to clean underside of deck and washout port and auto choke start.
Should you get a riding lawn mower or a self-propelled lawn mower?
Both riding mowers and self-propelled mowers have some significant advantages for helping you finish a mowing job quickly and without having to work as hard as with a push mower.
If you have a large area to mow, and if you have somewhere to store the riding lawn mower safely, you’ll be happy with this purchase. But because riding mowers cost quite a bit more than self-propelled models, they don’t fit in everyone’s budget. If you only have around $500 to spend, you can’t afford a new riding lawn mower.
If your mowing area is small or requires you to mow around a lot of trees, flower beds, or play equipment, having a riding mower may end up being a hassle because of all the turns you have to make. A self-propelled mower fits this use case better.
For those with smaller areas to mow that are also hilly, a self-propelled mower should work nicely — riding mowers have a tip risk on hilly areas.
Kyle Schurman is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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