Here’s what you should consider when shopping around for a ride-on mower. We’ve taken a look at pricing, size, weight and assorted features. We’ve also explained when you should test drive a mower before you buy.
Only pay for as much mower as you need. As a rule of thumb:
- Up to 4000m² (1 acre) of grass = a cutting-width of 1100mm (42”) and a 16-20HP (horse power) engine
- 4000m² to 1 hectare = up to 1200mm (48”) cutting-width and a 20-24HP engine
- Over 1 hectare = the largest cutting-width possible and at least a 24HP engine. If you expect to regularly mow longer grass, or do heavier mulching, make sure you choose an engine at the more powerful end of the range.
Most retailers will deliver a few demo models to your section for a trial. We recommend trying both tractors and zero-turns – you might be surprised how much easier mowing is with a zero tracker. If you’re buying a tractor, make sure its turning circle is narrow enough to navigate your lawn’s obstacles or tight corners.
You can often talk down the sticker price. At the very least, ask them to throw in a mulching kit.
- Never use zero-turns with castors (free spinning front wheels) on anything but a gentle incline.
- If you want to drive your mower on slopes greater than 10° you’ll need a model with all-wheel drive and a locking differential, which costs several thousand dollars more than the two-wheel drive models we tested. Alternatively, consider a tow-behind mower if you’ve already got a four-wheel drive tractor or ATV.
Features to consider
Engine: single-cylinder engines are fine for mowing up to 1 hectare. Twin-cylinder engines – usually 16 horse power and greater – have more power, don’t have to work as hard and handle larger areas. They're also cooler running and are likely to last longer.
Transmission: for straightforward mowing a manual transmission is a good budget choice. Where there's a lot of stopping and starting, working around trees or backing up an automatic/hydrostatic transmission will allow you to speed up, slow down and reverse without changing gears. You can even get cruise control on many modern tractor-type models, to make long mowing sessions more comfortable.
Blade system: most have 2 rotating blades to provide a cut of 950 to 1100 mm (38-42”). Wider cuts require 3 separate blades, but tests in the US by Consumer Reports found they don't cut as evenly so they're less suitable for lawns.
Offset cutting deck: this overhangs the line of the wheels on one side allowing you to mow along the edge of the lawn without falling into the garden, or to mow close to trees or buildings. It's a common feature.
Fabricated decks: most domestic-use mowers have a pressed or stamped steel mowing deck, whereas commercial mowers have a deck that’s welded together out of heavier plate steel. You’ll pay more for a mower with a fabricated deck, but the thicker steel should ensure it lasts longer.
Cutting-height selections: if you plan to do a lot of mulching choose a mower that has at least 10 height choices with 12mm (1/2”) increments or less. This makes it easier to set the right height for each mulching run.
Turning circle: this matters if you have awkward shapes to negotiate. Rear-steering models have a claimed “zero-turn radius” for easy manoeuvring. This means the mower leaves no grass uncut on the inside of the tightest circle that can be turned. Some tractor-style models now claim “zero-turn” capability.
Shut-off safety switch: a seat shut-off switch that stops the blades as you get off the mower is an essential safety feature. A shut-off switch for if you forget to engage the parking brake before hopping off is another good feature.
Reversing safety switch: this is an automatic feature that shuts off the blades or engine if you reverse while mowing. Most models have this, and many models also have an over-ride switch so you can mow in reverse. Look for the type that automatically goes back to safety mode when forwards-mowing starts again.
Extra traction: a diff-lock or 4-wheel drive will help the mower to climb slopes. But be careful not to mow across slopes that are any greater than the limits in the handbook.
Maintenance features: regular lubrication will prolong the life of moving parts, so if you don’t mind a bit of DIY, look for these features:
- an easy to access oil drain point and oil filter
- greasing points on the steering and the blade spindles.
Ease of use: a ride-on mower is definitely a “try before you buy” purchase. Some brands will give you a “right of return” for a short time if you're not satisfied. At least try a short spell of mowing to see whether you feel comfortable driving it. You should check:
- Is the seat cushioned for comfort with a back support?
- Are the controls easy to use?
- Is the steering wheel or steering lever/s at a comfortable height and angle for you?
- Can the controls and any foot pedals be reached without stretching?
- Is the seat easy to adjust so you can reach the controls? (This is important if different sized users will operate it.)
- Check how easy it is to remove, empty, and reattach the mulch-plug or catcher. Some have hydraulic catcher emptying.