Domestic ride-on mowers are belt driven. The transmission and blades are connected to the motor by V-belts, which can get damaged by careless use. Be careful not to over-work the belts, particularly when mulching or mowing heavy grass. If the blades get jammed by an excess of clippings, the belts can get burned out in one place. This may cause vibration or a weak spot that will eventually break.
Keep the blades sharp. A keen cutting edge will give a cleaner finish and make mulching work better. An annual pre-season sharpen and service is recommended.
If you’re handy, a 100mm angle grinder will quickly restore a stone-damaged blade edge. Be careful not to take off too much metal and make sure you take the same amount from each end or the blade will go out of balance. You’ll need to remove the deck and then the blades to do this. It’s not difficult on most machines as you only need to take the drive belt off (it’s loose and slips off easily unless the PTO is engaged) and remove 3 or 4 spring clips or bolts to release the deck. The deck can then be slid out from under the machine.
More maintenance is required than for a standard mower. Consumer Reports says ride-on mowers are among the most repair-prone products it tests. So check out your retailer's after-sales service.
Maintenance is also something to consider when buying second-hand. Has it really been looked after?
Make sure you change the oil and oil-filter (where fitted), check and clean or replace the air filter, replace spark plugs and grease any greasable points at recommended intervals.
If you don’t want to do your own maintenance think about how you will get the mower back to the dealer. Dealers may be pleased to come and collect the machine and maintain it, but all this can add significantly to the running costs.
Ride on mowers typically have a pressed-steel mowing deck (the housing that covers the blades). Steel is vulnerable to rusting if you leave wet grass clumps under the deck. A washing port connects a garden hose to wash the underside of the deck (with the blades running), to help keep the deck free of damp grass.
Remove the mulch plug and clean around the opening. Damp grass often builds up here, and using the washing port won’t always remove it. Remove the deck so you can clean and dry it thoroughly before putting the mower into storage for long periods.
To prolong the life of your ride-on mower, keep it out of the weather – you'll need a covered space of around 1.2m x 1.8m.
Ride-ons are likely to sit in the shed for months at a time in dry summers or cold winters when the grass stops growing. Make sure you have an appropriate battery charger so you can charge it up or even keep it on trickle charge, so it’s ready to go when needed.