Types of ride-on mowers
Tractor-type, zero-turn or rear-engine?
The way clippings are fired out further defines the types of mower.
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Ride-on mowers cut a wide swathe of grass – anywhere from 700mm to over 1 metre. Compare this with the 460 to 480mm width of the standard walk-behind rotary mower and you can see how much more quickly you can mow large areas. We tested 8 models - find out how they rated.
Snapshot: The MTD 420/38 is a tractor-style ride-on mower with a single-cylinder engine and a 97cm/38" deck that mows and mulches. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The John Deere D110 is a tractor-style ride-on mower with a single-cylinder engine and a 107cm/42" deck that mows and mulches. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Toro Lawn Tractor XLS380 is a tractor-style ride-on mower with a single-cylinder engine and a 97cm/38" deck that mows and mulches. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Husqvarna LTH2142DR is a tractor-style ride-on mower with a single-cylinder engine and a 107cm/42" deck that mows and mulches. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Cub Cadet LTX 1042 tractor-style ride-on mower has a 2-cylinder engine and a 107cm/42" deck that mows and mulches. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The McCulloch M19542H is a tractor-style ride-on mower with a single-cylinder engine and a 107cm/42" deck that mows and mulches. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Rover Mini Rider is a true ride-on-style ride-on mower with a single-cylinder engine and a 76cm/30" deck that mows and mulches. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Victa VRX19542 is a tractor-style ride-on mower with a single-cylinder engine and a 107cm/42" deck that mows and mulches. But how does it perform?
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To assess mowing, our testers used the side-discharge chute and mowed 4 swathes with each machine, through grass that was 125mm to 150mm high.
For mulching, they used the mulch plugs and mowed 4 swathes through grass 100mm to 125 mm high. To mulch longer grass, all models recommended at least 2 passes at reducing heights – and that’s how we tested. We also drove more slowly than in the mowing test.
The cut grass was evaluated for evenness of cutting, evenness of spreading the cut grass from the side-discharge chute, as well as the amount of clumping of the grass during mulching. We also noted whether the engine had ample power or struggled to keep the blades spinning, forcing us to cut more slowly.
To rate ease of use we looked at how easy it was to drive and steer the machine, to find and use the controls and functions, and understand the control-labelling.
To rate safety we assessed the instructions, warning stickers and labels, pulley and belt coverings, and automatic safety cut-outs.
Our expert mower, Brian Tatton, has more than 20 years’ experience as a groundsman – and he regularly mows at our test venue, the Solway A&P showgrounds in Masterton.
Our “once-a-week” mower was Consumer NZ’s Hamish Wilson. Hamish and his wife own a lifestyle block in Wairarapa, which is kept tidy by a few sheep and goats plus a 42” ride-on mower and a petrol line-trimmer.
Become a Gold or Silver member to find out which mowers we recommend, and how they rated for mowing, mulching, ease of use and safety.
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.
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