For yards larger than a half-acre, a push lawn mower just doesn’t cut it. These lawn mowers are simply too small to mow the yard in a reasonable amount of time. Unless you enjoy spending the better part of a Saturday cutting grass, you need a riding lawn mower. Riding lawn mowers feature powerful engines and wide mowing decks that allow you to mow a large yard more quickly than a standard push mower.
A riding mower is an invaluable tool for those who live on large pieces of property. But with so many different kinds of riding mowers on the market at a wide range of prices, how do you know which one is right for your yard? Learn how to determine the best riding lawn mower suited your property and why these picks make the cut.
- BEST OVERALL: Cub Cadet XT1 LT 50 inch
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Troy-Bilt Pony 42 in. Riding Lawn Tractor
- UPGRADE PICK: Cub Cadet Ultima ZT2 60 in. 24 HP Zero Turn Mower
- BEST LAWN TRACTOR: John Deere E120 42 in. 20 HP Lawn Tractor
- BEST ZERO-TURN: Toro 42 in. 22.5 HP TimeCutter Commercial Riding Mower
- BEST FOR SMALL YARDS: RYOBI 30 in. 50 Ah Electric Rear Engine Riding Mower
- BEST FOR LARGE YARDS: Toro 54 in. TimeCutter 24.5 HP Riding Mower
- BEST FOR HILLS: Ariens Ikon XD 23-HP V-Twin Dual 52-in ZeroTurn Lawn Mower
Types of Riding Lawn Mowers
Read on to learn about the three types of riding lawn mowers: rear-engine, lawn tractors, and zero-turn mowers.
Rear-engine lawn mowers feature an engine located behind the driver’s seat. They are typically smaller than lawn tractors or zero-turn mowers. Operators drive a rear-engine mower with a small steering wheel. These mowers have narrower mowing decks—about 30 inches—making them ideal for smaller yards of a half-acre or less in size. Most have gearshift transmissions, which can make them jerky. They are the least expensive of the three riding mower types and the most compact, making them ideal for homes with little storage space.
A lawn tractor is the most common type of riding lawn mower. It features the engine in the front, which gives it its tractor shape. The operator drives the tractor using a car-like steering wheel. Most lawn tractors have hydrostatic transmissions, which allow the driver to make smooth adjustments to speed. Lawn tractors have broad mowing decks up to 54 inches wide with dual blades, and this makes them a good choice for larger yards of an acre or more. Lawn tractors have a broader turning radius than other mower types, making them difficult to use on smaller yards. They also take up a significant amount of space in a garage or storage shed.
Zero-turn mowers have an engine placed in the rear. They get their name from the two steering levers, which control the rear wheels. This design allows the driver to make tight turns, making them ideal for maneuvering around trees and other obstacles. They also offer higher top speeds than lawn tractors or rear-engine mowers. Featuring mower decks with multiple cutting blades that are similar in mowing width to lawn tractors, zero-turn mowers are an excellent option for lawns with numerous trees, landscaped areas, and other obstacles. They are the most expensive of the three tractor types.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Riding Lawn Mower
Riding lawn mowers vary significantly in size, power, and cost, which can make it difficult to determine the best option for your yard. Read on to learn about how yard size, horsepower, fuel type, and other key factors determine what type of riding lawn mower suits your needs.
Yard Size and Ground Type
Consider your yard size to determine which type of riding lawn mower will work for your property. If you have less than a half-acre, a rear-engine lawn mower will work best. Rear- engine lawn mowers are smaller, allowing you to navigate a smaller yard more efficiently. For yards larger than a half-acre, look into a lawn tractor or zero-turn mower. If you have a significant number of obstacles in your yard, then it may make sense to invest in a zero-turn mower that can navigate around trees, gardens, and flower beds more quickly than a lawn tractor. For sloped yards, consider a lawn tractor or zero-turn mower with a high horsepower engine that can handle climbing slopes.
Gas vs. Electric
Similar to electric cars, electric riding lawn mowers are becoming more popular. Instead of using a gasoline-powered engine, they use a battery-powered motor and “refuel” via a standard 120-volt outlet. They offer a bevy of advantages over their gas-powered cousins. In addition to being greener, they also require less maintenance. There’s no need to change the oil or replace the spark plugs, battery, air filter, and drive belts, which saves a significant amount of money in maintenance costs. They’re also cheaper to operate since you won’t be purchasing fuel to power an electric mower. Electric mowers are also significantly quieter than gas mowers.
The main drawback of an electric mower is power and longevity—you won’t be able to mow a larger yard on a single charge. Electric mowers are limited to about one hour of use, which is enough to mow about 1 acre. Obstacles such as thick grass, inclines, and flower beds require more effort and drain the battery faster. For thicker lawns, you may not get the same quality cut as you would with a gas-powered mower.
Cutting width refers to the width of the lawn mower’s cutting area. The wider the cutting width, the less time it will take you to mow your lawn. A deck with a mowing area of 30 to 40 inches can adequately handle lawns up to a half-acre. Yards that are a half-acre to 2 acres need a mowing deck of 42 to 48 inches, while large lawns of 3 acres or more require decks of 50 inches or wider. Avoid getting a mower that’s too big for your lawn—a 50-inch wide mower on a yard under a half-acre, for example, can be cumbersome to maneuver.
The amount of horsepower you need depends on the width of the cutting deck. For lawn mowers with up to a 42-inch cutting deck, look for at least a 14-horsepower engine to adequately power the deck and the drive wheels. For a 42- to 46-inch cutting deck, a 14 to16 horsepower engine will be ideal. Mowers with a 46-inch to 54-inch cutting deck require an 18 to 24 horsepower engine.
Fuel Tank Capacity
Fuel tank capacity is an important factor to consider, as you don’t want to have to stop multiple times to refill the tank while mowing your lawn. The average riding lawn mower holds about two gallons of gas, while larger mowers carry three to four gallons of gas.
Single vs. Twin Engines
As you shop for a riding lawn mower, notice that some models offer twin engines while others use single engines. A single-engine mower uses a single-cylinder, while a twin-engine uses two cylinders. A twin-engine mower provides more power, allowing it to tackle more extensive lawns and yards with slopes. Twin-engine tractors can also handle other duties such as plowing snow and hauling carts. A single-engine mower is less powerful but also consumes less fuel.
Brushed vs. Brushless Motor
A brushless motor is one built without brushes—its parts generate less friction than a standard brushed motor. This decrease in friction results in a motor that runs more efficiently. With a brushless motor, 85 to 90 percent of the energy generated goes to power the mower. A brushed motor has 75 to 80 percent efficiency. Electric riding mowers use brushless motors to maximize the battery’s efficiency, extending the battery’s life before it requires a recharge while transferring more power from the motor to the wheels and the blades.
Battery Life and Run Time
Advancements in battery technology have made battery-powered riding lawn mowers possible. Although run time depends on many variables, including terrain and lawn type, you can generally expect to get about one hour of mowing out of a 75 Ah battery, which is enough to cover up to 1 acre before needing a recharge. A full battery recharge can take up to seven hours.
Riding lawn mowers have seating designed to make the task of mowing the lawn more enjoyable. They feature thickly padded seats with high backs for support and comfort, and larger models have padded armrests with cup holders. Some riding lawn mowers also have spring-coil shock absorbers below the seat or built into the frame of the mower.
Controls vary depending on the type of riding lawn mower. Both rear-engine riding mowers and lawn tractors use steering wheels for control, while a zero-turn riding mower uses two levers. Pushing or pulling the levers controls speed as well as turning. Pushing both levers forward increases the speed. Pulling the right-hand lever turns the tractor right, while pushing the left-hand lever turns the tractor to the left.
Rear-engine riding lawn mowers feature a gear system. Like a manual transmission car, the operator must shift gears to adjust the speed of the mower. These gear changes can give the mower a jerky feel. Lawn tractors feature a throttle that adjusts speed. Since most lawn tractors have a hydrostatic transmission, speed changes are much smoother than rear-engine riding mowers.
Riding mowers include a lever that engages and disengages the mowing deck and a lever that changes the height of the deck.
All riding lawn mowers use pneumatic air-filled tires, which offer traction as well as shock absorption. Most riding mowers use turf tires. Turf tires have enough tread to provide traction for gripping the lawn, whether on flat ground or an incline, but not so much tread that the tires damage the lawn. Tire options include lug tires, which feature deep grooves and aggressive angles for maximum traction. These tires would damage turf but are useful for alternative lawn tractor uses such as plowing snow or hauling trailers.
The average riding lawn mower weighs between 300 and 600 pounds, with the average lawn tractor weighing about 450 pounds. A rear-engine lawn tractor weighs about 300 pounds, while a zero-turn lawn mower weighs about 500 pounds.
Most riding lawn mower seats feature a safety function that disengages the blades when there is no pressure on the driver’s seat.
Our Top Picks
This list includes riding lawn mowers with powerful engines, wide mower decks, and durable construction from some of the most reputable lawn mower manufacturers.
There’s a lot to like about the Cub Cadet XT1 LT that makes it an excellent all-around riding lawn mower. Let’s start with what’s under the hood: a powerful 24 horsepower twin-cylinder Kohler engine, which is more than enough to power its 50-inch cutting deck or handle inclines. The engine and deck size make this mower suitable for lawns up to 1.5 acres. A hydrostatic transmission enables smooth speed changes, while a short wheelbase enables an impressive 16-inch turning radius. The cutting deck provides ample cutting power thanks to its three cutting blades and 12 easily adjustable cutting heights. A 3-gallon fuel tank ensures you won’t need a refill, even for large jobs.
Other features that set the Cub Cadet XT1 apart include a cruise control feature that maintains a constant speed for the perfect cut and a SmartDeck jet wash system, which allows a garden hose to be attached to the mowing deck to power wash the interior.
This lawn tractor from Troy-Bilt features a powerful motor and ample mowing deck at a cost lower than that of other riding lawn mowers. The Troy-Bilt Pony features a single-cylinder engine and a 42-inch mowing deck, which is suitable for 1 to 1.5-acre lawns. A twin-blade deck offers ample cutting power. And while the Pony doesn’t include a hydrostatic transmission, its seven-speed shift-on-the-go transmission is smoother than other manual transmission lawn tractors. An 18-inch turning radius allows for easy maneuverability in the yard, while a 1.36-gallon tank capacity supplies enough fuel for medium-sized lawns.
The Pony has a padded high back seat and soft grips on the steering wheel for comfort. Additional features include LED headlights for mowing in low lighting, a rear hitch for accessories, and an integrated washing port on the deck.
This high-performance zero-turn mower has plenty of power and features to take on large yards. With its powerful 24 horsepower Kawasaki twin-cylinder motor, 3.5-gallon gas tank, and a massive 60-inch deck, the Ultima can mow lawns of 3 acres or more. With its hydrostatic transmission, this zero-turn mower smoothly reaches speeds up to 7.5 miles per hour. The large deck features Cub Cadet’s Aeroforce cutting system for a top cut along with 15 height adjustments ranging from 1 to 4.5 inches.
Cut the lawn in comfort, thanks to a cushioned seat with armrests, a suspension system, adjustable lap bars, and comfortable hand grips. LED headlights allow you to work in low light conditions, while Cub Cadet’s built-in SmartJet deck pressure washing system keeps the mowing deck clean.
This riding mower from one of the most well-known names in tractors is ideal for mid-sized lawns. A 20-horsepower V-twin engine and 42-inch deck make this lawn tractor suitable for lawn sizes up to 1.5 acres. The mowing deck features John Deere’s deep deck design, which lifts grass for a better cut. The deck offers multiple height adjustments ranging from 1 to 4 inches. With a turning radius of 18 inches, the E120 maneuvers well around trees and gardens.
A hydrostatic transmission and foot pedal speed control mimic the automatic transmission in a car, making this lawn tractor easy to operate. John Deere offers a comfortable cockpit, thanks to 10 seating positions, and a wide, comfortable seat. Maintenance can be a pain with riding lawn mowers, but John Deere makes oil changes easy with its 30-second oil change system. A wash port integrated into the deck allows for easy cleaning to prevent the buildup of grass clippings.
If you would rather spend less time mowing your lawn and more quality time with your family, then consider Toro’s TimeCutter. This zero-turn mower features a powerful 22.5 horsepower engine that allows you to mow at speeds up to 7 miles per hour. Couple that with its zero-turn ability and 42-inch wide mowing deck, and you can make quick work of that lawn mowing job. This mower is ideal for cutting lawns up to 2 acres in size, and a 3-gallon gas tank allows you to complete the entire job uninterrupted.
The TimeCutter offers some excellent additional features, including a convenient under-seat cubby for phones, keys, and items you find lying in the yard. Shock-absorbing dampeners improve the ride quality, cup holders carry favorite beverages, and fenders keep lawn clippings and other yard debris off of you.
Smaller yards don’t need large gas-powered engines or massive cutting decks with three blades. This smaller electric rear-engine riding mower is more than enough. It features a powerful 50 Ah battery that powers three brushless motors for up to one hour or 1 acre of mowing. Its 30-inch mowing deck provides ample mowing width for a medium-sized yard. An easy-to-read power indicator lets you know how much charge is left, and the battery charges via a standard 120-volt outlet.
With seven depth positions ranging from 1.5 to 4.5 inches, you have plenty of cutting height options. Convenient LED headlights keep the yard illuminated in low light conditions, allowing you to mow well into the evening. This low-maintenance mower requires no oil changes or spark plug replacements; just charge and go.
Big yards need a big mower, and that’s what you get with this zero-turn riding mower from Toro. With its massive 54-inch deck, you won’t need to spend the afternoon mowing that football field you call a backyard. This mower is capable of handling yards covering 3 acres or more. It features a powerful 24.5 horsepower twin gas engine that can reach speeds up to 7 miles per hour. The fuel tank holds 3 gallons, allowing you to finish the job uninterrupted.
Mowing a large lawn can also take a toll on the driver. With its plush high back seat with armrests and Toro’s MyRide suspension, which absorbs the bumps in your lawn, the TimeCutter can make those longer mowing sessions more comfortable. Maintenance is easier thanks to the TimeCutter’s toolless oil change system. Other useful features include a cup holder for those long mowing sessions and fenders that keep yard waste off of you.
Climbing hills requires a powerful engine, automatic transmission, and a low center of gravity. The Ariens Ikon XD covers all three. It features a 23 horsepower engine and a hydrostatic transmission that delivers smooth speed changes, giving it plenty of power for handling inclines. Twenty-inch rear tires provide plenty of traction for climbing slopes, while zero-degree turning makes maneuvering on uneven ground easier.
The Ikon XD also includes an impressive 52-inch mowing deck with three blades and 13 different cutting positions, making it capable of trimming large lawns of more than 3 acres. And with a 3-gallon tank, you won’t need to stop and refill. Ride in comfort on the Ikon XD thanks to ample cushioning in its high back seat and padded armrests. This lawn mower is designed for commercial use with an 11-gauge steel fabricated deck.
FAQs About Riding Lawn Mowers
If you still have lingering questions about riding lawn mowers, read on for answers to some of the most common concerns.
Q. How do you start a riding lawn mower?
Use the following steps to start a riding lawn mower:
- Begin by depressing the parking brake foot pedal on the left side.
- Make sure the gearshift is in neutral and the throttle is in the “slow” position.
- If the mower has a choke knob, pull the knob back.
- With the parking brake depressed, turn the key in the ignition for up to 15 seconds until the motor starts. If it doesn’t start the engine, wait 10 seconds and try again.
- Once the engine starts, slowly push the choke knob back.
- Raise the throttle to the “fast” position to warm up the engine before engaging the transmission or the mower deck.
Q. What is the best way to cut grass with a riding lawn mower?
- With that power, you may be tempted to cut your lawn shorter. Don’t do this, as doing so could damage the grass. Stick to the one-third rule and take only a third of the grass length off the top.
- Mow in alternating patterns. This is especially important with a riding mower, which will compact the soil under its weight.
- Mow in a different pattern each time you mow to allow the ground to recover.
- Avoid making sharp turns on your mower, as this can cause the tires to damage the grass. Instead, try to make turns on a driveway.
- When mowing inclines, mow up and down the hill to avoid potential rollovers.
Q. How do you maintain a riding lawn mower?
Riding lawn mowers require periodic maintenance:
- Clean your riding mower by removing debris that builds up from mowing sessions. Many mowers have attachments on the deck for a hose that allows you to power wash the inside of the deck.
- Periodically check and change the air filter, which can become clogged with debris.
- Regularly change the oil and replace mower belts.
- Replace the spark plugs once a season.