For yards larger than a half acre, a push lawn mower just doesn’t cut it. Walk-behind 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 with 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? We compiled the following recommendations based on hours of research as well as our own riding mower field-test results. Read on to learn more about choosing the right model for your property, followed by our best riding lawn mower in-depth reviews.
- BEST OVERALL: John Deere 42-Inch S130 Lawn Tractor
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Troy-Bilt Pony 42 Riding Lawn Tractor
- UPGRADE PICK: Cub Cadet Ultima ZT2 60-Inch 24 HP Zero-Turn Mower
- BEST GAS LAWN TRACTOR: Cub Cadet XT1 LT50 Enduro Lawn Tractor
- BEST GAS ZERO-TURN: Toro 50-Inch TimeCutter MyRIDE Zero-Turn Mower
- BEST BATTERY ZERO-TURN: Ego Power+ 42-Inch Z6 Zero-Turn Riding Mower
- BEST FOR SMALL YARDS: Ryobi 30-Inch 50 Ah Electric Riding Lawn Mower
- BEST FOR LARGE YARDS: Toro 54- Inch TimeCutter MyRIDE Zero-Turn Mower
- BEST FOR ROUGH TERRAIN: Ariens Ikon 52 Kawasaki V-Twin Zero-Turn Lawn Mower
How We Tested the Best Riding Lawn Mowers
With so many different types of riding lawn mowers to choose from, we compiled our list based on a diverse range of buyer needs. We selected the top models from reputable brands, including options for small, midsize, and large-acreage properties. Our choices include lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers, and we included a compact rear-engine model. With the rise in popularity of battery mowers, and the still-strong performance of gas-powered machines in this category, we made sure to include both.
We tested several of these picks, with more testing to come. Our riding lawn mower tests involve multiple-week trials on varied terrain with slopes and bumpy ground, both rough mowing and finish mowing. Several of the mowers below have already been tested; we have mowed at least 16 acres over at least 8 hours. We scored the mowers using a rubric in order to compare measurable specifications, such as deck width, frame steel gauge, and engine horsepower. We also took into account our subjective observations that describe the overall user experience in terms of comfort and convenience, not to mention mowing results.
Our Top Picks
We’ve compiled our top riding lawn mower recommendations based on brand reputation, spec analysis, and our own hands-on testing results. This list includes riding lawn mowers with powerful engines, wide mower decks, and durable construction from some of the most reputable lawn mower manufacturers.
Our top pick comes from a brand that is synonymous with durable performance, as it boasts a full range of riding lawn mowers built to last for decades. The John Deere S130 combines dependability with operational comfort and convenience. This lawn tractor comes equipped with a 22 horsepower (hp) Briggs & Stratton 44 V-twin engine, a TLT 200 hydrostatic transaxle, and 20×10-8 rear tires that will provide many years of mowing service. It also features a single-lever throttle with spring-return choke, electric blade engagement, a dash-mounted fuel gauge, and the John Deere Easy Change 30-second oil-change system to make mowing and caring for the mower significantly easier.
At a glance, this mower may not appear much different from other lawn tractors, but a few key features set it apart. The mower’s frame is fabricated of full-length welded steel with a cast-iron front axle for decades of reliable operation. The engine features a full pressure lubrication system for extended working life. It is also compatible with numerous attachments, including branded and universal baggers, snow blowers, dump carts, and others that expand its usefulness beyond mowing.
In our at-home test of the John Deere S130, one of the first characteristics that stood out was its comfort. The two-piece seat allowed for cooling air circulation between the seat and backrest, unlike other mower seats with a one-piece design. The seat bottom was positioned 32 inches above the ground, providing a vantage point 3 inches higher than many competitors for improved visibility. We also liked the easy-to-use control layout, including push-button blade engagement and the dash-mounted gas gauge, keeping everything right at our fingertips. Plus, hydrostatic operation, controlled by side-by-side pedals, eliminated gear selection—we simply pressed one pedal to go forward and the other to reverse.
As for maneuverability and mowing performance, we could not have been happier. Top speed was about 5.5 miles per hour (mph), which was good for about 2 acres of mowing per hour. The deck shape allowed for extremely close edge cutting to minimize trimming later on. A spring-assisted lever made it easy to raise and lower the deck to any of the 13 preset heights between 1 and 4 inches high. The large tires cushioned the ride across uneven terrain, and the tight turning radius let the mower make surprisingly narrow turns, leaving an uncut diameter of just 25 inches.
In general, we liked the fast speed combined with the slightly narrower deck because it allows the operator to access tight spaces while still mowing a lot of grass quickly. The comfortable ride, ease of operation, and dependable components make this a great choice for those who have medium-to-large-size yards.
- Type: Lawn tractor
- Powered by: 22-hp V-twin gas engine
- Deck size: 42 inches
- Ideal power and size for properties from 0.5 acre up to 2 acres
- Tight turning radius with a smooth, comfortable ride
- Seat bottom is 32 inches above the ground, which provides a higher vantage point than other mowers
- Easy maintenance with the John Deere Easy Change 30-second oil-change system; compatible with numerous attachments
- Higher price point than competitors in the same size and power range
- Limited capability on hilly terrain
Get the John Deere riding lawn mower at Lowe’s or John Deere.
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 42 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-size 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.
- Type: Lawn tractor
- Powered by: 15.5-hp 1-cylinder gas engine
- Deck size: 42 inches
- Budget-friendly price point for a lawn mower that is built to last
- Low-maintenance Briggs & Stratton gas engine with electric start will provide years of dependable service
- 42-inch deck is suitable for mowing up to 2 acres of grass
- 7-speed manual transmission is less convenient than hydrostatic transaxle
- Does not include an anti-scalping deck
Get the Troy-Bilt riding lawn mower at The Home Depot or Troy-Bilt.
This high-performance zero-turn mower has plenty of power and features to take on large yards. With its powerful 24-hp 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 mph. 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.
- Type: Zero-turn mower
- Powered by: 24-hp V-twin Kawasaki gas engine
- Deck size: 60 inches
- Commercial-grade engine and heavy-duty frame will withstand many years of hard use
- 60-inch deck and 7.5 mph mowing speed; cuts up to 4 acres per hour
- Open frame and hinged floor pan allow easy access to the mower deck for maintenance
- Comfort features include padded high-back seat with armrests, cup holder, and 20-inch wheels for a smoother ride
- Premium price point for a residential mower, but value priced for the quality/capability
- The wide deck is too large to navigate walk-through gates and narrow pathways
Get the Cub Cadet Ultima riding lawn mower at The Home Depot.
There’s a lot to like about the Cub Cadet XT1 LT50 that makes it an excellent all-around riding lawn mower. Let’s start with what’s under the hood: a powerful 24-hp 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 LT50 apart include a cruise-control feature that maintains a constant speed for the perfect cut and a SmartJet deck pressure-washing system, which allows a garden hose to be attached to the mowing deck to power-wash the interior.
- Type: Lawn tractor
- Powered by: 24-hp Kohler V-twin 7000 gas engine
- Deck size: 50 inches
- Wider deck and bigger engine; mows more grass faster than other lawn tractors
- 15-inch high-back seat with 10-degree incline and slide slope adjustment for outstanding comfort
- Extremely tight turning radius of just 16 inches for best-in-class maneuverability
- Features include push-button cruise control, LED headlights, battery indicator, and translucent fuel tank
- Larger overall size requires more storage space; will not fit through all walk-through gates
Get the Cub Cadet XT1 LT50 riding lawn mower at The Home Depot, Tractor Supply Co., or Blain’s Farm & Fleet (with stamped deck).
Owners of large properties prefer zero-turn mowers because they cut grass faster and more efficiently than lawn tractors, and they leave a great-looking finish. The Toro 50-inch TimeCutter MyRIDE zero-turn mower is an excellent choice for anyone mowing up to 4 acres of grass. It comes equipped with either a 24.5-hp Toro Commercial V-twin engine or a 23-hp Kawasaki engine, both of which are engineered and manufactured for the rigors of daily use in the professional lawn care industry. The MyRIDE floating suspension allows 3 inches of travel between the seat and the mower frame for an incredibly smooth ride on bumpy lawn areas.
Numerous commercial features make the Toro 50-inch TimeCutter one of the most dependable and convenient mowers for large properties. The dual hydrostatic HG-ZT 2200 transaxles and 10-gauge steel-fabricated triple-blade deck combine for fast mowing—up to 7 mph—with an incredibly clean finished cut from 1.5 to 4.5 inches high. The 3-gallon gas tank is more than adequate for mowing 4 acres of open ground without stopping to refuel. When it comes to maintaining the mower, the built-in deck washout port and toolless oil-change system make it quick and easy.
As for comfort and control of the mower, it offers a nice mix of professional durability with comfort and convenience upgrades that owners will appreciate. Dual wraparound levers with pro-control dampers offer intuitive steering control that even those new to zero-turn mowing will settle into right away. The 18-inch hand-sewn high-back seat includes padded foldaway armrests and adjusts forward and back to fit most users with the simple slide of a lever. A foot lever assists with deck-height adjustments to eliminate arm strain. And operators can stay hydrated while mowing on hot days thanks to a built-in cup holder.
We tested a Toro 50-inch TimeCutter MyRIDE for more than a month. The model we used came equipped with the 24.5-hp Toro Commercial engine. Although it was packed with commercial details, the mower was not quite as fast as a true commercial mower (which would cost at least twice as much). Still, at or near top speed, we were able to mow our 2-acre test area in about 40 minutes, or roughly 3 acres an hour, which is excellent among residential zero-turn mowers. We mowed the property twice per tank of gas, with a little left in the tank after the second cut, so we can confidently say after mowing four times that it will mow 4 acres per tank.
The MyRIDE suspension system was a unique configuration we haven’t seen elsewhere. The “cockpit” of the mower, including the seat and footrest area, is mounted on a floating platform that is attached to the mower frame by a shock absorber. The adjustable system provided more or less resistance as conditions required. It really did provide an outstanding amount of cushioning compared to the spring-seat systems that most zero-turn mowers use.
While we loved the power and comfort of the Toro TimeCutter, this model was a bit too wide to access a gated area on the property, and it could not navigate a narrow pathway to another isolated spot. Also, as with other zero-turn mowers, this one is not rated for use on slopes steeper than about 15 degrees, or 5.5 vertical feet per 20 linear feet, so we avoided those areas as well.
- Type: Zero-turn mower
- Powered by: 24.5-hp Toro Commercial V-twin engine or 23-hp Kawasaki V-twin engine
- Deck size: 50 inches
- Commercial-grade engine is designed for thousands of hours of hard use
- Fast mowing at speeds up to 7 miles per hour; it can mow about 3 acres in an hour
- MyRIDE suspension system offers an incredibly smooth ride over bumpy ground
- 3-gallon fuel capacity, which is enough to mow up to 4 acres per fill-up
- 10-gauge steel frame and forged-steel deck offer outstanding toughness and durability
- Due to the width of the deck, this mower cannot drive through most walk-through gates
- Zero turns in general, and this one included, are not designed for hilly terrain
Get the Toro 50-inch TimeCutter riding lawn mower at The Home Depot (with 24.5-hp Toro Commercial engine), Mowers Direct (with 24.5-hp Toro Commercial engine), or Tractor Supply Co. (with 23-hp Kawasaki engine).
Those who measure their yard in acres instead of square feet may have thought a gas-powered mower was the only option. That is no longer the case. The Ego Power+ zero-turn riding mower mows up to 2 acres per charge and can easily be upgraded to mow more than 3 acres per charge. Many of the features found on gas-powered zero-turn mowers are also found on the Z6, such as adjustable lap bars to control the drive wheels, heavy-duty front swivel casters, and an adjustable high-back seat. Other features include a 42-inch mowing deck with 10 height settings between 1.5 and 4.5 inches and the option to discharge, mulch, or bag the grass clippings.
Independent electric motors drive the wheels and blades. Blade power is adjustable to conserve battery life during normal maintenance or to power through tougher areas. Powered by the included four 56-volt 10-amp-hour (Ah) lithium-ion batteries, the Z6 delivers mowing performance equivalent to that of a 22-hp gas engine. Four batteries mow up to 2 acres per charge, but the Z6 has six battery ports. Add up to two additional batteries (sold separately) to mow more than 3 acres per charge. The Z6 also features bright LED headlights and a battery-life indicator. The included rapid-charge adapter is reputed to be one of the fastest available, topping off a set of depleted batteries in just 2 hours.
After a month of testing, we were sold on the Z6 as a viable alternative to gas for larger properties. Our test property featured rolling terrain with about 2.25 acres of grass, including a large open acre-plus, and the rest broken up with landscape beds, walkways, and buildings. We tested in the basic four-battery configuration as well as with two additional batteries in order to learn more about top-end functionality.
We were pleased to note that runtime and acres per charge were as advertised in the four-battery configuration. The rapid-charge system refueled the four batteries in just 2 hours. To test the six-battery configuration, we mowed the entire property at the highest setting, then dropped the deck three notches and started mowing the big field again. With all six batteries, we mowed approximately 3 acres and recharged all six in about 3 hours.
The overall Ego Power+ Z6 mowing experience was really good. The mower starts easily and reliably. The controls, gauges, and adjustments are fairly intuitive. The sound level is extremely quiet, especially compared to a large gas-powered zero-turn mower. The suspension seat was quite comfortable, but the relatively small rear tires and overall light weight of the machine made for a bouncy ride on the roughest ground. We also noted that it climbed inclines well.
While the performance was really quite good, we did note a few rough spots. We felt a bit of “slop” or looseness in the lap bars and the front casters, particularly when navigating tight spaces, and the machine seemed to have a slight pull to the right when both bars were at full forward speed. Also, while the mower did a great job in “standard” mode (or medium blade speed) while cutting well-maintained grass, it struggled slightly in overgrown areas. In one patch of 12-inch-high crabgrass, we increased to full blade speed and still had to slow down to get a clean cut. But even with those issues, we still agree that the Z6 would make a rock-solid choice for owners of large properties who are seeking an alternative to gas.
- Type: Zero-turn mower
- Powered by: Up to six 56-volt 10Ah batteries (4 included)
- Deck size: 42 inches
- Includes four 56-volt 10Ah lithium-ion batteries with space for 2 additional batteries
- Onboard rapid battery-charging system
- 10-position 42-inch deck
- Mows at speeds up to 7 miles per hour
- Bright LED headlights for low-light mowing
- Batteries must be replaced in 5 to 10 years
Get the Ego Power+ riding lawn mower at Amazon, Ace Hardware, or Lowe’s.
Smaller yards don’t require mowers that have 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 50Ah battery that powers three brushless motors for up to 1 hour or 1 acre of mowing. Its 30-inch mowing deck provides ample mowing width for a medium-size 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 the mower’s 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.
- Type: Rear-engine riding mower
- Powered by: 48-volt 50Ah lead-acid deep-cycle battery
- Deck size: 30 inches
- 1 hour of runtime per battery charge, or about 1 acre of grass
- Mower fits through gates and other passageways as narrow as 42 inches wide
- Compact size makes it easier to store than other riding lawn mowers
- No gas, exhaust, oil changes, spark plugs, or belts to deal with
- Slow recharge time of 10.25 hours means only 1 hour of mowing per day
- Only suitable for flat terrain with obstacles
Get the Ryobi riding lawn mower at The Home Depot.
Big yards need a big mower, and that’s what you get with this zero-turn riding mower from Toro. With this mower’s 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 up to 4 acres. It features a powerful 24-hp V-twin gas engine that can reach speeds of up to 7 mph. 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 and armrests and Toro’s MyRIDE suspension, which absorbs the bumps in a 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.
- Type: Zero-turn mower
- Powered by: 24-hp Kohler V-twin gas engine
- Deck size: 54 inches
- The Toro MyRIDE suspension system provides an ultrasmooth ride on rough ground
- Heavy-duty forged deck and 10-gauge steel frame for long-lasting durability
- Commercial-grade Kohler engine is engineered for low maintenance and extended use
- Mows about 0.25 acre per hour faster than the 50-inch TimeCutter
- Large mower requires more storage space and won’t fit through narrow passages
- Premium price point for residential equipment, but a fair price for the capability
Get the Toro 54-inch TimeCutter riding lawn mower at The Home Depot, Tractor Supply Co., or Mowers at Jack’s.
Climbing hills requires a powerful engine, automatic transmission, and a low center of gravity. The Ariens Ikon 52 covers all three. It features a 23-hp 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 Ariens Ikon 52 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 its 3.5-gallon tank, you won’t need to stop and refill. Ride in comfort on the Ikon 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.
- Type: Zero-turn mower
- Powered by: 23-hp Kawasaki V-twin engine
- Deck size: 52 inches
- Competitive price point for a high-quality zero-turn mower
- Commercial-grade engine designed for extended wear and low maintenance
- Heavy-duty 11-gauge steel deck and fully welded steel frame for long-term durability
- Mows at speeds up to 7 miles per hour, or about 3.3 acres per hour
- Fewer comfort and convenience details than some of the other mowers on our list
Get the Ariens riding lawn mower at Ace Hardware, Amazon, or Lowe’s.
What to Consider When Choosing a 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 will best suit 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 owners 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 1 hour of use, which is enough to mow about 1 acre. Maneuvering around obstacles such as thick grass, inclines, and flower beds requires more effort and drains 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 to mow the lawn. A deck with a mowing area of 30 to 40 inches can adequately handle lawns up to a half acre. Yards that are 0.5 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-hp engine to adequately power the deck and the drive wheels. For a 42- to 46-inch cutting deck, a 14- to 16-hp engine will be ideal. Mowers with a 46-inch to 54-inch cutting deck require an 18- to 24-hp 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 2 gallons of gas, while larger mowers carry 3 to 4 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 Runtime
Advancements in battery technology have made battery-powered riding lawn mowers possible. Although runtime depends on many variables, including terrain and lawn type, you can generally expect to get about 1 hour of mowing out of a 75Ah battery, which is enough to cover up to 1 acre before needing a recharge. A full battery recharge can take up to 10.25 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 for 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 they are for 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.
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 carlike 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.
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 (if necessary).
- Replace the spark plugs once a season.
Why Trust Bob Vila
Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series including “This Old House” and “Bob Vila’s Home Again,” he popularized and became synonymous with “do-it-yourself” home improvement.
Over the course of his decades-long career, Bob Vila has helped millions of people build, renovate, repair, and live better each day—a tradition that continues today with expert yet accessible home advice. The Bob Vila team distills need-to-know information into project tutorials, maintenance guides, tool 101s, and more. These home and garden experts then thoroughly research, vet, and recommend products that support homeowners, renters, DIYers, and professionals in their to-do lists.
Meet The Tester
Mark Wolfe is a writer and product tester with an extensive background in the nursery and landscaping industry. For more than 20 years he mowed, edged, planted, pruned, cultivated, irrigated, and renovated beautiful landscapes. Now he tests and writes reviews about the latest outdoor power equipment, hand tools, lawn-care products, and other outdoor-living goods.
Additional research provided by Tony Carrick.