Self-Propelled Lawn Mower Buyer's Guide
How to Pick the Perfect Self-Propelled Mower
Sometimes, you just don't feel like mowing the lawn. Maybe you're tired from working out or did some yardwork. Maybe it rained all week, the grass is super long, and you can already picture the amount of effort it'll take to push your mower across that thick lawn.
Thankfully, self-propelled lawn mowers take some of the burden off your muscles. Sure, unlike with a riding mower, you still have to walk, but it's a good way to reach that daily step count goal.
What is a Self-Propelled Lawn Mower?
Self-propelled lawn mowers use a drive system that moves the mower forward on its own, without you having to push it. You engage the propulsion by squeezing a bar on the mower. Then, you simply walk behind and steer the mower, while it does all the hard work for you.
You may think it's straightforward to buy a self-propelled mower, but there are several choices you need to make. Here are the top factors to consider when buying a self-propelled lawn mower.
Front-Wheel vs. Rear-Wheel Drive
Front-wheel drive lawn mowers are less expensive than rear-wheel drive models, are easier to maneuver, but don't have as powerful of a drive.
To drive the mower forward, the wheels must be firmly planted on the ground. Thus, front-wheel drive is basically useless when lifting the front to turn or when the wheels bounce up off the turf.
The rear wheels, however, are always grounded, providing exceptional traction control and maneuverability. So, if you need the extra power to climb steep hills, always go with a rear-wheel drive lawn mower, although it will cost you more.
Set vs. Variable Speed
Adjustable speed settings will allow you to go faster or slower depending on the conditions of the lawn, or on your physical condition as well.
There may be days you feel like racing through your lawn mowing chores, and other days when you take your time. Adjustable speed settings can also deliver a more even cut.
A self-propelled mower with only one speed may go too fast to cut tall or thick grass evenly, or to mulch clippings very well. A hydrostatic drive with cruise control provides the ultimate in luxury.
Recoil vs. Electric Start
You have two options when it comes to starting your lawn mower: recoil start and electric start.
Recoil start mowers are the traditional, pull-rope style. You pull a cord which turns the engine over to start the mower.
Electric start mowers require no pulling to start. In fact, all you do is turn a key or push a button to get the mower running.
If you still have nightmares about attempting to crank up an old, recoil start mower, go with an electric start. No yanking cords, just push a button and go.
Proper maintenance of your mower will keep it performing like new and increase the overall longevity of ownership.
A wash-out port on your mower deck makes it easier to maintain.
Just hook up a garden hose to the port and turn it on. You'll wash out all the grass clippings from the inside of your deck and blades, leaving your mower like new.
Most self-propelled lawn mowers automatically turn off the engine every time you let go of the bail.
Move a ball… the engine shuts off. Pick a weed… the engine shuts off. Release the handle for any reason, and the engine shuts off for safety.
Basically, a blade override system allows the engine to keep running but safely disengages the blade from spinning.
With blade override, you'll cut your grass faster. But, more importantly, you’ll extend the life of your engine because it doesn’t have to start and stop every three minutes.
Your yard isn't as straight as a football field. It has flower beds and trees to mow around.
Sometimes you need to turn, but most self-propelled mowers are built to steer straight.
Over time, the wheels start to wobble because of the constant turning. One day, the metal bolt sheers and the wheel falls off.
Now, smart manufacturers are installing swivel front wheels instead. They're engineered for better maneuverability, but more importantly, they keep the wheels where they belong... on the mower.
Self Propelled vs Push Mowers
You might be wondering whether you should go with a self-propelled versus a push lawn mower. Here's the thing, all self-propelled mowers turn into push mowers if you disengage the drive bar. That means, if you're feeling like getting a little more exercise, just don't use the power drive.
The only real advantage of choosing a true push mower is if you are on a tight budget or have a very small yard (in which case you may consider a reel mower). These days, though, you can get some self-propelled models for around the price of a push mower. Might as well go self-propelled in most cases.