Tips for Buying Walk-Behind Lawn Mowers

Mowing your lawn can be a source of pleasure or pain depending on your lawn mower. Like any home and garden tasks, the right tools can make the job a whole lot easier. If you have a relatively small lawn (under 1/2 acre), a walk-behind rotary lawn mower is probably all that you will ever need. But finding the right walk-behind lawn mower isn't as straightforward as you might think. If you're in the market to buy one, here are some things to consider before you head out to the showroom.


Assessing Your Terrain

Lawn Size: The first step in finding the right mower is determining the size of your lawn. This will help you determine the right features and amount of power you'll need to easily get the job done.

For small lawns (under 1/4 acre) a push mower will probably be all you need. For large lawns (over 1/2 acre) a self-propelled walk behind mower or even a riding lawn mower might be a better choice.

Terrain Type: If your lawn is hilly, uneven, or contains lots of obstacles (trees, flowerbeds, etc.), a mower with larger wheels will provide greater maneuverability and make mowing less bumpy.

Grass type: If you have thick, coarse grass like Bermuda, you may want to consider an engine with slightly more torque (higher CCs) to help you tackle the job with ease.

Basic Gasoline-Powered Mowers

A standard gasoline-powered push mower uses one rotating blade to cut a swath of grass ranging from 18-24 inches wide. It can also usually be adjusted to cut grass at several different heights. This type of mower is a good choice if you have a relatively flat lawn under 1/2 acre in size.


Many models feature optional upgrades such as a rear or side bagger and/or mulching mechanisms. Thankfully, the newer models are also virtually guaranteed to start with one or two easy pulls of the rope.

Bagging Mowers

If your yard is heavy with leaf-bearing trees, a bagging mower can be a handy way to vacuum them up in the fall (along with grass, small twigs and other debris) so you can turn them into compost.

Bagging mowers leave your lawn with a classic manicured look, but expect using them to take more time than simply allowing the clippings to fall back onto the lawn. You'll be changing the bag fairly often, so look for models with large bags that are easy to remove and empty. If you plan to mulch your grass clippings and don't plan to go for long stretches between mowing, bagging mowers are not necessary.

Mulching Mowers

Mulching mowers uses a special blade to chop grass clippings and leaves into fine pieces and redistribute them evenly back across the lawn. This helps feed your lawn nitrogen by building up a supply of organic matter. You're left with free fertilizer for your lawn, and grass clippings that are too tiny to be noticeable. Mulching mowers work best in dry weather conditions. If the grass is too tall or wet, the blades tend to gunk up under the mower deck.


Self-propelled Mowers

Self-propelled mowers are a good choice for lawns that are large (over 1/2 acre) or hilly. For people with physical limitations, many also offer an electric start. No more pulling - just turn the key and go! Make sure if you decide to go this route that you select a mower with adjustable speeds so you can find one that is comfortable to walk behind.

Two other self-propelled features to look for are an electric key starter and a blade break clutch. An electric key start eliminates the need for rope pulling, which can be a real blessing for people with physical limitations. A mower with a blade-brake clutch won't shut off if you let it go, so you can bend over to pick up sticks or maneuver across gravel paths or uneven pavement without fear of damaging the blade.

Self-propelled models with front drive propulsion give you great traction on flat terrain with shorter grass and are ideal for lawns with lots of obstacles. Rear drive propulsion will provide you with consistent traction on hilly terrain with thick grass.


Wide Area Walk Behinds

These mowers are designed for large properties with extra wide (up to 33 inches) rugged, steel mower decks. They come with many of the features available on standard and self-propelled push mowers, but are considered more heavy duty.

Electric Mowers

The advantage of electric mowers is that they run quieter, cost less, and have less maintenance than gasoline-powered lawn mowers. Because they run so clean, they are also much better for the environment. On the downside, they face the same limitations of any appliance with a cord - they can only move as far away from an outlet as their cord allows (usually around 100 feet).

Many models now come with a cordless option so you only need to plug it in for charging. Just make sure to push these lawn mowers around the showroom before you buy one. The batteries in some of these machines make them very heavy to push, which may become problematic if you don't have a small, relatively flat lawn.


Other Points to Ponder

2-cylinders vs. 4-cylinders. Gasoline-powered engines are either two or four cycle (cylinders). Two cylinder engines are less common, but more efficient and likely to last longer than 4 cylinder engines. This is because you must mix the gas and oil each time you refuel the engine so you're always keeping tabs on the oil levels (insufficient oil is the #1 cause of lawn mower engine failure).

A four-cylinder engine has a separate crankcase. It's more convenient (oil and gas are added separately), but it also means that oil levels must be checked regularly and the engine given an oil change at least once a season.

Horsepower. Walk behind mowers usually run from 6 to 10 horsepower. Mowing speed depends on horsepower, as well as the rate of blade rotation and the width of the deck. If you have a large lawn to cut, a mower with a wider deck will help reduce mowing time (and likely come with a larger engine anyway). Don't pay more for horsepower you don't really need.


Deck Width. The mower deck is essentially the casing below the engine that houses the blade. The wider the deck, the longer the blade and the faster you mow. Keep in mind that aluminum and plastic decks are lighter and don't rust, but steel is more durable and usually more pricey. Also, if you need your lawn mower to pass through the door of your garden shed, be sure to get a deck that fits!

Where to Get the Best Deals

It pays to shop around. Buying your lawn mower from a dealer offers the convenience of parts and on-site repair services. Dealers are also more likely to offer a variety of new and used machines in a wide range of prices. Retail stores may or may not offer equipment options for your mower, but they may offer attractive sale prices. Just make sure if you buy a machine from a large retail store that replacement parts are available from the manufacturer. Once you find a lawn mower you like, check online for user reviews and make sure the model hasn't been recently recalled by the manufacturer.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services.

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June 21, 20110 found this helpful

I enjoyed reading this, I learned some things about lawn mowers I never knew before, thanks for sharing!

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June 28, 20110 found this helpful

I very much enjoyed reading this and even copie/pasted it to save. Lots of very good information here, and written in a way that I could understand it (versus trying to understand my ex-mechanic husband!). Thank you so much! This will prove invaluable the next time I go to buy one!

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