6 Questions to Ask When Buying a Riding Mower

by Erin Hynes

Riding mower

A mowing tractor is a must for homeowners who maintain large lawns. But a tractor does more than cut the grass — when equipped with attachments, a tractor can haul firewood, clear snow, pick up leaves, and dethatch, aerate and fertilize your lawn. It’s a tool for all seasons.

The many tractor models on the market differ in their size, power and features. When shopping for a lawn tractor, ask these questions to narrow the field to the models that are right tractor for your yard, the type of yard work you do , and the maneuverability and comfort you want.

Can it handle my size yard?

Start narrowing your choices to riding mower types that are the right size for your lawn:

More than 2 acres. Garden tractors and lawn tractors are suited to large areas; yard tractors are not.

1 to 2 acres. Your options include garden tractors, lawn tractors and large yard tractors.

Less than an acre. Any type of riding mower can handle a small yard; a garden tractor or lawn tractor might be more machine than you need.

Within each riding mower type, you have a choice of deck width. Cleary, the wider the deck, the fewer passes you have to make when mowing.

Does it have enough power?

Make the second cut based on engine power. You need a more powerful riding mower to climb slopes or haul firewood than to zip around on a flat half acre. Here are riding mower options, starting with the most powerful:

1. Garden tractors have engines in the 26 to 30 HP range, giving them the power to climb slopes, haul loads, till the ground and plow snow.

2. Lawn tractors and large yard tractors can handle relatively flat lawns and light hauling; they have engines ranging from 22 HP to 26 HP.

3. Small yard tractors with less than 22 HP are just for mowing flat yards.

What kind of transmission does it have?

The terrain you mow helps determine the best transmission type for you, as does your preference for control and convenience.

Manual Mower

  • More control on hilly terrain
  • Use lower gears to emphasize power and higher gears for lower power and greater speed
  • Must stop to change speed or go into reverse
  • 6 preset speeds


  • Don’t need to stop to change speeds
  • Use lower gears to emphasize power and higher gears for lower power and greater speed
  • Must stop to shift into reverse
  • Up to 7 preset speeds


  • Ideal for relatively flat lawns with obstacles
  • No stopping to change speeds
  • Infinite speeds
  • Pedal-operated speed control (like driving a car)

Premium hydrostatic automatic

  • Ideal for almost any type of terrain
  • No stopping to change speeds
  • Sealed system uses fluid to drive pumps to control speed; similar to an automobile transmission
  • Infinite speeds
  • Smooth operation
  • Available in fender-mount or pedal-speed control

How comfortable is it?

Manufacturers have put a lot of effort into making their machines more ergonomic. Comfort is personal, so before you buy, check how the following feel for you and other family members who will use the tractor often:

  • Size of the step-through area — how easily can you get on and off the seat?
  • Seat shape, cushioning, back support and ease of adjustment.
  • Leg room, including how far you can stretch your legs and whether your knees bump into anything.
  • Distance to the steering wheel — having to overreach quickly strains your neck, shoulders and back.
  • Access to the speed controls and deck lift.

How close can it get to trees, the bird bath and my yard gnome?

Having to make wide turns makes mowing take longer — so does having to manually trim around trees and flower beds that the mower can’t get close to. A tight turning radius saves time — and gas — by letting you turn in a smaller area and cut close to obstacles. Turning radius varies by model. If a super-tight turning radius is important to you, consider either of these options:

Zero-turn tractors can turn in a small area and maneuver in and out of tight spaces and around objects more easily than other tractors. Deck sizes range from 42 inches to 52 inches. Zero-turn tractors are suited to any size lawn, but aren’t suited to hills or steep inclines, or if you plan to use snowblower-type attachments.

is unique to some models of Craftsman yard tractors and garden tractors. With a tiny 8-inch turning radius, it’s the current best-in-class technology. You can cut closer around landscaping, trees and other obstacles without repeatedly stopping to back up. You can also make tighter, faster U-turns, at the end of your straight rows, and move in and out of tight spaces more easily.

Is it easy to use?

Features such as car-like steering, a spring-assisted deck lift system and easy-to-engage manual clutch can make riding mowers easier to use. Also consider your options for disposing of clippings — can you choose to mulch, discharge from the side or bag? If you plan to use attachments, find out how easy they are to attach.

Erin Hynes is the managing editor for Manage My Life.

© Copyright 2011, Sears Brands, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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      • San Jose, CA

    I use the Craftsman 1000 pound capacity, steel trailer with my Yard Tractor to haul heavy things around the property, more than I "mow" the yard.

    It's a great combination of tractor and trailer, that transports tools out around the property, too.

  1. in the market for one. any suggestions? going over to sears now to look at them


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