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How to choose a new lawn mower

Whether you're buying your first machine or looking to upgrade, here's what you need to know before buying a new lawn mower.

John Deere

With the arrival of spring and summer comes the inevitable task of cutting the grass in your yard, and that means that it's a very good time to have a dependable lawn mower on hand. Perhaps you're planning to purchase your first mower, or maybe you want to make a big upgrade. Regardless, you have several options to choose from.

In years past, the decision was simple. Either you went with a lawn mower you could push from behind, or one that you could ride on in comfort. These days, there's more to consider -- for instance, in addition to traditional gas-powered mowers, you can now choose electric lawn mowers that are powered either by extension cords or battery packs.

Options are good, but they can make the decision of which lawn mower to choose more difficult. Here are a few factors to consider before you shop.

Yard size

Push mowers, whether powered by gas or electricity, are a good choice if you have a small yard of an acre or less. If your yard is ¾ of an acre or larger though, you'll need something more capable. To handle bigger lawns, opt for a riding mower or zero-turn mower. Thanks to wide cutting areas and faster rolling speed, these more robust machines cover more ground in less time.

Handling grass clippings

How you want to dispose of the cut grass will help narrow your options. You have three choices. Side discharge mowers throw grass clippings back into the yard. Other mowers have bags that allow you to collect and dispose of the clippings separately. 

Mulching mowers cut grass into smaller pieces and return them to the yard as mulch. Other mowers offer a combination of these abilities. Mowers that mulch or have bagging systems will give you a cleaner looking yard, but they also cost more than the simple side discharge mowers. 

Another factor to consider is time. If you choose to bag your clippings, you'll have to stop often to empty the grass from the mower's bag to a collection bag. You also want to make sure your local sanitation department will pick up this yard waste.

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Lawn mower types

Push mowers

Gas-powered lawn mowers

Gas-powered push lawn mowers have been around for years and are still a popular choice. While most of these mowers use a pull cord to start their engine, there are some models that have an electric starter, which eliminates the need to yank the pull cord to start them. 

Gas-powered lawn mowers that are not self propelled can range in price from about $170 to $730.

Corded electric lawn mowers

The biggest advantage with corded electric lawn mowers is you don't have to stop to fill the gas tank or change the battery. They continue running as long as they're plugged into an outlet. The main challenges are the length of your extension cord, the location of your outlets and the number of obstacles in your yard. 

For example, if you have a lot of trees or bushes, you may need to do a lot of backtracking so your extension cord doesn't get tangled. It's also important to choose an extension cord that meets the lawn mower's specifications. The least expensive option, corded electric push mowers can range from $75 to $280.

Ego Power+ sells a popular line of electric lawn mowers.

Ego Power+

Cordless electric lawn mowers

The primary difference with battery-operated mowers is the battery type and the varying amounts of voltage. The higher the amount of voltage, the longer the lawn mower can run on a single charge. If you have a larger yard, you may either need to stop to recharge the battery before you complete the job or purchase an extra battery that you can swap in mid-cut. Typical battery run times range from 30 to 60 minutes. The price for cordless lawn mowers ranges from about $315 to $650.

Self-propelled lawn mowers

Although it's a more typical feature with gas-powered lawn mowers, there are battery-powered self-propelled mowers on the market, too. 

Self-propelled mowers are either front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive (FWD or RWD, short). FWD mowers work well on even terrain and are easy to turn around obstacles in your yard. If you're bagging your clippings and the collection bag is in the back, RWD mowers work best. They're also good on uneven terrain. Gas-powered self-propelled mowers can range from $280 to about $2,400 for more powerful models, while cordless electric self-propelled lawn mowers run from around $330 to $750.

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Riding lawn mowers

While most riding lawn mowers are gas powered, there are a few electric models now on the market. In general, riding lawn mowers cost more than their push mower siblings. That said, they're ideal for people with larger properties, typically ¾ acre or more. Gas-powered riding lawn mowers range in price from about $1,400 to $3,900, while the electric models run anywhere from $2,600 to about $3,500. Check out our guide on what to know before buying a riding lawn mower.

Zero-turn lawn mowers

In terms of riding lawn mowers, the zero-turn mowers are the cream of the crop, and a common choice for professional landscapers or people with very large yards. They are much easier to turn than a typical riding lawn mower, making it easy to cut around trees, bushes and other obstacles. The most expensive style of mower on our list, zero-turn mowers can cost a lofty $4,500 to up to $15,000.

Robot lawn mowers like this model from Robomow cut grass automatically.

CNET

Robotic lawn mowers

Robotic lawn mowers require the least amount of effort on your part. These battery-powered mowers operate on autopilot and can navigate around the obstacles in your yard. They work well on flat yards that are small, less than an acre, and range in price from $1,200 to $2,400. Learn more about robotic lawn mowers.

Additional features to consider

Here are some other factors to consider when shopping for a lawn mower:

Width of the mower deck

On push lawn mowers, the width of the mower deck can range from 10 inches to 17 inches or more. The smaller the size of the deck, the more passes it will take you to complete the yard -- but the smaller size can also be a benefit in small yards that have a lot of obstacles to navigate and turns to make. Riding mowers typically have mower deck widths from 30 to 66 inches. The deck width for zero-turn mowers is comparable, 34 to 66 inches.

Cutting height

Depending on the time of year, you may want to cut your grass longer or shorter. It's that's important to you, look for a mower that makes it easy to adjust the height of the mower deck.

Comfort 

Push mowers that have adjustable handles will make it easier for people of all heights to be able to operate the machine. On riding mowers, you want to find one with a comfortable seat. Many riding mowers even come with cup holders to help you stay hydrated during the cut.

Expense 

Beyond the initial purchase price, you'll want to be sure and consider the cost of maintaining the lawn mower. For gas-powered mowers, this includes the ongoing cost of fuel, motor oil, and parts such as spark plugs.

Making the purchase

Before heading out to the store to buy your new lawn mower, consider all the things we've discussed, from the size of your yard, to what you plan to do with the clippings to the person who will be doing most of the cutting. This will make your purchase choice much easier. For more advice, be sure to check out our guide on the pros and cons of electric lawn mowers.