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Riding mowers, which cut a swath 2′ to 4′ wide, are for homeowners with more than half an acre of lawn.

Riding mowers and tractors fall into several basic categories-ride-on mowers, lawn tractors, garden tractors and small acreage tractors. You will need to look at the engine power when comparing models. You don’t want a small engine which will result in overburdening the unit. You need an engine with sufficient power not only to mow, but to power the mower over uneven and sometimes rough terrain.

Ride-on mowers are for mowing. They may come in either front- or rear-engine models with capability for light towing.

The traction drive (wheels) is a separate transmission and differential connected by a chain which is exposed to dirt in all but the most expensive models.

Attachments for ride-on mowers may include a very light-duty snow blade; usually the only power attachment for these models is the mowing unit.

Lawn tractors can power optional snow-throwing equipment in addition to the mowing unit. The traction drive is a medium-duty trans-axle (transmission and differential in the same housing), which is fully enclosed and lubricated.

These provide increased performance over ride-on mowers such as more towing capacity and greater snow-moving ability with a snow blade.

Although they are able to handle a variety of simple attachments, they are distinguished from garden tractors by their inability to handle ground-engaging attachments.

Garden tractors are able to take more sophisticated attachments such as tillers and plows. They are equipped with heavy duty trans-axles with three or four forward speeds and have more ground clearance.

In addition to hitches for these ground-engaging attachments, these units have build-in lift systems and greater power to pull the attachments.

Small-acreage tractors are more complex and employ more automotive features than any other item in the outdoor power-equipment group. They are best suited for large areas and small farm chores.

Unlike larger riders, engine power is greater, ranging up to 20 hp. Cutting widths of up to 6′ or more can be accomplished by using gang reels.

Extreme versatility is achieved through attachments such as leaf mulcher, plow, snow thrower, snow/dozer blade, dump cart, sweeper, tiller, power sprayer, aerator, lawn roller, cultivator, front-end loader, fertilizer spreader, flail mower and dicing devices.

Prices range from $1,000 to $2,000 for smaller riding mowers and tractors and from $3,000 to $5,000 for large lawn and garden tractors.

Also, safety is an important factor when purchasing this type of equipment. An industry safety standard calls for riding mowers to have three features:

  1. Models must be equipped with interlocks to ensure the engine cannot start while the mower is in gear or when the blade is engaged.
  2. Another feature is the blade-stop system that stops the blade quickly when the driver disengages it.
  3. “Deadman” switches connected to the seat kill the ignition and engine and stop the blade if an operator falls off or climbs down from the seat while the blade is still engaged.


The design characteristics of riding units are major safety factors. Operating safety is increased if the driver’s seat is lowered as far forward as possible. This is particularly important when operating the machine on slopes and for units with engines mounted behind the operator.

Both the blade and the rear wheels are powered by the engine. A few low-priced riders may have the blade attached to the engine shaft, like a rotary mower, but most models have a belt-driven blade, and usually such mowers have a blade clutch.

Another belt usually runs from engine to transmission and a chain runs from the transmission to the differential.

On units with trans-axles, the differential and transmission are in one sealed housing. These usually have two belts and no chain.

The accessibility of belts, chains and other replaceable parts is an important feature to look for when purchasing these units as is the ability to remove cutting units easily so attachments can be utilized.

Electric starters are available on many models and are desirable for higher-horsepower engines.

Some riders can be upended and stored on the rear or front end to save space or to gain access to mowing unit without problems from oil or gas drainage.


Front wheel diameters range from 8″ to 12″ and rear wheels are usually 10″ to 16″, but may measure in at 20″. Pneumatic tires or semi-pneumatic tires are frequently used on lower-priced models.

Turning radius for riding equipment is usually 32″ or above, but can be as tight as 16″ and you should look for both steering ease and a ruggedly constructed steering gear.

All controls, throttle, transmission, positions, brakes, brake lock, blade clutch, height adjustment and safety clutch (if so equipped) should be easily accessible.

Transmissions vary from one speed forward, neutral and reverse, to five speeds forward, neutral and reverse, with most models having three forward speeds. Driving speeds range from 1 to 7 mph. Three to 4 mph is usual operating speed.


Suspension systems include a front axle that pivots up and down, or side to side, to keep the cutting unit level over uneven ground, or the cutting unit may be free floating. With a free-floating design, gravity is supposed to keep the unit level, even when a portion of the lower deck is not in contact with the ground. Guardrails are available on some units and run the full length of the deck to prevent the deck from contacting the ground and the blade from scalping ridges and large mounds.

Wheel bearings range from plain steel on lower-priced models to sintered iron, sintered bronze, ball bearings or roller bearings.

Braking the blade to an immediate stop is a most important safety feature. Also determine whether the clutch can be eased into the “on” position or does it “grab” and sometimes kill the engine. Some riders are equipped with a seat switch that prevents the mower from moving unless the operator is sitting in the mower seat or depresses a foot pedal. Such devices provide extra safety by shutting off the engine if the operator gets off the machine without first de-clutching the blade and shifting the transmission into neutral.

An automatic blade-stop mechanism, available on some models, brings the blade to a stop after the pedal is released without stopping the engine.

Cutting heights usually range from 1-1/2″ to 3-1/2″. Some still require the removal of wheels or bolts or loosening of nuts and re-tightening to change height. However, most better models utilize a lever or crank to raise and lower the deck.

Moderate pressure on the brake pedal should stop the rider quickly. A conveniently positioned brake lock should hold the rider on a fairly steep slope.

Rider blades, being longer and subject to more engine power than hand rotaries, should be sturdier. When a blade is turning at high speed, the tips will try to vibrate up and down unless the blade is reinforced at its center by a channel-shaped or heavy bar. It is important that the center of the blade or its reinforcement should not extend below the cutting edge to prevent unnecessary rubbing of the cut grass.

Seats on riding models are usually adjustable to two or three positions, and the cutting properties of riders depend on the same quality features as on regular rotaries.

How to Care for Riding Mowers
1. Store the unit under cover. If it is impossible to place undercover, be sure to cover the exhaust system.
2. Block the unit up to remove the weight from the tires and keep the tires from contact with a moist floor.
3. Remove the battery and store it in a cool, dry place, or keep it fully charged in the unit.
4. Fill the fuel tank to the top to prevent condensation. The fuel should be treated with the proper amount of fuel conditioner to prevent formation of varnish or gum. Run the engine long enough to be sure all filters are filled with conditioned fuel.
5. When unit is removed from storage it should be serviced throughout, including draining and refilling engine crankcase with fresh, clean oil.

Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.