Types of Lawn Mowers & Tractors

Mowers can range from $100 manual reel mowers to zero-turn-radius machines costing as much as $5,000. Here are the types of lawn mowers and tractors to consider:

Manual-reel mowers

The most traditional of mowers don't pollute—and you won't need to store gas or a power cord. Pushing them turns a series of curved blades.

Because they have no engine, they're also quiet and inexpensive, relatively safe, and require little upkeep beyond blade adjustments and sharpening.

They only cut swaths are 14 to 18 inches wide, cutting tends to be uneven, and most can't cut taller than 1½ inches or trim closer than 3 inches around obstacles. They don't disburse clippings like a rotary mower, so you'll need a bag (or a rake) for the clippings.

Electric push mowers

Electric walk-behind mowers are good for small, level lawns. They use an electric motor to turn a rotating blade, but not to drive the wheels; you provide the push.

Cordless mowers weigh up to 30 pounds more than corded models, but they can roam farther from a power outlet and free you from a cord. Cords are a potential problem on lawns with trees and other obstacles. Today's cordless models run longer per charge than previous models.

Cord and cordless types start with push-button ease, produce no exhaust emissions, and require little upkeep beyond blade sharpening. Most offer a side or rear bag and a mulching mode that cuts clippings finely enough that they settle within the lawn and fertilize it as they decompose.

The best electric mowers perform as well as gas models, but they can't match the best gas machines in tall or thick grass and weeds. Electrics typically cut an 18- to 20-inch swath.

Gas-powered mowers

Gas mowers come in push and self-propelled models. All have a four-stroke engine with a 160- to 190-cubic-centimeter displacement, a measure that has replaced horsepower ratings on many models. Some also list torque, or twisting force.

Most cut a 21- or 22-inch swath, can handle long or thick grass and weeds, and can bag, side-discharge, and mulch clippings.

Self-propelled models are best for most lawns and blend ease and performance. But gas mowers are noisy and produce exhaust emissions—though today's models emit less than those of the past—and the engine requires regular tune-ups and oil changes..

Lawn Tractors

These front-engine machines often cost less than the older rear-engine riders.

Most mow a 42- to 48-inch swath and can bag, mulch, and side-discharge clippings. Some cut an even wider swath and offer four-wheel steering for tighter turns. All accept snow throwers and other tools.

These machines typically create significant exhaust emissions and require about 4-by-6 feet of storage space. Add-on features are often pricey and hard to install.

Zero-turn-radius mowers

These riding mowers are similar to the ones landscapers use, with a rear-engine and rear-wheel steering. Maneuverability is their strong suit.

Twin steering levers let you power the two rear wheels individually; with one wheel in forward and the other in reverse, they can turn circles in one place. They can side-discharge, bag, and mulch clippings.

They usualy mow a 42- to 48-inch swath. But they cost more than most tractors and typically don't cut as well. Their rear-steering wheels can tear up grass during turns.

They can lose traction and be hard to steer and control on hills, and their lever controls for steering and ground speed require practice. For a large lawn with lots of obstacles, consider a four-wheel-steer tractor, which steers via a familiar steering wheel.