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Tips for Buying a Walk-Behind Lawn Mower

Whether you're buying your first mower or replacing an old one, navigating the maze of models and features can be daunting. Here are some tips to help you narrow your choices.

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Don't forget electric mowersFamily Handyman

Don't forget electric mowers

If you don't have a huge lawn, a battery-powered mower may be perfect. Cordless mowers are quieter, require less maintenance, and of course, run without gas or oil. But best of all, you'll never have to start a gas engine—you just push a button or lever and you're mowing.

As lithium-ion battery technology has improved, most manufacturers have included cordless mowers in their lineup, so you'll have plenty of choices. Many of these mowers can cut an average suburban yard (about one-fifth of an acre) on a single charge. Prices for battery-powered mowers are similar to those of their gas-powered rivals, and you'll find most of the same features, too.

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Match the drive system to your terrain and yard sizeFamily Handyman

Match the drive system to your terrain and yard size

If your lawn is relatively flat and not huge, chances are you'll be perfectly happy with a push mower—that is, a mower that's not self-propelled. In addition to being cheaper, mowers without power to the wheels are lighter, have fewer mechanical parts to wear out, and are usually easier to maneuver.

If you have hills or a large yard, a self-propelled mower is a better choice. Front wheel drive mowers pull the mower along but may lose traction on hills, where you tend to push down on the handle. And if you bag your grass, the weight of the bag will reduce the traction on the front wheels, making the drive wheels less effective. In most cases, rear- wheel drive is the best option since it works great on hills and with a bag. All-wheel drive is needed only for severely sloping terrain.

If you buy a self-propelled mower, consider upgrading to variable speed for more flexibility in matching your mowing speed to the lawn conditions and your walking speed.

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Spending more up front when you buy lawn mower may save you in the long runFamily Handyman

Spending more up front when you buy lawn mower may save you in the long run

Residential, walk-behind lawn mowers range in price from less than $200 to well over $600. And you may be wondering if it's worth spending top dollar on a mower. In addition to the extra features available on more expensive mowers, high-end mowers have better-quality components. You'll find easy-rolling ball bearing wheels, long-lasting composite or aluminum decks, and top-quality engines. And most high-end mowers include a longer warranty, too. This adds up to a mower that will last longer and need fewer repairs. So you may save money when you buy lawn mower by not having to replace or repair your old mower.

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Check online reviews to avoid buying a lemonFamily Handyman

Check online reviews to avoid buying a lemon

Even a top-brand mower will occasionally have a quirky problem. One good way to discover whether the mower you're considering has a hidden flaw is to check online reviews. You'll find user reviews on manufacturer websites, Amazon and other websites where lawn mowers are sold. But keep in mind that there will always be a few users who have had a bad experience. Multiple complaints about the same problem should be a red flag, though.

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Don't forget your local dealer when you buy lawn mowerFamily Handyman

Don't forget your local dealer when you buy lawn mower

You may be able to save a little money by purchasing a lawn mower from a department store or home center. But buying from a local servicing dealer has advantages that might outweigh any cost savings. First, you're more likely to get better purchasing advice from the more knowledgeable staff at a dealer showroom. And when it comes time for a tune-up or warranty repairs, you'll know right where to go for convenient, personal service. Most dealers have at least two or three top-quality brands to choose from when you're ready to buy lawn mower and will display the most popular models on the showroom floor.

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Get electric start and stop pullingFamily Handyman

Get electric start and stop pulling

If pulling a starter rope is difficult for you or anyone else who will be using the mower, look for a mower with an electric start. A built-in battery and starter motor eliminate the need to pull-start your mower. This is great for people with shoulder or strength problems. The electric start feature is also handy when you need to stop to empty the grass-catcher bag or pick up a stick that's in the way. Just turn off the engine. Restarting is a button-push away. Honda even makes a mower that charges the battery while you mow, so you don't ever have to plug in the mower to recharge the battery. You'll spend about $100 more for the electric start feature.

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Get a good mulcherFamily Handyman

Get a good mulcher

If you mulch your grass, look for features like special mulching blades or an aluminum or composite deck that resists grass buildup on the underside better than steel. If you prefer to bag your grass, make sure the bag is easy to remove and reinstall. And for the greatest versatility, look for a mower that also has a side discharge chute for times when you've let your grass grow too long for mulching or bagging. Some mowers have features like Toro's 'Bag On Demand' that simplify the changeover from bagging to mulching. Honda makes a mower with a feature called Versamow that allows you to mulch and bag at the same time, and adjust the percentage of clippings that go into the bag.

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lawn mower bagFamily Handyman

Stop without restarting

If you collect your clippings and need to empty the bag frequently, or if you have to stop often to pick up sticks or move toys out of the way, you know what a hassle it can be to restart the lawn mower every time. You can avoid this problem by shopping for a mower with a blade brake clutch (BBC) or Toro's Blade Override System (BOS). Mowers with either feature allow you to stop the blade but leave the engine running. Expect to pay about $100 more.

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Make sure it's easy to adjust the cutting heightFamily Handyman

Make sure it's easy to adjust the cutting height

Try out the height adjusters on the mower you intend to buy to make sure they work smoothly and easily. On some mowers, a single lever adjusts a pair of wheels or even all four wheels at once.