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The Best Features to Look for When Buying a Lawn Tractor

Lawn tractors come in a wide price range. Even the lowest-priced models can cut your mowing time in half compared with a walk-behind mower. So how do you choose the best machine for your yard? We talked to experts at the four largest manufacturers to get their take on which features are most important.

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lawn tractor push-button engagement

Easy Deck Engagement

For safety reasons, the cutting blades don’t automatically spin at start-up; you have to engage them with a mechanical lever or an easy electric push-button. Some of the lever mechanisms are awkward or stubborn, so try before you buy.

And if your lawn tractor blades are dull, be sure to sharpen them twice a season to get the best cut.

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Lawn tractor bumperFamily Handyman


Trust us on this: You’re going to smack a tree someday, and that impact can destroy the hood. So buy a machine with a bumper or set aside some dough to buy an add-on bumper from the manufacturer. And if you’re little collision with the tree made your lawn mower not start, here’s how to fix it.

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lawn tractor hour meter

Hour Meter

All lawn tractors require maintenance based on hourly usage. A built-in hour meter takes all the guesswork out of maintaining your tractor. You can always add an hour meter later ($50), but the built-in models eliminate that hassle.

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lawn tractor gas gauge Family Handyman

Convient Gas Gauge

Some models have a gas gauge you can check while driving, while others offer a see-through tank. The less expensive models require you to stop and lift the hood to check the fuel level. You’ll also want to be sure to empty out the gas in your lawn tractor before winter.

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cub cadet lawn tractorFamily Handyman

Engine Size and Features

Lawn tractor engines are sized to match the mower deck and climb the grade listed in the manufacturer’s specs. Buying a machine with a larger engine won’t get you a higher top-end speed, but the larger engine is important if you plan to haul a cart or add a snow blade or a snow thrower accessory.

Most tractor engines have traditional carburetors. However, the Cub Cadet model shown above, has electronic fuel injection (EFI), which dramatically reduces the starting problems associated with carbureted engines and ethanol fuel. Plus, Cub Cadet claims its EFI system boosts fuel efficiency by 25 percent. Check out these lawn tractor maintenance tips to prevent expensive repairs in the future.

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lawn tractorFamily Handyman

Mow-in-Reverse Mechanisms

Lawn tractors automatically stop blade movement the instant you shift into reverse. To mow in reverse, you have to hold in a button the entire time you’re mowing in reverse or turn the key to the reverse position and then reposition the key when you want to move forward. We slightly prefer the button system, but both are inconvenient.

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lawn tractor gear style transmission

Gear-Style Transmission

Gear-style transmissions are common on the least expensive lawn tractors. They require you to manually move a lever to change speeds and to  switch from forward to reverse.

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CVT lawn tractor

Continuously Variable Transmissions

Continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) are a step up from geared transmissions and are available in two styles. The less expensive designs have a foot pedal to vary speed and a manual shift lever to change from forward to reverse. The higher-priced CVT models don’t use a shifter. Instead they have forward and reverse pedals. CVT transmissions provide great value and the same top-end speed as a hydrostatic lawn mower transmission, but they can jerk a bit when you’re starting out or maneuvering at slow speeds.

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hydrostatic transmission lawn tractor Family Handyman

Hydrostatic Lawn Mower

A hydrostatic transmission is the best choice but also the costliest. It works like an automatic transmission in a car and provides the smoothest operation, especially when you’re maneuvering around gardens and trees at slow speeds.