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Lawn Tractor Buying Guide: What to Look For

How do you choose the best lawn tractor for your yard? We take a look at 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 always be sure to try before you buy.

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Lawn tractor bumperFamily Handyman

Bumper

Trust us on this: You’re most likely going to run into a tree with your lawn tractor someday. That impact could potentially do some major damage to your hood. To prevent that damage, look to buy a machine with a bumper or set aside some dough to buy an add-on bumper directly from your mower’s manufacturer.

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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, but the built-in models eliminate that hassle.

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lawn tractor gas gauge Family Handyman

Convenient 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, this Cub Cadet model uses electronic fuel injection (EFI) to 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.

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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 typically have to hold down a button the entire time 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 control 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.