Lawn tractors, often referred to as garden tractors, are meant for homeowners who have rather large areas of lawn that need mowing - usually 1/2 an acre or bigger. Traditional gas powered lawn mowers that you push are just not convenient when it comes to tackling larger pieces of grass. You can do the work much faster riding on a lawn tractor that cuts a swatch between 42 and 48 inches wide. Some of the better tractors also allow you to attach snow throwers and other tools which gives you great versatility year round. Some of the cheaper models are close to $1000 but the more dependable ones cost closer to $3000. The John Deer X304 is considered one of the best at $3500 since it can turn almost as tightly as the zero turn radius mowers like those from Toro. The Craftsman 28724, available at Sears, at $1600 seems to be the bargain amongst the bunch with a 46 inch deck.
What are the key features to look for when buying a lawn tractor? There are tractors with gear drives and automatic drives. Automatic is better and easier on the driver. Cruise control is a nice feature if you have long stretches of grass cutting and don't have to constantly turn the machine. Foot pedal controls are on nearly every lawn tractor these days and they let you keep your hands on the wheel to do the steering. The lawn tractors with an electronic switch that engages the blades are superior to those that require a mechanical lever to do the same thing. You'll want a seat that is comfortable since riding one of these can give you a sore back - high back seats are the best for support. When switching functions on the mower (i.e. mulching to side discharge) it's nice not to have to change blades so find a tractor that allow this. Some tractors come with an hour meter which tells you how long the engine has been running and lets you know when oil needs changing or other maintenance is due. Models with fuel gauges that are visible are best. Since these machines are rather large and can be dangerous (especially in reverse), find a model that has a safety switch for reverse. Tight turning is something that homeowners have wanted for years on their lawn tractors and it appears than manufacturers are just starting to listen as more lawn tractors (like X304 from John Deere) are now competing with zero turn radius mowers. John Deere lawn tractors are the most reliable based on surveys and Yard Machines and Yard-Man come in last with almost 1 in 4 tractors needing work done. The top brands are John Deere, Simplicity, Craftsman, Kubota, Cub Cadet, Troy-Bilt, Toro, and Husqvarna. We had read online about the Husqvarna tractors having a recall a year or so ago. Check with the manufacturer on which specific models had issues. In terms of who reviews lawn tractors and rates them, Consumer Reports (CR) does an excellent job and Popular Mechanics also compares them. Compacttractorreview.com offers some in depth reviews on various models and so does Gardenweb in their forums. We always like to hear what the experts have to say and then compare the finding to real life (consumers opinions).
Best Lawn Tractor:
Hands down the John Deere X304 ($3500) is the best lawn tractor on the market. It's also one of the most expensive out there. The 42 inch deck cuts a large swath of grass with each pass making for quick work of lawns that are 1/2 to 1 acre in size. The tight turning ability of the X304 is what sets it apart from the other lawn tractors and puts it right up there with ZTRs (zero turn radius) mowers. The John Deere lawn tractor is easy to maneuver and cuts evenly. The only downfall to this garden tractor may be that it's pricetag is too high compared to other models that deliver similar results. You can view more details of the X304 online at Deere.com and find out where your local John Deere dealer is.
Zero Turn Radius vs Lawn Tractors:
Now that zero turn radius mowers are available for residential use (they used to be made just for commercial mowing), they are competing directly with lawn tractors. The prices of ZTRs is still pretty high and therefore limits their ability to take market share from the lawn tractors. Zero turn radius lawn mowers can maneuver like no other and work around tight spots without a problem as the rear-wheels turn you around in circles if you like. The tight turning John Deere Z225 ($2900) is a perfect running zero turn radius mower with a 42-inch cutting deck and the Toro Z5000 ($2800) is no slouch. The John Deere X304 turns well, offers more capabilities than the ZTRs do and may just be worth the $3500 it sells for. From what we could find online and in magazine articles, the price of ZTRs is expected to keep falling and compete more with lawn tractors on price forcing the manufacturers to keep up. We'll have to wait and see.
Best Value Lawn Tractor:
$3500 may be too much for a lawn tractor, but the Craftsman 28724 ($1600) is priced almost $2000 less than the X304 from John Deere. The 28724 does everything pretty well except it doesn't offer the tight turning radius that the John Deere does. Craftsman has a good name in terms of reliability and dependability and Sears gives solid warranties on their products. With prices continually dropping, you can expect to see this similar model selling for less than $1500 in 2008. Craftsman also makes the 28723 which is only $1200. You can view them online at Sears.com or in your local store.
Top Rated Lawn Tractor:
Although the X304 may rate higher in some reports, we say the John Deere LA110 ($1650) is the better buy. Even Consumer Reports gives it the distinction of a 'best buy'. The high back seat and visible fuel gauge are just a few of the features that we like, but most importantly you don't have to change the blade when switching between mulching, bagging, or side discharge which alleviates a big hassle. Many of these lawn tractors perform incredibly well, but putting on attachments or switching blades can be extra work that most owners don't want to deal with. The LA110 is a "great value" say many owners and reviews that we found put this one at the top for price and capability.