30 top lawn mowers and tractors make the cut in Consumer Reports' biggest tests to date
Just in time for the warm weather and green grass, the latest issue of Consumer Reports features Ratings of more than 100 mowers and tractors, in the organization’s largest mower test to date. Consumer Reports testers mowed 19.2 acres and identified more than 30 top-scoring models, including three models from Honda and Toro that retail for $400 or less.
Among the top performers is the Black & Decker SPCM1936, $450, one of the few cordless electric mowers with self-propelling wheels, a feature more typically found on gas models. Tests also found more lawn tractors that can maneuver around trees and posts nearly as well as zero-turn-radius riders. The new Craftsman 28856, a CR Best Buy at $1,600, offers added agility plus impressive mowing for about $1,000 less than many zero-turn riders and $2,000 less than the four-wheel-steer John Deere X304 tractor. At $500 each, the Toro Super Recycler 20092 and Honda HRR216K7VXA cost $200 less than the top Honda self-propelled gas model and mow comparably.
On some models, features trumped performance. Lawn Boy’s 10605 one-speed mower includes a work-saving clutch for just $300, but it was only mediocre at bagging and side-discharging clippings. The Cub Cadet’s Z Force S 46 17AF5BHH is tops among zero-turn-radius riders and noteworthy for its tractor-like steering wheel and steerable front wheels for better control down slopes, but it was among the more repair-prone tractor brands and was repair-prone among zero-turn riders.
“Shoppers will find feature-laden mowers for less and tractors that cost about the same as smaller riding mowers,” said Peter Sawchuk, Project Leader at Consumer Reports. “But our tests of more than 100 models show that some models put features before performance and could leave many consumers stuck in the weeds.”
How to Choose
Consider a self-propelled mower for hills and save cordless models for small lawns that can be mowed within 30- to 45-minutes. For larger lawns with slopes, choose a tractor with front-steering wheels over a lever-steer, zero-turn-radius rider, which is harder to control on hills. Here are additional tips Consumer Reports recommends keeping in mind:
• Choose the right mode. All tractors and riders can side-discharge clippings, essential when grass is too high to mulch or bag. Choose a model that did well in the mode preferred. For riders, expect to pay about $50 extra for a mulch kit and $500 for the bagging system.
• Know what you’re getting. Many brands are made by more than one manufacturer, so know the mower’s model number when replacing blades and other parts, rather than just the make and blade size.
• Think twice about high wheels. For walk-behind mowers, engines mounted farther up front make most of those mowers harder to tilt back when making U-turns at the end of a row.
• Play it safe. Check for rocks and other debris before mowing. Keep people and pets away from the area. Always wear long pants, sturdy shoes, and hearing protection. And look behind whenever backing up a riding machine.
How Americans Really Feel About Mowing
Purchasing the right mower is only half the battle, mowing the lawn is the other. According to the latest nationwide lawn-care poll from Consumer Reports, some 32 percent of respondents found mowing relaxing, good exercise, or nice private time. But most would trade part of their lawn for something else, including fake grass (12%), with only 5 percent actually wanting to enlarge their lawn. And distracted driving isn’t limited to the car, texting and talking on the phone (4%), in addition to boozing (8%) are a few activities that come into play while mowing.
Lawn-care is an activity that one must dress for, but according to poll results, many were dressed to kill, or at least injure themselves. Over three-quarters of respondents (77%) didn’t wear hearing protection, and over half (54%) wore shorts. Having close-toed shoes are also not a concern for 14 percent of Americans.
The Consumer Reports lawn-care poll was based on a nationally representative sample of American adults, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. A total of 513 random digit dial (RDD) telephone interviews were completed among adults aged 18+ with residential telephone numbers. Interviewing took place between February 3 and February 6, 2011. The margin of error is +/- 4 points at a 95 % confidence level.
String Trimmers: 13 Models Make the Cut
Over several weeks, Consumer Reports tested 40 models and found the best corded and cordless models can trim around posts and edge along walks as well as some gas trimmers. But there were a few models that had fancy features and added power that did not result in better performance.
Until recently, battery-powered trimmers were strictly light duty. Black & Decker’s 24-volt NST1024, a CR Best Buy at $140, cut cleanly with one pass and performed adequately in taller growth. Corded trimmers start with push-button ease and run as long as needed. Stihl’s FSE 60, $110, tops the plug-in category for overall performance. Close behind, Black & Decker’s GH1000, a CR Best Buy, which performs similarly for just $70. Echo and Stihl are tops among gas trimmers for fast, neat trimming and edging with the muscle to slice through 2-foot growth. The new Hitachi CG22EABSLP, $150, weighs less and did nearly as well in the tall stuff. Its heavier, 0.095-inch line also helped it trim all tall grass aggressively.
Whichever string trimmer consumers choose, wear goggles, long pants, and boots while using the tool. Consumer Reports also recommends hearing protection with any trimmer that scored less than Good for noise.
The full report on mowers, tractors and string trimmers appears in the May issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReports.org.