Lawn Mowers

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It doesn't take a lot of time for your yard to turn into a wild forest. To avoid overgrown grass, weeds and hedges, you should invest in a high-quality mower or tractor. With multiple drive and operating features as well as the convenience of speed, lawn mowers make organizing your lawn easier than ever before. Here is a list of the major types and features of a lawn mower, and things to keep in mind after you bring one home.

Types of Lawn Mowers

Manual-reel mowers are the most traditional types of lawn mowers. They don't pollute, and you won't need a gas or power cord. You push them manually, and a series of curved blades cut the grass. They're quiet and inexpensive because they have no engine, but cutting tends to be uneven, and you'll need a rake to remove any grass trimmings on the lawn.

Electric push-type mowers use an electric motor to turn a rotating blade, but you still manually push the device, which is set on wheels. They are available with or without cords, which can become tricky with large lawns or trimming around trees and shrubbery. Many offer a mulching mode, which cuts clippings finely enough that they settle back into the lawn and fertilize it.

Gas-powered mowers are available in push and self-propelled models. They run on an engine, and can handle long or thick grass and weeds. They can also bag, side-discharge and mulch grass clippings. Self-propelled models are best for ease and performance, but the gas mowers are noisy and produce exhaust emissions. They also require regular tune-ups and oil changes.

Lawn tractors are front-engine machines that can bag, mulch and side-discharge clippings. They have a wide swath, or width, shortening mowing time. Some offer four-wheel steering for tighter turns, as well. However, they create exhaust emissions and are very large, requiring more storage space. Some lawn tractors come with snow blower attachments and other add-ons.

Zero-turn-radius mowers are similar to landscaping mowers, with a rear engine and rear-wheel steering. They maneuver much more easily than other mowers, but they cost more than most tractors and don't always cut as well. Also, the rear steering can tear up grass during turns. They can lose traction on hills, and their lever controls require practice. Four-wheel-steer tractors are also available and can help with the safety hazards.

Robotic mowers are self-operated devices that, after you set your lawn size and dimensions into its system, will cut along the perimeter of your lawn and crisscross randomly, reverse direction when they hit a boundary or obstacle and return to a charging station when needed. They do not produce any gas emissions, but their performance varies. They are very expensive, and need to be supervised during use for safety reasons.

Important Lawn Mower Features

  • Clippings bags are extremely convenient. Rather than tossing your grass trimmings back onto the lawn for cleanup later, clippings bags are located at the back chute of your mower blades, catching all the clippings in one place for easy disposal later. Look for mowers with heavy duty bags, which are less likely to get holes and fall apart.
  • Sliding-clip cord keepers/flip-over handles are helpful with electric mowers that operate on a cord. The cord keeper/handle will help you to avoid running over your cord when you turn your mower.
  • Blade-brake clutches are a convenience feature. Because many mowers are manual drive and will stop running once you let out the clutch and release the handlebar, it becomes a pain to empty a bag of clippings or pick an item up off the lawn, because you'll have to restart your engine. With a blade-brake clutch, you can stop the blade from turning without turning off the engine.
  • Electric starters are standard on some models but optional on others. They eliminate the inconvenience of pull-starting your engine, instead making it as easy as pushing a button.
  • Automatic drive is a feature on tractors just like it is on automobiles. Unlike gear-drive models, which require manual shifts from one ground-speed range to the next, automatic-drive models will vary ground speed infinitely using a hydrostatic transmission, controlled with a pedal like a car, as well. Automatic drive is becoming more and more common in tractor models.
  • High-back seats are much more comfortable than standard riding mower seats. The high back support helps you drive without hunching over and making your back uncomfortable.
  • Safety switch for reverse is now standard on most tractor models to prevent mishaps. It requires that you engage the switch before mowing in reverse, helping to prevent hitting someone or something behind you due to backing up too suddenly.
  • Translucent fuel tanks are convenient for gas monitoring. You can actually see the level of the gas at all times, making it easier to know when to refill your tank.
  • Horsepower does not necessarily mean higher-quality mowing. Some manufacturers have swapped horsepower numbers for engine size and torque specifications, but those don't even guarantee better results. Check consumer reviews before making your purchase.

Lawn Mower Safety, Use & Maintenance

Always wear ear plugs or muffs when operating a mower. Most machines emit 85 decibels, which typically requires hearing protection, anyway. Don't mow on grades steeper than 15 percent, because the pose a safety risk. When you mow in reverse, always look behind you. Just like when you're driving a car, you need to be able to see where you're going, and with mower blades involved, you want to be sure you won't destroy anything you need to keep or risk damaging the blades on the mower. Also like when you're driving a car, you should never drink alcohol or operate electronic devices while using it. This poses a risk to you and those around you.

Good footwear is also extremely important. Over 80,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized every year due to mower accidents, most of which could be avoided by wearing footwear while mowing. Because of the many safety risks involved with mowers, most safety experts recommend that children be at least 12 years old before they are allowed to operate a mower.

Push mowers usually aren't worth fixing after four years, and self-propelled mowers aren't worth fixing after six. Older tractors might be worth repairing, but transporting them to and from the auto shop to do so can be costly. For this reason, you should take good care of your mowers while you still have them. This will prolong their usability and save you some money. A rotary mower typically runs between $100 and $700, while riding mowers run between $1,100 and $6,500.

Last Updated: January 19, 2012
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About Emelie Battaglia Emelie Battagila is a contributing writer for

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