Best Lawn Tractors …and how to spot them in a crowded market place

Best Lawn Tractors of 2013:Go to our review of the best lawn tractors on the market in 2013. We cover the leading machines in 3 classes: Click here for the best lawn tractor 2013

So which are the best lawn tractors money can buy?

It’s a good and straightforward question and it deserves a straightforward answer.

And with a introduction like that, you know that’s not what I’m going to give you.

But there is a good reason for that and it’s that the best lawn tractor is simply the one that is best suited to the particular job you want it to do.

Okay, I know all this may sound unhelpful, but it’s not. It’s important advice to bear in mind if you are thinking about spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a lawn tractor.

Try thinking about lawn tractors in the same way that you might think about cars. What is the best car? Is it a Ferrari Dino? A Porsche 911? A Corvette Stingray?

If you want speed, style, kudos and outstanding performance maybe it is one of those.

But, if you’re a mother who needs a car that’s ecomonimcal, reliable and big enough so that she can to take her 3 children to school or a business owner who has to carry around equipment or samples, it’s a fair bet that none of those cars would be any good for you at all.

best lawn tractors john deere x729The John Deere x729 – is the best lawn tractor? Maybe …

Of course, like cars, some lawn tractors are undoubtedly better than others. Some are better built, some have better cutting equipment, some are more reliable. But whether a lawn tractor is the best lawn tractor for you can only really be judged in the the light of your own particular requirements.

Therefore, in considering what might be the best lawn tractor for you, you need to ask yourself 3 fundamental questions:

  • What is your lawn like?
  • What do you want your lawn tractor to do?
  • How much money do you have to spend?

By the way, as discussed in our riding lawn tractors terminology page, we use the term ‘lawn tractor’ here to cover all tractor-like mowing machines, rather than the rear engine riding lawn mowers such as the Craftsman rear engine rider.

We’re also using the word ‘lawn’ to cover any area of your land where you need or want to keep the grass mown.

Like-new and reconditioned lawn tractors

If you are looking for the best cheap lawn tractors – a reconditioned or like-new model may fit the bill.

Click here for our selection of some of the best lawn tractor bargains you’ll find on the market today.

What is your lawn like?

Different machines are better suited to different conditions. Therefore in looking for the best lawn tractors, you need to think about the specific conditions of your land. There are two principle factors to consider – size and terrain.


Put simply, the bigger your lawn, the bigger (in terms of power and cutting width) your lawn tractor needs to be.

If you think about it, the main reason you are likely to want to use a lawn tractor is because of the size of the area you need to cut. Once you have a lawn beyond a certain size (which will vary according to individual tolerance), it will take you too long or it will be too physically demanding to cut your lawn with a walk behind mower, even a self-propelled one.

One of the ways the lawn tractor cuts the time involved in mowing is by having a significantly wider cutting deck than a walk behing mower. Therefore more ground is mowed with each pass of the mower.

It follows, therefore, that the larger the area that needs to be mown, the wider the lawn tractor cutting deck needs to be in order to ensure that the job can be done in the shortest time.

On its website, Cub Cadet provides the following estimates to give you an idea of the potential time to be saved by choosing a wider cutting deck, based on mowing a 2acre lawn:

  • 42 inch Deck, cutting time 2 hrs.
  • 46 inch Deck, 10% faster than a 42 inch deck, cutting time 1 hr. 48 min.
  • 50 inch Deck, 17% faster than a 42 inch deck, cutting time 1 hr. 40 min.
  • 54 inch Deck, 24% faster than a 42 inch deck, cutting time 1 hr. 30 min

But there is also a relationship between the size of the area concerned and the power that the best lawn tractors for that area will need to have, mainly because the wider the cutting deck, the heavier it will be.

The following table provides a general guide to the appropriate engine and cutting deck sizes for particular land sizes. Please note this is a general guide only and, as we point out below, there are a number of other factors that may mean that these guidelines don’t apply.

As a general rule of thumb, and noting that there are overlaps between categories, the size of the engine will generally be related to deck size, as follows:

Area Deck Size Engine Power
Half an acre to one acre (2023 m2 – 4046m2) 38 to 42-inch deck (96 to 106.7cm) 12 to 17 horsepower
One to two acres (4046m2 – 8092m2) 42 to 46 inch decks (106.7cm to 116.8cm) 15 to 24 horsepower
More than two acres (80922m2 plus) 46 inches (116.8cm) plus 24 horsepower or more

So, the wider the cutting deck and the larger the area, the more powerful the lawn tractor will need to be in order to do the work involved in covering the ground with the mower deck over a prolonged period.

But the work that the lawn tractor has to do will be determined not only by the size of the area involved but by that area’s terrain as well. The best lawn tractors for some kinds of terrains may not be suited at all to other kinds of terrain.


By terrain, we are essentially talking about all the characteristics of the lawn, other than its size, such as:

  • Is the ground flat or hilly?
  • If it’s hilly, how hilly – What gradient are the slopes?
  • Is the ground bumpy, rutted or otherwise uneven?
  • Are there areas that are prone to being boggy?
  • Is the grass often damp and/or particularly lush?
  • Are there lots of obtsacles to mow around, such as trees, rocks, flowers beds etc?
  • Are there tight spaces or areas that require tight turns?

Obviously these characteristics are going to have a big impact when it comes to working out which are the best lawn tractors for the conditions in question.

Think about the extent to which the characteristics of your terrain are likely to affect the ability of a lawn tractor to cover the ground. In broad terms, the more challenging the the terrain, the more powerful the lawn tractor will need to be and/or the more you are likely to need it to have special features.

Here are some examples:

  • If you have one and a half acres of sloping, boggy and uneven land, you are likely need a tractor with more power than if you have the same area of flat, unobstructed and well drained land
  • If the terrain is particularly testing, the best lawn tractors for the job may be 4 wheel drive models
  • If the grass is often damp and/or lush you may need a more powerful machine to cut it. You will also need to avoid getting a machine with the kind of bagging or collection system that can get blocked by cuttings from damp grass. A simple side discharge or mulching deck may be the answer in that case.
  • If you have a nice clear rectangle of open land, you may not need a machine with a particularly tight turning circle
  • If you have a lot of obstacles and tight spaces, you may need a 4-wheel steer model or even a zero turn mower or lawn tractor.
best lawn tractors - zero turn mower terrain best lawn tractors rough terrain

This kind of terrain may need a 4-wheel steer or zero turn model

This kind of terrain may need a high powered or four wheel drive lawn tractors

What do you want your lawn tractor to do?

I can well imagine what some readers might be thinking here:

“What do I want my lawn tractor to do? How about cook my breakfast, take the dog for a walk and teach me how to play the piano in four easy lessons? Oh, and maybe it could cut my lawn too.”

Fair enough, ask a silly question …

I suppose the real question is – What, if anything, do you want your lawn tractor to do – apart from cut your lawn?

If the answer to that question is ‘nothing’, then it simplifies your choice. You then just need to choose from anong the best lawn tractors, within you budget, that are suitable for the for your lawn’s size and terrain as discussed above.

If you think you might want your lawn tractor to do a bit more than just mow your lawn, it complicates things a bit, but also introduces lots of exciting options.

To get an idea of the potential that some of the best lawn tractors have, take a look at the huge range of lawn tractor attachments for US buyers (or those for UK buyers) available in our lawn tractor store.

This affects how you choose the best lawn tractor for your needs because it means that you should think carefully about what other tasks you might need to use your lawn tractor for – both now and in the future. You then need to ensure that you choose a machine that is able to do what you want it it to do.

To determine whether the lawn tractor can carry out other tasks, you have to consider:

  • If it has been designed to be able to accommodate the appropriate attachments or accessories, e.g whether it has the right anchor points, power take off (PTO) shafts or towing hitch; and
  • If it has the engine power and robustness to do the job in question.

Most reasonable sized lawn tractors with the correct fittings will be able to tow a fertiliser spreader or a cart full of lawn clippings.

The real test comes when you want to carry out ‘ground engaging tasks’- like digging, plowing or moving soil or aggregates. If you want to use the attachments necessary for that kind of work, you undoubtedly need to invest in the kind of lawn tractor that is made for the job – i.e. it has the power and robustnes to perform those tasks comfortably.

Remember, you need you lawn tractor to last so you do not want to be pushing it beyond the limit of its capablities week in week out.

How much money do you have to spend?

You could spend anything between around $750 – $10,000 on a riding lawn mower or lawn tractor and like most of the good things in life, the best lawn tractors come at a price.

Generally, as engine size and mowing width increases, so do the prices charged. But there are other factors that affect price :

  • Where you buy – a dedicated dealer may be more expensive than a discount or big box DIY outlet. Then again, you are likely to get more personal attention, advice and additional services at the dedicated dealer.
  • Quality – some lawn tractors, especially engines and transmissions, are just better made than others and designed for longer life. Hydrostatic transmissions in particular may vary quite considerable in smoothness of operation and longevity. Axles can be a good indicator of quality. The better quality machines will often have cast iron or forged axles whilst lower budget machines may have steel, welded axles.
  • Reliability, parts and service – reliablity will often come down to the overall build quality, which is likely to be reflected in price. Similarly it is often easier to obtain parts and service for the higher cost premium machines because it is more economically viable for the manufactures to maintain the appropriate infrastructure to support these services where the revenue generated from sales is greater.

Next Steps – compare lawn tractors

So, choosing the best lawn tractors involves first of all assessing your own requirements and circumstances – your lawn, the tasks you want carried out and your budget. If you don’t do this, you could end up with the equivalent of a Ferrari for doing the school run in.

Only once you have done this, should you think about the different types and models of lawn tractors.

In order to do this you are going to need some information about how to compare lawn tractors. If you follow these links, you’ll find what you need to know to make your lawn tractor comparisions.

You can also check out our latest discussion on the best lawn tractors 2013.

Go from best lawn tractors to lawn tractor reviews (our home page)


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