There are a number of reasons, mechanical and otherwise, why a mower won’t run. The good news is that fixing most all of the issues is easy enough for a DIYer to handle.
By Tony Carrick and Manasa Reddigari | Updated Aug 8, 2022 4:03 PM
We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.
Lawn care can be tedious, but once the grass starts growing in the spring, mowing becomes a fact of life in most neighborhoods. When you finally muster the strength to tackle that first cut of the season, there are few sounds as disheartening as that of a lawn mower engine that turns over but doesn’t start.
Before you drag the mower in for repairs or invest in costly replacement parts, first make sure that a clogged air filter, soiled spark plug, damaged safety cable, clogged mowing deck, or contaminated gas isn’t to blame. Work through the following steps, and you may be able to get your puttering grass guzzler up and running again in no time.
A lawn mower repair professional can help. Get free, no-commitment repair estimates from pros near you.
Change the lawn mower carburetor filter.
Your lawn mower’s air filter guards the carburetor and engine from debris like grass clippings and dirt. When the air filter becomes clogged or too dirty, it can prevent the engine from starting. To keep this from happening, replace paper filters—or clean or replace foam filters—after every 25 hours of engine use.
The process for removing the filter depends on whether you are operating a riding or walk-behind lawn mower. For a riding mower, turn off the engine and engage the parking brake; for a walk-behind mower, pull the spark plug wire from the plug. Then, lift the filter from its housing.
The only choice for paper filters is replacement. If you’re cleaning a foam filter, wash it in a solution of hot water and detergent to loosen grime. Allow it to dry completely, and then wipe fresh motor oil over the filter, replace it in its housing, and power up the mower—this time to the pleasant whirring of an engine in tip-top condition.
Check the spark plug.
Is your lawn mower still being stubborn? The culprit may be the spark plug, which is responsible for creating the spark that ignites the fuel in the engine. If it’s loosened, disconnected, or coated in water or carbon residue, the spark plug may be the cause of your machine’s malfunction.
Locate the spark plug, often found on the front of the mower, and disconnect the spark plug wire, revealing the plug beneath. Use a socket wrench to unscrew the spark plug and remove it.
Check the electrode and insulator. If you see buildup, spray brake cleaner onto the plug, and let it soak for several minutes before wiping it with a clean cloth. Reinstall the spark plug, first by hand, and then with a socket wrench for a final tightening. If the problem persists, consider changing the spark plug.
Clear the mower deck of debris.
The mower’s deck prevents grass clippings from showering into the air like confetti, but it also creates a place for them to collect. Grass clippings can clog the mower deck, especially while mowing a wet lawn, preventing the blade from turning.
If the starter rope seems stuck or is difficult to pull, then it’s probably due to a clogged deck. With the mower safely turned off, tip it over onto its side and examine the underbelly. If there are large clumps of cut grass caught between the blade and deck, use a trowel to scrape these clippings free. When the deck is clean again, set the mower back on its feet and start it up.
Clear the vent in the lawn mower fuel cap.
The mower started just fine, you’ve made the first few passes, then all of a sudden the mower quits. You pull the cord a few times, but the engine just sputters and dies. What’s happening? It could have something to do with the fuel cap. Most mowers have a vented fuel cap. This vent is intended to release pressure, allowing fuel to flow from the tank to the carburetor. Without the vent, the gas fumes inside the tank begin to build up, creating a vacuum that eventually becomes so strong that it stops the flow of fuel.
To find out if this is the problem, remove the gas cap to break the vacuum, then reattach it. The mower should start right up. But if the lawn mower won’t stay running and cuts off again after 10 minutes or so, you’ll need to get a new gas cap.
Clean and refill the lawn mower fuel tank.
An obvious—and often overlooked—reason your mower may not be starting is that the tank is empty or contains gas that is either old or contaminated with excess moisture and dirt. If your gas is more than a month old, use an oil siphon pump to drain it from the tank.
(It’s important to be careful as spilled oil can cause smoking, but there are other reasons this might happen. Read more about what to do when your lawn mower is smoking.)
Add fuel stabilizer to the tank.
Fill the tank with fresh fuel and a fuel stabilizer to extend the life of the gas and prevent future buildup. A clogged fuel filter is another possible reason for a lawn mower not to start. When the filter is clogged, the engine can’t access the gas that makes the system go. If your mower has a fuel filter (not all do), check to make sure it’s functioning properly.
First, remove the fuel line at the carburetor. Gas should flow out. If it doesn’t, confirm that the fuel shutoff valve isn’t accidentally closed. Then remove the fuel line that’s ahead of the fuel filter inlet. If gas runs out freely, there’s a problem with the fuel filter. Consult your owner’s manual for instructions on replacing the filter and reassembling the mower.
Inspect the safety release mechanism cable.
Your lawn mower’s reluctance to start may have nothing to do with the engine at all but rather with one of the mower’s safety features: the dead man’s control. This colorfully named safety bar must be held in place by the operator for the engine to start or run. When the bar is released, the engine stops. While this mechanism cuts down on the likelihood of horrific lawn mower accidents, it also can be the reason the mower won’t start.
The safety bar of a dead man’s control is attached to a metal cable that connects to the engine’s ignition coil, which is responsible for sending current to the spark plug. If your lawn mower’s engine won’t start, check to see if that cable is damaged or broken. If it is, you’ll need to replace it before the mower will start.
Fortunately, replacing a broken control cable is an easy job. You may, however, have to wait a few days to get the part. Jot down the serial number of your lawn mower, then head to the manufacturer’s website to order a new cable.
Check to see if the flywheel brake is fully engaged.
The flywheel helps to make the engine work smoothly through inertia. When it isn’t working properly, it will prevent the mower’s engine from working.
If it is fully engaged, it can make a mower’s pull cord hard to pull. Check the brake pad to see if it makes full contact with the flywheel and that there isn’t anything jamming the blade so the control lever can move freely.
If the flywheel brake’s key sheared, the mower may have run over something that got tangled in the blade. It is possible to replace a flywheel key, but it does require taking apart the mower.
Look out for signs that the mower needs professional repairs.
While repairing lawn mowers can be a DIY job, there are times when it can be best to ask a professional to help repair a lawn mower. If you’ve done all of the proper mower maintenance that is recommended by the manufacturer, and gone through all of the possible ways to fix the mower from the steps above, then it may be best to call a pro. Here are a few signs that indicate when a pro’s help is a good idea.
- You see black smoke. The engine will benefit from a technician’s evaluation, as it could be cracked or something else might be worn out.
- Excessive oil or gas usage. If you’ve changed the spark plugs, and done all of the other maintenance tasks, and the mower is consuming more than its usual amount of oil or gas, consult a professional for an evaluation.
- The lawn mower is making a knocking sound. When a lawn mower starts making a knocking sound, something could be bent or out of alignment. It may be tough to figure this out on your own, so a pro could help.
- A vibrating or shaking lawn mower can be a sign of a problem beyond a DIY fix. Usually something is loose or not aligning properly.
The 8 Best Riding Lawn Mowers of 2023, Tested and Reviewed
Michelle Ullman is a home decor expert and product reviewer for home and garden products. She has been writing about home decor for over 10 years for publications like BobVila.com and Better Homes Gardens, among others.
Barbara Gillette is a Master Gardener, herbalist, beekeeper, and journalist. She has 30 years of experience propagating and growing fruits, vegetables, herbs, and ornamentals.
Emily Estep is a plant biologist and journalist who has worked for a variety of online news and media outlets, writing about and editing topics including environmental science and houseplants.
For lawns that are 1 acre or more, a riding lawn mower can make turf maintenance less of a chore. Instead of sweating behind a push mower, you’ll ride in comfort while keeping your lawn in tip-top shape. Marc Mayer, Director of Technical Operations at TruGreen, says, Commonly, homeowners choose a riding lawn mower to save time and/or energy if they have a large lawn area that is too much work to utilize a walk-behind mower. Most ride-on mowers can also be used for other chores around the yard to improve efficiency, such as pulling a trailer or aerator.
Noah James, professional landscaper and owner of Liberty Lawn Maintenance, adds, A riding mower gives you the precision you need to make straight lines and even cuts. Plus, with options like zero-turn technology, you’ll be able to trim around obstacles and corners like a pro. Riding mowers have the power, agility, and versatility to handle it all with ease.
We’ve tested over a dozen lawn mowers in our own lawns across the country including six riding lawn mowers, using each for three separate mowing sessions. During each session, the mowers were evaluated for ease of operation, comfort while riding, intuitiveness of the controls, battery runtime where applicable. and of course, how well the mower cut the grass. We considered how well the mowers maneuvered around obstacles, the range of accessories available for separate purchase, and the overall value of each mower before compiling our final list of winners.
John Deere S100 42-Inch 17.5 HP Gas Hydrostatic Riding Lawn Tractor
- Very easy to maneuver even around tight turns
- Excellent performance cutting both wet and dry grass
- Smooth, comfortable ride
- White Glove Service
Our top-scoring riding mower performed like a Champion on all three mowing sessions at our 10-acre New Jersey yard (although the manufacturer recommends it for yards up to 1 acre in size). We were amazed at how easy it was to maneuver even around tight corners or close to trees. And it did a great job of cleanly cutting both dry and wet grass; remarkably, it did not leave any ruts on the wet grass, just small indentations. The mower provides a comfortable, smooth ride; we drove it down a 500-foot gravel path to reach the lawn without any discomfort or difficulty. This mower has 13 cutting levels ranging from 1 inch to 4 inches, and we found it very easy to set the desired cutting height. Even better, it was delivered already assembled and ready to go thanks to its White Glove Service.
The cutting deck is 42 inches, which is a good size for making quick work of the lawn, yet not so large that it’s bulky or hard to steer. It has a tight 18-inch turning radius. And with its 17.5-horsepower Briggs Stratton engine, this is a powerful mower that won’t struggle with slopes, tall grass, or thick weeds. It discharges the clippings to the side, and we found that it also easily cleared away fallen leaves from the grass. John Deere sells clipping bags, mulchers, and several other yard maintenance accessories separately. Like most gasoline-powered riding mowers, you will need to occasionally perform oil changes, but the process is not too difficult. And thanks to the electric start, it’s very easy to power the mower up and get right to work.
We found the seat to be quite comfortable, and you can adjust the position to suit your height. All of the controls are easy to identify and use, although it took us a few minutes to get used to the side-by-side foot pedals for going forward or reversing. The mower’s top speed is 5.5 mph going forward, and 3.2 mph in reverse. It can cut the grass in either direction. It has headlights if you want to mow at dusk or dawn, and a cup holder to keep your favorite beverage close at hand while you work.
This riding mower is covered by John Deere’s 2-year/120-hour bumper-to-bumper warranty. And it’s quite reasonably priced for a riding mower; overall, it’s hard to go wrong with this hard-working mower.
Price at time of publish: 2,399
Cutting Width: 42 inches | Power Type: Gasoline | Weight: 414 pounds | Cutting Options: Side-discharge | Size of Yard: Up to 1 acre
Ryobi 80V HP Brushless 42-Inch Electric Cordless Riding Lawn Tractor
- Excellent performance
- Comfortable and fun to drive
- Long battery runtime
- LCD screen and app for tracking battery life
If you are looking for an electric riding lawn mower with all the power of a gas model, but without the fumes or bother of a gas engine, the RYOBI 80V HP Brushless 42 in. Battery Riding Lawn Tractor is our top choice. We found it fun to ride; with a maximum forward speed of 7 mph, this is a zippy mower that speeds up or slows down almost immediately when adjusting your foot on the lever, but we did find it a bit jerky at times. It also was somewhat tricky to assemble, taking us over an hour to have it ready to go. The mower has a 42-inch deck and four steel blades with 13 different cutting height positions to choose from (within 1.5 to 4.5 inches), so you can really fine-tune the look of your lawn. It did a great job cutting the grass, whether wet or dry, at our third-acre Iowa test garden, and even chopped up small sticks, leaves, and weeds very easily. It even features a warning beep when backing up; while we appreciate this safety feature, it admittedly did become tiresome to hear the beep every time we reversed.
According to the manufacturer, it has the equivalent of a 21-horsepower engine, but it runs on the included three 80-volt, 10Ah batteries which allow you to cut up to 2 acres on a single charge (about 60 minutes of runtime) and quickly recharge in less than 2.5 hours thanks to the onboard charger. In our test sessions, the batteries never dropped much below 80 percent capacity, and we appreciated the LCD touchscreen that lets you keep tabs on the battery runtime and charging speed, as well as blade speed, driving speed, and blade height. Other extra features we like include LED headlights, front and back storage compartments, two tow hitches, two cup holders, and two USB ports to charge your phone.
HOW TO CLEAN A CARBURETOR ON A CRAFTSMAN 21″ LAWN MOWER FOR BEGINNERS
Of course, the most important feature of a lawn mower is how well it cuts grass, and this one left our test lawn looking great, without creating ruts, ridges, or unevenly chopped grass. The mower discharges clippings to the side, but you can purchase a bagger and mulching kit separately, as well as various lawn care attachments. This is a powerful, feature-packed riding lawn tractor so it comes at a bigger price tag than other picks. If you don’t need all of these features, you may want to choose a more budget-friendly model. However, we think if you are looking for a great electric riding mower with all of the features and power you need, this is your best bet. It comes with a 5-year limited warranty.
Price at time of publish: 4,999
Cutting Width: 42 inches | Power Type: Battery | Weight: 557 pounds | Cutting Options: Side-discharge | Size of Yard: 1 to 2 acres
Toro TimeCutter 50 inch 24.5 HP Zero-Turn Riding Mower
- Excellent cutting performance
- Very comfortable, smooth ride
- Easy maintenance
- Zero-turn radius
- A bit of a learning curve to handle
- Bagger and mulching kit must be purchased separately
- No headlights
While we did have a bit of a learning curve with this powerful gas riding mower from Toro, once we got the hang of using the hand levers to control our speed, braking, direction, and blade engagement, we found that it was easy to maneuver between trees and other obstacles on our half-acre Iowa lawn. But if you have a larger property, you’ll be happy to know that this mower is rated for yards up to 4 acres in size. It has a hefty 50-inch cutting deck, so the zero-turn capability comes in handy when swiveling such a large mower around flowerbeds, between trees, or near retaining walls or other obstacles. We also found it very easy to set the cutting height, which ranges from a low of 1.5 inches to a high of 4.5 inches.
On our first mowing session, the grass was wet and the mower’s tires slipped a bit while moving down a slope, but on subsequent sessions, we had little problem in mowing over wet grass, thick grass, leaves, and other small lawn debris. The mower left the grass very evenly cut, with a lush, full appearance. Like many riding mowers, the clippings discharge to the side; if you want a bag or mulching kit, you’ll have to buy them separately. We definitely appreciated Toro’s MyRide suspension system, which keeps the ride smooth and pleasant even when the terrain isn’t completely level. And with a top speed of 7 mph, this mower can get the job done quickly. It has a cup holder to keep a cold beverage close at hand but does not have headlights, unlike many other riding mowers.
One great feature of this gas mower is that while it does require annual oil changes, it’s designed to make the task as easy as possible, so you won’t have to waste your afternoon on maintenance. It also has wash-out ports underneath the deck, so you can quickly blast away caked-on grass, mud, and grunge with your garden hose. And the sturdy construction, including the steel deck, means that this mower can take a beating and keep right on mowing without a pause. It comes with a 3-year residential limited warranty.
Price at time of publish: 4,299
Cutting Width: 50 inches | Power Type: Gasoline | Weight: 694 pounds | Cutting Options: Side-discharge | Size of Yard: Up to 4 acres
Best Lawn Tractor
Cub Cadet XT1 Enduro LT 46-Inch Hydrostatic Drive Gas Riding Lawn Tractor
- Comfortable, adjustable seat
- Reasonable price
- Excellent performance in cutting grass
We put this gas-powered lawn tractor to the test on a 6-acre Iowa property that once housed horses, and so is rather bumpy, and also has many trees and other obstacles. The mower was easy to assemble, but the instructions for starting it were somewhat unclear, and it took us several tries to get it up and running. Still, once we figured it out, we were very pleased with the mower‘s performance. It operated beautifully over wet grass, thick grass, and uneven spots, plus, it maneuvered easily around all obstacles. The mower has a 23-horsepower/725 cc Kohler engine with plenty of power, and the 46-inch deck is big enough for getting the job done quickly but not so large that it’s hard to slip between trees and other obstacles.
The mower has 12 cutting settings ranging from 1.5 inches to 4 inches. We found it very easy to adjust the cutting height, as well as other controls on the mower. It has a 16-inch turn radius, which is tight enough for most lawns, although we couldn’t get quite as close to some trees as we would have liked. The maximum forward speed is 5.5 mph, which is a bit slower than some other models, but more than sufficient for most users. Overall, we felt like our lawn looked great once we finished mowing, and the mower spewed the grass clippings evenly from the side chute. Like most riding mowers, if you want a bagger or mulching kit, you’ll need to purchase them separately. There are quite a few other attachments available for this mower as well.
The seat can be adjusted, which was a definite plus for us, along with the smooth ride. On the downside, this mower does require periodic oil changes, but the process shouldn’t be too difficult or time-intensive. And on the plus side, the mower has cruise control, so once you find a speed that you like, you can easily set the mower to continue at that pace. It also has headlights for mowing in shady spots or at dusk. While riding mowers are undeniably expensive, this one is reasonably priced for the quality and performance it provides. It’s rated for use on lawns up to 4 acres in size and comes with a 3-year warranty.
Price at time of publish: 2,574
Cutting Width: 46 inches | Power Type: Gasoline | Weight: 575 pounds | Cutting Options: Side-discharge | Size of Yard: Up to 4 acres
Best Battery Zero-Turn
Ryobi 80V HP Brushless 42-Inch Battery Electric Cordless Zero Turn Riding Mower
- Intuitive and easy to use
- Joystick for steering and speed control
- Long battery runtime
- Very clean cut on all types of grass
- Initially received a defective mower, although customer service was excellent
We tested this mower on a half-acre property in Iowa. While it was fairly straightforward and quick to assemble the mower and give the batteries an initial charge, it turned out that our first test mower had an electrical problem that required several phone calls and a technician’s visit before determining that the mower was defective. However, we were quickly provided a new mower, which was already assembled and ready to go. Despite this unfortunate start to our testing sessions, we were very impressed with the manufacturer’s customer service, and we loved the performance of this zero-turn mower, which has a 42-inch deck and power that Ryobi claims is equivalent to 31 horsepower.
Unlike many other riding mowers, which have levers, pedals, or steering wheels to control the motion of the machine, this one has Ryobi’s iDrive joystick, which lets you set your speed in forward or reverse, as well as turn and maneuver the mower. Not only was this fun, but it was also very intuitive and easy to use. The mower also has an LCD screen that shows battery life and runtime. This mower comes with four batteries: two 80-volt, 10-amp hour and two 40-volt, 12-amp hour batteries, which can all be charged simultaneously. In our testing sessions, the batteries still had plenty of charge left once mowing was finished. Ryobi claims that you can mow up to 3 acres on a single full charge.
Setting the cutting height, which ranges from 1.5 inches to 4.5 inches, is easily accomplished with a single lever, and with four blades, this mower easily handled wet grass, thick grass, and tall grass, leaving our lawn looking great. The clippings discharge from the side, although you can purchase a bagger or mulching kit separately if desired. While riding the mower, we especially appreciated how quiet it is in comparison to gas mowers—we could actually talk to nearby family members while riding it—and how smooth and comfortable a ride it provides, thanks to the superior seat suspension that absorbs a lot of the bumps and vibrations. The mower also has some nice extra features, including headlights, cup holders, and USB charging ports. While this mower is undeniably a big investment, we felt that its performance, power, and ease of use make it well worth the cost for those with big yards. It has a 5-year warranty.
Price at time of publish: 5,999
Cutting Width: 42 inches | Power Type: Battery | Weight: 700 pounds | Cutting Options: Side-discharge | Size of Yard: Up to 4 acres
Best Gas Zero-Turn
Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1 42-Inch 22 HP Zero-Turn Mower
- Seat can be fully adjusted for a comfortable ride
- Relatively reasonable price
- Easy to control
While all riding mowers are fairly expensive, particularly zero-turn mowers, the Cub Cadet Ultima Series ZT1 Zero-Turn Mower is relatively reasonable in price, making it even more of a great option for yards up to 4 acres in size. While testing, It took us around 30 minutes to assemble, but it did take us a little longer to figure out the choke. However, once we understood the instructions, we got started mowing a third-acre Iowa lawn that includes hills, several obstacles, and areas of very thick, tall grass. Initially, we took it easy and went slowly while we got used to the handling of the mower, which was a bit touchy. However, once we got the hang of it, we did find the mower to be easy to control, and we really liked being able to make sharp turns around obstacles. We did report some rattling from a belt that needed to be tightened, but that didn’t affect the performance.
While mowing, we found it very easy to adjust the cutting height, which has an impressive range of 1 inch to 4.5 inches. We mowed right through very tall patches of grass without a hitch and liked the way the clippings were ejected far to the side of the mower, so there was no annoying buildup of clumps. It’s easy to speed up or slow down; the more you push the handlebars, the faster you’ll go, up to a top speed of 7 mph. Plus, you can mow both forward and in reverse, which made it easier to reach some trickier spots on the lawn. The mower felt very stable and safe even while mowing on slopes. Initially, we found the ride to be somewhat bumpy, but once we had the fully adjustable seat set to our ideal position, the ride became quite smooth.
With a 22-horsepower Kohler engine, this is a powerful mower with a very sturdy build. Like other gas mowers, it does require periodic oil changes. While we liked its side-discharge function, you’ll have to purchase a bagger or mulching kit separately if that’s your preference. Cub Cadet also sells various attachments that can be added to the mower for other lawn care functions. It has a 3-year warranty.
Price at time of publish: 3,499
Cutting Width: 42 inches | Power Type: Gasoline | Weight: 580 pounds | Cutting Options: Side-discharge | Size of Yard: Up to 3 acres
Best for Hills
Troy-Bilt Bronco 42 in. 19 HP Automatic Drive Gas Riding Lawn Mower
- Automatic transmission
- Good traction on hills
- Extra leg room
- Compatible with a variety of accessories
While we were not able to personally test the Bronco 42, we still recommend this 19-horsepower, 42-inch gas mower for yards up to 2 acres in size, especially if your yard has a lot of slopes. This sturdy mower has an automatic transmission and uses a simple foot pedal to control your speed, just like your car. That means you are likely to feel comfortable handling the mower from the start, even if you have never used a riding lawn mower before.
The mower has anti-scalp, 20-inch all-terrain wheels, making it much easier to mow smoothly over uneven terrain or up and down slopes without bogging down or damaging your turf. Note that as with all riding mowers, you should always mow from side to side across a slope, not up and down the slope, to maintain stability. There are five cutting height settings, which are easy to adjust with a single lever, and range from 1.25 inches to 3.75 inches. That’s a smaller cutting range than many other riding mowers, but it easily handles most common lawn grasses, and the double blades, large wheels, and sturdy construction of the mower allow it to plow right through tall or thick turf without a problem.
The Troy-Bilt Bronco 42 has a step-through frame that offers more leg room, and the mid-back seat and rubber footpads keep you comfortable while you work. Its 18-inch turn radius is tight enough to maneuver around most yard obstacles, such as trees, fences, flowerbeds, or playsets. The machine has a rear hitch to pull garden carts, sprayers, and spreaders. It comes with a side-discharge chute for clippings, but if you prefer to bag or mulch the grass clippings, you’ll need to buy those accessories separately. Like all gas mowers, you’ll need to carry out periodic oil changes, usually recommended after every 50 hours of use or annually. It comes with a 2-year warranty.
Price at time of publish: 2,199
How to fix a lawn mower that won’t start Ten Minute DIY Repair
Cutting Width: 42 inches | Power Type: Gasoline | Weight: 520 pounds | Cutting Options: Side-discharge | Size of Yard: 1 to 2 acres
Cub Cadet 30 in. 56-Volt MAX 30 Ah Battery Riding Lawn Tractor
Not everyone needs a beast of a mower that can handle yards up to 4 acres in size. If you have a lawn that’s 1 acre or less, or you have a lot of obstacles on your property that require a smaller mower to maneuver between and around them, we recommend this battery-powered mower from Cub Cadet. It has a 30-inch deck that can slip through a 36-inch gate, and which won’t take up a lot of space in your garage or garden shed. While we were unable to test this mower ourselves, it’s still our top choice for smaller yards.
The mower comes with a 56-volt MAX 30 amp-hour battery that can mow up to 1 acre, or for 1 hour, before needing a recharge, which takes roughly 4 hours. It’s supremely quiet compared to gas mowers, and the ride is smooth and comfortable. Plus, no need for oil changes, pouring gasoline into a fuel tank, or smelly fumes. You can adjust the cutting height within a range of 1.5 inches to 4 inches, and no bogging down on tall or thick grass. The 18-inch turning radius is tight enough to easily work your way around most obstacles.
One feature that we especially approve of, and yet isn’t offered on many riding mowers, is this model’s cruise control, which allows you to set your speed up to a maximum of 5.5 mph and then let the mower keep your pace steady; no need to concentrate on maintaining an even speed by pushing pedals or gripping levers. Plus, it has a very comfortable high-back seat with armrests, LED headlights, a cup holder, and two onboard USB ports to power up your phone or music while you ride. Additionally, unlike every other mower on our list, this one includes the mulching kit—all others require you to purchase that separately—so you can turn the grass clippings into fine mulch to help feed your lawn. It comes with a 3-year warranty.
Price at time of publish: 3,600
Cutting Width: 30 inches | Power Type: Battery | Weight: 362 pounds | Cutting Options: Mulch, side-discharge | Size of Yard: Up to 2 acres
Our top recommendation, the gas-powered John Deere S100 42-Inch Riding Lawn Mower, is supremely easy to maneuver around obstacles while creating a very smooth cut even on thick or tall grass. It comes with “White Glove Service” delivery, so you won’t have to assemble it, and it is easy to operate and maintain. However, if you prefer an electric mower, then we recommend the Ryobi 80V 42-Inch Battery Riding Mower, which has a lot of power and excellent battery runtime; you can get up to an hour of mowing done before needing to recharge. That’s enough for most people to complete the task on just one charge.
How We Tested the Riding Lawn Mowers
After testing eight walk-behind lawn mowers across the country, we tested six riding mowers, including gas, electric, and zero-turn options, each tested on a different property with varying terrain and lawn conditions, including slopes, rough spots, tall grass, and wet areas. We started by recording how long it took to unbox and assemble the riding lawn mower, as well as the difficulty or ease of assembly. (Two of the mowers were delivered assembled and ready to go, however.)
Once the grass was long enough to require mowing, we tested the riding mower on three separate occasions. For each session, we recorded the date and weather conditions, the size of the area to be mowed, the height of grass to be cut, and the length of time it took to accomplish the mowing. At the end of the session, we noted how cleanly and evenly the lawn had been cut, as well as how well the side-discharge chute shot the clippings back onto the lawn. (Only one of our tested mowers included an option other than side-discharge of the clippings; commonly clippings bags and mulching kits are not included with a riding mower, but must be purchased separately if desired.)
As we rode the mowers, we noted how easy it was to speed up or slow down the machine in both forward and reverse, the ease of raising or lowering the cutting height, how well the mower maneuvered around obstacles, and how evenly the mower cut all types of grass, including tall or thick patches as well as wet turf. We also paid attention to the comfort of the seat and the overall comfort of the ride, noting if it was unusually rough, had excessive vibration, or was in any other way uncomfortable to use the mower. We also tried out any extra features on the mowers, including headlights, cupholders, USB charging ports, or onboard storage areas.
At the end of each mowing session, we noted how much battery charge was left on electric mowers, as well as the length of time required for a full recharge. Finally, we summed up each experience with the mower, noting whether or not we felt it was a good value for the performance delivered.
What to Look for in a Riding Lawn Mower
One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether to buy a gas- or electric-powered riding lawn mower. Marc Mayer, Director of Technical Operations at TruGreen, says, Like in the automobileworld, battery-powered equipment is popular right now. Electrical mowers on both the residential and professional/commercial side are becoming more preferred over gas powered. You have to take into account that they both require different maintenance schedules, and it’s important to ask questions like ‘How long does the battery last, and what is the cost of a replacement battery’ before making a commitment to electric.
As a general rule, gas mowers, including our Best Overall choice, the John Deere S100, are more powerful than electric models, but they’re louder, less eco-friendly, and require more maintenance, including regular oil changes. Plus, in some locations, gas mowers have very stringent requirements for emission levels that some models can’t meet. However, Noah James, professional landscaper and owner of Liberty Lawn Maintenance notes that the power of a gas mower can be especially useful if your lawn has rough areas, thick weeds, or especially tough grass.
Electric mowers, on the other hand, like our Best Electric Riding Mower, the Ryobi 80V Brushless Electric Riding Mower, are typically less powerful and require you to keep an eye on the battery charge level, but they’re also quieter, easier to start, and better for the environment. Still, while electric mowers require consistent charging, they often don’t require as much maintenance as gas models that have spark plugs, belts, and filters that must be maintained over time.
The deck size of a lawn mower dictates how wide a path it cuts—larger decks cut wider paths on each pass. Most residential riding mowers have decks that are around 42 inches, but if you have a very large property, you might want to consider a mower with deck that’s considerably bigger, like our Best Gas Mower pick, the Toro TimeCutter Zero-Turn Mower, which has a 50-inch deck. And of course, small properties, or lawns with many obstacles, might do best with a mower that has a smaller deck.
Keep in mind that the larger the mower, the harder it will be to maneuver through gates and other obstacles, plus the more space it will require in your garage or shed. Also, a mower’s deck size will impact its turning radius—except for zero-turn mowers, which can manage wider decks thanks to their overall design—and will also make it more challenging to navigate uneven terrain. Our Best Battery Powered Zero-Turn Mower, the Ryobi 80V Electric Zero-Turn Riding Mower, turns on a dime even with its 42-inch deck.
While the typical push mower’s engine is just 2 to 5 horsepower or the equivalent in battery power, a riding mower requires considering more oomph, with most having engine power or equivalent battery power of 13 to 30 horsepower. Noah James says, Make sure the riding mower you’re considering has enough horsepower to handle your specific needs. A larger engine will be able to handle thicker grass and steeper hills with ease.
As a rough guideline, a lawn that’s less than an acre can be handled by a riding mower with at least 13 horsepower, but a 3-acre lawn needs at least 18 horsepower to get the job done, and even more if your lawn has slopes or rugged terrain.
Don’t forget to consider how the lawn mower handles grass clippings. Just about every riding mower has a side-discharge chute to spit the clippings back out onto your lawn. But many brands also offer mulching kits or clipping bags for their riding mowers; note that you’ll generally have to purchase these separately. However, our Best Small Mower, the Cub Cadet 30-Inch Battery Mower, does include a mulching kit. If you want to mulch or bag your clippings, be sure that any riding mower you are considering offers these options, and remember to add the price of the accessories to the cost of the mower itself.
The defining feature of zero-turn mowers is a zero-degree turning radius, but these mowers are generally also much faster than regular riding mowers. However, keep in mind that it’s easier to maintain control around obstacles at lower speeds, so unless you have a very large, flat lawn, you’re unlikely to be running your mower at top speed very often. Plus, zero-turn mowers are much more expensive than regular riding mowers.
According to Marc Mayer, a riding lawn mower is suited to any type of turf, but because these machines are heavy, they can cause soil compaction, which can affect the health of your grass. You can help prevent this by not mowing when the ground is wet, and by trying to avoid mowing over the same area more than once.
The top speed for standard riding lawnmowers ranges from 4 to 6 mph. Zero-turn mowers are much faster, with some going 8 to 10 mph at full speed. While speed is a great factor to consider if you prefer to quickly complete outdoor tasks, a speedy job does not always result in a better cut, so don’t automatically assume that you need the fastest mower available.
The easiest way to transport a riding lawn mower is with a trailer. Mowers can be driven up a ramp into a low trailer and towed behind a vehicle. You may also transport riding mowers in the bed of a pickup truck, but special ramps are required. Of course, if you are merely loaning the mower to a neighbor or somewhere very close by, you may be able to ride the mower to the location, as long as the terrain permits this and you keep the blade turned off and elevated.
Why Trust The Spruce?
Michelle Ullman is the home improvement/tool expert for The Spruce. She has extensive experience not only in writing about all things related to the home, but also in carrying out various DIY projects, including landscaping, painting, flooring, wallpapering, furniture makeovers, and simple repairs around the house and yard.
For this roundup, she relied on input from our team of testers, but also considered dozens of other riding lawn mowers of various types, evaluating each for features, power, effectiveness, ease of use, and overall value. She also considered feedback from customers, both positive and negative, as well as reviews and information on landscaping websites. Noah James, professional landscaper and owner of Liberty Lawn Maintenance, and Marc Mayer, Director of Technical Operations at TruGreen, also provided additional expert input.
What Is The Spruce Approved?
Here at The Spruce, we want to ensure we fully stand behind every product we recommend and that when we say something is the best, we mean it. You might have noticed The Spruce Approved badge next to the products on this list. Every product with this badge has been rigorously tested in person and carefully selected by our expert team of lab testers and editors. In most cases, we buy all these products ourselves, though occasionally, we get samples provided to us directly by companies. No matter how we procure products, they all go through the same tests and must meet the same strict criteria to make the best-of cut.
The best riding mowers: Mow your lawn faster
Up your summer lawn care game with a riding mower that makes for a faster, more eco-friendly mowing experience.
Taylor Clemons is a tech writer and reviewer based near Cleveland, OH. After graduating from Tiffin University in 2011, they spent several years in lawn and garden manufacturing before working on their own (now defunct) game review site, Steam Shovel.
Taylor Clemons is a tech writer and reviewer based near Cleveland, OH. After graduating from Tiffin University in 2011, they spent several years in lawn and garden manufacturing before working on their own (now defunct) game review site, Steam Shovel.
Riding mowers are a popular mower choice for homeowners, especially if you have a big property to maintain every summer. They have cutting decks measuring from 42 to 72 inches, so you can make short work of everything from typical lawns to large properties, like sports complexes and golf courses.
Unlike their push mower counterparts, riding mowers have more features to consider in order to find the right fit for your yard. You can choose either a manual or hydrostatic transmission, so you can set and forget your speed or operate your mower like a car. You can even get riding mowers with cruise control or all-wheel drive for better traction.
While gas engines are far more common among riding mowers, there is a wide selection of battery-powered models if you’re looking for a more eco-friendly solution for lawn care. My pick for the best overall riding mower is the Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP for its 24HP engine, 54-inch cutting deck, and ability to mow up to four acres with a full gas tank. You can keep reading below to find out more about the Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP as well as our other top picks.
Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP
Best riding mower overall
- 24HP engine
- 54-inch cutting deck
- Automatic transmission
- Attachments and accessories available
Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP tech specs: Engine: 24HP Kohler | Cutting width: 54 inches | Transmission: Hydrostatic/Automatic | Max yard size: 4 acres
The Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP riding mower is an excellent choice for a variety of lawns. It’s built with a 24HP Kohler engine and a 54-inch cutting deck to let you handle inclines and rough terrain or haul tools, mulch, and potting soil around your property.
The hydrostatic, automatic transmission makes operation similar to a typical car, so you can spend more time actually cutting your grass and less time learning how to drive your mower. With a 3-gallon tank, you’ll be able to mow up to 4 acres at a time.
Ryobi 80V electric riding lawn tractor
Best electric riding mower
- 2.5 acre max range
- Quick-charge batteries
- LCD heads-up display
- USB charging ports
Ryobi 80V electric lawn tractor tech specs: Engine: 80V brushless electric | Cutting width: 46 inches | Transmission: Hydrostatic/Automatic | Max yard size: 2.5 acres
Electric riding mowers have become more popular in recent years as homeowners and landscaping professionals look for ways to make lawn care more eco-friendly. The Ryobi 80V electric lawn tractor features a 46-inch cutting deck and enough power to let you mow up to 2.5 acres on a single charge, and you can recharge your mower batteries in as little as 2.5 hours.
This means you can take care of other tasks, like weeding or landscaping, while you’re waiting for your mower to recharge. An LCD screen gives you a heads-up display of run time, battery levels, and reminders to inspect and sharpen your mower blades. It even has two USB ports for charging your phone while you mow.
Toro Titan Max
Best zero-turn riding mower
- Mows up to 7 acres at once
- Highly maneuverable
- 10-gauge steel construction
- Tool-free air filters
Toro Titan Max tech specs: Engine: 26HP Kohler 7000 | Cutting width: 60 inches | Transmission: Dual hydrostatic/automatic | Max yard size: 7 acres
Zero-turn riding mowers are popular with homeowners who have larger properties or lots of obstacles like trees or specialized landscaping. The Toro Titan Max’s exceptional maneuverability and larger cutting decks make quick work of yards up to 7 acres in size, while the 26HP Kohler 7000 engine uses a dual hydrostatic drive for smooth, intuitive operation.
Toro also made regular maintenance a bit more streamlined with tool-free air filters. The deck and mower body are made from tough, 10-gauge steel to stand up to dings, rocks, run-ins, and anything else your lawn can throw at it.
Cub Cadet CC30E
Best compact riding mower
- Great for yards up to 1 acre
- Compact design great for small storage areas and narrow spaces
- Push-button cruise control
Cub Cadet CC30E tech specs: Engine: 56V electric | Cutting width: 30 inches | Transmission: Hydrostatic/Automatic | Max yard size: 1 acre
Compact riding mowers like the Cub Caded CC30E are great for suburban lawns on the smaller side. The CC30E features a smaller design that is perfect for storing in multi-use sheds and garages or maneuvering through gates and narrow spaces. The 30-inch cutting deck and 56V battery let you mow up to 1 acre (or one hour) at once.
It uses a hydrostatic drive for smooth, intuitive driving while the 18-inch turning radius lets you easily mow around trees and other obstacles. It even features a push-button cruise control, so you can set-and-forget your forward speed and concentrate on mowing around obstacles, as well as staying aware of your surroundings.
DeWALT Z160 Commercial
Best riding mower for large properties
- Mow up to 10 acres
- 5.5 gallon gas tank
- Dual hydrostatic drive
- Great for hills and inclines
DeWALT Z160 Commercial tech specs: Engine: 24HP Kawasaki V-Twin | Cutting width: 60 inches | Transmission: Dual hydrostatic/automatic | Max yard size: 10 acres
The DeWALT Z160 Commercial zero-turn riding mower is designed from the ground up to handle large properties. The 60-inch cutting deck and 24HP Kawasaki V-Twin engine let you mow up to 10 acres at once, making it an almost perfect choice for rural properties or landscaping professionals. The dual hydrostatic drive makes operation smoother, though the twin-stick steering does take some getting used to.
With 22-inch rear wheels, you can easily take on inclines and rolling hills that may be on your property. A 5.5-gallon fuel tank means you’ll spend more time actually mowing and less time refueling. And if you opt for the bagger attachment, you’ll be able to gather up to 11 bushels of clippings before you need to empty.
What is the best riding mower?
I chose the Troy-Bilt Super Bronco XP as the best riding mower you can buy. It features a 54-inch cutting deck and 3-gallon fuel tank, letting you mow up to 4 acres in a single go. The 24 horsepower engine also lets you take on steeper inclines and rough terrain or haul tools and gardening supplies around your property. The hydrostatic drive makes operation similar to a typical car, while an LED display gives you accurate usage hours for streamlined maintenance.
Best riding mower
Ryobi 80V electric riding lawn tractor
Which is the right riding mower for you?
Other than your budget, there are a lot of features and scenarios you have to consider while shopping for a new riding mower. The size of your yard will determine how wide the cutting deck should be, though either a 42 or 46-inch version will be more than enough for most yards.
You can choose either a manual or hydrostatic transmission. A manual model lets you set and forget your speed so you can FOCUS, while hydrostatic models operate more like cars, going faster the harder you press the pedal. This makes them more intuitive to operate but also more expensive.
Zero-turn mowers are designed for mowing in oddly-shaped areas or around lots of obstacles like trees, lamp posts, and lawn ornaments. They’re called zero-turn because they have a zero-inch turn radius; you pivot around either rear wheel for ultra-tight turning.
Buy this best riding mower.
If you need.
A well-rounded riding mower. The 54-inch cutting deck and 24HP engine let you mow up to 4 acres at a time.
Ryobi 80V electric riding lawn tractor
An all-electric riding mower. The electric engine requires less maintenance than gas models, making your lawn-care routine more eco-friendly.
An excellent zero-turn riding mower. Precision maneuvering lets you mow around trees, landscaping, and other obstacles with ease.
A compact riding mower. The 30-inch deck and smaller build make this riding mower perfect for smaller suburban lawns.
A riding mower that can handle larger properties. This commercial-grade, zero-turn riding mower lets you cut up to 10 acres at once.
How did we choose these riding mowers?
I used to work for MTD Products (now owned by BlackDecker), which assembles a variety of lawn mowers, snow blowers, and other powered lawn equipment. Using the expertise and knowledge I gained during my time there, I looked for riding mowers with these qualities:
- Motor size: You’ll want a riding mower with at least a 10HP engine to give you enough power to handle minor inclines and lawns up to half an acre. Larger riding mowers like the John Deere Z530M have more powerful engines, often topping out over 20HP to let you tackle rough terrain and even haul equipment.
- Cutting width: Many riding mowers have either a 42 or 46-inch cutting deck, which is great for lawns between.5 and 1.5 acres. However, if you have a large, multi-acre property, you’ll want to choose a larger cutting deck. Many brands have options between 50 and 72-inch cutting decks.
- Transmission type: The less expensive riding mowers will have either a 6 or 7-speed manual transmission. This means you will use a dedicated lever to set your engine’s forward and reverse speeds, with a single brake pedal for stop control. The more expensive models feature a hydrostatic drive, which operates in a similar way to an automatic transmission in a typical car or truck.
- Accessories: Lawn care goes beyond regular mowing. I chose riding mowers that have the ability to hitch small trailers or wagons for hauling tools, mulch, or potting soil. I also chose mowers from brands that make after-market add-ons, like rear bagging units for collecting grass clippings, mulching kits for re-feeding lawns, and snow plows for year-round use.
How do you decide which riding mower to buy?
Assuming you have a budget in mind, the first thing you need to do is find out how big your lawn is. You can either find your lot size on your memorandum deeds if you’ve bought your house, or you can check your city’s website to see if you can request lot measurements if you’re renting. If your lot measures about an acre, you’ll be able to use a 30 or 42-inch cutting deck without any issues. For lawns up to two acres, a 42 or 46-inch deck is ideal. And if your lot is over two acres, you can get a mower with up to a 72-inch cutting deck to handle larger areas.
The transmission type is also important. Many newer models have what is known as a hydrostatic drive. This means that they operate similarly to how a car drives: You push the pedal and it moves forward or backward. And the harder you push, the faster you go. This makes it easier to learn how to drive, but that also makes the mower more expensive. stripped-back models have variable speed manual transmissions, which allow you to set and forget your speed so you can FOCUS on paying attention to obstacles and people who may be nearby.
And finally, you’ll want to consider the power source for your new riding mower. Gasoline engines are far more common, but there is now a wider variety of battery-powered models to choose from. The perks of a gas engine are that you’ll get near-infinite run times (as long as you have enough fuel to keep the engine going) and a bit more power for handling steep inclines and rough terrain. The downsides are dealing with exhaust emissions and maintenance that can be a time and money sink. Electric models don’t need engine maintenance, so you save a bit of money in the long run. But they usually have a maximum run time of about an hour, which means that you may have to plan your mowing over several days if you have a larger yard.
How big of a yard do I need for a riding mower?
Riding mowers are best suited for yards measuring one acre or larger. A model with a 42-inch cutting deck is great for mowing up to two acres, so if you have more land than that, you’ll want to spring for a 46, 54, 60, or 72-inch cutting deck.
If you’re right on the threshold, you can get what’s known as a mini rider. They usually have compact bodies for easier storage and 30-inch cutting decks to make short work of lawns that are just a touch too large for a push mower.
How long should a riding mower last?
No matter if you choose a gas or battery-powered riding mower, proper maintenance is key to extending the life of your mower. For gas engines, you should change the oil and filters, clean the spark plugs, and sharpen the blades before you mow for the first time in the spring. And you should use fuel treatments like STA-BIL to prevent gas in the tank or extra jerry cans from going bad from moisture contamination. This prevents buildup of gunk that can ruin your engine, improves engine performance, and gives you a cleaner cut for a healthier lawn.
Electric mowers don’t need engine maintenance, but you should perform thorough inspections at the start of mowing season to check for battery damage, corrosion on battery contacts, damage to the battery housing, and also to sharpen the blades. If you do regular maintenance, not only will you save money by avoiding big repairs from worn-out parts, but you can also expect your riding mower to last 10 years or more.- which is great news, since they can be an expensive investment.
What is the cheapest riding mower?
Unfortunately, riding mowers aren’t ever really what we consider budget-friendly. However, there are models like the Murray MT100 that retail for less than 2000 without sacrificing power or cutting width.
Are there alternative riding mowers worth considering?
Whether you’re shopping at a big-name DIY store like Lowe’s, a local hardware store, or an authorized brand dealer, there are tons of options for a new riding mower. You can choose either gas or battery-powered models, cutting deck widths from as small as 30 inches to as wide as six feet.
Here’s a short list of other riding mowers I thought were great choices:
John Deere Z530M
The John Deere Z530M features a 60-inch cutting deck for making quick work of large properties. Exceptional maneuverability lets you mow around trees, lawn decor, and other obstacles with ease.
The Husqvarna YTH1942 features an updated, 19 horsepower engine and 42-inch cutting deck to take on inclines and haul dirt, mulch, and gardening equipment.
For under 2000, you’ll get a 13.5 horsepower engine, a 42-inch cutting deck, and a 6-speed manual transmission with the Murray MT100.