Issuu on Google+

How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

The Lawn Tractor Buyer’s Guide Martin Cole

www.lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor The Lawn Tractor Buyer’s Guide Martin Cole

First Edition 2011 Published by Garden Publishing e-books@garden-publishing.com

DISCLAIMER

The author used all reasonable endeavors to produce a high quality and informative document, based upon his own knowledge and research. The contents represent his own ideas, conclusions and opinions based upon that knowledge and research. However, no representations or warranties of any kind whatsoever are made as to the accuracy or completeness of any information within this document. The author, the publisher and lawn-tractor-buyersguide.com, whether jointly or severally, shall not be liable in any way whatsoever for any loss or damage caused by the use, misuse or inability to use any or all of the information in this documents. By using this document, you agree to do so on the terms stated within this disclaimer and entirely at your own risk. COPYRIGHT The contents of this document are protected by worldwide copyright treaties and the copyright resides in Martin Cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com. You may re-distribute this document but only in the form in which it is published and only in its entirety with all hyperlinks intact and working. Except, as stated in the previous paragraph, no reprinting, copying, re-distribution, transmission, hosting or display of the contents of this documents is permitted except with the express written permission of Martin Cole.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 2


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

Table of Contents

ABOUT LAWN TRACTOR BUYERS GUIDE!.......................................5 INTRODUCTION!.................................................................................8 TERMINOLOGY!................................................................................11 Lawn Tractors!.......................................................................................................11 Riding Lawnmowers!.............................................................................................12 Garden Tractors!...................................................................................................13 Zero Turn Mowers!................................................................................................14 Yard Tractors!........................................................................................................15 Riding Lawn Tractors!...........................................................................................15 Other Definitions!..................................................................................................16

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT MACHINE FOR YOU!.....................18 What is your lawn like?!........................................................................................20 Terrain!..................................................................................................................23 What do you want your lawn tractor to do?!..........................................................26 How much money do you have to spend?!...........................................................29

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 3


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

HOW TO COMPARE LAWN TRACTORS!.........................................31 Engines and Engine Power!..................................................................................32 Transmission!........................................................................................................35 Drive!.....................................................................................................................37 Steering!................................................................................................................37 Cutting Deck!.........................................................................................................38 Grass Discharge!..................................................................................................38

FINAL WORDS!..................................................................................42 APPENDIX!.........................................................................................43 Buying Checklist!...................................................................................................43

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 4


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

ABOUT LAWN TRACTOR BUYERS GUIDE Hello and thanks for downloading the Lawn Tractor Buyer's Guide from www.lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com. I think, for simplicity's sake, we'll just call it ʻthe guideʼ from now on.

Before we get started I'll introduce myself and the Lawn Tractor Buyers Guide website, so you know who and what you're dealing with.

My name is Martin Cole. I come to lawn tractors from the perspective of a gardener and a user of garden tools rather than from the perspective of a technician. I have a background in both horticulture and law (an odd mix, I admit) and plenty of experience in writing and in home and garden renovations (another odd mix).

I started Lawn Tractor Buyers Guide when I decided that I wanted to write about gardening related topics and that doing so online was the way to go. If you know anything about the online world, you'll know that it's pretty pointless to just dive in to a great big topic like gardening and expect anyone to listen to you. So, instead, I decided to find an aspect of the topic I could start with and maybe work on from there. I therefore drilled down

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m © martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 5


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

from gardening via lawns, lawn care and lawn mowers and eventually found myself in the wonderful world of lawn tractors. And, in no time, Lawn Tractor Buyers Guide went live online.

Since starting the site, I始ve been continuing to add more and more content and trying to ensure that it is and will always be a valuable resource in the lawn and garden arena. This guide is part of that strategy and is intend to provide even more value to the readership.

Hopefully, that little bit of background explains why the general approach I try to take at www.lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com is a non-technical one.

Although the approach may be non-technical, it is still thorough. The core aim of Lawn Tractor Buyers Guide is is to simplify the information that is presented so that it can be understood by all-comers, but not to oversimplify so that it is of little value.

In fact, the site operates from the perspective of the person (perhaps a bit like you) who might want to buy a lawn tractor or zero turn mower, but wants to find out as much practical information as they can about the different kinds of machine, the different models and the various tools or attachments available, before parting with any hard earned cash.

I believe that most (although admittedly not all) readers are not hugely interested in the mechanics of how a technical process, such as a

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m 漏 martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 6


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

transmission, works. Instead, most want to know what it actually does, whether it will suits their needs and whether it is likely to provide good value for money. I try to provide that sort of information on the site and that is also the approach that I've taken in putting together this guide.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 7


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

INTRODUCTION So, how is this guide going to help you avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor?

The answer is that it will give you a

framework to help you direct your research towards the machines that are most likely to meet your requirements. And why might you need help with that?

Well, for a start, how many different lawn tractor and riding mower models do you think are available on the market today? What would your guess be? 50? 100?

Well to be perfectly honest with you, I don't know for sure myself. Models come, models go and, frankly, life is a bit too short to count them.

However, what I do know is that at the time of writing, one manufacturer – Craftsman - lists 34 different models on its website.

Craftsman 19.5-42 lawn tractor

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 8


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

How many major manufacturers are there? Maybe 15 -20. If we take 15 manufacturers and estimate that they have, say, 20 models each, that means there are around 300 different models on the market. And that's just in the USA. There are different manufactures and different models in the UK, Australia, Europe and so on.

The point is that if you are in the market for a lawn tractor or riding mower it is not at all easy to know where to start when trying to determine which model to go for.

In fact, one of the biggest and costliest errors that buyers make when choosing lawn tractors is to buy a machine that isn't really suitable for the conditions on their property. Since these are big ticket items, you need to get this right and this guide will help you do that.

The guide develops some of the key advice from the website and combines it with some further tools and information in order to provide you with the ultimate resource to help you make the right choice of lawn tractor or riding lawnmower.

Now, therefore, you have a big advantage in your search for the right lawn tractor because the guide will help you find a way through the mower maze and lead you towards a machine that's right for you.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 9


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

Now, a word about the terminology used in the guide. There are genuine differences between lawn tractors, riding mowers and zero turn mowers which I deal with below. Nevertheless, despite those differences and for the sake of brevity and unless I'm specifically referring to one of those individual categories of machine, I will use the term 'lawn tractor' in the guide to cover all the different ride on machines. I'll also use the word 'lawn' to cover any area of your land where you need or want to keep the grass mown.

As in all industries, there is a fair bit of jargon in the world of lawn tractors. There is also a degree of confusion over how things are referred to and, despite everything I said above about being non-technical, there are some technical terms that we need to get our heads around so that certain other things can make sense. So, it is for those reasons that I'm going to kick off the guide with a few words about .... lawn tractor terminology.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 10


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

TERMINOLOGY Although the American Society of Agricultural Engineers has set out a standard form of categorisation of 'ride-on lawn mowers', there certainly isn't universal agreement about what these machines should be called in practice. There especially seems to be some overlap between what gets called a Lawn Tractor and what gets called a Riding Lawn Mower, even among the manufacturers and retailers. So, in this section I will run through the differences between the different types of machine, so you can have as clear an idea as possible about what is being referred to when the various different descriptions are mentioned.

Lawn Tractors The most obvious thing about a lawn tractor, as you can see from the example below, is that it actually looks a bit like a tractor. The rear

Craftsman 24-42 lawn tractor

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 11


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

wheels are bigger than the front wheels and the engine is at the front. A lawn tractor's cutting equipment (or deck) is mounted in the middle of the machine and it will generally be more powerful but in some cases less manoeuvrable than a riding lawnmower. Some lawn tractors will accept attachments, such as an aerator or garden tiller.

Riding Lawnmowers You need to be aware that this description (along with 'riding mower' or 'ride on lawnmower', which is generally used in the UK) is very often applied to any kind of mower that you ride on as you mow - which makes sense if you think about it.

However, that means that the term riding lawnmower is sometimes used to describe a machine that should properly be called a lawn tractor.

Weed Eater One riding lawn mower

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 12


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

The basic distinguishing feature of a true riding mower is that its cutting deck may not be detachable and will be mounted at the front, while its engine will be located in the middle or at the rear. I tend to think that the Weed-Eater riding lawn mower is a good example of this class of ride-on.

Garden Tractors Garden tractors are like lawn tractors but more powerful. They are raised higher off the ground and, as well as cutting the grass, can accept lots of attachments and carry out a lot of different tasks, especially groundengaging tasks.

Simplicity Legacy garden tractor

You could, for example, use a plow, digger, snow blower or backhoe with one of these machines.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 13


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

A garden tractor will be equipped with an effective power take off (PTO) which is the means by which the power of the tractor engine is used to drive other implements, such as the digger on this Simplicity Legacy.

Zero Turn Mowers Zero turn mowers are quite different from the others. They are more like riding mowers than lawn tractors but are usually steered with levers (or lap bars) that allow each rear wheel to be controlled independently, thus allowing the machine to turn without leaving any uncut grass.

John Deere Ztrak zero turn mower

The best zero turn mowers will give a faster cut than a lawn tractor or riding mower on flatter areas and, especially on areas with lots of trees, garden beds or other obstacles that have to be mown around.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 14


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

Just to further add to the confusion, Cub Cadet has relatively recently introduced a range of zero turn lawn tractors – which pretty much do what it says on the tin, i.e. they are essentially lawn tractors, with zero turn capability. Cub also, in the UK at least, has a zero turn mower which is steered with a traditional steering wheel rather than lap bars.

Yard Tractors This term isn't used that often, but if there is a distinction, it is that yard tractors fall somewhere between a lawn tractor and a garden tractor. The yard tractor has more power and more accessories than the lawn tractor, but is not quite as big and versatile as a garden tractor.

Riding Lawn Tractors 'Riding lawn tractors' is just a combination of terms used by some manufacturers (especially Cub Cadet – what is it about those guys?) rather than a different type of machine, but it's generally used to mean a lawn tractor rather than a riding mower.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 15


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

Other Definitions You'll also find the following terms referred to a lot as you trawl through this guide and the website, so it will help to have a good understanding of what they mean.

Mowing Deck or Cutting Deck

The structure which houses the mower's cutting

Discharge Method

The means of disposing of the cut grass. Cut

blades.

grass may be discharged from the deck straight to the side or to the rear of the machine, it may be retained within the deck and chopped finely and deposited back onto the lawn as mulch, or discharged to a side or rear collection bag.

Four-Wheel Steer

A steering mechanism whereby all 4 wheels are turned at the same time by means of the steering wheel.

Four-Wheel Drive

Where power is delivered to drive all four wheels at once.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 16


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

Power Take Off (PTO) A driveshaft that allows attachments and accessories to be powered from the tractor's engine.

Power Train

Generally used to refer to the components that generate power and deliver it to the wheels, i.e. the engine, transmission, driveshafts or belts and differentials.

Transmission

The means by which the power from the engine is transmitted through the drive components to turn the tractor's wheels and attachments, such as the cutting blades.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 17


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT MACHINE FOR YOU As we saw in the Introduction, there are perhaps around 300 lawn tractors on the market, maybe more, maybe less. But, whatever the number, the simple question that most people want the answer to is: which is the best one?

Surely, if I'm the guy with the website on the subject, I must know.

So, instead of dragging this guide out over another 20 pages, why don't I just get it over with now and tell you? You can then go to the nearest dealer or jump online and order one (maybe even through my site) and we can all go home happy.

Unfortunately, things are not that simple and here is why:

There is no such thing as the best lawn tractor ...

all there is, is the best machine for you.

You may think this is a statement of the obvious. In some ways it is, but it is also the most important piece of advice in this guide. I urge you to keep it in mind because the web is full of consumer reviews where people are complaining that the machine they bought doesn始t do what they want it to

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m 漏 martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 18


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

do. In many cases, this is because they didn始t properly think about what they would want the machine to do before they bought it.

The point is that all potential purchasers have different conditions, different budgets and different requirements from their machines. That is why there is such a bewildering array of machines on the market.

Manufacturers simply wouldn't make so many differently configured models if the same basic machine would suit pretty much everybody.

Think how much more profitable it would be if they only needed one set of machine tools, one production line and the same basic parts for every model that was produced. It would probably also mean that prices would come down considerably too.

Unfortunately, as far as prices are concerned, but fortunately in every other way, the lawns and gardens of the world are as varied as the people who nurture them. So the tools that those people require have to meet that infinite variety of demands.

With all that in mind then, how do you go about working out what might be the best lawn tractor for you?

In my view, you need to ask yourself the following 3 fundamental questions:

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m 漏 martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 19


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor •

What is your lawn like?

What do you want your lawn tractor to do?

How much money do you have to spend?

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.

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

Is your lawn the size of a golf course?

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m © martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 20


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

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 behind mower. Therefore more ground is mown 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 possible time.

Cub Cadet (at www.cubcadet.com) 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 2 acre lawn:

SIZE OF DECK

CUTTING TIME

% T I M E S AV E D

42 inch

2 hours

-

46 inch

1 hour 48 mins

10%

50 inch

1 hour 40 mins

17%

54 inch

1 hour 30 mins

24%

Table 1. Time savings arising from increased deck size

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 21


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

But there is also a relationship between the size of the area concerned and the engine 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 there is some overlap between the categories as there are no firm delineations. This is a general guide only and, as we point out below, there are a number of other factors that may mean that the guidelines don't precisely apply.

As a general rule of thumb, the size of the engine will generally be related to deck size, as follows:

AREA

DECK SIZE

ENGINE POWER

38 to 42-inches (106.7cm)

12 to 17 horsepower

42 to 46 inches (106.7cm to 116.8cm)

15 to 24 horsepower

46 to 52 inches (106 .7cm to 132.1cm)

24 to 27 horsepower

Half an acre to one acre (2023 m2 - 4046m2) One to two acres (4046m2 - 8092m2) Two to three acres (8092m2 - 12138m2) More than 3 acres

48 inches ( 121.9cm) plus

27 horsepower plus

Table 2. Area, deck size and engine power ratios

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 22


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

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.

Terrain By terrain, we are essentially talking about all the characteristics of the lawn, other than its size. You can determine the relevant characteristics of your terrain by asking the following questions:

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?

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m © martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 23


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor •

Are there lots of obstacles to mow around, such as trees, rocks, flowers beds etc?

Are there tight spaces or areas that require tight turns?

Perfect for a zero turn or 4 wheel steer model (and for my daughter to run around on)

These kinds of characteristics are going to have a big impact when it comes to working out which lawn tractor will be best for the conditions in question.

You therefore need to think very carefully 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:

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m © martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 24


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

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 tractor for the job may be a 4 wheel drive model;

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;

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m © martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 25


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor •

If you have a lot of obstacles and tight spaces, you may need a 4wheel steer model or even a zero turn mower or lawn tractor.

This kind of terrain demands power and good traction

What do you want your lawn tractor to do? I suppose the real question here 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 among the best lawn tractors, within you budget, that are suitable for the for your lawn's size and terrain as discussed above.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 26


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

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.

A typical lawn tractor tow cart

To get an idea of the potential that some of the best lawn tractors have, take a look at the range of attachments available in the Lawn Tractor Buyers Guide store.

You should therefore 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 capable of doing what you want it to do now or what you might want it to do in due course.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 27


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

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 logs or 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

Simplicity garden tractor

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m © martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 28


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

invest in the kind of lawn tractor that is made for the job - i.e. it has the power and robustness to perform those tasks comfortably.

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

How much money do you have to spend? You could spend anything between $700 - $10,000 on a riding mower or lawn/garden tractor and like most of the good things in life, the best models 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 also be a good indicator of quality. The better quality machines will often have cast

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 29


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

iron or forged axles whilst lower budget machines may have steel, welded axles.

•

Reliability, parts and service - reliability 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.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 30


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

HOW TO 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.

One of the difficulties for the buyer is that it is hard to pick out the important details from the avalanche of information that the manufacturers publish about their lawn tractors. You'll see lots of exclusive features and detailed specifications and you'll be invited to marvel at various proprietary trade-marked systems that will apparently change the face of lawn mowing as we know it.

What you might not see, however, as you try to compare lawn tractors, is the same degree of emphasis on a particular feature given by one manufacturer as is given by another. You may not even see the same words used to describe what is basically the same thing.

To help you cut through the the jargon and marketing speak, these are the main features you probably need to pay attention to:

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 31


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

Engines and Engine Power The power that the engine delivers is measured in horse power (HP) or (Hp). The greater the horse power, the more powerful the engine. In broad terms lawn tractor engines may range from about 10hp to 30Hp.

The more powerful the engine, the more the lawn tractor can:

Work on larger areas

Cope with slopes, hills, uneven and unsound terrain

Drive bigger cutting decks

Use more attachments and, in particular, attachments that are 'ground engaging' e.g. diggers, plows etc.

A lawn tractor engine can vary considerably in design, type, price and quality. There are a number of engine manufacturers that operate in this market, but probably the best know and most well regarded are Briggs and Stratton, Kohler, Tecumseh, Honda and Kawasaki.

Single cylinder engines

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m © martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 32


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

The smaller lawn tractors and riding mowers are generally equipped with a single cylinder air-cooled gasoline engine with a vertical crankshaft design.

An air-cooled engine relies upon the heat which the engine generates being dissipated through fins on the engine casing when air is blown across them by a fan. The vertical crankshaft generally means that the mower deck is directly driven by means of a belt.

Multi-cylinder engines Larger lawn tractors tend to have two or more cylinders with a horizontal crankshaft.

Multiple cylinders (especially where there are three cylinders) generally lead to smoother operation of the engine.

The horizontal crankshaft means there is a more direct mechanism to drive the tractor, and hence

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 33


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

more power is delivered, but there is usually a more complex arrangement to drive the mower deck.

Multiple cylinder engines have more power than single cylinder ones but have more parts that can fail.

Liquid cooled engines Large lawn and garden tractors are likely to have a liquid-cooled, multicylinder gasoline or diesel engine. The liquid cooled engine has a pump which circulates water through the engine block and a separate radiator. The water is cooled as it passes through the radiator and circulated back through the lawn tractor engine. This system is more expensive than air cooling but can lead to longer engine life by keeping engine temperatures more consistent.

Diesel engines Diesel engines may be more costly and are often noisier and dirtier than gasoline engines. However, they can be more reliable and have a longer working life. Diesel fuel may also be available much more cheaply, especially where untaxed fuel is permitted for use off-road. The diesel lawn tractor engine may therefore be the most economical, if available on the model that suits your circumstances.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 34


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

Transmission A lawn tractor engine has to drive not only the wheels of the lawn tractor itself, but also the mower deck (and any other powered implements that may be attached to the tractor).

The mower deck has to run at a constant high speed in order to be able to cut grass efficiently. However, the lawn tractor itself has to be able to run at various speeds in order to be able to start, stop and maneuver in the ordinary way.

These different demands are accommodated by means of the Lawn tractor's transmission. Therefore the transmission is one of the most important lawn tractor components.

There are generally three types of transmission used on lawn tractors.

Hydrostatic Transmission This type of transmission provides the best means of lawn tractor control and allows infinite speed adjustment in moving forward and in reverse and generally makes for easier maneuvering.

Hydrostatic transmission operates by means of a hydraulic pump linked to a hydraulic motor which drives the lawn tractor wheels. It is operated by hand levers or foot pedals.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 35


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

The downside of hydrostatic transmission is that it is expensive - it increases the initial cost of the lawn tractor and leads to less fuel efficient operation - and it can be high maintenance, especially in keeping the system clean.

Most of the better models, like this John Deere X748, feature hydrostatic transmission

Gear Transmissions A geared transmission on a lawn tractor is much like a manual transmission on a car. There may be a number of forward gears, together with a reverse gear.

The gears are operated by a lever and clutch mechanism - either a mechanical clutch or a belt system and are often combined with the axle into a 'transaxle'.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 36


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

Gear transmissions are usually reliable and efficient and are a relatively low cost option in terms of initial outlay and relevant replacement parts

Belt Transmission This is the simplest and cheapest transmission system and is pretty effective on lower powered tractors.

Drive speed is controlled by a belt system between crankshaft and drive wheel mechanism. No separate clutch is needed.

The belts are adjusted by control levers operated by the driver so as to slow or increase the speed of the lawn tractor. Belt drives can be variable speed or fixed speed or associated with 2-5 gears.

Drive Lawn tractors may have two wheel drive or 4 wheel drive, i.e. power is delivered from the engine via the transmission mechanism to turn the rear two wheels or all four wheels. As with cars and other vehicles, greater stability and traction can be achieved with 4 wheel drive systems

Steering Most lawn tractors have front wheel steering, again like the typical car arrangement. Some have power steering which mean that the engine indirectly powers the steering, making it much lighter to operate.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 37


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

Some lawn tractors, like the John Deere x304 have 4 wheel steering. This means all 4 wheels turn in response to a turn of the steering wheel. This enables the lawn tractor to turn more tightly than a standard two wheel steer model.

Cutting Deck Cutting decks house the cutting blades. In most lawn and garden tractors they can be detached. With cutting decks, the points to look out for are:

The type and quality of the material they are made from (e.g. steel, thickness of steel)

The number of cutting blades (more blades means potentially more efficient cutting)

Size, i.e. width of deck. Width of deck determines how wide a swathe of lawn can be cut in one pass of the tractor. The wider the deck, the less times the tractor has to go up and down the land and therefore the quicker the job can be done.

Grass Discharge Most lawn tractors discharge the grass to the side of the cutting deck. This means that the grass clippings are left on the lawn which can look untidy. If the clippings are to be directed to a collection bag, which may come as standard or as an optional extra, there may be a pipe or chute through

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m © martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 38


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

which the clippings travel. With wet grass especially, this can sometimes get clogged.

As an alternative to side discharge, there are some rear discharge

Cub Cadet side discharge model

tractors. These discharge clippings behind the lawn tractor and, if linked to a collection system, may have less mechanism to get clogged up than the side discharge tractors.

You will also read that many lawn tractors have a mulching capacity. But what is mulch and what does mulching mean?

Mulch is basically any material laid on cultivated ground to help prevent weeds, to aid fertility, to help soil structure and/or to encourage moisture

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 39


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

retention. There are therefore many different types of mulch, but grass clippings or shredded garden prunings are often used.

Cub Cadet rear discharge model

The mulching mower deck has blades that finely chop grass clippings into mulch, so that they can be deposited back onto the ground that has been mown. This accomplishes several things. Firstly, the decomposed clippings can return nutrients to the soil and aid moisture retention. Secondly, there is no need to collect the clippings which, on large areas, is often impractical given the amount of clippings produced. Thirdly, the finely chopped mulch does not look untidy in the same way that un-mulched grass clippings can.

Some lawn tractors may have a dedicated mulching deck that has to be fitted to enable mulching to take place. Other decks can be converted to a mulching deck by the addition of a plate to blank off the side or rear w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 40


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

discharge outlet, thus retaining the clippings within the deck until they are finely chopped and deposited as the tractor moves on.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m Š martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 41


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

FINAL WORDS Even the cheapest riding mowers and lawn tractors represent a substantial purchase. The top of the range models approach the price of a small car. It始s therefore vital that you research your choice thoroughly before buying.

This guide, and indeed the Lawn Tractor Buyers Guide website, aims to help simplify that research task and point you in the direction of the different factors you need to consider.

If there is one message that I have for lawn tractor buyers it is this:

First and foremost work out what you need based upon you own personal requirements and the demands of the area you are going to be working on. By being very clear about this, you can narrow down your search pretty quickly and then focus on the finer specifications, prices and available offers for the relevant models.

Whether you approach the choice from the point of view of a gardener (like me) or from a more technical perspective, this approach should serve you well.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m 漏 martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 42


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor

APPENDIX

Buying Checklist Ask yourself these questions about your own requirements:

!

What size do I have to mow?

What is the terrain like?

- Hilly, boggy, flat, empty, full of obstacles, tight turns?

How much do I have to spend?

What, if anything, do I want the machine to do apart from mow the grass?

!

- Pull carts, sprayers or spreaders, cultivate, dig, bulldoze?

Consider these features when comparing lawn tractors to buy:

Engine - power, manufacturer, number of cylinders, cooling system;

Transmission - hydrostatic, geared, belts;

Drive - 2 wheel, 4 wheel drive;

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m © martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 43


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor •

Steering - power steering, 2 wheel or 4 wheel steer, zero turn, zero turn with steering wheel or lap bars;

Cutting Deck - width of deck, material made from, number of blades;

Grass Discharge - side discharge, rear discharge, mulching;

Attachments and accessories - availability and suitability for those you need.

w w w. l a w n - t r a c t o r - b u y e r s - g u i d e . c o m © martin cole and lawn-tractor-buyers-guide.com 2011. All rights reserved worldwide 44


How to avoid costly mistakes when selecting your lawn tractor