What Machine is Right for You? Everyone has a different yard, and every yard comes with a different set of needs. The most common options when buying a machine is the size of the cutting deck, and number of hp. It can be easily broken down like this:
1 acre: 38″-48″
1.5 acres: 42″-54″
2 acres: 48″+
The most common sizes for mowing decks are 42″, 48″, and 54″, and between these three, there is sure to be one that fits your application. Maybe you have lots of tight turns to make, obstacles to avoid, or limited Storage space, if so, a smaller deck might be better for you. , if that is also a factor to you.
Horsepower these days is a touchy subject. Old schoolers who have their 10, 12, or 14hp tractors don’t always buy into the idea that a 2012 brand X mower has 25 ponies under the hood. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, either way, engines are a point to consider when buying. Look for features like an oil filter, pressure lubrication system, and low oil shut off. Keeping the engine oiled is perhaps the most important thing. The carburetor can be cleaned when dirty, and the line and filter replaced, but ultimately, making sure the oil is clean, and at a sufficient level is the best way to keep your engine going.
The last step when determining what to buy is to consider what else you will do besides mowing. Do you have snow removal to think about? Maybe you have always wanted to put in a garden. These are things to think about. If you need to plow or snowblow, a lawn tractor will be able to handle these needs within reason. Granted, if you intend on ramming into snow banks, or taking 2′ of snow head on, you might want a larger machine. Light duty tow behind implements like a lawn roller, aerator, and dethatcher can also be handled by a smaller machine. However, once you get into the real ground engaging attachments, you will want a fully capable GT. Be it a rototiller, moldboard plow, disk harrow, or rear blade, a bigger machine will do everything you want without losing longevity down the road.
Now that you know what you need, lets look at where you can purchase a machine that suits what you do.
Buying New – Option A So lets Joe Schmoe just bought a house and needs to buy himself a lawn tractor to cut his acre plot. He decides he is going to go to the “Big Three” – Home Depot, Lowes, and Sears to see what each box store offers. Tractor Supply, while less common, can also be considered a box store. Home Depot and Lowes offer a myriad of brands, John Deere, Cub Cadet, Husqvarna, Ariens, Bolens, and Toro to name a few. These are all entry level, consumer grade lawn and light duty garden tractors. These are machines that will give you 5-10 years of dependable mowing service assuming that they are maintained properly. Maintenance includes: oil changes, filter changes, belt replacement, blade sharpening, and basic electrical knowledge. Parts can be either purchased in store, or some specialty items may need to be purchased online or through a dealer of whichever brand you own. Box store prices are lower, but you get what you pay for. Box store models have a reputation for being lower quality than their dealer counterparts. True or not, it is a widely accepted reputation.
Another thing that you don’t necessarily get when buying from a box store is service. Their job is to sell a wide range of products to a wide range of people. Service can be hit or miss depending on the store. Work is subcontracted, so they send out someone to work on your machine. Not the case with a dealer.
Bottom Line: Buy from a box store if you know what you are getting into. If you feel comfortable maintaining your own machine, a box store can be a good place to buy a mower.
Buying New – Option B Lets say Joe decides to check out his local area dealers. Not impressed with the service situation with the box stores, he goes to the dealers in search of a more complete package. Depending on your location, any number of dealers can be close by. Brands like Simplicity and John Deere tend to have a bigger market share, and thus have more dealerships across the county. Brands such as Husqvarna, Toro, Cub Cadet, and Allis Chalmers will be slightly fewer, and farther between. Whereas box stores will tend to offer the lower end of the brand spectrum, dealers will offer the whole lineup, even if its not on their showroom floor. This gives you a better chance of picking out the machine that is best suited for your needs. Additionally, box stores offer a very limited number of attachments. Generally they have dump carts, baggers, and sometimes dethatchers and rollers. A dealer will have a brochure that displays all of the attachments available for any machine.
When you buy from a dealer, you start a relationship with them. Many dealers, at around me, are smaller, independently owned shops, that appreciate your business. A good dealer will be proactive in helping you pick out the right machine, and offer a high level of service after the purchase. Taking your machine in once or twice a year for a tuneup allows them to make a buck, and ensures that you will have everything ready to go come mowing season. When it comes time for a major repair, having that relationship with a dealer can help make sure that you get a fair price, good parts, and excellent work.
Bottom Line: If you are looking for a higher grade machine, better service, or maybe you don’t feel as good about doing maintenance yourself, a dealer is the place to go.
Buying Used When shopping for a tractor, you can get a good deal, and really save by buying a used (or “certified pre-owned”) machine. However, to truly have an advantage here, the buyer needs to be patient and really look over the machine to verify that he has been taken care of, and not abused. Even a good quality machine can suffer from poor maintenance or a neglectful owner. Aside from the basics like “is there oil in it?” and “why is that tire flat?” ask questions like “why are you selling it?” “has it had any major work done to it?” If so, inquire about who has done the work and if they have service records and receipts. They may tell you it has a new engine or transaxle, but that doesn’t mean anything unless they have the paper work to prove it. Make sure you get a test drive, and pay attention to things like slop in the steering, throttle response, ride comfort, and how the drive train behaves. If it is a hydrostatic model, check the level of the fluid in the rear end. If not taken care of, a hydro can burn up, leaving you with a no-go mower, and a big repair bill. If it is a geared model, check out the clutch and make sure it is functioning properly.
There are several sources for buying used. For independent sellers, there is eBay and CraigsList. There is also buying from a dealer. Buying from a dealer is general a safer bet than buying from CL or eBay. A dealer will check and inspect a machine before deeming it ready to sell. Just like buying a used car, they will make sure everything is functioning properly, running correctly, and looking good before they will sell it to someone.
This is not always the case when buying through eBay or Craigslist. As mentioned above, the key is in checking out the machine and making up your own mind. Nothing is guaranteed on these sites, so the deal can be made or broken by the buyer. A savvy buyer will be able to pick out a good machine on these sites, whereas one with less knowledge or experience might have a more difficult time.
Bottom Line: You can get a good deal and more bang for your buck buying used, but you need to properly check over each machine before buying.
Hopefully any prospective buyers have learned something from this and can take it into account when shopping for a machine, or posting on here.