I’ve got a large yard and cutting it with a walk-behind mower, even a really big one, is a ton of hot, noisy work. With a lawn tractor, yard work is a pleasure…well, almost. Even so, yard work takes a ton less energy and time with a tractor and who can’t do with more of both.
If you have a big yard, or just ain’t feeling yard work like you once did, then a lawn tractor is the way to go. I’m a mechanic and I’ve been fixing mowers for years, this post has you covered when buying a used lawn tractor, here I’ll walk you through the process.
A used lawn tractor is worth buying so long as the mower was well maintained, stored indoors, the deck is functional and rust-free, the engine is healthy and the drive system works without issue.
In this post, you’ll learn why I think it’s a good idea to buy a used lawn tractor. You’ll learn the best models to buy. I’ll share with you the problems to look out for and how to inspect a used tractor, Finally, you’ll learn how to care for a new to you lawn tractor.
Why Buying a Used Lawn Tractor Makes Sense
A used mower makes sense at so many levels. The price is of course the most obvious solid reason to buy used. But consider also new mower technology hasn’t really moved on that much. Sure some of the top-end models are gone fuel injected and there are all-electric models entering the market. But by and large, a lawn tractor mower bought fifteen or maybe even twenty years ago is mechanically the same, save a few minor improvements.
I know this because I’m a mower mechanic and because I bought a new lawn tractor twenty years ago (still going strong) and it isn’t vastly different from the modern customer’s tractors I work on.
Consider also the number of tractors out there, lawn tractor sales over the last fifteen years have exploded, the prices came down and any self-respecting homeowner had a lawn tractor at the top of their to-buy list (and who could blame them).
This means there’s a plentiful supply of potential mowers and lots of supply is great for used buyers. As said I’ve worked on mowers for years, I’ve worked on overworked and unloved mowers but I’ve equally worked on underworked loved machinery. The latter represents a fantastic used mower, you just need to know what you are looking for, and that’s what we cover below.
Best Lawn Tractor Makes to Buy Used
There are a ton of lawn tractors on the market and no surprise not all good. There are however a few what my father would describe as honest machines. here we’ll look at some of the more honest makers and the benefits of same.
John Deere – Great mower but if I’m critical some of the higher-end mowers are not easy to work on and the parts are expensive. That said I like them and would buy one.
Toro – Toro are great mowers, they don’t actually offer a tractor mower but do compete with their Zero-turn mowers. A Zero won’t suit all laws but if you have a very large yard, a Zero-turn is super fast and efficient around obstacles.
Cub Cadet – Cub Cadet is another solid maker and they offer a wide range of tractors that are up to the job.
Craftsman – Tried and trusted tractor brand and the name is well trusted by many. Their mowers are honest and parts as you might imagine are inexpensive and widely available.
Husqvarna – Good brand but I’ve had issues with parts availability in the past. No problem with engine parts but OEM body and chassis parts lead times can be irritating.
Most mowers manufacturers don’t build their own engines. They buy and fit third-party engines. When inspecting a used mower, make sure it has one of the following engine brands fitted. It most likely will as these are the main engine makers, that said there are lots of inferior Chinese engines on the market and it is possible a mower could have had its motor replaced at some point.
Lawn Tractor Mower Engines
A badge on the top of the engine will clearly show the maker’s name. The following engine makers are among the most common and best in the business.
- Briggs & Stratton
- Kohler engines
- Kawasaki engines
- Honda engines
Lawn Tractor Types
So the make is important but so too is the type of lawn tractor or I should say the features your new to your lawn tractor has. The complete list of desired features does depend on criteria like budget, yard size and features, personal preferences, but I’ll list the features of a mower that would suit most owners.
Specs like engine size are again dependent upon yard size, if you have a hilly yard bigger than 3/4 of an acre you’ll need a twin-cylinder engine in the 24HP range below this and a single cylinder in the 11 HP would do the job.
The features on a mower I’d buy include:
- Engine – Twin-cylinder engine 24 HP engine by Briggs & Stratton, Kohler, Kawasaki, or Honda
- Hydrostatic transmission – auto transmission
- All steel body – I prefer steel to plastic. Sure plastic doesn’t rot but it does become brittle with age
- 42″ all steel deck – A smaller deck just doesn’t make sense and a much larger one can be cumbersome around obstacles
- Collecting kit – Mower equipped with grass chute and grass bag
- Mulching kit – Mower equipped with mulching blades and block
- Easy oil drain – Engine feature makes regular oil changes easy
- Gas tap – Engine with a gas tap fitted
- Toolless maintenance – Easy access to the engine air filter and oil etc, just make the process of regular maintenance easier
Common Lawn Tractor Problems
Here is the inside track on common riding mower problems. Some of these are inevitable, but most are avoidable. Here’s the list and how you can avoid them.
- No starts – Tune-up once per season
- Flat battery – Charge battery over winter
- Flat tires – Adjust tire pressure to avoid punctures
- Broken belts – Inspect drive belts and bearings every season
- Surging – Use a gas stabilizer
- Rough running – Adjust valve lash every second to third season
- Clogging grass – Sharpen blades every season and replace every third or fourth season (condition dependent)
- Deck corrosion – Clean mower deck at end of the season
- Noisy bearings – Avoid power washing
Prepurchase Used Lawn Tractor Inspection
There are three areas of a lawn tractor that we’ll need to pay particular attention to. The engine, the cutting deck, and the transmission axle combination are known as the transaxle. These three components are the most important as they are the hardest working, most expensive, and components most likely to cause issues.
All other components are inexpensive to repair and easy to repair.
Here’s the pre-purchase inspection I’d run before buying a riding mower.
- Engine oil color – Avoid low oil level, thin, or grey oil mowers
- Engine leaks – Evidence of lots of leaks may suggest engine wear
- Avoid mowers with deck corrosion – Decks are more than just a shell. They house the blades, spindles pulleys, etc., and are expensive to repair or replace
- Transmission – Check transaxle for leaks. Tranny’s are expensive and it’s important they work. After the engine and deck transmissions are next most important component
- Check belts – Belt wear is inevitable, an checking condition alerts you to how imminently they’ll need attention
Test drive the mower and cut some grass if the owner agrees and see how it operates. Be on the lookout for unusual high-pitched squeals, smoke, growling noise. The engine should idle nicely and the tractor’s transmission should be responsive and operate without vibration or sensation of slip.
If all of the above checks out, she sounds well, cuts well, and moves well, it’s likely it’s a good mower.
Lawn Tractor Care
Over the years I’ve worked on lots of machinery and if I’ve learned anything it’s that it is cheaper, in the long run, to take good care of the machinery. A lack of maintenance ends in breakdowns and higher repair bills, not to mention lower resale values. So here are my pro tips for taking good care of your lawn tractor.
- Store mower indoors
- Change oil every season
- Sharpen blade every season
- Clean air filter every 25 hours
- Full tune-up every second season. That’s oil, spark plug, air filter, fuel filter
- Check the engine oil level with every gas fill
- Inspect mower regularly
- Check transmission oil every season
- Listen out for unusual noises and don’t ignore them
- Check tire pressures regularly
- Drain carburetor bowl every season
- Check the gas tank for grit
- Grease deck pivots and axles yearly
- Use gas stabilizer
Check out lawn tractor tune-up post here.
Lawn Tractor Winter Storage
So much damage occurs during the winter hibernation months. Who knew sitting idle in the garage could be so harmful to a lawn tractor. Anyhow you are about to learn how to prevent all this damage and how to pretty much guarantee your tractor starts first touch of the key come spring.
Three areas of your tractor, in particular, are under attack over the winter months, they are:
- The fuel system
- The cutting deck
- The battery
1 The fuel system – As gas ages, it solidifies and damages the fuel system in particular the carburetor. Usually cleaning the carburetor fixes the issue but these an easier way, and that to prevent it from happening in the first place. Check out the video on mixing and adding gas stabilizer here.
2 The cutting deck – The deck is under threat from corrosion. Old dried grass turns acidic which combined with damp grass on the deck underside quietly eats your deck over winter.
To prevent this, clean the deck and coat with Teflon coating or try WD40, I wrote a post about coating your deck with body sealer for some extra protection and you can check that out here.
3 Battery damage – Batteries don’t like sitting idle they don’t like the cold either, The combination often results in premature battery death. This is easily preventable, using an inexpensive smart battery maintainer will keep your battery in top shape all winter long and fully charged and ready to go come spring, Smart chargers are quite safe to leave plugged in and as they trickle charge they cost little to run.
You can check out the smart charger I recommend here.
In addition, a mower loves a tune-up before winter, and being stored indoors goes without saying but a breathable cover helps keep the dust and debris off the mower while allowing air to circulate around the mower.
I wrote a complete post about winterizing your mower and you can check it out here.
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