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Cheap Lawn Mower Buying Guide

Experts recommend matching your lawn mower to the size and grade of your yard. Reel mowers and electric mowers suit relatively flat areas up to a quarter of an acre (about 11,000 square feet).

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More powerful gas mowers work well for larger yards, especially those with some ups and downs. A related consideration is how much effort you're prepared to expend. A reel mower requires 100 percent manual power, while a self-propelled gas mower almost pulls the user along.

Our top picks under $300 are the electric Black & Decker LM175 (starting at $159) and the gas-powered Cub Cadet SC100 (starting at $250), followed by the cordless electric Worx WG782 (starting at $229) and the Husqvarna 7021P (starting at $290), another gas-powered model. The Murray M22500 has an appealing price (starting at $172), but reviews suggest that you may need to spend a little more to get a reliable gas mower.

For consumers interested in a manual reel mower -- that old-fashioned style with a cylindrical blade -- the Fiskars StaySharp Max (starting at $191) incorporates a unique cutting design and ergonomic features. Reel mowers are relatively inexpensive and simple to assemble, maintain, and operate: With no motor to start, simply stand behind and push. Just keep in mind that mowing the lawn will take a lot longer, and heaving a reel mower across a large or hilly lawn can be a bear. If you let the grass grow too long, a reel mower won't be up to the task. It also may not be a good choice for a yard with lots of twigs or debris that could jam the blades.

In general, cheap lawn mowers cost less than top-of-the-line models because they're smaller and offer fewer frills (e.g., no discharge bag or, on gas-powered models, no push-button start). On some, the components simply fall apart and the unit doesn't hold up. We looked to online reviews to verify the performance and durability of our picks.

What We Looked For

Electric Lawn Mowers.

For consumers with small yards, an electric lawn mower is a quiet, lightweight, and environmentally friendly choice. Electric mowers draw power from a cord plugged into an outlet or a rechargeable battery. Corded electric mowers, including the Black & Decker LM175, are generally cheaper than battery-powered mowers. However, they're hampered by the length of the cord. (Some users say they feel as though they're vacuuming the lawn.)

The Worx WG782 is a notable example of a cheap cordless electric lawn mower. Although cordless mowers don't limit range of motion, the charge limits how much grass can be cut at any one time. The batteries on low-cost electric lawn mowers can handle about one-quarter to one-third of an acre on a single charge. Batteries usually last a couple of years before needing replacement, and most models come with the disclaimer that difficult cutting conditions will cause the charge to run down faster.

Cheap electric mowers tend to cut a narrower path than gas-powered models -- usually 18 or 19 inches compared with 21 or 22 inches. The Worx WG782 has only a 14-inch cutting deck, so users must go around the yard a few more times than they would with a bigger model. On the flip side, it's easier to navigate around obstacles such as shrubs, trees, and other landscaping.

Maintenance is minimal with an electric mower. Manufacturers generally recommend recharging before the battery runs dry and keeping the mower (or the battery, if it can be removed) connected to the charger when it's not in use. If you have a corded lawn mower, make sure to unplug it before cleaning under the deck and around the blades. And don't leave an electric lawn mower exposed to rain or snow.

Gas Lawn Mowers.

A larger yard calls for a bigger, heavier gas mower with a powerful cutting mechanism and drive system. The cheap gas lawn mowers we researched are push mowers, which require the operator to power the machine forward while the engine turns the blade. Push mowers are best suited to relatively flat yards smaller than half an acre. For yards with an incline or more square footage, consumers may prefer a self-propelled mower. This technology turns the wheels in addition to the blades but typically adds to the cost of the mower.

Most low-cost gas mowers now feature a four-cycle engine that runs on straight 87-octane gas, which is a big advance over the old two-cycle engines, which required a gas-oil mixture. Still, gas-powered mowers require more care and attention than electric mowers. Always use the gas and oil recommended by the manufacturer. Experts suggest draining the gas and following the winterizing directions from the manufacturer. Before the start of the next season, change the oil and the spark plug, and clean or replace the air filter. Cleaning off the built-up dirt and grass immediately after use is also important. The gas mowers we picked have wash-out ports where a hose can be hooked up for cleaning underneath the cutting deck. The Murray M22500 lacks this amenity.

Residents of California must consider regulations on carbon emissions when purchasing a gas lawn mower and generally find a different selection of models to choose from. The recommended gas mowers in this buying guide are CARB compliant; i.e., they meet the requirements of the California Air Resources Board.

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Convenient Height Adjustment.

Mowing demands a certain amount of precision. Grass that's too short may not withstand drought or excessive heat, and grass that's too long can accumulate thatch that gets in the way of water and fertilizer. Today's Homeowner lists different types of grasses and the heights at which they should be maintained. Experts also recommend that you cut no more than one-third of the lawn's height in a single mowing, so you'll want a lawn mower with multiple height settings.

All the models we selected have adjustable cutting heights up to about 3.5 inches. Reviewers say that changing the blade height takes very little effort -- just a finger to do the adjustment, which in most cases is on the handle. With the Murray M22500, on the other hand, users must bend down to adjust the height on the wheels.

Grass Disposal Options.

Lawn mowers differ somewhat in how and how well they handle grass clippings. Most of the mowers on our list are "3-in-1" models, which refers to the number of choices for discharging the cut grass. The three options are ejecting the grass out onto the lawn, collecting it in a bag, or mulching it. Mulched grass is very finely chopped up and left on the lawn to reduce evaporation and add nitrogen back into the soil. This alleviates, to some extent, the need for store-bought fertilizer and makes mulching a desirable feature for frugal consumers. If there's one spot where cheap mowers fall down, though, it's in the mulching. There are some reports online that leaves are not chopped very well and grass clumps when it's a little wet. A heavy bag can also bog down a machine without sufficient power.

On the inexpensive Black & Decker LM175, the only grass disposal option is side discharge. This is fine, say the experts at Mowers Direct, unless the grass gets too long: It could smother the lawn unless you add raking to your chores. For mulching capability and a more powerful motor, look for the slightly more expensive Black & Decker MM275 (starting at $174), which is less widely available.

Lawn Mower Reviews

Expert reviewers from outlets such as Popular Mechanics, Mowers Direct, and Consumer Reports tend to cover more expensive lawn mowers than we do here, particularly in the realm of gas mowers. Even the Fiskars reel mower, highlighted by more than one expert as the top of its class, is pricey for its type. However, on retail sites such as Home Depot, Amazon, and Walmart, hundreds of consumers have left feedback on cheaper models.

Both experts and customers point to cutting performance as the most important quality of any lawn mower. Testing by Popular Mechanics has shown that almost any mower will work under ideal conditions, but individual yards are rarely ideal. Maneuverability is key; the easier the chore, the more likely you are to do it (and even enjoy it). For gas mowers, reliable and simple starting is near the top of the list of reviewer concerns, and noise also comes up. Ultimately, the best low-cost models are reliable and relatively trouble-free.

Cutting Performance.

Our top picks all merit high grades in lawn mower reviews for cutting cleanly, quickly, and efficiently. Most users say they tackle even weeds and heavy grass perfectly well -- unless it's wet. Owners of electric models and reel mowers report instances where they had to go over the same spot more than once, if the grass was very thick. However, this slight sacrifice in performance doesn't seem to deter those who want to keep weight, noise, and emissions to a minimum. In general, cheap lawn mowers perform best when users keep up with the chore and don't let the grass get too long.

Ease of Use.

The mowers we selected present few, if any, issues with handling and maneuverability. Even people who have to push one of these lawn mowers up and down hills have no problem with the weight of the machines. Starting is a concern among users of gas-powered mowers. One big reason the Murray mower missed our cut was that so many people couldn't get it to start. Sometimes this happened after a year, sometimes after a week, sometimes right out of the box. By contrast, innumerable reviews of the Husqvarna 7021P and Cub Cadet SC100 report that the engines start on the first pull.

Noise.

Many owners of electric and reel mowers indicate that one of the things they appreciate most about their lawn mowers is the low noise level compared with a typical gas model. What's surprising is the number of people who like the Husqvarna 7021P for the same reason. Reviewers say the Honda engine is quiet enough to talk over without yelling.

Durability.

We looked for reviews by consumers who have owned their lawn mowers at least a year and bypassed models with persistent durability issues. This includes the Murray M22500: Too many buyers report that the plastic parts don't last long or the mower simply won't start.

Most of our top picks come with three-year limited warranties. The average lifespan of a lawn mower is about six years, according to Consumer Reports, but can be much longer with proper care. An annual check-up at the start of every mowing season is vital to maintaining an inexpensive mower. Wheels, bolts, belts, and bearings, which can come loose from the vibration of everyday use, should always be checked before you start to mow. And make sure to keep the blades sharp.



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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Lawn Mowers
  2. Discount Lawn Mowers Features Comparison Table
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