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Cheap Lawn Mowers Buying Guide

The first thing experts recommend is to match a lawn mower to your lawn. For smaller yards -- less than half an acre -- a riding mower or lawn tractor would probably be overkill.

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Unmotorized reel mowers and cheap electric mowers are best suited for relatively flat areas no larger than about a quarter of an acre (approximately 11,000 square feet). Noisier and more powerful (but still cheap) gas lawn mowers work well for larger yards, especially those with some ups and downs. A related consideration is what kind of effort you want to expend. A reel mower requires 100 percent manual power, for example, but you donít have to store any gas or deal with a maintenance-hungry engine.

Our list of top picks includes the electric Black & Decker MM275 (starting at $166) and the gas-powered Toro 20371 (starting at $299), followed by the Scotts 2000-20 Classic Reel Mower (starting at $120) and the Craftsman 37041, another gas-powered model (starting at $275).

Cheap lawn mowers cost less than pricier models because they're smaller and offer fewer frills (e.g., no discharge bag or, on gas-powered models, no key start). On some, the components simply fall apart and the unit doesn't hold up. An annual check-up at the start of every mowing season is vital to maintaining an inexpensive mower. Wheels, bolts, belts, and bearings that 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.

A 2012 survey by J.D. Power and Associates shows that John Deere mowers top the chart in consumer satisfaction, but not when it comes to competitive pricing. Toro -- which makes one of our picks for best cheap lawn mower, the Toro 20371 -- comes in second by only one point on the strength of high ratings for its performance. Craftsman and Black & Decker finish below the industry average overall, but based on our analysis of expert and user reviews of individual models, these brands make two of the best cheap lawn mowers: the Black & Decker MM275 and the Craftsman 37041.

Each category of budget mowers, from cheap reel mowers to cheap gas mowers, has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to power, blade width, ability to handle a slope, cutting performance under certain conditions, and ongoing maintenance. We discuss all this and more on the following pages. (Residents of California have to consider required carbon emissions laws when making a purchase and generally find a different selection of models to choose from.)

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