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Comparing Lawn Mower Performance

The budget models on our list of top picks all merit high grades for cutting performance, according to lawn mower reviews. They are also user-friendly machines that have proved easy to assemble, start, operate, and store.

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Inexpensive mowers differ somewhat in how well they handle grass clippings. Mulching mowers can get gummed up and heavy bags can bog down machines without sufficient power. Ultimately, the best low-cost models are reliable and relatively trouble-free.

Performance and Ease of Use.

Lawn mower reviews for most of the models on our list note that they generally cut cleanly, quickly, and efficiently. With five blades and a relatively wide cutting path (for a reel mower, that is), the Scotts 20000-20 cuts easily and evenly, say reviewers on Amazon. Consumers are particularly pleased with the way this reel mower cuts flat yards, although you need to walk briskly to get the blades churning. Several users also report that a couple of passes may be necessary on uneven terrain and tall weeds and grasses are sometimes bent over by the mower rather than cut.

The Black & Decker MM275, one of our picks for best mower in the budget price range, pleasantly surprised one consumer, who writes in a lawn mower review at Target that she was initially skeptical that such a small mower could manage her large yard with grass of varying thickness. Other reviews on the Sears website say the Black & Decker MM275 powered right through tall grass that had clogged/stalled a gas mower.

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The gas mowers on our list, the Toro 20371 and Craftsman 37041, also earn cheers for ease of use, according to lawn mower reviews on Home Depot and Sears. Toro users like the simple assembly (just attach the handle and add oil and gas), washout port for easy cleaning, high rear wheels, and quick start. Many lawn mower reviews note with appreciation that the Toro 20371 always starts on the first pull. The Craftsman 37041 likewise finds favor with users who appreciate its quick start and self-propelled auto drive. The Husqvarna 38450, on the other hand, is panned in several lawn mower reviews on MySears.com for shutting down after only minutes of usage; one mower operator reports that the blade cut into the side of the decking when the handle was lifted up to turn. Starting problems plague another gas-powered model, the Ariens 2-in-1, according to lawn mower reviews at Home Depot, where several owners also grouse that the Kohler engine uses too much gas.

Grass Disposal.

What happens to all those grass clippings? Basically, your choices include letting the clippings drop onto the grass as mulch, collecting them in a bag, or blowing them out the side. The Black & Decker MM275, Toro 20371, and Craftsman 37041 feature all three functionalities.

If you want to treat the lawn to its own self-made fertilizer, choose a cheap mulching mower. Models with this capability throw grass clippings up onto the deck (the plastic housing that covers the blades) and finely shred them as they fall back through the whirling blades before landing back on the lawn. Mulching lawn mowers eliminate the need to rake clumps that cover and suffocate patches of lawn or to empty or change a full bag. Note, however, that mulching may clog the mower if the grass is too tall or wet. A few Home Depot customers who have posted lawn mower reviews online take issue with the mulching function on the Toro 20371 and say the mower can get clogged. According to lawn mower reviews on the Sears site, the Craftsman 37041 chews through grass a foot or two high and mulches clippings practically to a powder, and even the less powerful Black & Decker MM275 functions beautifully as a mulching mower. The Scotts 2000-20 reel mower also shreds grass finely enough to serve as mulch, although it's technically not a mulching mower.

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Another option is to bag the clippings and dump them somewhere (preferably on a compost pile). Most low-cost lawn mowers let you collect the clippings in a bag as you mow, but you may have to buy the bag separately. An optional grass catcher for the Scotts reel mower, for example, sells for about $23. Because clippings increase the weight you're pushing as the bag fills, a self-propelled gas model may be easier to manage if you want to bag regularly. Electric lawn mowers, known for their lightweight frames, won't work as efficiently if the bag gets overly full. Experts note that with either corded or cordless electric lawn mowers, you should empty the bag when it's about half full so it doesn't tip the mower backward or reduce the efficiency of these lightweight models.

Finally, most cheap mowers can discharge grass out the side, which is a good choice for wet or tall grass that's too heavy to mulch or bag. The Scotts 2000-20 reel mower, however, lacks this functionality.

Durability and Warranty.

The average lifespan of most mowers is about seven years; a cheaper model is likely to come with a limited warranty ranging from two to three years. One owner notes in a review at Sears that his old Black & Decker electric model lasted 20 years before giving out. The Toro and Craftsman brands seem to hold their own as well. Alternating stream of negative and positive reviews of the Ariens 2-in-1 might give you pause, however; lawn mower reviews on Home Depot complain of plastic wheels that provide minimal traction and engines that sputter. The Husqvarna 38450 also has disappointed several buyers, who complain in reviews on MySears.com about front springs popping off and difficulty getting it started.

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