Is a Push Mower or a Lawn Tractor Right for Your Yard?

CR breaks down your choices based on your acreage and terrain

By Tobie Stanger

In the market for a new lawn mower or tractor? Don’t assume you know the best type for your yard.

Lawn mower and tractor designs evolve. Newer battery mowers—the self-propelled kind—can run with one charge for longer than an hour. That means you now can use them on larger yards than you could in the past. And for very big yards, you can find riding mowers in several distinct styles designed for different terrain.

Regardless of how often you mow, finding the right machine for your situation can make a big difference in the ease and time it takes to get the job done. Here’s a guide to the best type of lawn mower depending on your yard size and topography.

Click on the links here to go to the recommendations for your lawn size:
Up to ¼-acre yard
¼- to ½-acre yard
Regularly shaped yard of ½-acre or larger
Irregularly shaped yard of ½-acre or larger

Mower Shopping in 2022

Keep in mind that while your new mower may save you steps, shopping for one may take a bit more legwork this season. COVID-related supply chain holdups, combined with increased demand, are reducing supply, and models may be on back order, says Courtney Pennicook, the CR product analyst who covers lawn mowers. “Consumers can expect to pay more for mowers this year, as inflation has led to significant price increases in some cases,” he says.

You also might need to check out a variety of retailers. Some mower brands are associated only with Home Depot or Lowe’s, while others are sold only through independent dealers. And some brands may sell certain models at a big home improvement chain and others through dealers.

“Shop around more than usual, checking a few different stores,” Pennicooke advises.

Your Yard: Up to ¼ Acre

Best Choice: Battery Push Mower
Smaller yards are the best candidates for battery push mowers because you can easily cover the area on a single battery charge.

If your neighbors are close by, they’ll appreciate how quiet your battery-powered mower is. In our tests, battery mowers produced an average of about 63 decibels at 25 feet, about the same level as a car going by at 65 mph at that same distance. That’s nearly half the loudness of gas models, which averaged about 73 decibels—the same level as busy traffic. That means you can get out there first thing Saturday morning without worrying about waking the neighborhood.

If your yard is hilly, however, you might want to consider a self-propelled battery mower: The motor powers the wheels to make pushing easier. Because that consumes battery charge, most come with a larger battery or a second one, which adds to the cost. Self-propelled battery-powered mowers usually cost around $100 more than comparable battery push models.

CR members with digital access can read on for details on two top-performing battery push mowers. For a deeper dive on lawn mowers, see our lawn mower and tractor buying guide, and check our lawn mower ratings for data-based comparisons of all the models we test.

Battery Push Mowers

Your Yard: ¼ to ½ Acre

Best Choice: Gas or Battery Self-Propelled Mower
Yards this size are bordering on being too big for either a gas or battery push mower but not quite large enough to justify owning a riding tractor. So your best bet is a self-propelled gas mower, which takes some of the chore out of doing your lawn. This type of walk-behind mower has powered wheels, which makes the task of pushing it around the yard easier.

If you have a sloped yard, our experts advise choosing a mower with rear- or all-wheel drive because they tend to have the easiest time on inclines.

A self-propelled battery mower with a long run time of an hour or longer is another option. For battery mowers with shorter run times, you’d need a second battery to cut the entire yard without stopping to recharge.

CR members with digital access can read on for details from CR’s tests on a top-performing self-propelled gas mower and a highly rated, battery-powered self-propelled mower. For a deeper dive on lawn mowers, see our lawn mower and tractor buying guide, and check our comprehensive lawn mower ratings for data-based comparisons of the models we test.

Gas and Battery Self-Propelled Mowers

Your Yard: ½ Acre-Plus, Regularly Shaped

Best Choice: Gas Lawn Tractor
Gas tractors are adept at cutting large swaths because they’re designed to run for hours. You can get that same longevity from zero-turn-radius mowers (see below), but there are some distinctions in terms of cost, cut quality, and handling.

Traditional lawn tractors feature front-mounted engines and a proper steering wheel. They’re less expensive and generally provide a more even cut than zero-turn tractors, but they sacrifice some maneuverability.

“If you have a fairly regularly shaped lawn and want that groomed look, it may be best to opt for a lawn tractor with a gas engine,” says Misha Kollontai, who oversees Consumer Reports’ lawn mower testing.

(A third option, a gas rear-engine rider, may be unimpressive on larger lawns. This type typically cuts in 30-inch-wide swaths—versus 4 feet for many lawn tractors—so you’ll need more time to mow. In our tests, we also found many to have a jerky gear drive and smaller bags that require more frequent emptying.)

CR members with digital access can read on for details on two top-performing gas lawn tractors from CR’s tests. For a deeper dive on lawn mowers, see our lawn mower and tractor buying guide, and check our lawn mower ratings for data-based comparisons of the models we test.

Gas Lawn Tractors

Your Yard: ½ Acre-Plus, Irregularly Shaped

Best Choice: Zero-Turn Mower
Zero-turn-radius models turn in place around one of the rear wheels when you push one of the two steering levers—as if you were putting on the emergency brake for one wheel. Their engines are mounted in the back, providing a clear view of what’s ahead to trim.

“If your lawn is covered in trees, stones, or other obstacles, a zero-turn mower would probably be your best bet,” Kollontai says. “It would allow you to maneuver around easily and cut even along the most irregular lines.”

Zero-turn mowers also generally have a higher maximum speed, letting you get the job done faster, Kollontai adds.

Keep in mind, though, that zero-turn mowers don’t steer as well as traditional lawn tractors on sloped terrain. And because the rear wheels control the steering, they can dig up your yard if you turn too quickly.

CR members with digital access can read on for details on two top-performing zero-turn mowers (one gas and one battery-powered) from CR’s tests. For a deeper dive on lawn mowers, see our lawn mower and tractor buying guide, and check our complete lawn mower ratings for data-based comparisons of the models we test.

Zero-Turn Mowers

Take a Test Drive?

If you’re struggling to choose among types, you may be able to arrange a test drive at a dealer for a specific brand. Check with the dealer before you show up in person.

Whether or not you try out a mower, check Consumer Reports’ reliability ratings to find the most reliable walk-behind and riding mower brands.

Lawn Love

In addition to the size and type of lawn you have, knowing approximately how often you’ll need to cut the grass may help you determine the right mower for you. The averages in the graph below assume you keep your grass at a 3-inch height.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article appeared in the May 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2022, Consumer Reports, Inc.

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