Best Lawn Tractor Reviews Guide For 2016
Have you ever wondered if you should get a garden tractor or lawn tractor to replace your regular mower? Do all the different features and options on tractors seem overwhelming to you? What do all those words mean?
Here’s an expert overview of garden and lawn tractors and how they stack up against both traditional mowers and each other. Read on to learn why you might maintain your yard or garden more efficiently with a tractor, and save time and money with these unbiased, honest reviews of the best garden tractors.
The Top 3 Best yard tractors
This tractor has a tough transmission that can handle hills, yet it’s quiet. Users like the push-button differential lock and its level cut even on uneven lawns. They also like its easy steering and relatively tight turning radius. The fabricated deck is a nice touch.
There’s no real users manual with this machine (although you can download PDF files), and some DIYers have had a hard time ordering parts because of this. Users sometimes have a bit of trouble attaching the front brush guard. The fabricated deck can get clogged with clippings; some users recommend cleaning it manually first before using the hose with the deck washout.
This is a popular model that gets a lot of users switching from other brands. There’s lots to be had for the money here, and with its sturdy frame and body, as well as its fuel efficiency, this Husqvarna is a good deal at this price point.
Users like the smooth operation and easy steering of this tractor, yet it’s sturdy enough to easily handle ground-engaging tasks. Users also laud its starts-every-time reliability.
This tractor may need more weight for winter operation. (Weights can be purchased separately and self-installed.)
This model can handle hills and large surfaces with ease, summer or winter. Winter users will like the LED high illumination headlights and durable corrosion-resistant frame.
The best feature of this tractor is its ability to handle tight turns. Users also praise it reliable start, hill-climbing ability and comfort (armrests are standard).
The same thing that makes this model so popular can lead to problems with it. Some users feel the front end is not up to the stress put on the tractor by tight turns, which can result in issues with the front axle and wheels. By having to slow down considerably on turns to avoid over-stressing the front end, users are seeing longer hours logged on some jobs. With a manual transmission, having to constantly slow down can also be a nuisance.
This tractor is a good buy at a lower price point. Users who need to perform numerous tight turns at speed may be better served by going up a level. Also, there are a fair number of plastic parts on this model, so if you’re hard on your machinery, a tractor with more metal may be a better choice. If you’re less concerned with turning and want a good price on a vehicle that can climb hills, this is a solid contender.
How Were These Top Three Tractors Chosen?
These top three tractors were chosen based on expert evaluation of features and user lawn and garden tractor reviews, as well as independent testing for performance. These machines have to pass rigorous exams for things like hillside stability, where tractors have to haul full bags of clippings uphill without wobbling and handle jack rabbit starts. Lawn cutting is scrutinized for evenness, and each tractor’s turning radius is recorded for ease of operation and efficiency on tight turns, plus stability. They represent a cross-section of user needs, so there is a vehicle for virtually everyone in this top three selection.
What’s the Difference Between Lawn Mowers, Lawn Tractors and Garden Tractors?
This question is often the first place buyers get caught up when thinking about making a purchase. Of course you’re familiar with push-style mowers, but what about riding mowers? How are they different from lawn and garden tractors? It’s confusing, because many people, even manufacturers, use these terms interchangeably when really they shouldn’t.
First, a riding mower is just that: a mower. It’s not designed or equipped to perform tasks other than cutting grass. Often the decking (the part of the mower where the grass is expelled) is positioned more forward on a riding mower.
A lawn tractor is the next step up in duty. It can cut grass like a riding mower, but it has a hitch, or can take a hitch, so you can attach other equipment for light lawn tasks, such as pulling a bagger or cart.
A garden tractor is the most versatile of the three. While it can mow grass, it can also perform many more functions. Like a lawn tractor, it has a hitch for rear attachments, so you can pull items with it. The big difference with a garden tractor, however, is it can do more heavy-duty work in tougher terrain. Garden tractors have larger wheels, which give them higher clearance in rough soil, such as a freshly tilled garden. Visually, you can tell if you’re looking at a garden tractor, because the rear of the frame slopes upward to accommodate this feature.
Garden tractors also have more rugged transmissions to handle pulling heavier equipment (plows, tillers, box scrapers, etc.) and traveling up steeper slopes. Traction control or differential lock (makes the rear wheels work in unison) can also be found on garden tractors to prevent slipping on uphill climbs, and they can manage slopes greater than 15 percent, which riding mowers and lawn tractors cannot do safely.
Do You Need a Lawn Tractor or Garden Tractor?
If you have more than acre of grass to mow, you should consider switching from a push-style mower to a riding machine. If all you’re going to do is cut grass, a riding mower may be fine for you. However, if you think you’re going to want more features and flexibility, you may want to look at lawn and garden tractors.
More amenities often mean an increase in price, but it may be worth it in the time and energy you save maintaining your yard and garden. If you’re an avid vegetable gardener and want to create a larger plot, a garden tractor can help you till it and keep it turned over in the future. Are you tired of keeping up your horse arena by hand? Consider being able to drag it with a garden tractor. Maybe you won’t ever take your vehicle off the lawn or pavement, but would like to haul firewood or bagged clippings. A lawn tractor may be the perfect choice.
What Main Factors Should You Consider When Buying a Tractor?
There are a number of factors you need to take into consideration when buying a tractor, so you may want to create a checklist or chart for yourself when you’re out shopping or looking online. Take a walk around your yard and look at all the tasks you’d like your tractor to perform. The best garden tractor or lawn tractor for you is the one that suits your individual needs.
In addition to reading the garden tractor reviews below, talk to the folks at your local farm or garden equipment center. Have a chat with your neighbors too. Chances are if you’re in a more rural area, your neighbors have properties similar to yours. Ask them how their tractors fare on hills, in heavy soil, or with repairs.
If you are buying a tractor primarily to cut grass, first think about the terrain you’ll be mowing. Do you have a lot of hills or steep slopes? You may want to limit your selection to garden tractors.
Do you have a lot of trees or other obstacles in your yard, such as permanent hardscaping elements (fountains, barbecues, etc.)? A zero-turn radius tractor may be the best in that case. Zero-turn radius tractors take a bit more skill to operate and cost more too, but they may be well worth it if you’re mowing every week. These machines can perform super tight turns, allowing you to mow close to obstacles and save yourself having to go back to trim them with a weed whacker. The only downside to a zero-turn radius machine is that it cannot be used safely on slopes of ten percent or more.
What mode do you plan operate your tractor in? Tractors can be used in three different modes:
- side discharge: clippings are dispersed evenly
- mulching: clippings are re-cut into finer bits and redeposited in place
- bagging: clippings are expelled into a bag
Expect to pay extra for mulching or bagging kits added to a tractor. When considering mulching or bagging, think realistically about how tall your grass gets between mows and how often you will need to be emptying a bag if you go with that mode.
Look at performance reviews for the tractors you are entertaining purchasing. Cutting should be uniform with no ridges of uneven height. Horse power may come into play with other ground engaging tasks, but it does not equate to better cutting performance. Mulching systems should yield no clumps. In general, tractors with large decks cut less evenly, and they have more blades, so there is more on the machine to maintain. They also take up more space, so they are best for wide expanses of lawn with few obstacles.
The best garden tractors and lawn tractors handle easily. For the smoothest operation, an automatic tractor is your best bet, though it will cost a bit more than a geared machine.
Other performance features that you want to consider include
- seat: should be high-backed and comfortable for several hours at a time
- steering: wheel should feel comfortable in your hand–a soft grip is usually preferred; a few models offer tilt; power steering will save a lot of arm work
- footing: rubber foot pads or floor mats prevent slipping and absorb impact
- hill stability: should pull evenly uphill and stop and start without jolting
- headlights: increase visibility at dusk or on cloudy/foggy days
- speed: variable speeds allow you to optimally pace different segments of the lawn
- cruise control: just like in a car, permits maintaining a steady speed with less work on your part
- noise/vibration: some models are quite a bit quieter than others; likewise vibration is reduced in certain makes
In addition to attachments for your hitch, there are some built-in tractor attachments you may want to look for. There are two ways to engage your blades for mowing. You can activate them manually with a spring-loaded lever. However it’s easier with an electric PTO (power takeoff). While this feature demands more money, it can extend the belt life of the vehicle.
A deck wash-out port that you can attach to your hose is another handy feature. This keeps the underside of your tractor clean by getting rid of accumulated grass there. This can be a particular problem with mulching tractors. Many of the best garden tractors have elements like these as part of their standard specifications.
While there used to be over 100 tractor brands on the market in the US, there are now significantly fewer. You want to pick from one of the top brands (see below) that have a history of solid performance and good customer service. Choosing a reputable brand will give you durability and a reasonable warranty. If you are working within a certain budget, try to find the best combination of features and proven performance for your money.
Should You Buy a Used Tractor?
You may be able to save money on a used tractor, but unlike with cars, there is no Bluebook or equivalent to help you gauge the price. In general, used tractors run about half their original price, if they are in good condition and have been well maintained. Many newer tractor models come equipped with hour meters that record how much use they have had; that’s a good indicator of how much wear you might expect.
You will see a lot of used tractor on bid sites, but it’s probably best to buy one in person, so you can test it out and know exactly what you’re getting. (Don’t buy a used tractor from anyone who won’t let you test it to see how it handles and cuts.) Buy one from a reputable dealer or a trusted source, like a neighbor, and just like with new models, go with a known top brand (see below). If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Another reason not to buy a used tractor from a bid site is that you will wind up paying exorbitant shipping costs. While some online merchants selling new tractors will ship them in a crate for free and local retailers will deliver, if you buy one used from an individual, you’ll be responsible for arranging transportation. Make sure you have that planned out if you wind up getting a good deal through, say, a local list site.
Some things to check when examining used tractors
- What does the exterior look like? A few dents or dings are normal, but there should be no rust or body filler indicating previous damage.
- What is the age of the machine?
- How was it used and stored (hopefully, indoors)?
- Was the tractor well maintained? Are there receipts or records for the work?
- Are the tire treads still good? What condition are the rims in?
- Are there any oil leaks? Dirty filters?
- Are the spark plugs clean or new, and are the wires in good condition?
- Does the tractor still have its original blades or have they been replaced? Are they sharp?
- Are all the belts sound?
- Does the cutting mechanism lower and raise with ease?
- If there are mechanical items that need fixing, are they easy to do or could you do them yourself?
It’s worth checking to see if the machine is still under warranty or service contract, and if so, if it could be transferred to you.
Avoid machines that have been used commercially (too many different operators and too much wear and tear). Also stay away from residential tractors that have had multiple owners.
The late fall is the best time to look for used tractors. By then, everyone is done with their late-season lawn and leaf work, and prices are usually a bit lower.
What Types of Tractor Attachments Could You Use?
There are as many types of lawn and garden tractor attachments and accessories as there are tractor models on the market–maybe even more. You can find an attachment for nearly any garden or yard task these days. Check with your manufacturer about what attachments are compatible with your tractor and how to rear mount them using a sleeve hitch (sold separately with most models). There are even some attachments that can work on the front of your machine, such as rotary brooms and snow plows.
Here’s a list of some of the possible attachments and accessories you might want for your tractor.
|For lawn care||For agricultural work||For moving, lifting and hauling||For other chores||For the tractor itself|
|bagger/collector (various capacities)||tiller||front-end loader||snow plow||loading ramp|
|mulching kit||box scraper/grader||utility cart (with dump option)||snow blower||lift|
|lawn sweeper||rake||flat-bed trailer||rotary broom||brush guard|
|lawn spreader/broadcast spreader||plow||scoop||front bumper|
|aerator||disk harrow||dozer blade||seat cover|
|lawn roller||cultivator||shade/rain canopy/cab/enclosure|
|rear deflector (expels grass behind the tractor)||manure spreader||armrests|
|pull-behind mower (for extra width, trail cutting or heavy duty mowing)||manure vacuum||storage cover|
What Are the Best Garden Tractor and Lawn Tractor Brands?
Husqvarna was originally a producer of muskets for the Swedish army. Founded in 1689, they have long since diversified to produce a range of household, garden and construction equipment.
John Deere began in 1837 when the company’s namesake started producing small tools in Illinois. Inventing a self-cleaning steel plow was the start of John Deere’s evolution into larger agricultural equipment, and they are now known world-wide for their residential and commercial tractors.
Toro has made a name for itself producing lawn maintenance and snow removal equipment since 1914. Headquartered in Minnesota, Toro also now sells consumer and commercial irrigation products.
Craftsman is a name synonymous with Sears, and the company has garnered many accolades for producing top quality tools and garden equipment. Since 1927 Craftsman products have been equated with excellence and strong, consumer-oriented warranties.
Kubota is based in Osaka, Japan. Founded in 1890, they produce agricultural equipment, as well as construction and water treatment materials. Kubota began exporting tractors to the US in 1969. They now have dedicated tractor companies headquartered in California, as well as in Canada, Europe and Australia.
Cub Cadet was part of International Harvester until 1981, when they were acquired by MTD Products. The company/brand has made tractors and lawn care equipment since 1960. They are known for bringing innovation to the tractor market, including the first zero-turn radius riding mower.
Simplicity has been manufacturing garden tractors since 1939. From their headquarters in Wisconsin, they now produce a range of lawn and garden equipment for a variety of other companies, including Snapper.
Huskee is a brand name under MTD Products of Cleveland, Ohio. While the Modern Tool and Die Company has been around since the 1930s, it did not enter the garden equipment market until the late ’50s. They make some low-end garden tractors for Toro and they purchased the Cub Cadet brand in 1981.
What Are the Most Common Questions About Tractors?
What is THE best garden tractor or lawn tractor on the market?
The best garden tractor or lawn tractor is the one that meets all your needs and fits in your budget. There are super models on the market today that have some terrific features (see above), but you may not need all those elements. The same lawn tractor that handles a flat yard with 50 trees won’t be right for the hilly plot or large vegetable garden. Buying a tractor is like dating: beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
What is a light garden tractor?
A light garden tractor (LGT) is a sort of hybrid between a garden tractor and a lawn tractor. It has the more rugged frame of a garden tractor with the lighter transmission of a lawn tractor. Because it doesn’t have a heavy-duty transmission, an LGT isn’t meant for ground-engaging tasks, like plowing or tilling. Where you may like it, however, is for lawn mowing or light hauling over a bumpy yard or if you’re particularly hard on your lawn equipment–the heavier frame will help the tractor hold up better.
Aren’t lawn tractors and garden tractors really the same thing? Aren’t garden tractors just a way to get you to spend more money?
This can’t be stressed enough: there really is a difference between lawn tractors and garden tractors. You cannot perform heavy ground-engaging tasks with a lawn tractor or rider mower. You need a garden tractor with its larger wheels and bigger transmission to handle digging and towing heavy items. In most cases, you get what you pay for with lawn and garden tractors. You’ll get the most versatility with attachments from a garden tractor. Be sure to let your tractor retailer know which attachments you plan to use. That way you can get the machine that can handle the tasks specific to your yard.
Lawn and garden tractors are not for everyone, but if you have a large yard to mow or maintain or if you are an avid gardener, they can save you hours every week. They can also come in handy when the snow falls, if you purchase the right attachments. Take your time looking for just the right machine for you, and know that when you find it, you’ll have lots more free time to relax and just enjoy your yard.