Updated November 2021
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Buying guide for best self-propelled mowers

Owning your own home comes with lots of responsibilities, and perhaps the most ever-present is lawn maintenance. Grass doesn’t really ever stop growing, so it’s important to establish a lawn care routine that’s both manageable and effective. That means starting with the right equipment.

When it comes to lawn mowers, there are a variety of options available, ranging from no-engine push mowers to robotic models that basically act as a Roomba for your lawn. Self-propelled lawn mowers are the most common choice for most homeowners, however, because they incorporate the right blend of manual control, horsepower, and waste management.

Not all self-propelled mowers are the same, however. Read on for our guide to the features you shouldn’t live without, and don’t forget to check out our top five recommendations at the top of this page.

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Before you go shopping for a lawn mower, make sure you have a good idea of the size of your yard. If you’re not comfortable taking the measurements yourself, check your local county’s public records website; it may list the square footage of your lawn or backyard.

Self-propelled doesn’t mean “no-effort”

The first thing to know about self-propelled mowers is that, despite their name, they don’t mow lawns by themselves. That doesn’t mean they’re not amazing; a self-propelled mower is significantly easier to maneuver than a traditional push mower. Nevertheless, using one will still require a bit of elbow grease from you.

A good self-propelled mower will act like a large dog eager for a walk. As you guide it around your lawn to cut the grass, you’ll find it’s always pulling, so the majority of effort needed is spent holding it back to keep it from taking off too far in a given direction. (Unlike a large dog, however, it’s easy to get a self-propelled mower to stop: simply let go of the handle.)

It’s also worth noting that self-propelled lawn mowers still rely on traditional combustion engines, so you’ll need to plan on maintaining its gas and oil levels.

Playing with a full deck

The size of the deck – that is, how wide the front is – is one of the key differentiating factors between different self-propelled lawn mower models. Deck size dictates how much grass gets cut at once. Most self-propelled lawn mowers feature decks that are 21 inches wide, although “wide-deck” models can be up to 30 inches wide.

Naturally, wide-deck models are more expensive than their standard-sized counterparts, but they may represent a significant value depending on the size of your yard. Once you’ve measured the size of your lawn, consider how many rows of mowing you would have to do with a 21-inch deck versus a 30-inch deck. If it’s a big yard, buying the larger deck could cut your mowing time down by 30%.

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Expert Tip
Most lawn mowers ship in pieces, so you’ll likely have to put yours together. As you research specific self-propelled lawn mower models, pay attention to what other buyers have to say about the assembly process so you can avoid particularly troublesome models.

Different strokes

When looking at various lawn mower models, you’ll likely come across some that have two-stroke engines and others that have four-stroke engines. This refers to how the piston moves within the engine. A two-stroke engine consists of a compression stroke and a return stroke. A four-stroke engine has one compression stroke and one exhaust stroke, each of which gets followed up by a return stroke, for four total.

Mowers with two-stroke engines are generally more affordable than those with four-stroke engines. They are also lightweight and easy to move around. For fueling, two-stroke engines

allow for a mix of gasoline and oil in one chamber. This is convenient, but it may require more maintenance in the long run.

Four-stroke engine mowers are typically more expensive, and they weigh more than mowers with two-stroke engines, leaving you with more to push. The oil and the gas are kept separate, but they typically have built-in, dedicated lubrication systems, meaning they generally last longer.

Take a terrain check

One of the biggest factors that will have an impact on the performance of your lawn mower is the terrain you use it on. For example, if your yard is a perfect, flat rectangle with no trees, large rocks, or dry dirt areas, you could probably get by with a small, low-powered lawn mower. But if your lawn is uneven, on a hill, or has multiple impediments like rocks or trees, you’ll need a lawn mower that’s more versatile and can take a bit more of a beating.

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Did you know?
Most four-stroke lawn mowers run on standard unleaded gasoline (the same that goes in your car). Most two-stroke lawn mowers require a mix of unleaded gasoline and engine oil. Before refueling your mower, make sure that you’re using the right type of fuel for your mower’s engine.

Self-propelled lawn mower pricing

Self-propelled lawn mowers typically start around $250 and can get as expensive as $1,000 or more. Most high quality self-propelled lawn mowers cost between $300 and $500.

As you’re comparison shopping, pay close attention to the differences between the features offered with each model. For example, a pricier model may have a more powerful engine to help you mow faster, whereas an entry-level self-propelled lawn mower isn’t likely to have an electric starter.

Don’t forget to accessorize

If you’re purchasing your first self-propelled lawn mower, it’s important to buy all of the related gear you’ll need. Consider buying the following products to make sure you’ll have everything you need to get started cutting your grass.

  • Gas, oil, and fuel stabilizer: These will all be necessary to get your mower up and running. Be sure you’re buying the right kinds for your mower’s engine size.

  • Yard debris bags and a bag stand: Unless you plan to mulch all of your grass clippings, you’ll need a way to collect and dispose of them.

  • Ear plugs and work gloves: This gear is essential for protecting your hearing and hands.

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For your safety
Lawn mower engines can be extremely loud. Protect your hearing by wearing earplugs any time you have your lawn mower is running.


When using your self-propelled lawn mower, consider these tips.

  • Before you begin mowing, clean out your lawn mower’s undercarriage with a hose. Wet clumps of grass stuck near your mower blades may prevent it from doing a good job on your lawn.

  • Never mow your lawn while it’s raining. Wet grass doesn’t cut very well, and your mower’s electronics could respond adversely to water and create unsafe conditions.

  • Consider a lawn mower with an electric starter. If you’re not comfortable starting a lawn mower with a pull cord, which can sometimes take a few tries and more than a little muscle, a mower with an electric starter is a viable alternative. Electric-starter mowers are identical to typical mowers but are started with a keyed ignition.

  • Every mower has unique features and safety guidelines. Read your lawn mower manual completely before operating it.

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To maintain the long-term life of your lawn mower engine, be sure to add fuel stabilizer to the gas tank. Fuel stabilizer keeps oil and gasoline from decomposing over long periods of time and is generally considered a better option than draining the gas tank between seasons.


Q. Is it better to collect grass clippings in a bag or have my lawn mower turn the grass into mulch?
It depends on the length of the grass clippings. In general, mulching – having your lawn mower expel grass clippings for use as fertilizer – is a great way to keep your lawn healthy. However, if the grass clippings themselves are longer than an inch, mulching won’t be nearly as effective due to clumping.

Q. How long will a tank of gas last in a self-propelled lawn mower?
The amount of gas you use will, in part, depend on how hard the engine is working. For example, your lawn mower will likely use more gas when going uphill or trimming tall, thick grass than it does when trimming grass on a level surface. In general, most lawn mower gas tanks use between one and two gallons of gas per hour.

Q. How much does it cost to tune up a lawnmower engine?
Pricing will vary based on the technician, but typically, a lawn mower tune-up (including replacing the air filter and spark plug) will cost about $75.

Q. Can I save money by buying a lawn mower that isn’t self-propelled?
Standard lawn mowers are certainly less expensive than self-propelled lawn mowers, but the additional effort required is significant – akin to driving a car without power steering.

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