Table of Contents
- 1 The (affordable) cost of owning a self-propelled lawn mower
- 2 The top self-propelled lawn mowers
- 2.1 Husqvarna 961450021 HU800AWDH Honda 190cc 3-in-1 All Wheel Drive 4X4 Hi-Wheel Mower in 22-Inch
- 2.2 Husqvarna 7021P 21-Inch 160cc Honda GCV160 Gas Powered 3-N-1 Push Lawn Mower with High Rear Wheels (CARB Compliant)
- 2.3 Troy-Bilt TB270ES 159cc 21-Inch FWD Self-Propelled Mower with Electric Start
- 2.4 Honda HRR216K9VKA 3-in-1 Variable Speed Self-Propelled Gas Mower with Auto Choke
- 2.5 EGO 21″ 56-Volt Lithium-Ion Cordless Self Propelled Lawn Mower (Battery and Charger Not Included)
- 3 Electric or Battery-powered versus Gas Mowers
- 4 Cost of using a battery-powered or electric mower
- 4.1 Back to our regularly scheduled programming, the EGO 21″ 56-Volt Lithium-Ion Cordless Self Propelled Lawn Mower
- 4.2 Snapper P2185020E / 7800982 HI VAC 190cc 3-N-1 Rear Wheel Drive Variable Speed Self Propelled Lawn Mower with 21-Inch Deck and ReadyStart System and 7 Position Height-of-Cut – Electric Start Option
- 5 How to troubleshoot your self-propelled lawn mower
- 6 How to tip a lawn mower to inspect the blade
- 7 Conclusion
A self-propelled mower is a smart investment when you have a large yard, slopes to mow, or difficulty with mobility. To cut the grass on a 10,000sq.ft. lawn, just ¼-acre in size, means you’ll be walking between one to two miles. That may not sound too bad until you factor in the weight of your mower. If it’s a walk-behind push mower, you could be exercising with a 100-pound weight in front of you.
A self-propelled mower pushes all that weight for you. All you need to do is steer. In the middle of summer heat, cutting the grass is simply a pleasant stroll through the yard.
The (affordable) cost of owning a self-propelled lawn mower
If you’re debating between buying your own mower or paying a service to mow the lawn for you, consider this. Nationwide, the average cost of hiring a professional to cut ¼-acre is $40 per visit. It’s $60 for ½-acre. After ten visits, you can afford your own self-propelled mower. Of course, that price doesn’t include the long-term cost of maintaining a lawn mower, but in most cases, it’s still cheaper to mow your own lawn.
You can keep the cost of owning and operating a self-propelled mower down by purchasing a cordless electric model like the EGO Power+ reviewed below. Electric or battery-powered mowers are significantly cheaper to maintain. We’ll cover those details soon. In the meantime, let’s go over the top features found in the best self-propelled lawn mowers.
Today’s self-propelled mowers have safety features to protect you, your children and pets, and your prize begonias. Each one has a dead man’s switch, or bail handle. Press this handle against the mower handle and the mower will move. But should you release it to check your phone or wave to a neighbor, the mower will halt.
We love that safety feature. We also appreciate the blade override that some mowers have. It lets the engine idle without the blade spinning so you can dump the collector bag without having the restart the mower afterward.
Front, rear, and all-wheel drive
Just like a car, you can get front, rear, and 4-wheel drive lawn self-propelled mowers. Front wheel drive is handy when you need to make lots of turns. All you have to do is tip it back a little to lift the front wheels off the ground and turn. That makes it fast, and very little skill is needed.
Rear wheel drive is fantastic when you bag. It’s impressive how much grass clippings weigh especially when the ground is a little damp. Rear-wheel drive mowers keep powering along even when the bag gets heavy, and they are easy to drive in straight lines.
Four-wheel drive mowers are excellent when you have a lot of slopes or rugged terrain to tackle. But both 4-wheel and rear-wheel are harder to turn, so get a mower that lets you disengage the drivetrain on the fly.
Quick and easy start
Maybe you don’t mind yanking a cord to start the motor. But wouldn’t it be nice to simply push a button or turn a key? Especially if you don’t need to prime the engine. If you get a self-propelled mower with electric start and automatic priming, you’ll ask yourself how you survived all those years with primitive push mowers.
Simple cutting height adjustment to mow most kinds of grass
There are lots of self-propelled mowers that have one-lever height adjustment. It’s very convenient if you need to change your mowing height. Some mowers still have up to four different levers, one for each wheel, that need adjusting each time.
Also, before you buy, double-check the range of cutting heights on the mower. Make sure it can handle the type of grass you’ll be mowing. Here’s a hint:
- Northern grasses, like tall fescue, blue grama, buffalo, and Kentucky bluegrass thrive between 2-1/2 and 3 inches in the spring and fall, and 3 to 3-1/2 inches in the summer.
- Southern grasses like St. Augustine, centipede, zoysia, and Bermuda do best around an inch in height, up to 1-1/2-inches.
- If your grass has grown too long, but it’s healthy, follow the 1/3 rule. Only cut off the top third of the grass on the first mow. That way you won’t shock the grass too much and cause it to sicken. Then wait a few days and go back to your normal cutting height.
Three-in-1 versatility: Bag, Mulch, Discharge
Some of the best self-propelled lawn mowers offer easy switching between bagging, mulching, and discharging. It could be as simple as flipping a lever.
Bagging keeps your lawn looking neat, but you may prefer to leave clippings on the grass as a natural source of nitrogen. Mulching is smart if you want your lawn to digest the leavings faster, or if you want to collect clippings for your compost bin. Plus, mulching leaves in the fall efficiently combines raking and mowing.
Speed to get the work done fast
How fast do you walk? Is it the adult average of 3mph? Are you the only one in your home who mows, or will someone else participate? Take that into consideration when you choose a self-propelled mower. The top models have at least three speed settings, or a decent range, like 1.8 to 4.8mph.
Width of the deck and blade
Of course, the wider your mower blade, the more ground you’ll cover. But if you have gates, doorways, or narrow strips of lawn to mow, you might want to measure to get the correct fit.
You wouldn’t believe how important the handlebar actually is. When you’re shopping for a new lawn mower, find out if the handlebar is adjustable and if it has a cushioned grip. Take a look at the placement of all the controls. Maybe it doesn’t seem all that important now, but 30 minutes into the backyard and you’ll be grateful that your mower is comfortable to use.
You may also appreciate a folding handlebar if you plan to transport the mower in your trunk or store it in a small space.
Count yourself lucky if the mower you buy has a deck washout port. All you need to do to clean off all those grass clippings and chunk of mud is plug in your garden hose and let it run for a couple minutes.
Now that we’ve covered the beat features found on top self-propelled mowers, let’s review the lawn mowers themselves.
The top self-propelled lawn mowers
Here are the best mowers for the money.
Husqvarna 961450021 HU800AWDH Honda 190cc 3-in-1 All Wheel Drive 4X4 Hi-Wheel Mower in 22-Inch
The Husqvarna Group is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, with the USA headquarters of Husqvarna Professional Products, Inc., based in Charlotte, NC. Their first gas-powered lawn mower roared to life in 1947.
Their reputation for quality products and customer service is backed by the Better Business Bureau where they have an A+ rating. If you visit the Husqvarna website, you’ll see they have a lot of detail about each lawn mower, along with FAQs and user manuals and videos.
If you’re thinking about getting an all-wheel drive lawn mower, their HU800AWDH is worth your hard-earned money. It’s powerful and has a lot of user-friendly features. Just take a look:
- Efficient Honda GCV190 OHV (overhead valve) 4-cycle engine with recoil start (pull cord)
- This engine and all of the mower is covered by a 3-year warranty
- Variable-speed all-wheel drive that goes at your pace up to 3mph
- 22-inch wide heavy duty steel deck
- Cutting height ranges between 1 to 4.25 inches, perfect for most kinds of lawns
- Large 11-inch rear wheels, 8-inch front wheels, all with good tread for traction that doesn’t tear grass
- 3-in-1 mulching, rear bagging, or side discharging
- Bag has a dust-blocking liner
- Deck washout port
- 1/3-gallon gas tank
- Foldable handle with cushioned grip
There are a few downsides to the HU800AWDH. We mentioned that it has a pull cord, not an electric starter. But owners rarely seem to complain that they have to pull the cord twice. There is no blade brake so you have to halt the engine to empty the bag. And the top speed is 3mph, which is simply normal walking speed for a lot of adults.
Reviewers frequently report that the HU800AWDH is easy to use and feels like a high-quality piece of equipment. Many of them would happily repeat their purchase. But just for fun, let’s compare it to another top-selling Husqvarna, the 7021P reviewed below.
Husqvarna 7021P 21-Inch 160cc Honda GCV160 Gas Powered 3-N-1 Push Lawn Mower with High Rear Wheels (CARB Compliant)
Let’s continue with another Husqvarna lawn mower, the 7021P that’s CARB-compliant so it can be sold and used in the state of California. Like the previous mower, this one also has a Honda engine, the GCV160. But there is a major difference between this mower and the one above. The 7021P is a push mower. Yes, we know this is a review of the top self-propelled mowers, but we wanted you to see the differences.
This 4-cylinder has 6.9 foot-pounds of torque, a significant amount for its size. But it’s limited to 160cc instead of 190cc because it doesn’t need to push the mower. That’s your job.
The 7021P is also a top seller because it’s reliable. Consumer Reports found that only 16% of Husqvarna’s push mowers broke down before their fourth year of ownership. That’s fewer mowers than other well-known brands like Toro and Cub Cadet.
Besides the Honda engine, this Husqvarna 7021P has easy-to-use features in common with the Husqvarna HU800AWDH. It’s also a 3-in-1 mower, with the ability to mulch, bag, and discharge to the side. It has larger wheels in the rear for better traction. That’s really helpful since this is a push mower, not a self-propelled model. These larger ball-bearing wheels make it easier to maneuver when you push it over bumpy ground or have tall grass to cut.
It has a foldable and adjustable handlebar with a foam grip. But unfortunately, this is a mower that requires you to set all four wheels individually when you select a different cutting height. But it offers 6 cutting heights ranging from 1.5 to 3.5 inches.
As powerful as it is, the 7021P is made for yards smaller than ¼-acre in size and it weighs nearly as much as the HU800AWDH but doesn’t have the self-propelling feature to help you mow.
Troy-Bilt TB270ES 159cc 21-Inch FWD Self-Propelled Mower with Electric Start
We mentioned electric start and here is a fine example. The Troy-Bilt TB270ES has push-button electric start with auto-choke—no cord-yanking required. The 159cc OHV engine doesn’t have the same power as the Husqvarna HU800AWDH, but no one is complaining about that at all. If anything, people seem to like that it has a full quart-size gas tank and a large 1.9-bushel collector bag. Those two features alone mean there’s less stopping in the middle of the mow to refill gas or empty the bag.
The 21-inch wide steel deck has two levers, not one, to adjust the cutting height. But the range is pretty good for most kinds of grass and lawns, from 1.25 up to 3.75 inches. Since it’s a 3-in-1 mower, you can choose to bag, discharge out the side, or mulch.
Troy-Bilt’s TriAction cutting system does a great job of lifting grass upright with its rake bumper and slicing it off so that there’s no clumping. The fine mulch it makes is excellent to leave on your grass if you don’t want to bag.
The variable-speed front wheel drive has 4 speed settings total. Just select what you want with the lever and go. While the tires are all the same size, 8-inches tall, they seem to power through grass well enough. The only change we’d make is adding a cushioned grip to the handle. The black metal gets a bit warm in the sunshine.
Should there be a problem, Troy-Bilt covers the TB270ES with a 2-year limited warranty.
Honda HRR216K9VKA 3-in-1 Variable Speed Self-Propelled Gas Mower with Auto Choke
The Honda HRR216K9VKA 3-in-1 self-propelled mower has been a very popular model since it was released a few years ago. One of the top features that got everyone’s attention was the Clip Director. Instead of having to swap out accessories like a mulch plug and bag depending on whether you wanted to mulch, side discharge, or bag, you simply push the lever to the function you want to use. That way you don’t misplace accessories or waste time. Flip the lever and get to work, it’s that easy.
Of course, being a Honda mower means having a Honda engine. The HRR216K9VKA has the 4-cylinder GCV160 that’s CARB and EPA-compliant for fuel efficiency and emissions. The bright side is that it has auto-choke, but the down side is that you’re pulling the cord, not pushing a button. But most owners don’t seem to mind since it tends to start on the first try. Consumer Reports recommended the Honda HRR216K9VKA as a best buy among all the gas-powered self-propelled lawn mowers they reviewed in 2016.
Adjusting the cutting height requires setting one lever at each wheel, which is a pain if you’re doing it often. But there are 6 cutting heights between 1-1/8 to 4 inches, a good range to cut most kinds of lawn grass.
The twin-blade system makes for a fine, crisp cut, especially when the mower is mulching. The large 2.4-bushel collector bag means you can pack a lot of mulch or clippings into it before it needs to be emptied. It gets quite heavy when it’s full.
The Smart Drive control lever lets you select the perfect speed up to 4mph. That’s great when you’re in a hurry to get the mowing done. The handlebar is cushioned and adjusts to two heights, or folds up for storage. Should you have a problem with the mower, Honda covers it with a 3-year limited warranty.
EGO 21″ 56-Volt Lithium-Ion Cordless Self Propelled Lawn Mower (Battery and Charger Not Included)
You may be lifting your eyebrows and questioning why we included a cordless electric—or battery-powered mower here. It’s self-propelled! It’s manufactured by EGO, which is a company based in Geneva, Illinois. It belongs to global power tool manufacturer Chervon, from Nanjing, China. Their website says they have been developing innovative electric power tools for two decades.
So, why select a battery-powered mower as one of the best? Let’s take a short side-trip to discuss why you might choose electric over gas power.
Electric or Battery-powered versus Gas Mowers
If you’ve filled up your gas tank recently, you know that gas isn’t cheap. It’s hasn’t been long since it was nearly $4 per gallon. While gas mowers may use less than a gallon to mow a yard, that’s not the only cost you’ll pay over time. Gas mowers need oil, they need spark plugs, air and fuel filters, and tune-ups. That adds on about $80 a year for a mechanic to take care of it unless you do it all yourself. Then you’ll still have to pay for parts. Plus, it’s just a fact of life that gas mowers pollute the environment with noise and fumes and used oil that needs safe disposal.
There will probably always be a place for gas mowers, but that need is shrinking as technology advances. Electric mowers get better every year. They have ease of use features formerly found only on high-end gas mowers—like electric start, for example. Their purchase price has dropped to make them accessible to more customers than ever before. Electric mowers, whether corded or cordless, only need basic maintenance. Clean them, sharpen their blades, and that’s it.
Cost of using a battery-powered or electric mower
A few years back someone at a personal finance website did the math and found that an electric mower costs about $1.04 to mow an acre while a gas mower cost $4.70 for the same area. Someone else figured out that while tuning up a gas mower costs about $18 if you do it all yourself, you’ll pay about $80 for a pro to do it.
The average cost of having a shop or mechanic sharpen your mower blades (for either gas or electric mowers) is between $9.95 and $20. The cost of replacement blades hovers around $15 to $25, depending on brand and style. But you DON’T have to pay to tune up an electric or battery-powered mower. The biggest expensive is replacing the battery, and that shouldn’t be necessary for three to five years if you take care of it.
So besides saving money on maintenance, why else would you want a cordless mower? For one, they are very quiet and don’t require as much work before you start mowing. Simply plug in the battery and go.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming, the EGO 21″ 56-Volt Lithium-Ion Cordless Self Propelled Lawn Mower
According to Consumer Reports, the EGO Power+ was one of the best cordless electric mowers for the money in 2016. It’s a 3-in-1, so it mulches, bags, or discharges out the side. The motor has 600 watts of power running off 56-volt batteries so you get a sharp, clean cut in tough grass, and you can mulch leaves, too. And you can do all that early in the morning because it’s quiet and won’t scare the neighbors out of bed.
Another bonus is the single lever, spring-assisted, 6-position cutting height adjustment mounted right on top of the deck. It looks like a gear-shift. We hope companies like Honda will learn from this example.
This particular model isn’t sold with a battery and charger, but you can use any of the EGO Power+ Arc Lithium batteries. For example, the 4.0Ah battery recharges in just 30 minutes. You could mow half the yard, have lunch while it’s charging, and then finish the job. Each battery and charger is covered by a 3-year warranty, while the mower itself is protected under a 5-year warranty.
Snapper P2185020E / 7800982 HI VAC 190cc 3-N-1 Rear Wheel Drive Variable Speed Self Propelled Lawn Mower with 21-Inch Deck and ReadyStart System and 7 Position Height-of-Cut – Electric Start Option
Our last model in the review is the Snapper 7800982 with some very nice features indeed. It has Snapper’s Hi-Vac vacuum action with a 2.5-bushel collector bag plus rear wheel drive. If you like to bag your clippings, this is the best bagger in our reviews.
What is this Hi-Vac? It’s Snapper’s term for their high lift blade and rolled deck edge. It makes for a clean cut without leaving clumps and patches, plus it has a lot of air flow for the mower to suck the clippings into the bag.
It can also mulch and discharge out the side because it’s a true 3-in-1 mower. The 190cc Briggs & Stratton 850 Pro Series engine has 8.5lbs of torque. That means even leaf mulching is a cinch, and so is mowing on uneven terrain. Like the Husqvarna at the beginning of our reviews, the Snapper has larger ball-bearing wheels in the rear than in the front. That helps a lot with traction.
This mower is speedy, too. It can go up to 4mph, a brisk walking pace for most people. It has a disc drive transmission system that owners love because it speeds up or slows down to maintain an even speed on hills.
Starting the mower is super easy. It doesn’t need priming or choking. Just turn the key and the electric starter (with lead acid battery) starts the engine for you. Should there be a problem, like a dead battery, you can also start the mower with the recoil start pull cord.
When you’re ready to go, you can set the cutting height at one of 7 positions from 1.25 to 4 inches to mow any kind of residential lawn. On the down side, we mentioned mulching, but the mulching kit is actually sold separately. Out of the box, this Snapper can only bag and discharge if you don’t have the mulch kit.
On the upside, not only does the handlebar have foam grips for comfort, it has a cup holder, too. The mower is covered by a 3-year warranty in case there’s a problem.
Speaking of problems, here are the solutions to common ones that happen with lawn mowers.
How to troubleshoot your self-propelled lawn mower
Here are the three most common dilemmas facing the owners of self-propelled lawn mowers.
The mower doesn’t self-propel anymore, or it moves too slowly
There is a metal transmission cable on many self-propelled mowers that controls the speed. It’s probably the most common complaint about older self-propelled mowers.
Transmission cable fix
Time to complete: under 10 minutes
If the transmission or drive cable comes loose or breaks, your mower will stop moving forward on its own. Inspect the whole cable from the handlebar down to the transmission. Make sure it’s connected firmly at both ends and doesn’t need to be replaced because of wear or damage. Rodents love to gnaw on wires, especially plastic-coated ones. If you have uninvited guests in your garage over the winter, you might have a few gaps in your cable. Sometimes the cable may need tightening. It can stretch with wear just like a gear cable on a bike.
Loosen the bolt that clamps the cable onto the handle. Pull the cable upward about an inch, tighten the bolt, and then squeeze the handle again. Now test the mower’s speed with the engine running.
Wheels and the drive wheel gears fix
Time to complete: under 10 minutes if you don’t have to remove the wheels
Check all 4 wheels to see if they need cleaning and lubrication. Sometimes they just need to be replaced. Your mower will move much more slowly if the drive wheels and gears are jammed up with clippings and dirt. Clean them and spray them with WD-40 or graphite. (Graphite’s better because dirt doesn’t stick to it as much as WD-40.)
The mower vibrates too much, makes noises, or doesn’t cut well anymore
If you have a bent, damaged, or unbalanced blade, it will make the mower shake more than normal. It will also damage your lawn by ripping out grass or making ragged cuts. If you don’t see the ragged cuts now, you will soon, as the grass will turn brown at the tips.
****Important: disconnect the spark plug cable before doing any of the maintenance described below****
Time to complete: 5 to 30 minutes, depending on if you have to replace the blade or sharpen it
Clear out grass clippings and dirt from the underside of the mower. If the blade is obviously bent or damaged, replace it. If it looks okay, but you’re still getting bad vibrations, remove it. Check the balance by using a balancer or hanging it with a nail through its center hole. If one side hangs lower, file that edge until the blade hangs level. Sharpen the blade about every two weeks for the best cut.
Time to complete: 10 minutes or less to get eyes on the problem
Once you’ve removed the blade, you can see the rod, or shaft, connecting the blade to the motor. If you’ve run over large rocks or tree stumps, it may be bent. If it is damaged, take the mower to a mechanic.
The mower runs rough, or won’t start
Just like in a car, a bad spark plug, drained battery, or stale fuel can stop a mower from starting. If your mower has a fuel shut-off valve and it’s closed, that could prevent your mower from starting, too. Make sure any safety features (like blade control) that keep the mower from operating are all disengaged. Then try starting the mower again. If that fails, try the steps below.
Time to complete: less than 5 minutes
Disconnect the spark plug cable, pull out the spark plug, and wipe it clean. If the porcelain is cracked or the electrode burned off, you’ll need a new one. Lawn mower spark plugs need to be replaced about once a year. After you put it back, or put in a new one, connect the cable.
Time to complete: 30 minutes or less
If you’ve left gas in the tank all winter without using a stabilizer, the gas may have gone bad. Does it smell wrong? Remove all the fuel with a siphon (because tipping the mower to drain the gas tank is hard and likely to spill oil into the filter) change the fuel filter, and then put fresh gasoline in the tank.
Time to complete: depends on if you have a battery tester or have to take the battery to a shop
If your mower has an electric starter that runs off a battery, see if the battery has drained. You’ll probably need a tester for this task, or have to take it to a shop or mechanic to test it. Recharge it, or replace it if it won’t hold a charge.
How to tip a lawn mower to inspect the blade
If you want to access your blade, be aware of these two concerns if you need to tip the mower and you have fuel and oil inside.
Four-cylinder engines that have separate tanks for oil and gas need because their fuel and oil may leak into the carburetor or air filter. Check with your owner’s manual to find out what it recommends. Generally speaking, never tip it with the spark plug side pointing at the ground.
If you want to mow your own lawn, a self-propelled mower is a good investment. The ones in this review are powerful and versatile. They come from major manufacturers with quality products and lots of happy owners. A well-maintained mower can last for years of faithful service.
If the long-term cost of maintaining a mower seems prohibitive, and if your yard isn’t larger than ¼-acre in size, take a closer look at the EGO Power+ cordless electric battery-powered self-propelled mower. It will cost less to operate each time you mow and doesn’t require the same kind of yearly tune-up that a gas-powered mower needs.