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Four Tips for Buying Your First Riding Lawn Mower

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Spring and lawncare season is just around the corner. Whether that means maintaining a property less than one acre or closer to ten, now is the time many homeowners think about buying a riding lawn mower.

If this is the spring you’ve decided to take the plunge and are buying your first rider, here are four tips to ensure you get the right machine to fit your needs.

Steering in the Right Direction
One of the key qualifiers in mower selection is steering, with three distinct options offered: two-wheel steering, four-wheel steering, and zero-turn radius mowers

Two-wheel steering mowers tend to work well for most residential property owners looking to maintain yards 1/3 of an acre up to 3 acres. Because they offer the least turning radius of the three options, they’re ideal for open yards that don’t have many obstacles or tight corners to navigate. They also work well on slopes.

Featuring a tighter turn radius than two-wheel models, four-wheel steering mowers offer greater operator comfort and ease to handle properties greater than three acres. Their handling ability lets them work well on properties that have naturally-occurring obstacles like trees and shrubs, or hardscapes and they’re also able to handle slopes well.

As the name implies, a zero-turn mower (ZTR) has a zero-turn radius, giving it the ability to hug tight corners and curves. The added speed opens them up to properties of all sizes, and homeowners with yards that include gardens, hardscapes, and several plants, shrubs and trees may find this mower to be the best option. Unlike two- and four-wheel-style mowers, ZTRs are best suited for flat land with minimal slopes.

All Those Attachments
Most mowers do more than just mow. Many units are designed to accomplish numerous other tasks when paired with the right attachment. Prior to purchasing, one should consider additional capabilities desired of the mower. Don’t forget about budget, as some attachments are only available with certain types of mowers, and some features are offered as the mower goes up in price point.

If bagging or mulching is preferred, the first and most common attachment to consider is a bagger or a mulch kit. Some customers may need both, others may consider a newer choice offered by John Deere on select mowers: MulchControl™. This option enables either mulching or bagging with the simple switch of a lever, giving the owner both benefits in one kit.

Sweepers are another common material handling attachment, while sprayers can apply a variety of materials including liquid fertilizer, weed killer, even de-icing material. Tow-behind carts are great for hauling materials and supplies for gardening and landscape activities.

Those looking to do more with a mower or who are looking at options above the most entry-level model can take advantage of more options. Single-use and multi-use attachments offer landscaping abilities like tilling, aerating, and thatching. Box and rear blades handle tasks like grading and backfilling. Operators planning to work longer hours or have more than one person onsite should consider safety accessories like mirrors and lights.

No matter what part of the country, weather is a factor in any type of outdoor work. Sun shades protect from summer’s heat and powerful sun rays, while full-enclosures and heater add-ons are ideal for cold-weather comfort. Front blades, blowers and brooms offer the ability to turn a mower into a snow removal machine during the winter months.

New or Brand New
A new mower doesn’t have to be brand-new. There are many quality pre-owned mowers out there. Rather than search the local classifieds or check Craigslist, consider first seeing what a local dealership, like RDO Equipment Co., has to offer.

Typically, dealerships take in higher-quality, top models vs. some of the most basic, entry-level models the average homeowner is looking to sell. Not only do reputable dealerships take the time to give all used mowers a tune-up prior to selling, the buyer has the ability to get ongoing parts and service support from the team of knowledgeable, trusted experts who work there, including parts specialists and certified technicians.

The primary advantage of a used mower comes for the cost-conscious buyer. There may be opportunity to get an older, yet premium mower for a lower price.

Maintenance Matters
After going through all the trouble to find just the right mower, it would be a shame for it to break down midway through a job – or not start at all. Preventative maintenance is the best way to protect the mower and investment. The best part? It doesn’t have to take a ton of time.

All mowers include an operator’s manual that every new owner should take time to review. This handbook is key to understanding the parts of the machine, safety features and the proper way to perform basic maintenance tasks.

New mowers have an engine “break-in” period, meaning engine oil should be changed after the first 8 hours of new mower operation. After that, check the oil prior to every use.

Additionally, before each use with the mower, do a quick overall inspection. A basic five-step inspection can be as simple as the following:
-Look for signs of damage or loose parts
-Check tire pressure
-Check fuel level (and oil, as noted above)
-Grease primary areas
-Clean the mower of excess debris

A few things to do on a less-frequent basis include air filter and oil changes. The air filter should be changed annually. Large property owners and those who live in dusty, drier environments should check and clear air filters on a more frequent basis. Oil changes are another task typically done on an annual basis or per every 100 hours of operation. Just like with the air filter, that frequency can change based on amount of use and operational conditions.

The mower deck should also be checked periodically, including the blade and belts, to ensure nothing is clogged, cracked, or dull. The mower’s blade should be sharpened annually, prior to the first mowing of a new spring season. Blades can be sharpened throughout the season but don’t overdo it, as too much sharpening can actually degrade the integrity of the metal.

If the mower sits idle for a month or longer, the fuel likely needs to be changed. Ethanol-gasoline blends will separate over time, possibly leading to condensation build-up or water in the carburetor. If it’s known that the mower will be taking an extended break, add fuel stabilizer. Or, the fuel can be drained completely and properly discarded. 

Finally, some dealers offer an annual mower inspection. Take advantage of this service and get, not only the full TLC treatment the mower needs, but the peace of mind knowing the machine is primed and prepped for the season ahead.

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About The Author
Marcus Braswell is an Account Manager -  Government Sales & Leasing for RDO Equipment Co. in Pasco, WA.

For more information on choosing the right lawn mower and attachments, or servicing your existing equipment, contact your local RDO Equipment Co. store