5 things to consider when buying a ride-on mower

Why you should be careful buying a ride-on mower from This NZ Life on Vimeo.

If you’re tired of pushing yourself to do the lawns, get our tips on how to buy possibly the biggest investment in a single product you’ll make when you live on a lifestyle block.

Words: Nadene Hall

The Front Lawn of the head office of Stevens Outdoor Power Equipment in Auckland is not your usual landscaped garden. Instead there’s a funny mound, each side sculpted at a slightly different angle, ranging from 15° to 30°, so the Stevens team can demonstrate different machines on a range of slopes. In the video above, Ken Johnston of Stevens shows how the wrong kind of mower (not one of his company’s products) on just a 15° slope can tip over incredibly easily, then demonstrates how the right kind of mower – a Hustler zero-turn ride-on – with a low centre of gravity is very stable.

 Ken Johnston of Stevens Outdoor Power Equipment.

Ken Johnston of Stevens Outdoor Power Equipment.


If you’re tired of pushing yourself to do the lawns, take a look at the new range of ride-on mowers and get our tips on how to buy possibly the biggest investment in a single product you’ll make when you live on a block.


If you are mowing a fl at lawn, your choice of ride-on is wide open. But for many people, their lawn may vary from undulating through to steep. In this case, you will need a machine with a low centre of gravity. Another aspect is the length of the grass you’re trying to mow, especially if there are areas you let grow long. Spring and autumn growth can cause the grass to take off and a lightweight ride-on mower won’t cope well with this kind of load. Long grass will cause the cutting deck to block up, putting strain on components and belts, and you’re likely to break something like a belt, or worse, steel components not designed to cope with the load. A machine designed to cope with tougher conditions is a better investment.

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Diesel engine ride-on mowers have more torque and are cheaper to run than petrol engines, which is why they are the favoured choice of contractors, who tend to run them for the hours required to make the higher purchase price economical. Torque is important to keep blades running at a good cutting speed, and to save on engine wear, depending on what you’re doing. Petrol mowers are cheaper to buy and not as complex to fi x, but are more expensive to run per hour.


Another option is the tow behind mower, usually pulled around by an ATV. Where a tow-behind machine comes into its own is when you have a larger area of lawn and you also want to top paddocks. You can use a ride-on but working on rough ground will quickly wreck belts and blades, and eventually cause expensive repair bills. A cutting unit that you tow behind an ATV is powered by its own engine, and can move over rough terrain at good speeds. Machines that can be towed can typically go faster than a ride-on – up to 15km/h – and cut through tougher pastures like rushes and tussocks. A towable mower deck can also be raised to a higher cutting height than a standard ride-on mower for use on pasture, or down to low for lawns. Ride-on mowers tend to have small wheels and are not designed for moving over lumpy paddocks. An ATV is a more comfortable way to move across pasture.


A tractor-style ride-on mower suits people who like the comfort and familiarity ofdriving a machine that is similar to a car, and if you have a large, open lawn with few obstacles, this may be the most economic option. But don’t let the unusual styling of a lever steer ride-on mower stop off giving it a go. A good quality lever steer machine is very intuitive to drive and once you’ve mastered it – it only takes a few minutes – most people find it easy to operate.

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Ride-on mowers have ratings for horsepower, displacement and torque. Horsepower is what makes the machine move forward and accelerate under normal conditions. If you have hills, or you want to tow a trailer full of heavy stones, you’ll want more horsepower. Torque is a force, the power generated by the engine that gives a machine its ‘grunt’ to turn the blades, and to keep turning them under stresses like long, wet grass. The higher the torque, the better the performance under stress. If your lawn is fl at, your speed fairly consistent and the lawn will be regularly mowed, you don’t need to pay for as much horsepower or torque as someone whose lawn is steep or who is going to be mowing rougher areas of lawn.



Specifications you’ll probably see something like this listed:

Total displacement 535cc
Horsepower 18hp
Engine displacement gives you an indication of an engine’s power measured in cubic centimetres (cc or cm3) which is the internal volume of its cylinders (a quantity). The higher the cc rating, the more powerful the engine and the more torque it has.

Horsepower is a different kind of measurement (a rate) that also gives you an indication of an engine’s power. It’s an old imperial measurement (like inches and feet) and the metric conversion is watts (1 horsepower = 746 watts).In this example, the engine is 13,400 watts, or 13.4 kilowatts (kW).

For more on ride-on mowers see the September issue of NZ Lifestyle Block. In stores on Monday 22 August, or subscribe now.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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