Expert advice on choosing a ride-on mower
In recent years the range and variety of ride-on mowers has increased significantly. You can buy an entry level machine of surprising competence for little more than $3000 or spend more than 10 times this much on something that looks and sounds as if it could take to the racetrack.
Ride-on mower brands
There are very good Australian brands which have literally cut their reputation on demanding terrain in extreme heat. In many cases, they make more sense than imported machines which may not have been engineered to suit local conditions.
It pays to be scrupulous when it comes to choosing which ride-on mower to buy. Do not just buy on price because an unreliable machine can finish up costing much more. Saving $500 by buying a less expensive brand will not always pay dividends. As a general rule, it is wiser to stick with familiar names. You need to compile a checklist before purchase or lease.
Checklist for buyers
How often will the machine be used and on what kind of ground? If you are mowing 1000 square metres of smooth lawn every three weeks, the demands placed on the machine are almost nothing compared with looking after a rough, hilly two or three hectare property. Will you ever need to mow really tall grass? How much height adjustment is available and is this task easily performed?
Mower service and repairs
If you live a long way from the mower shop, you won’t be wanting to make frequent service visits. And while any good mower mechanic can fix any machine, most mechanics won’t be keen on working on some obscure brand they have never seen before and for which parts are difficult to obtain and expensive. There are now a great number of brands from which to choose and few poor mowers on offer, but it still pays to do some research.
Build and ergonomics
The size of the cut is important but should not be your first consideration. Reliability and robustness should be given the highest priority. Consider, too, issues such as ergonomics. How easy is the mower to ride? Does it give you enough space? Is the transition from forwards to backwards easy to master? Is it stable? Some mowers have a much higher centre of gravity than others and can be unstable on sloping terrain. It is possible to roll a mower if you corner it too fast. I know because I have done it.
How manoeuvrable is the mower? The turning circle is important, especially if you will need to mow small areas. If your machine has a long wheelbase or extended overhangs it may be difficult to ride onto the trailer. You also need to consider whether or not you will be able to ride under overhanging branches or through narrow gaps. Sometimes a big cut can be a disadvantage and you will need to use a push mower for tighter areas.
Horsepower will have quite an influence with more being, well, more. If you do much uphill mowing, this becomes an important element in the purchasing decision. Quite a few popular brands offer a choice of engines in the same machine. It is usually a good idea to choose the more powerful unit, which does not add hugely to the purchase price but will reward you in the longer term.
If you can afford the extra, it is worth choosing a commercial quality machine, one that is designed to be used hard on a daily basis rather than once every few weeks on an undemanding surface.
Buying a very expensive ride-on mower is no guarantee that it won’t give trouble, so check the guarantee (warranty) that comes with it. Downtime is most undesirable and in this business adds a whole new meaning to lot letting the grass grow under your feet.
It is probably not wise to consider a $40K machine unless (a) you run a mowing franchise or (b) you own a big property and are keen to do the work yourself. As you might expect these big mowers are technologically advanced and demand regular maintenance.
Your accountant will be able to explain the tax and depreciation advantages of buying compared with leasing.
You may also need to invest in protective gear, as it is essential that you wear the right kind of clothes and high quality ear protection equipment when mowing.