Gardening Articles: Care :: Tools & Equipment

Lawn and Garden Tractors

by Michael MacCaskey

Lawn tractors come with many attachments such as tillers.

If you're mechanically inclined, grew up on a farm or work on your own car, you'll have a distinct advantage while shopping for lawn and garden tractors. You'll be able to pick up the jargon quickly, so phrases such as "fluid drive" or "cast-iron block" will actually make sense.

On the other hand, no particular expertise is required to use, or benefit from, these machines. Convenience and ease of use are major goals of lawn tractor designers. Several models even offer amenities such as cruise control, cup holders and ergonomically designed seats. These luxuries aside, the most important reason to buy a lawn or garden tractor, of course, is to help you care for your lawn, your garden or both. How do you know if you need one? Most people who buy any type of lawn tractor have a half-acre or more of lawn to mow. But some people have less lawn and more garden. The trick is to find the machine that meets your specific needs, at a cost within your budget.

Which Tractor Should I Buy?

There is a wide range in price and configuration. Prices begin at $1,000 and go as high as $10,000. While the majority of lower-priced tractors are limited to cutting grass, more expensive tractors are able to do much more, last longer and have a greater resale value.

When we put the question of choice to various experts, we were told: "Don't buy more than you need, and buy quality. Don't fall for the sucker's trap of buying more horsepower or a wider mowing deck."

Based on our experience, if you pay more, you get more. And research shows that lawn tractors are long-term investments, so it makes sense to choose wisely.

Whatever the size or power of the tractor you're looking for, and regardless of your budget, you'll need to get some basic terminology under your belt before you buy.

Lawn Tractors are the most lightweight and least expensive of the lineup, kind of like a Chevy S10 compared with a full-sized pickup truck. Engine power varies between 12 and 18 horsepower, and cost ranges between $2,000 and $6,000. Expect to pay at least $3,000. These tractors are designed primarily for mowing lawns, though some include a front blade or even a snowthrower.

Yard Tractors fall between lawn tractors and garden tractors. Think of them as a Dodge Dakota--a midsized pickup truck. Yard tractors have larger, more heavy-duty transmissions and usually have more gear choices. They are primarily used as lawn mowers, but front blades, snowthrowers and sometimes towing carts are available. Engine power ranges between 14 and 20 horsepower, and they typically cost about $3,500.

Garden tractors are like full-sized pickup trucks. The wheels and tires are larger, the ground clearance is greater and the frame and front axle are heavier. Unlike the two smaller types of tractors, garden tractors are designed to accommodate "ground engaging" attachments, such as rototillers. Typically, these attachments are powered by the tractor engine and connect at the "PTO," or power take-off.

Some garden tractors can accommodate more than one attachment; one in the front and one in the rear, for instance. While garden tractors cut grass as well as lawn or yard tractors, a mower deck is usually not included as standard equipment and will cost you about $600 to $1,000. Engine power is 14 to 22 horsepower, and they typically cost about $4,500.

Keep in mind that these categories are not clear-cut. For example, several manufacturers offer mid-range tractors that are the size of a lawn tractor but have garden tractor engines that can handle ground-engaging tools.

Note--A word about pricing. When we asked for prices, a few manufacturers were reticent. The bottom line: Expect prices to vary widely. Look for special promotions offered by regional distributors or individual dealers, and shop around. Once you settle on a brand or model, call all the dealers in your area. Talk to the independent dealers as well as mass marketers. mindful of price, of course, but also factor in service availability. An independent dealer is more likely to offer free setup and delivery and quick and dependable service.

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