Shopping For A Riding Mower? 5 Less Obvious Features To Consider

Beyond the key numbers on the spec sheet, there are many less obvious features that affect the quality and performance of a riding lawn mower.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson

Let’s say you’re shopping for a lawn or garden tractor with the primary aim of mowing your farm. It’s easy to get caught up comparing the key numbers that outline each model: What is the engine horsepower? How wide is the mowing deck? And … how much does it cost?

But beyond the numbers, there are many less obvious features that affect the quality and performance of a riding mower. Here are five helpful features to consider when shopping for a riding mower.

1. Differential Lock

If possible, opt for a tractor that offers a differential lock. It’s a feature you’ll use often if you navigate challenging or slippery terrain.

Normally, the drive wheels are able to turn at different speeds, which is useful when turning. But this isn’t helpful when one wheel meets resistance and most or all of the torque is thrown to the free wheel instead.

A differential lock allows you to lock the drive wheels so they operate at the same speed, giving more torque to the wheel that’s meeting resistance. This allows you to power through tough terrain. That can save the day if—(ahem)—you accidentally get your riding mower stuck on top of an unseen anthill….

Read more: Yes, my mower got stuck on an anthill. Here’s how the differential lock got me out of trouble.

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2. Electronic Fuel Injection

Goodbye, carburetors. Engines with electronic fuel injection offer a wide range of benefits. They’re easier to start, they require less maintenance, they use less fuel, and they produce more power than an otherwise comparable engine without electronic fuel injection.

It might not be the flashiest feature on the spec sheet, but electronic fuel injection is a significant positive.

3. Hydrostatic Transmission

A gearbox transmission gets the job done. But a pedal-driven hydrostatic transmission raises your mowing game to another level.

You can access any speed from zero up to the tractor’s top speed. And changing from forward to reverse is as simple as bringing the tractor to a stop and pushing the reverse pedal.

When mowing tricky areas that require frequent speed and direction shifts, a hydrostatic transmission is a big positive.

4. Hydraulic Deck Lift

By what means do your raise and lower the riding mower deck? Less expensive lawn tractors might use a mechanical lever with several different settings. It’s a perfectly serviceable way to adjust the deck. But it’s not as slick and easy to use as a hydraulic deck lift, which uses the tractor’s hydraulics to effortlessly control deck height.

If you frequently adjust your deck height, it’s hard to beat hydraulics. A hydraulic lift system might also be compatible with other attachments besides a mowing deck, such as a tractor-mounted snow blower.

Read more: Check out these 4 tips for operating a tractor-mounted snow blower.

5. Deck Wash Hose Attachment

When mowing, it’s common for grass to accumulate under the riding mower deck. Over time, the grass can build up and decrease performance. Some mowing decks offer hose attachments so you can run water through the deck and wash out grass clippings.

This helps keep the deck clean and free from buildup.

None of the five features listed above are absolute requirements for mowing grass. But they certainly improve the performance of your tractor and can help you get mowing done smoothly and easily.

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