7 Tips for Buying a Used Riding Mower

If you’ve owned or rented a house during the summer, you’ve had to deal with mowing the lawn. If your yard is bigger than a postage stamp, maybe it’s time to think about buying a riding lawn mower. We’ll discuss seven tips for buying a used riding mower that will cut your grass and save you some cash. 

Buying a used riding mower

Before you put down any cash on a used riding mower, there are a few things to consider. What style of riding mower fits your needs? How do you know if it’s reliable? How do you get the best deal on a used riding mower?

1. Decide on what type of mower fits your needs

There are a few different riding mowers designed to fill different niches in the world of lawn care. Lawn tractors appear first on the riding mower timeline. Lawn tractors feature an upright seating position with a steering wheel, gear shift lever, and a foot pedal similar to the controls for driving a car. Lawn tractors offer attractive pricing and capability for mowing small to medium-sized lawns but lack the mobility, speed, and cutting width of zero-turn riding mowers.

A zero-turn mower gets its name from its ability to pivot on one back tire resulting in a minimal turning radius. It does this by stopping or reversing one back tire while the other drives forward, like sharply turning a shopping cart. Zero-turn riding mowers also feature a seated driving position. Additionally, these riding mowers are generally faster and often offer larger cutting widths than lawn tractors.

Stand-on riding lawn mowers operate similarly to zero-turns except without a place to sit. They are the most expensive, but as they become more popular among DIY lawn care enthusiasts, the prices continue to fall. Stand-on mowers offer a better vantage point to watch for obstacles and debris while mowing, plus it’s easy to dismount the machine when necessary.

2. Research the prices of new and used models

John Deere recalls lawn tractors, the John Deere XC80 & CX90
John Deere recalls lawn tractors, the John Deere XC80 & CX90 pictured here | John Deere

Once you’ve decided on a riding mower type, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the prices of new and used models in your area. Spend time online looking at local for-sale groups, big-box store ads, and lawn mower business listings. Some well-known name brands command a higher price, but their quality often makes buying a used model a sound investment.

3. Check the mower’s maintenance records

A riding mower owner that keeps maintenance records on their machine probably took good care of it. That’s not to say that a riding mower without maintenance records is off-limits, but the owner should freely answer questions about oil change intervals, drive belt and air filter replacement, and blade sharpening/replacement. Look for mower-specific user manuals online to see recommended maintenance schedules and judge accordingly.

4. Try it before you buy it – and don’t forget to look at the engine

Ask to “test-mow” the riding mower before deciding to buy it. Bob Vila recommends a test run as a vital step in the process of finding and buying a good used riding mower. Some owners may be uncomfortable letting you mow part of their lawn but don’t hesitate to ask them to do it. During this test-mow, look at the engine and keep the following signs of trouble on your radar.

  • The engine fails to start for more than a few seconds.
  • Blue, black, or white smoke from the exhaust 
  • Rough idling while warming up
  • Squealing or excessive vibration when engaging the mower blade
  • Uneven mowing height from one side to the other
  • Having to constantly correct direction to go straight when driving
  • Any disabled safety features. For instance, lifting off the seat while mowing should kill the mower immediately. 

5. Get an expert second opinion

The Gravely ZT HD 48 991152 Zero-Turn Mower on a white background
Gravely ZT HD 48 991152 Zero-Turn Mower | Gravely

Don’t be afraid to hire an expert for a second opinion. A used riding mower may cost thousands of dollars, but spending a couple of hundred dollars could prevent you from making a costly mistake.

6. Don’t rush into a decision

While there is some logic in grabbing a deal before it’s gone, don’t let the pressure of missing a deal rush you into buying before you’ve done your homework. It’s better to miss a good deal than to make a bad one. People always sell used riding mowers, so don’t panic, take a breath, and get the mower that’s right for you.

7. Buy in the fall for the best prices on used riding mowers 

If you can, The Daily Gardener suggests waiting until autumn to buy your next mower, the prices, like the leaves, will fall. You’ll have to watch for the mowers that sat for sale all summer because they have issues. However, expensive mowers that the owners had listed all summer will likely drop in price as the high mowing season ends.  

Additionally, owners that used their mower all summer but plan on doing something different next year. Moving, upgrading equipment, or hiring a lawn care service may mean folks want to sell their mower at the end of summer to prevent facing the task of storing it.

Are riding mowers worth it?

A good used riding mower makes it possible to cut your lawn care time in half or even lower. That time savings on an average-sized lawn could add up to nearly 40 hours saved throughout one mowing season. In addition, using a riding mower requires less physical effort than a push mower, even if it’s self-propelled. 

So if it’s taking hours to mow your lawn with a push mower, and you don’t want the expense or hassle of hiring a lawn care service, buying a used riding mower is worth it. 
RELATED: John Deere Zero-Turn Lawn Mowers Dominate Consumer Reports Best Mowers But There’s a Catch