What’s the Difference Between a Riding Lawn Mower and a Lawn Tractor?

So you have a large yard, garden, or otherwise good-sized chunk of land to mow. But how do you choose the right kind of mowing machine for your unique job? What’s the difference between a riding lawn mower and a lawn tractor?

Riding lawn mowers on display, riding lawn mowers are among the most common types of lawn mowers and are the best lawnmowers for big yards
Riding lawn mowers. | Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

First of all, the two are not the same. Despite some similarities, lawn tractors and riding lawn mowers are definitely different. The right machine for you depends on the size of the lawn, as well as important factors such as budget and storage.

What is a lawn tractor?

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A lawn tractor is typically a gas-powered machine that can cut a yard significantly faster than your run-of-the-mill push mower. They are great for larger lawns. If you have a suburban lot that’s on the large side, or need the perfect mower to keep the lawn near your country home looking well-manicured, then you might consider a lawn tractor.

Consumer Reports notes that a lawn tractor “can cut two to three times faster than simple push mowers, making them best suited for larger lawns.” In addition, it’s worth mentioning that lawn tractors with hydrostatic transmissions tend to be simpler to operate. Plus, lawn tractors equipped with hydrostatic transmission are generally smoother than those without, according to Consumer Reports.

Some benefits of a lawn tractor are that it mows a wide swath (from 42-inches up to 54 inches + with a wide-deck model.) Plus, they can side-discharge, bag, or mulch the clippings––and they’re easy to steer. However, it will cost extra for a bagging kit, and they aren’t cheap.

Gas mowers, like most other related machines, need routine maintenance in addition to blade sharpening and oil changes. Consumer Reports recommends using a lawn tractor to mow grassy areas that meet or exceed half an acre.

So how does a riding lawn mower differ from a lawn tractor?

a man mowing a pristine lawn with a lawn tractor
mowing the lawn with a lawn tractor Becker & Bredel/ullstein bild via Getty Images

According to Husqvarna, there is one “key difference” between a riding lawn mower and a lawn tractor. That is, when using a lawn tractor the cutting blades are positioned in the middle. This means they are great for cutting large open areas.

However, the smaller riding lawn mower cutting deck is usually located a little off-center. That and the usually smaller turning radius offered by a riding lawn mower make this a great machine for large lawns with more landscaping obstacles to maneuver around. A riding lawn mower can also reach areas beneath objects such as a bench or picnic table.

How much do they cost?

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In addition, a riding mower tends to start cheaper than a lawn or garden tractor. Tractor Supply Co. writes that riding lawn mower models start at $800. On the other hand, a lawn tractor can cost anywhere between $2,000 and $7,000. That said, there are also front-engine lawn tractors, which start at around $1,200.

A front-engine tractor kind of in between a riding lawn mower and a traditional lawn or garden tractor. It doesn’t allow for attaching implements but can tow a small yard trailer. If you can’t decide between a full-on lawn tractor and a riding mower, the front-engine lawn mower bridges the gap.