Best Cheap Riding Mowers

This buying guide recommends the best riding mowers and lawn tractors under $1,500, plus a ZTR mower that may be worth a splurge.

What We Considered

Experts at Popular Mechanics, Consumer Reports, and elsewhere primarily test models with prices exceed our maximum. Instead, we turned to consumer reviews posted at Home Depot, Lowe's, Amazon, Mowers Direct, and company sites to find front- and rear-engine riding mowers that stand out for value, with a high performance-to-price ratio. Reviews reveal that frugal shoppers seem to accept that buying an inexpensive riding mower or lawn tractor means giving up on perfection and possibly extended longevity. Still, the consensus holds that the best cheap models do a commendable job cutting grass on moderate-size expanses of lawn that are unmarred by too many boulders, stumps, and hills.  

We Looked At

Reviews at this end of the market are fairly consistent -- in the neighborhood of 4 stars out of 5 for the models on our list, with users typically posting assessments that lack specificity and vary little from one mower to another. For the most part, users are satisfied with the way their lawns turn out after mowing. The bulk of reviews say the cut is level, the edges are clean, and clippings discharge without clumping. Users also report these mowers travel up and down small inclines with relative ease and start up without balking. Barring any mechanical or handling problems, mowing the grass takes less than half the time spent with a walk-behind mower.

Still, the models we researched are the targets of some sniping about minor things, and similar comments ripple across reviews for the entire group. Skidding on wet grass, especially on slopes, is one common criticism. Others include vibrations while mowing and rough or jumpy starts. We came across relatively more grousing about the performance of the rear-engine Poulan Pro PB301 than other entry-level mowers, with users carping about wheels that spin out on all but the very flattest of yards and uneven cuts on slightly bumpy terrain.

Experts suggest test driving a riding mower for the same reason people test drive a car. If you're going to be sitting on the machine for a while, the ride should feel smooth, the seat should feel comfortable, and the reach to the steering wheel, pedals, and controls should fit your body. All the models we researched garner support from men and women of all ages and body types about getting the job done without breaking a sweat. More specifically, the Cub Cadet XT1 LT42 wins accolades for the high-back seat and easy-to-replace oil filter. Operators of the John Deere D105 cheer the absence of jerky starts and stops.

These machines are not without their flaws, however. Several owners of the rear-engine Troy-Bilt TB30 R caution that the location of the shift lever between their knees gets in the way when climbing on and off. The two pedals on the Poulan Pro PP19A42 -- one for forward and one for reverse -- are too close together for the feet of some reviewers. And with its high center of gravity, some reviews of the Poulan Pro PB301 stay it feels a bit unbalanced and is hard to steer.

Lawn tractors generally feature two cutting blades while riding mowers usually have one. Grass-cutting heights vary between 1 and 4.5 inches, depending on the model. One difference between mowers is the number of cutting heights -- as few as four on the Poulan Pro PB301 and as many as 13 on the John Deere D105.

Anti-scalping wheels (or rollers) placed under the deck of a front-engine lawn tractor help produce an even cut on uneven terrain. They create a cushion between the cutting deck and the ground, protecting both lawn and mower. Two deck wheels are the norm for front-engine riding mowers in this price range, although the Cub Cadet XT1 LT42 features four.

The width of the cutting deck affects the number of passes needed to mow the grass. The deck is comparatively small on rear-engine riding mowers, often 30 inches or so; both of the rear-engine models discussed in this buying guide feature 30-inch decks. On a lawn tractor, the cutting deck is significantly wider: 42 or 46 inches is common.

Cheap riding mowers and lawn tractors usually come with a minimal two-year limited warranty. The Cub Cadet XT1 LT42 outshines them all with coverage for its various parts that ranges from 3 years to a lifetime. These warranties may come in handy, as most of the models we researched were panned in at least some reviews for a range of minor, and some major, problems such as engines that continually stop midstream and electric starter batteries that conk out quickly and must be replaced.

All riding lawn mowers need maintenance, be it replacing worn-out belts, sharpening blades, or cleaning the deck after each use. Washout ports on the John Deere D105 and Cub Cadet XT1 LT42 garner cheers from users for making it easy to remove grass clippings -- just attach a hose and spray. Servicing the unit regularly in accordance with the owner's manual helps the machine last longer. Before buying a mower, make sure replacement parts are readily available, either online or at a nearby retailer.

Our Top Pick

Cub Cadet XT1 LT42
Our Picks
Cub Cadet XT1 LT42

A strong, 18-horsepower engine coupled with excellent function and value make the Cub Cadet XT1 LT42 a winner. Accolades for this front-engine model far outweigh the minor critiques.

  • Consistent, level cut, even on wet grass; clippings don't clump.

  • Manages inclines.

  • Relatively tight 16-inch turning radius.

  • Hydrostatic transmission with cruise control.

  • Features include a comfortable seat, LED headlights, and 12 cutting heights.

  • Easy to maintain.

  • Efficient use of fuel and time.

  • Initial setup can be a challenge.

  • Scattered reports about vibrations and noise.

Troy-Bilt TB30 R

The Troy-Bilt TB30 R is a good, no-frills rear-engine model that wins points for value and spot-on pricing. Easy to ride and a cinch to navigate around trees and shrubs, it appeals to shoppers who want to step up from a traditional walk-behind mower.

  • Sturdy and compact.

  • Makes regular mowing easy and quick; mows in reverse.

  • Pivoting frame and responsive steering deliver even cuts and deft maneuvering around obstacles.

  • Six-speed "on-the-go" manual transmission.

  • Optional mulching kit and bagger.

  • 18-inch turning radius is a bit wide.

  • Inconvenient location for shift lever.

  • Scattered reports of rough and jumpy starts.

John Deere D105

An automatic transmission makes for smooth handling, the engine has plenty of zest, and the cut is uniform. Reviewers have a few qualms about the front-engine John Deere D105, but many bought it for the John Deere name and most don't seem disappointed in the slightest.

  • Uniform cut; 13 cutting heights.

  • Easy to handle, even on slopes and turns, and mows in reverse.

  • Smooth, comfortable ride.

  • Automatic "shift-on-the-go" transmission.

  • Can be delivered, set up, and tested by specialists for free.

  • Some griping about build quality, including composite plastic hood and parts that break after minimal use.

Poulan Pro PP19A42

The powerful engine and narrow turning radius on the Poulan Pro PP19A42 are strong selling points, according to reviewers, along with ease of use and riding comfort. Buyers who have upgraded or switched from other brands are pleased with their choice.

  • 19-horsepower engine.

  • Powers through very tall grass and leaves a smooth cut.

  • Deftly manages hilly yards.

  • Excellent speed control with automatic transmission.

  • 16-inch turning radius; feels solid and stable.

  • Adjustable seat and washout port.

  • Some parts don't seem durable.

  • Dual pedal setup takes getting used to.

  • Hood could use a latch.

Poulan Pro PB301

Poulan Pro PB301 Review

The Poulan Pro PB301 certainly has its fans -- most reviewers assign this rear-engine mower 4 or 5 stars -- but similar entry-level models garner higher average ratings overall. Few can compete on price, though, making this an arguably decent buy for certain properties.

  • Suited to small, totally flat yards.

  • Sharp turning radius.

  • Adjustable, high-back seat.

  • Low price.

  • Seems fragile and unbalanced to some users.

  • Concerns about build quality.

  • Ride can feel rough.

  • Wheels spin on even the slightest incline.

  • Speed can seem too fast or too slow.

Other Products We Reviewed

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Craftsman LT2500 Review

Craftsman LT2500 reviews award this budget model one of the highest ratings in the lineup of lawn tractors at Sears. One user says the mower easily cuts grass even if you're driving it at full speed. Others comment on the lawn tractor's prowess at plowing through wet grass and up hills with barely a hiccup and cutting at a consistent, even height. Reviews on the Sears site also praise the power, speed, and convenience of the 22-horsepower Kohler engine and hydrostatic automatic transmission. One owner claims this model cut his mowing time by hours. Other features that appeal to users include an easy-to-replace oil filter, adjustable seat, and deck washout port, so you can easily clean out grass clippings with a garden hose. All is not perfect, however. We read a few reviews complaining that you cannot put the machine into reverse without turning it off first, and its inability to mow in reverse puts some off as well. But praise for this model far outweighs the minor critiques.

The Craftsman LT2500 (starting at $1,377) is fully featured. It includes a one-cylinder, 22-horsepower Kohler engine and a 1.5-gallon gas tank. It turns a tight 18-inch radius and the spring-loaded 46-inch deck can be moved into five cutting positions ranging from 1.5 to 4 inches. Cruise control comes in handy, especially for larger yards. The Craftsman LT2500 accepts hauling equipment, lawn care attachments, a snow blade thrower, and two- and three-bin baggers. A mulch kit is also available for an extra charge. The Craftsman LT2500 comes with a full two-year warranty, a five-year warranty on the frame, and a lifetime warranty on the cast-iron front axle. Residents of California will have to opt for a similar tractor that carries the model number 28889 and complies with standards set by the California Air Resources Board, or CARB. Unfortunately that version, marked "CA only," costs about $100 more at Sears.

With its strong engine, easy-to-replace parts, and excellent value, the Craftsman LT2500 28915 has the makings of a winner. If you're mowing in tight spaces, check out one of the brand's 42-inch models, which are also well-reviewed.

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Ariens 960460056 Review

Ariens 960460056 reviews on the Home Depot website and elsewhere are very positive, with comments about the power and the level cut on hilly terrain and in yards spanning multiple acres. Some reviews reserve particular praise for the cutting time; consumers rave about the improvement over previously owned machines. A few reviews mention problems from the get-go, while satisfied customers are quick to note that a lemon or two is inevitable. Overall, most reviewers conclude that the Ariens 960460056 (starting at $1,399) can easily conquer basic yard work.

This lawn tractor has the most impressive specs we encountered among the models we researched, besting competitors on nearly every score. It features a 22-horsepower V-twin Briggs & Stratton engine, a hydrostatic automatic transmission, a 2.5-gallon gas tank, four anti-scalp wheels to keep from cutting bumps too close, a 16-inch turning radius, and a 46-inch deck with 10 cutting heights between 1 and 4.5 inches. Creature comforts include cruise control, a cup holder, and a high-back seat. This model mows in reverse and moves forward at infinitely variable speeds up to 5.2 mph. A deck washout port makes the mower easy to clean.

Reviewers have generally found the Ariens 960460056 a very good value for the money. The steel construction makes it feel sturdy and durable, users say, and they are happy with the ability to mow in reverse and use cruise control. Most important, though, it cuts the grass well, even if it's long.

Troy-Bilt Bronco reviews on the company's website and the Lowe's website (many overlap) offer hat-tips to this model (13YX78KS011) for doing exactly what it is supposed to do. For the most part, they say it's solidly built and has plenty of power, yet manages to be relatively quiet. A minority of the reviews grouse about excessive maintenance and servicing requirements and a frequent need to replace parts. However, most of those complaints are at least a couple of years old, which suggests that they refer to earlier models. Indeed, such complaints led us to warn consumers off a previous version, model number 13AX78KS011. Reviews suggest that more recent models deliver improved performance and happier customers have since weighed in to vouch for the Bronco's longevity.

The Troy-Bilt Bronco (starting at $1,199) boasts some standard features for lawn tractors in this price range, including a 20-horsepower, single-cylinder Kohler engine; an automatic transmission; and two anti-scalp wheels. The 42-inch cutting deck can be set to five different positions and cut grass up to 4 inches. The Troy-Bilt Bronco has a maximum forward speed of more than 5 mph and features an 18-inch turning radius. Unlike some other low-cost lawn tractors, though, it doesn't mow in reverse -- a matter of much consternation among reviewers. This is a very basic mower that does not come with any extras besides a cup holder and an adjustable seat. Consumers must purchase a 2-bin bagger or mulching kit separately. The fuel tank holds 1.4 gallons.

While the durability issues are certainly a concern, they pop up in evaluations of every low-cost riding mower. Troy-Bilt Bronco reviews indicate that this lawn tractor serves owners well as long as they don't use it on rough, hilly terrain or try to pull heavy attachments. For a consumer who simply needs to mow a flat and easy lawn of 1 to 2 acres, this model could be a good value.

Weed Eater One reviews indicate this rear-engine rider has performed just fine for some owners with small, flat yards, as well as those where edging matters and fence lines need proper cutting. The Weed Eater One (starting at $730) is a bit like a single-seat golf cart or perhaps a go-cart with a cutting deck. Satisfied consumers like the price and the compact size, which makes for easy passage through tight spaces and easy storage. However, this mower struggles a bit on hills, according to reviews on the Walmart website, and may give an uneven cut or get stuck where the terrain is uneven. One user who lives in Georgia writes in a review on the Sears website that the wheels lack traction when the clay soil in his area dries out and becomes hard like concrete. Other consumers gripe about steering difficulties, problems with the transmission, and replacement parts that are hard to find. Fewer than 4 in 10 of the many reviewers who have posted on Weed Eater's own website would recommend the mower to a friend.

The Weed Eater One has a small 190cc engine, narrow 26-inch cutting deck, and 31-inch turning radius, nearly twice as wide as one of our top picks. It has a three-speed manual transmission, not an automatic, which tops out at 4 mph going forward and 1 mph in reverse. This machine does boast cruise control, a convenience that doesn't appear on many more full-featured riding mowers. A single blade cuts at three heights between 1.5 and 4 inches, and you can choose a side discharge, mulch, or bag option for grass clippings, the latter two with optional accessories. Front wheels are 10 inches and rear wheels stand 13 inches high. The gas tank holds less than a third of a gallon.

This cheap model may suit fairly level yards of about one-half acre. But consumers who can resist the super-low price will almost certainly be better off in the long run with a sturdier riding mower.

Frugal shoppers looking for a ZTR riding mower should check out the Toro TimeCutter SS4225. This entry-level model offers plenty of oomph and appealing features, and proves easy for novices to master.

  • Zero turn radius mower at good price point.

  • Powerful 22-horsepower twin-cylinder engine.

  • Specific speed ranges for mowing, trimming, and towing.

  • Generally gives a professional-looking cut.

  • Easy to use and comfortable to ride, with an extra-tall seat.

  • Rear-drive tires can't grasp wet grass.

  • Doesn't meet challenge of inclines or bumpy terrain.

  • Scattered reports of failed parts.

Buying Guide

Choosing a Riding Mower or Lawn Tractor

With a sprawling yard, the weekly lawn-mowing chore can be a time-consuming drag. A budget-priced riding mower or lawn tractor can make the task easier, faster, and perhaps even fun. These machines are far more expensive than push lawn mowers, but if the lawn is larger than about one-third of an acre, a conventional walk-behind mower probably isn't going to cut it (pardon the pun). Cheapism.com read through scores of user and expert reviews to find riding mowers priced at $1,500 or less that incorporate useful features, deliver on performance, and prove their value to frugal consumers with yards up to 2 acres.

Brands.

A few large players, including John Deere, Craftsman, Husqvarna, Ariens, Troy-Bilt, Toro, and Poulan Pro, dominate the market. Some manufacturers produce and market mowers under several brand names. Yard Machines and Bolens, for example, are owned by MTD, and Poulan Pro is made by Husqvarna. Because of such sibling relationships, differences between models may be minimal, although prices may differ noticeably. For example, Poulan Pro mowers are significantly cheaper than similar Husqvarnas.

Big-box retailers such as Home Depot, Lowe's, and Sears sell cheap riding mowers and lawn tractors, and many models are available online through the usual ecommerce venues and specialty retailers. Some brands are carried almost exclusively by dealers.

Riding Lawn Mowers.

The terms "riding mower" and "lawn tractor" are often used interchangeably, but the primary distinction concerns the placement of the engine: under or behind the seat in a riding mower and mounted in front of the seat in a lawn tractor.

Riding mowers perform best on flat yards of 1 acre or less. Their engines are peppy enough -- 10 to 14 horsepower is common on lower-priced models -- but they don't have the strength or build to do any real hauling or pull any but the lightest attachments. The compact design lets them navigate tight spaces and fit easily in a garage or shed.

Prices start at about $1,000. The best cheap riding mower we found is the Troy-Bilt TB30 R (starting at $999). While we like some Poulan Pro machines, one entry-level riding mower that reviewers consider less proficient -- especially on inclines, however slight -- and less reliable than our top choice is the Poulan Pro PB301 (starting at $949).

Lawn Tractors.

Brawnier than traditional riding mowers, lawn tractors are geared for yards of 1 to 2 acres with uneven terrain. They're heavier than riding mowers, which helps with traction, and the front-mounted engines are more powerful, with horsepower ranging between 17 and 26 hp. Many sport automatic transmissions, as opposed to the manual shift on a riding mower, which keeps them moving at a steady clip and makes for easier maneuvering around obstacles.

This class of riding mower starts at about $1,200. Our pick for best cheap lawn tractor is the Cub Cadet XT1 Enduro Series LT42 (starting at $1,499), which hits all the right performance metrics. Our second-tier picks are the John Deere D105(starting at $1,499) and Poulan Pro PP19A42 (starting at $1,199), which are both well-liked by users but draw a few more barbs for operational irritants.

Note: Residents of California must buy lawn mowers that comply with standards set by the California Air Resources Board. With the exception of the John Deere D105, our top picks come in versions that are CARB-compliant.

Expensive vs. Cheap Riding Mowers.

It's important to choose a riding mower or lawn tractor that suits the property and the operator. Budget riding mowers and lawn tractors are meant to mow grass, not tow heavy equipment, although most lawn tractors can pull a small cart, snow thrower, sprayer, or the like. The least expensive models do well on flat or gently rolling lawns that are relatively free of landscaping obstacles like trees, bushes, bird baths, etc. They have few frills and less power than pricier models. With only a few exceptions, they run on a one-cylinder engine that makes lots of noise. Most, if not all, discharge grass clippings out the side; bagging and mulching usually require accessories that can cost several hundred dollars, depending on the make and model. Finding parts and/or service may be a challenge (you can't just load the mower into the trunk to bring to a repair shop), and longevity may be limited to a couple hundred hours of use. Our research found, however, that consumers are quite satisfied with our top picks, despite minor shortcomings.

Upscale models, notably lawn tractors, run on twin-cylinder engines that produce more horsepower, run quieter, vibrate less, and tend to last longer. They boast more advanced engineering, better build quality, and more features (e.g., large fuel tank, four-wheel steering, longer warranty). Many are designed with professional landscapers in mind and for heavy-duty work around expansive properties.

Zero-turn-radius riding mowers, like the Toro TimeCutter SS4225 (starting at $2,499), feature rear-mounted engines and start at about $2,200. They sport individually controlled rear wheels (one can spin forward as the other spins backward) that enable the machine to turn 360 degrees "on a dime." They are very easy to maneuver and can reduce mowing time, but versatility is not their strong suit. Like cheaper riding mowers and lawn tractors, ZTR mowers are challenged by hills and aren't designed to haul heavy attachments. They're also costly to repair.

Garden tractors are best for hilly yards of several acres. Prices for this class of riding mower start at about $2,500. They feature massive cutting decks (up to 56 inches), heavy frames, very powerful engines (in the 20- to 26-horsepower range), and large gas tanks. They're more fuel-efficient than regular lawn tractors, provide better traction, and can haul logs and ground-engaging equipment such as plows and tillers.

Features Comparison

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Review Score:
Product Title
Type
Cutting Width
Cutting Heights
Engine
Transmission
Fuel Tank Capacity
Turning Radius
Product Title
Type
Cutting Width
Cutting Heights
Engine
Transmission
Fuel Tank Capacity
Turning Radius

Cub Cadet XT1 LT42

$1499
Front engine
42 in.
12 (1-4 in.)
18 hp
Hydrostatic
3 gallons
16 in.

Troy-Bilt TB30 R

$999
Rear engine
30 in.
5 (1.5-3.5 in.)
10.5 hp
6-speed manual
1.3 gallons
18 in.

John Deere D105

$1499
Front engine
42 in.
13 (1-4 in.)
17.5 hp
Automatic
2.4 gallons
18 in.

Poulan Pro PP19A42

$1199
Front engine
42 in.
6 (1.5-4 in.)
19 hp
Automatic
2.5 gallons
16 in.

Poulan Pro PB301

$949
Rear engine
30 in.
4 (1.5-4 in.)
10.5 hp
4-speed manual
1.5 gallons
14 in.

Toro TimeCutter SS4225

$2499
Zero turn radius
42 in.
7 (1.5-4.5 in.)
22 hp, twin cylinder
Hydrostatic
3 gallons
Zero