Things I Hate: Lawnmowers

Mowing grass is one of my least favorite activities.  The neighbors are all religious about it, and have well manicured lawns.  I can’t be bothered.  I won’t let it develop into a rats den, but if it’s a few inches high, with the odd weed sticking up, it’s no bother to me.  It’s still green.

Since it’s been a wet June, I’ve had to mow more than last year.  Several of the neighbors have people that come out and do it, but I think there’s too much cheap Irishman in me to consider something like that.  My lawn isn’t really that big anyway.

I’ve been thinking it’s time to get a new mower though. I have a long and hateful relationship with my current mower, since I’ve been using it since Dad made me start mowing the grass as a teenager.  Date of Manufacture on it is 1979.  Sadly, corn farmers in Iowa are destroying it by having Democrats mandate ethanol in fuel, and it’s starting to rust out the exhaust and rot the fuel lines away.  Considering I’ve never bought a lawnmower, I know little about them.  No need for riders, or fancy self-propelled models, but I’d like something that will last as long as this old Murray mower has.  Simple and well made.  Not sure about bagging models vs. side chute models, vs. mulching mowers.  Are mulching mowers anything to write home about?  I think I’m too lazy for anything with a bag.  Anyone have suggestions?

44 thoughts on “Things I Hate: Lawnmowers”

  1. I now have the ultra pricey Honda Variable Speed Quadra Cut System dealio, but for manueverability and general grass planing, I miss the old 2-stroke LawnBoy.

  2. I own a craftsman which I abuse. It runs great, and I’ve abused it for 7 years. It starts well, cuts great, and I’ve never had a problem with it.

  3. You’re not going to find anything made today that will last as long as your nemesis lawn mower.

    My tractor died early this season and I was going to invest in a nice zero turn mower. Until I figured out that I could pay the kid across the street to mow my lawn 150 times for the price of the zero turn – he even trims everything with a string trimmer and cleans up with a leaf blower.. He’s been mowing my lawn ever since.

    Depending on the size of your lawn, the old school reel lawn mowers can be had for under $100. Guaranteed to never run out gas – and you can even tell your neighbors your “green” – and cheap.

  4. Those old Murray’s are great. My riding mower is a Murray, as was my last push mower. Unfortunately, the only places to find them in my neck of the woods (North Alabama) are Wal-Marts, which I refuse to enter.

    My suggestion: Get another Murray (Briggs & Stratton bought them after they went bankrupt a few years ago).

  5. I have a mower with a Honda engine. It is great and I highly recommend that engine.

    I have a pressure washer with a Briggs and Straton engine. that engine is a bitch to start and if you turn it off, you have to wait till it cools down to restart. POS.

    Go Honda. Don’t look back.

  6. Don’t bother with a mulcher if you don’t keep the grass short. Since it doesn”t expel the grass but keeps it in the blade area choping the grass into little pieces (sp?) you’ll find it’ll put more stress on the engine than a side discharge. This is very true if the grass is damp. I hate baggers you have to stop empty the darn thing & unless you are big into composting what are you going to do with the clipings? I say leave them on the lawn. I had to buy a mower this year and have had good luck so far with a crafstman side discharge with a kohler engine. My neighbor like her Honda but you’ll pay a premium for the engine, they double the price. Also avoid the powered wheel models it’s just another thing to break and you still have to push the thing.

  7. How large a plot? I just bought a Black and Decker electric for my place after moving in. It’s not self-propelled (which yours wasn’t either, I’d venture to guess), and at 19″ the cutting path is a tad slim, but it got excellent reviews on amazon and I’m pretty happy with it myself. I’ve got 50′ x 100′ worth of lot including the footprint of the house and I was able to do both front and back in less than 45 minutes, including unpack time and having to find a second outlet out front for the weedwhacker (and run the weedwhacker as well as the mower, of course).

    The big limitation is being sure not to run over the extension cord, and there is a limit of 100′ on the cord due to resistance.

    I wasn’t all that much quieter than the gas-powered jobs when the blade is turning, but of course it is SILENT when the blade is not turning.

    (Lowe’s had it rather less than list, but somewhat more than Amazon’s cost – Home Despot only carried it on-line and at the same price as Lowes).

    Check out the reviews, there’s people in there who have beat the crap out of it – a handful of which seem to have managed to kill it.

    Also – apparently the euros use hovermowers…

  8. I run the maintenance side of municipal parks dept. for a living. Everything said so far is pretty spot on. A mulching mower isn’t gonna like letting the grass go a few weeks. A bagger can be a real pita, especially again if you tend to let it go. Stopping to empty that bag every pass or 2…….
    If you don’t have a huge yard and can do without a self-propelled job, get whatever POS mower Home Depot has in the $100-$150 range. It doesn’t matter much, it’s just an engine with a blade mounted on wheels. My guys beat the hell out of them and they still last 3-5yrs. Right now, Honda makes the very best small engines. They are not cheap, but they are super reliable. If you want a mower that lasts, start with one that has a Honda on it.

  9. “Depending on the size of your lawn, the old school reel lawn mowers can be had for under $100.”

    I’ll second that suggestion. My uncle recently got one of those, and the modern ones are apparently just as easy to push as a gas powered push mower. You don’t have to worry about gas, or worrying about the engine, and they’re quiet. They’re also supposed to be better for the grass, since it makes a cleaner cut.

    Of course, you could always get a robotic mower instead, then you wouldn’t have to worry about keeping up with the mowing at all.

  10. If it were mine, I’d replace the parts that are going bad and keep it going. The gas line is only a buck or so per foot. That and the muffler would probably leave you change from $20.

    I wouldn’t replace the mower until there motor itself went bad or if the chassis rusted through.


  11. I went electric. People laugh, until the started chain or whatever snaps.

    I just pull a handle and go.

    Though with my allergies, I wanna set fire to the whole damn thing!

  12. I can agree with the fuel line deterioration but if it’s as old as you say it is you are probably stretching it to blame the muffler rusting out on ethanol blend fuel – not saying I support burning food for fuel but after that many heat-cool cycles any muffler is going to rust!

    My current mower is a mulcher-bagger combo with no provision for regular discharge – I have to wait until the grass is completely dry to mow otherwise the mulcher leaves big clumps of partially mulched grass or it plugs at half a bag which means twice as many stops to empty the bag. Since I work nights it means that either I get up during the heat of the day to mow or the grass looks like h*ll until the weekend.

    Unless the engine is totally shot I’d fix the old Murray. If you have to buy a new machine go for a simple side discharge with a name brand engine. I’m partial to Briggs & Stratton (tradition) or Honda (pricey but reliable) but the current machine is a Tecumseh and it’s still going strong.

  13. John is right. Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) does not cause rust. To the contrary, alcohol absorbs water out of your fuel and carries it out with its combustion. Ethanol actually cleans your fuel lines and engine. That could be problematic on a really old engine if the dirt was sealing up any leaks that normally occur with age and rust from water in regular gasoline.
    Akso, no human food is EVER used to make ethanol. Only corn that would otherwise be feed to livestock is utilized, and of that, only the starch/sugar is used for alcohol production. The protein and corn oil are then returned to the feed and food markets as distiller’s grain, corn syrup and corn oil. Distiller’s grain and suyrup are then sold to both dairy and feeder cattle ranchers who covet the high protein, low fat feed for their livestock as a low cost alternative to whole corn. And the corn oil that would normally be lost to livestock feed is sold to the human food market. The claim that we must sacrifice food for ethanol is a big LIE perpetrated by the oil industry and grocery associations, the latter using it as a pretense for unjustifiably jacking up food prices and their obscene profits while deflecting the blame to the clean fuel industry. For proof, just ask yourself: since ethanol production has declined due to extreme economic forces this past year, have your food (especially meat) prices gone down at the grocery store? NO! Of course not! It was all a big lie pushed by the ignorant news media and talk shows and big oil politicians in both parties.
    Do your own research my good friends. Don’t be puppets who simply parrot the prejudiced “research” of others. And if I may add, there are Republicans who support American-grown clean fuel also (Sen. Grassely for one).
    Thank you for letting me get that off my chest!
    – Arnie

  14. When you were a teenager, you always seemed to have something else to do when it was time to cut the grass and I had to do it.


  15. Arnie:

    Ethanol doesn’t damage engines that are designed to handle it, which is just about all modern engines. A lawnmower made in the late 70s isn’t designed to handle gasoline blended with ethanol. Ethanol does cause certain rubbers to break down. Those types of rubbers are no longer used in fuel lines in modern cars and presumably lawnmowers. But they were in the 70s. The FAA bans the use of ethanol in piston powered aircraft largely because most of the aircraft stock were made before engine manufacturers had considered the use of ethanol as a fuel additive.

  16. You are correct, Sebastian, about the potential deleterious effect of ethanol on 30-year old rubber seals used in old engines, although, I ran E-10 in a ’66 Chevy grain truck for over 10 years without any fuel line issues. I did not know about the FAA restriction, but it makes sense – there are a lot of private aircraft still flying out there that were manufactured in the 60s and 70s. My best friend has one. But all of my current vehicles and lawnmowers run exclusively on gasohol (10% ethanol) and I hope to upgrade to E-15 and E-85 as soon as my finances recover from buying militia arms in view of the present tyranny.

  17. There’s long been a fight between FAA and EPA over elimination of 100LL Avgas, which is what about 30% of the general aviation stock runs on. 100LL Avgas still contains tetra-ethyl lead, which the EPA has been pressuring FAA to phase out, but obviously FAA and the general aviation community aren’t all that interested in having their planes fall out of the sky. Planes are a lot more picky about fuel than automobiles, and FAA standards for Avgas are much more strict than for mogas.

  18. Yeah, Arnie go have a talk with the boat owners who seem to be having problems with that wonderful stuff. Which also, by the way, decreased my gas mileage by 10% when the 10% variant was forced on the public a few years back. And that was in a vehicle mfg’d in 1999.

  19. Yes, emdfl, you will get a loss of BTUs resulting in lower fuel mileage with ethanol (10% seems a bit much – I experience around 3-5%), but the lower price of E-10 should make that a wash. I do not know where you live, but here on the great plains we have the option of buying regular unleaded (by the way, they forced unleaded down our throats, not ethanol, at least not here), but regular costs about a dime more. But even if they were the same price, I’d still buy the E-10 knowing that it pollutes less and deprives our mortal muslim enemies of millions of dollars they would otherwise use to attack, murder and destroy us. That seems like a good deal to me.
    I don’t have any information about the outboard motor problems boaters are having, but I suppose it may have to do with what Sebastian described earlier. Again, if your engine is really old, use regular. If it is newer, pick one fuel and stick with it; changing fuel types can cause problems as I mentioned in my first post. Hope that helps.

    1. E-10 is only cheaper because of subsidies. As for Grassley supporting it, that’s called rent seeking for his constituents. Plain and simple, it’s using tax dollars and political power to dramatically alter the market. It’s wrong regardless of the party doing it.

  20. Just did the lawn again with the electric, and it was just as easy as the first time – took about 15-20 minutes to do roughly 4200 sq ft. Don’t bother with the ones with the onboard battery – it adds weight and a part with a strictly limited shelf life. Lighter than an equivalent gas motor IMHO, and being able to casually tip it over and clean out the underside of the deck was kinda nifty.

    The big danger is running over the cord, but a little bit of foreplanning mitigates that. As the manual says, start close to the outlet and move away; and always pay attention to the line. If you have one, use an orange cord, but I’m getting by with the green one I already had.

  21. My Troy-Bilt is going strong, though it’s only a couple years old. It has a Briggs and Stratton motor with pullcord starter, and I make sure always to buy non-ethanol gas for it, even if I have to go farther to get it.

    I “mulch” by mowing without the bag, which works just fine – actually the lawn has been noticeably better off since I stopped bagging. Since this works without any special mulching feature, I’d say there’s no need to spend extra for it. You should be able to get a decent mower for a couple hundred if you look around a bit, or wait to the end of the season.

    1. Wait, how do you have a lawn to mow, Stacy? (Assuming you still live in the same condo, you might have noticed a smoker going across the street. My former co-worker was apparently smoking a pork butt all day today.)

  22. i picked up a key start husquaverna (sp) at sears for less than $400 a few years back… it is great, no more pulling a danged rope to start it, it handles everything i throw at it…

    head down to your local sears and see what is on sale, you cant really go wrong there…

  23. I share the good Lady’s disdain for subsidies. But if we refrain from using fuels that are subsidized, we must park our cars, because OIL is subsidized. So is electricity. In fact, if you count taxpayer supported Naval protection of foreign-oil supertankers and the sea lanes they travel, gasoline costs us far more than ethanol. I am not here to argue, but only to inform. I do not think any fuel should be forced upon us (including unleaded gasoline, low-sulfur Diesel, and gasohol), but I love having the option of not buying overpriced foreign oil from terrorists who use those profits to buy the weapons they use to murder our people.
    On a related note, there is a rumor that the Bakken oil reserve under Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas holds more than a half-trillion barrels of light sweet crude, enough to keep us oil independent for over 2000 years, and only the wacko environmentalists are preventing our easy access to it. If true, our discussion here becomes irrelevant. Obviously, cheap, homemade gasoline will be the only way to go!
    Have a great day!

    1. Arnie, if you take that argument about the Navy to its conclusion, police protection in the cities, counties, and states is an additional subsidy for corn farmers. By that logic, one of the legitimate uses of government – protection of its citizens – is nothing more than a subsidy that skews a market by providing enforcement for the rule of law. Not to mention, by not supporting some level of international protection of our citizens and trade routes, we would basically have to stop importing everything. The consequences of that…well, I shouldn’t have to explain that in detail. Needless to say, this recession would be a walk in the park compared to the impact of ending all global trade.

      I have to say Arnie, this is the second time you’ve said you don’t want to argue with me because I’m a woman. Is there an issue with arguing the merits of your case with a woman? I’m just curious.

  24. Getting back on topic…

    Bag, side, rear, mulch… mulching is generally better for your lawn since the clippings act as a fertilizer. It’s “green” and all that to do. But having the ability to bag can be useful, because if you’re getting weeds, you may want to bag up the clippings vs. mulching which would just spread the weed seeds across the lawn and risk making the problem worse. I prefer rear bag because side-bag makes the mower wide and hard to navigate around things like trees or other yard obstacles. May or may not be an issue for you depending upon your lawn, but if you want it to last a long time, maybe your next lawn may have issues. That said, I usually mulch my grass. Yes taller grass can bog her down, but that’s why you also get a nice powerful engine instead of a little wimpy one. :-) Also, as the summer heats up, adjust the height and cut the grass a little taller… helps shade the ground, which helps minimize evaporation of moisture from the soil.

    Certainly mulchers help with the laziness factor… you only have to stop the mower to refuel, because you want to, or because you’re done. Otherwise, keep chugging.

    Bottom line tho: just keep it inexpensive. Don’t worry about bells and whistles because as someone else said, they’re just an engine on wheels with a spinning blade… it’s not THAT complicated a thing and most expensive mowers have tons of frills that just aren’t needed.

    I recently put my Yard Machines (B&S engine) of 10 years to bed and picked up a Toro Personal Pace:

    Strong engine, rear bag, mulches, and the “personal pace” self propelled stuff is awesome… you can get it going fast enough that you have to run behind it to keep up. :-) Makes mowing go VERY fast, so you’re in and out of there quickly… welcome in this Texas summer heat (my oldest son can mow the lawn in about 1/3 less time with this mower vs. the older mower). As long as I take care of her, I expect she’ll last me a good long time.

  25. Wait, how do you have a lawn to mow, Stacy? (Assuming you still live in the same condo, you might have noticed a smoker going across the street. My former co-worker was apparently smoking a pork butt all day today.)

    Married, one kid and another on the way, have a 1/3-acre SFH out in Chantilly now :) You guys should stop by next time you’re in town…

    1. Congrats on the new one on the way! I didn’t realized you had moved. That’s very cool! If we make it down there again, I’ll definitely let you know and see if we can catch up.

  26. “Depending on the size of your lawn, the old school reel lawn mowers can be had for under $100.”

    Don’t do it. I had one that I inherited. It wasn’t worth the nothing I paid for it. Reel mowers work great if you mow regularly and often. And if they’re kept in good running order (sharp and not rusty). If any of that isn’t true, then they clog and jam like crazy.

    I replaced mine with an corded electric. It was cheap and I live in a townhouse with only about 1000 sq ft of grass so it’s nice. Electric is a lot quieter than gas and has fewer moving parts. I mulch, but I’m pretty sure that’s why my lawn is healthy green and one big weed.

  27. I should mention that I’m mulching with the electric mower.Haven’t tried the bag, don’t intend to at the current time.

    Ditto the recommendation against the reel mowers by Jeff the Baptist, from second-hand experience. A friend of mine bought one new for a lawn about the size of mine, and an identical experience.

  28. Years ago I killed a mower and decided to get the very best. Did my research and at the time (1991) found that Toro had the only full pressure oiling system – like your car or truck. Honda may have it now too. Anyhow, $600 seemed like a lot when the neighbor kid offered to mow for $10.00 a time. Like one of the other posters, I haven’t mowed since. It’s now $15 and he’s an adult but still mows 10 yards a week as a part time job. Lot is 99 x 130 and covered by house and garage (2400 sq ft total) and I wouldn’t go back to mowing. As others have said, fix the old mower and keep going rather than buy a new one. On ethanol, my regular gas mileage improvement pays for the 10 cent difference between ethanol and regular. I’m in Iowa and don’t mind supporting the corn farmers, I’m just cheap. I follow one of the Baaken (sp?) Reserve companies and they keep getting new wells doing 200 barrels a day. That’s a pretty slow way to get to those trillions of barrels.

  29. Bought a Honda HR214 in 1987, and it’s still running, despite being in Florida for the last 17 years where we mow weekly April-Nov and bi-weekly the rest of the time. Smoking a bit on startup now, and had to replace the rear drive tires last year, but (knock on wood) other than regular air filter and oil changes and blade sharpening, it’s run steady.

  30. 30 years ago I gave a guy who ran a small engine repair shop $25 for a ‘no name brand’ no frills used lawnmower with a 3.5 HP Briggs and Stratton Engine on it. It looked like crap but ran just fine. Since then I have wired and duct taped three different side catcher bags back together before replacing them. I drain the gas, change the oil and sharpen the blade at the beginning of each winter so its ready to go in the spring. I clean the air filter regularly and had to replace the starter rope about 10 years ago.

    It starts on the second or third pull everytime.

    I paid for my last two years of college with that mower and have been using it every since. My 3000 sq ft of lawn doesn’t care that it is getting mowed with a rusty old piece of crap.

    If I every find a improvised explosive devise in my yard I will just park my mower on top of it. I think it could survive anything except a small tactical nuke.

  31. I got a cheap (on sale, just over $200) Toro in 2002–same one my neighbor had and his was already 4 years old then. Both are still running just fine now. I’ve only changed my oil once and that’s the extent of the maintenance I’ve done. It’s self propelled and you can either bag or shoot the grass out the side. Seems like an excellent value to me. I know you don’t need self propelled, but at this price why not? This looks like the one (if they offer the exact same model; if not, it’s close) that I bought:

  32. A. By a five gallon jug of aviation gas. No additives, no ethanol, won’t go bad.

    B. Rig up a simple still. Ethanol has a way different boiling point than Octane or Heptane. You’ll end up with pure gasoline and a little something to make the job easier.

  33. A note to the curious:
    A gentleman never argues with a married woman. It is not his place to criticize, bully, or attempt to disuade another man’s wife. Such behavior is brutish, cowardly, and disrespectful of her, her husband, and their marriage. I hold the highest esteem for the author of this website and his wife. This site features a high level of courtesy and cordiality pervading its posts. I shall not desecrate that record by impertinence towards its creator. I shall keep my place.

  34. Of that I have no doubt, sir. You are truly blessed!
    Still, it is a principle I endeavor to uphold for the sake of respecting marriage.
    Thank you both again for this wonderful website!

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