Dollars & Sense: Grass is 'greener' with lawn mowers these days

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 27, 2010 - 12:21 AM

If you're in the market for a new push mower and haven't shopped for a decade or so, the landscape has changed.

About the time you're celebrating that most of your perennials survived the winter, you discover that your lawn mower wasn't as lucky. If you're in the market for a new push mower and haven't shopped for a decade or so, the landscape has changed.

Gas-powered mowers pollute much less than they did 10 years ago, said Rob Little, marketing manager for Toro walk mowers, but more buyers are choosing electric or battery-powered mowers. While about 83 percent of all mowers sold this year will be gas-powered, Little said, 17 percent will be electric -- up from 8 percent in 2000.

This year Toro introduced a battery-powered mower, the e-Cycler (Model 20360).

"With the spike in gas prices, more people are looking to get rid of oil and gas machines," he said. "In 2012, the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] will have new emissions regulations that could increase the cost of gas mowers."

With more buyers switching, small-engine repair shop owners are nervous. "My manager says that every time we sell a battery or electric mower, it's another nail in the coffin of our jobs," said Derrick Wood at Cedar Small Engine in Minneapolis. With battery and electric models, there is little to maintain except keeping the mower clean and the blade sharpened.

Pros and cons of electric

If you're considering a battery-powered mower, the advantages include a quieter engine, better cutting than a reel mower (but not as good as a gas-powered mower), fewer parts to replace and low maintenance.

Battery-powered models cost about $100 more than a gas-powered push mower but about the same as many self-propelled gas models.

Owners will save a lot in maintenance costs, but they need to figure in the cost of a battery replacement ($60 to $150) after four to six years. Most batteries charge overnight and the charge lasts about an hour. If mowing time takes longer, some people cut half the lawn, recharge the battery overnight and finish the job the next day.

Toro's new e-Cycler ($419) was top-rated by Consumer Reports in its May issue and is getting five-star customer reviews at Amazon.com. It's giving the popular Neuton model some competition in the cordless category. (Neuton lowered the price of its 19-inch cordless model from $479 to $399, possibly in response to Toro's new model.) Online nits about the e-Cycler have concerned its weight (77 pounds) for a mower that's not self-propelled, its hard-to-remove battery and its small grass catcher.

Gas means performance

Gas-powered mowers offer better cutting and easier bagging, Consumer Reports said, but require more work to maintain.

To minimize problems, use gas that is less than 30 days old. Little recommends using non-oxygenated gas (ethanol-free). To find stations that sell non-oxygenated gasoline, go to www.motorbyte.com/norton/ethanol-free.htm.

An additive such as Seafoam can extend the life of the gas for up to 60 days, Wood said. He also recommends Echo universal blend oil for two-stroke engines. It works well for people with several machines that have different oil mix ratios of 50:1, 40:1 or 32:1. A small bottle costs less than $2.

Mike Frattalone of Frattalone's Ace Hardware recommends a high-grade small-engine oil called Opti-2 (two-stroke) or Opti-4 (four-stroke). The lubricant's maker doubles the mower manufacturer's warranty (engine only) with the purchase of a six-pack of the oil for $50. (A typical mower-manufacturer's warranty is two years.)

Get in on class-action lawsuit

If you have purchased a gas-powered mower since 1994, check out the class-action lawsuit at www.lawnmowerclass.com. The suit claims that defendants were sold certain gas-powered mowers and engines with false and misleading horsepower ratings. You might be eligible to receive up to $35 for walk-behind mowers or up to $75 for riding mowers if you purchased a model with a gas engine up to 30 horsepower between Jan. 1, 1994, and April 12, 2010. Brands include Yard-Man, Honda, Bolens, Deere, Scotts, Toro, Yard Machines, Craftsman, Troy Bilt, Lawn-Boy, Snapper and Murray. Forms can be submitted online and must be received by Aug. 31. Call 1-877-773-8196 for more information.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or jewoldt@startribune.com. If you spot a deal, share it at www.startribune.com/blogs/dealspotter.

  • BUYING TIPS FOR ANY MOWER

    Get a guarantee: Hate not being able to test a mower before purchasing? Buy one with a six-month money-back guarantee, such as Neuton battery-powered models, or buy from retailers with unconditional return policies, such as Sam's Club.

    Read up on ratings: Check out the May issue of Consumer Reports for mower reviews and manufacturer reliability.

    Consider newer features: Options include electric start, self-propulsion that automatically adjusts to your walking speed, and a port to wash out green gunk with a hose.

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