One of my readers, Amanda, recently moved into her first home with a yard and grass that needs cutting. “It’s huge,” she told me, “and I don’t know what to do. Is it OK to buy a used lawn mower or does it have to be new?” That’s a great question. Whether your old lawn mower has finally called it quits or if, like Amanda, you find yourself needing a lawn mower for the first time, you might be wondering the same thing: Should I buy a used lawn mower to save money?
Buying gently used merchandise can be a great way to stay within your budget. But, there are some general considerations that apply to any secondhand purchase: Will the item meet my needs? Does it work? Is it in good condition? How much does the same item cost new? How old is it? If it needs repair, how much will that cost and are the materials or parts still available?
When you’re purchasing a used lawn mower, you’ll have more specific questions. Mel Redburn, the owner of Rental Ranch in Wichita, Kan., has sold, serviced and repaired outdoor power equipment for 47 years. Here’s his advice about what to look for when you’re buying a used lawn mower.
Start your research by looking at the features and prices of new lawn mowers, so you can set a realistic benchmark for the used lawn mowers that you’ll consider. Redburn suggests paying no more than 60% to 70% of retail on a mower that is two or three years old, and that’s only if it is a good mower in great shape.
New lawn mowers come in a wide range of prices. A 20″ Murray gas-powered lawn mower is currently selling for $138 at Walmart. It has a Briggs & Stratton motor, which is a reputable brand, but it’s not self-propelled and it doesn’t have bagging or mulching capability (side-discharge only). Still, it’s fairly inexpensive and comes with a free limited product warranty. The Snapper 21″ front wheel drive self-propelled gas mower is twice as much at $267, but it also has a Briggs & Stratton motor, options for mulching, bagging or side-discharge, and you won’t have to push.
Both of these are on the low end of the price spectrum. Self-propelled, walk-behind gas mowers with special features can reach $1,000 or more; riding mowers start at around $1,000 and go up. Once you have an idea of the features you need and the prices of new mowers, you’ll be better equipped to tell if a used mower is a good deal.
Redburn recommends sticking with popular, name-brand engines so that if the mower does need repair at some point, you can still find parts. He likes Briggs & Stratton, Honda and Kawasaki, although the latter two are most often found in commercial machines.
You can purchase a used mower from a reputable dealer or from an individual. If you buy from a dealer, find out what, if any, work the shop has done to the mower already, why the previous owner sold it and whether there is any kind of warranty. According to Redburn, a 30-day warranty is average, but the length of the warranty may vary depending on the age and condition of the mower.
If you purchase from an individual, ask whether he or she has retained any paperwork on the mower. An original purchase receipt can confirm the age of a used mower. Maintenance records will tell you whether the mower was serviced, and how often.
Regular maintenance is extremely important to keeping a mower in good condition. Listen for the seller to mention these basics:
- Checking the oil before starting the mower every time
- Cleaning the air filter every few mowings
- Yearly service that includes an oil change, new spark plugs, new air filter and blade sharpening
Once you have found a likely candidate — a used, name-brand mower with an engine for which you can still find parts, that is priced appropriately and has been well-maintained — here are additional things Redburn recommends checking:
- Look at the wheels. Are they wobbly? Are the tires cracked? “That’s kind of a dead giveaway,” he says. “On a riding mower, check to see if the treads are worn down on the tires.”
- Check the handles on a push mower. “You don’t want the handles to be loose or see cables that are kinked up and bent.”
- Make sure to start the mower and see that it performs the way it should. “Start the machine yourself,” Redburn says, “to make sure you can start it, and not just the person selling it to you.” If you can’t start it when you get it home, you can’t cut your grass.
- Check the oil to ensure it appears fresh and clean. “If it’s been badly abused, the oil is going to be black, thick and gooey-looking,” Redburn says.
- Check the air filter. “Make sure it’s not black and dirty, pulling dirt into the engine,” says Redburn. “And inspect the area behind the air filter to see if it’s packed with dirt, because that will be a short-lived engine if it has ingested that amount of dirt.”
Amanda eventually decided to purchase a new, self-propelled lawn mower with one of the recommended engines. It was on sale, but she was also able to get an extra 30% discount because the store had a special late-night sale event. The tips for what to look for when buying a used mower came in handy, and the service tips will help her keep her new mower in great condition.