Mulcher lawnmowers review 2006

Mulching the grass you cut makes a lot of sense, not just for environmental reasons.
 
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  • Updated:9 Jan 2006
 

01 .Introduction

Mulcher lawn mower

Test results for 12 petrol-powered mulcher lawn mowers, priced from $449 to $886

The tested models included ten four-stroke and two two-stroke models.

We tested them for:

  • Grass-cutting performance in mulcher and catcher modes
  • Ease of use

Mulcher mowers chop the grass finely and force clipping back down into the lawn. By slowing evaporation, mulching can reduce your lawn's need for water and fertiliser.

For an alternative to petrol lawn mowers see our test of electric mowers.

Please note: this information was current as of January 2006 but is still a useful guide to today's market. For more recent information, see our Mulcher lawnmowers review 2011.

Findings:

  • Most of the lawn mowers performed well, but one of the cheaper models impressed on all fronts.
  • Four-stroke motors are much less polluting than two-strokes, but there’s little discernible difference in performance.

Brands tested

  • GMC Mulch & Catch TDL484
  • HONDA Buffalo Buck HRU 19D1
  • HONDA Buffalo Classic HRU 196D
  • MASPORT Chip Catch 'n Mulch 983843
  • ROVER Leader 32H160
  • ROVER Mulch 'N Catch 35M92
  • TALON Eagle Ultimate Mulch or Catch AM3065
  • VICTA Mustang MCA482A (two-stroke)
  • VICTA Mustang MCA485A
  • VICTA Tornado Mulch or Catch TMS482A (two-stroke)
  • VICTA Tornado Mulch or Catch TMS484A
  • YARD-MAN 404X Mulch & Catch

What else you'll get in this report

As well as the test results you'll also get:

  • Prices, features and profiles for all models.
  • Invaluable buying information: Practical advice and tips. Read this before you buy!

For our 2009 updated report on mulcher lawn mowers see mulcher lawn mowers. View our buying guide for more tips on how to compare and review lawn mowers.

 
 

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What to buy

  • VICTA Tornado Mulch or Catch TMS484A - $549
  • HONDA Buffalo Buck Mulch and Catch HRU 19D - $736
  • ROVER Mulch 'N Catch 35M92 - $689
  • VICTA Mustang MCA485A - $739

What about the rest?

Most of the remaining mowers had very good to excellent scores for cutting performance, so you’d probably be happy with them as well.

  • The HONDA Buffalo Classic Mulch and Catch HRU 196D has a large catcher, but is more difficult to use: it’s heavy and its controls are stiff.
  • On both remaining VICTAs tested the cutting height is difficult to adjust, as the lever hits the wheel. The VICTA Tornado Mulch or Catch TMS482A left some grass on the ground when mulching, and the VICTA Mustang MCA482A was one of the noisiest in the test.
  • On the even noisier YARD-MAN 404X Mulch & Catch, the catcher is difficult to fit to and take off, and the handle cuts into your hand when carrying the mower.
  • The ROVER Leader 32H160 vibrated a lot in our tests. Its handle is adjustable, but the catcher is comparatively small.
  • The MASPORT Chip Catch 'n Mulch 983843 has a chipper attachment that works well for mulching a few small, green branches.
  • The GMC Mulch & Catch TDL484 has a ‘deadman’s handle’ . It has good controls, but the catcher is a little flimsy and fiddly to attach.
  • Scoring lowest for cutting (in both modes) and ease of use, the TALON Eagle Ultimate Mulch or Catch AM3065 was the only mower tested whose engine slowed when cutting medium-length grass. Its controls are vague and flimsy and although it has an adjustable, very comfortable handle, its weight and bulk make it tiring to push.

Results tables

Performance
Brand / model (in rank order) Overall score1
(%)
Cutting score2
(with catcher, %)
Cutting score2
(mulching, %)
Ease of use
score3 (%)
Noise at 7.5 m /
user’s position4(dB)
Price ($)*
VICTA Tornado Mulch or Catch TMS484A 89 98 100 73 70 / 86 549
HONDA Buffalo Buck Mulch and Catch HRU 19D1 87 98 100 69 69 / 84 736
ROVER Mulch ‘N Catch 35M92 87 91 100 74 71 / 85 689
VICTA Mustang MCA485A 87 96 100 70 68 / 83 739
HONDA Buffalo Classic Mulch and Catch HRU 196D 85 98 100 64 72 / 84 886
VICTA Mustang MCA482A 85 96 100 66 72 / 87 669
YARD-MAN 404X Mulch & Catch 85 99 100 63 72 / 89 599
VICTA Tornado Mulch or Catch TMS482A 84 98 90 69 69 / 85 549
ROVER Leader 32H160 83 91 95 68 70 / 86 599
MASPORT Chip Catch n Mulch 983843 81 98 85 66 69 / 84 599
GMC Mulch & Catch TDL484 79 98 80 64 66 / 83 449
TALON Eagle Ultimate Mulch or Catch AM3065 71 81 73 63 68 / 83 499

Specifications
Brand / model
(in rank order)
Motor type5 Starter toggle6 Cutting positions7 Cutting height range7 (mm) Width of cut (measured, mm) Weight (kg)** Warranty (years, general / motor) Origin Manufacturer /
distributor
VICTA Tornado Mulch or Catch TMS484A 4-stroke On engine 10 15–65 480 26 2 / 2 Australia Victa
HONDA Buffalo Buck Mulch and Catch HRU 19D1 4-stroke Halfway up handle 11 15–75 470 28 ns (A) Australia Honda
ROVER Mulch ‘N Catch 35M92 4-stroke On engine 12 10–60 450 28 1 / 2 Australia Rover
VICTA Mustang MCA485A 4-stroke On engine 10 10–65 480 26 2 / 2 Australia Victa
HONDA Buffalo Classic Mulch and Catch HRU 196D 4-stroke Halfway up handle 11 15–75 470 33 ns (A) Australia Honda
VICTA Mustang MCA482A 2-stroke On engine 10 10–65 480 27 2 / 3 Australia Victa
YARD-MAN 404X Mulch & Catch 4-stroke Halfway up handle 9 10–65 460 28 2 / 2 ns MTD
VICTA Tornado Mulch or Catch TMS482A 2-stroke On engine 10 15–65 480 28 2 / 3 Australia Victa
ROVER Leader 32H160 4-stroke On engine 9 10–55 450 28 1 / 2 (B) Australia Rover
MASPORT Chip Catch n Mulch 983843 4-stroke Halfway up handle 10 10–70 460 28 2 / 2 (C) NZ Masport
GMC Mulch & Catch TDL484 4-stroke Halfway up handle 5 30–65 460 26 2 / 2 Italy GMC
TALON Eagle Ultimate Mulch or Catch AM3065 4-stroke On engine 12 20–60 480 35 2 / 2 (A) China Talon

Table notes

* Prices are recommended or average retail, as provided by manufacturers in September 2006.
** Mower only, not including catcher or mulching plug.

ns Not stated.
(A) Must be serviced according to service schedule.
(B) In order to qualify, the service schedule listed in the manual must be completed.
(C) Housing six years, engine two years, catcher lifetime, all other parts two years.

1 Overall score
This is a combination of the cutting (in both modes) and ease of use scores, weighted as follows:

  • Cutting: 60%
  • Ease of use: 40%

2 Cutting score
We assessed the mowers' performance with catcher and in mulching mode, cutting grass of various lengths without the motor slowing. Both scores include an assessment for appearance of the lawn after mowing short and medium-length grass. Cutting performance and appearance aspects are weighted equally.

3 Ease of use score
The following equally weighted assessments contributed to this score:

  • Vibration
  • Pushing/manoeuvring
  • Controls
  • Cutting height adjustment
  • Starting
  • Catcher convenience
  • Handle comfort
  • Converting from catcher to mulching mode.

4 Noise
We measured the noise of the mowers in catcher mode; they're generally a little quieter in mulching mode. Measurements were taken from the user's position and at 7.5 m from the mower. Although they're all loud, the difference between the quietest and the loudest is noticeable.

5 Engine type
See Four-stroke or two for more on these.

6 Location of starter toggle
See What to look for for more on these.

7 Cutting positions/cutting height range
You can vary the length you cut the grass to by adjusting the height of the blade above the ground. These columns show the number of positions available and the range of approximate lengths you can cut the grass to, based on our measurements of the distance between the blade and the bottom of the wheels. A mower with a comparatively low maximum cutting height will probably have more trouble cutting a very overgrown lawn.

Profiles – the best

The models in the What to buy list are profiled below in rank order. Prices are recommended or average retail as provided by manufacturers in September 2006.

VICTA Tornado Mulch or Catch TMS484A (four-stroke)

Price: $549

Good points

  • Excellent performance in both catcher and mulching modes.
  • One of the easiest to use.
  • One of the cheapest models in this test.

Bad points

  • Nothing in particular.

HONDA Buffalo Buck Mulch and Catch HRU 19D1 (four-stroke)

Price: $736

Good points

  • Excellent performance in both catcher and mulching modes.
  • Large-capacity catcher.

Bad points

  • Cutting height adjustment is a little difficult to operate.

ROVER Mulch 'N Catch 35M92 (four-stroke)

Price: $689

Good points

  • Excellent performance in mulching mode.
  • The easiest in the test to use.
  • Adjustable handle height.
  • Cutting height is easier to adjust than on others.

Bad points

  • Leaves some grass on the ground when cutting medium-length grass with the catcher fitted, though its overall performance in catcher mode is still excellent.
  • Catcher capacity is smaller than on some other tested models.

VICTA Mustang MCA485A (four-stroke)

Price: $739

Good points

  • Excellent performance in both catcher and mulching modes.
  • One of the quietest mowers in the test.

Bad points

  • Nothing in particular.

Profiles – the rest

The rest of the models are profiled below in rank order. These didn't score as highly for performance and/or ease of use as the recommended models. Prices are recommended or average retail as provided by manufacturers in September 2006.

HONDA Buffalo Classic Mulch and Catch HRU 196D (four-stroke)

Price: $886

Good points

  • Excellent performance in both catcher and mulching modes.
  • Large-capacity catcher.

Bad points

  • Heavy
  • Controls are very stiff and difficult to use.
  • Cutting height is a little difficult to adjust.

VICTA Mustang MCA482A (two-stroke)

Price: $669

Good points

  • Excellent performance in both catcher and mulching modes.

Bad points

  • One of the noisiest in the test.
  • Cutting height is difficult to adjust, as the lever hits the wheel.

YARD-MAN 404X Mulch & Catch (four-stroke)

Price: $599

Good points

  • Excellent performance in both catcher and mulching modes.

Bad points

  • One of the noisiest in the test.
  • Cutting height is a little difficult to adjust.
  • The catcher is difficult to fit to and take off the mower.
  • When carrying the mower, the handle cuts into your hand.

VICTA Tornado Mulch or Catch TMS482A (two-stroke)

Price: $549

Good points

  • Excellent performance in catcher mode.

Bad points

  • Leaves some grass on the ground when mulching.
  • Cutting height is difficult to adjust, as the lever hits the wheel.

ROVER Leader 32H160 (four-stroke)

Price: $599

Good points

  • Adjustable handle height.
  • Adjusting the cutting height is easier than on others.

Bad points

  • Leaves some grass on the ground in both catcher and mulching modes when mowing medium-length grass.
  • Catcher capacity is smaller than on some others.
  • Worst in the test for vibration.

MASPORT Chip Catch 'N Mulch 983843 (four-stroke)

Price: $599

Good points

  • Excellent performance in catcher mode.
  • Has a chipper that works well for mulching a few small, green branches.

Bad points

  • Leaves some grass on the ground in mulching mode.

GMC Mulch & Catch TDL484 (four-stroke)

Price: $449

Good points

  • Excellent performance in catcher mode.
  • Has a 'deadman's handle' - a good safety feature as it stops the motor instantly when the handle is released. However, it can be annoying as you have to restart the motor every time you need to release the handle, for example to move a stick out of the way. And it's uncomfortable to hold down all the time.
  • One of the cheapest models in this test.
  • One of the quietest models in this test.

Bad points

  • Leaves some grass on the ground in mulching mode.
  • Cutting height is difficult to adjust and the height options are limited.
  • The catcher is a little flimsy and fiddly to fit.
  • The mower rattled a lot during our tests.

TALON Eagle Ultimate Mulch or Catch AM3065 (four-stroke)

Price: $499

Good points

  • The handle is very comfortable and is height-adjustable.

Bad points

  • The worst cutting performance in the test, in both catcher and mulching modes.
  • Heavy and tiring to push.
  • The controls are vague and flimsy.
  • The handle should be adjustable, turned up and comfortable to hold.
  • The engine control lever should be on the handlebar for easy access.
  • The starter toggle should be on the engine or halfway up the handle. Seven of the mowers tested have the starter toggle on the engine, while on five it’s halfway up the handle — the tables give details. If you don’t mind bending over, the motor-mounted toggles require little effort when starting: you put your foot on the mower, bend over and pull the cord as you straighten up. However, if you have problems with your back, you mightn’t want to bend over as much and prefer the toggle mounted on the lower to mid part of the handle — any higher up and you’ll need a lot of upper body strength to pull it. Try out what suits you best.
  • The cutting height should be easy to adjust, with one lever action, to many different cutting positions.
  • The catcher should be made of rigid plastic; with a bag-type catcher you can get showered in dust. It should have two handles: one for carrying and one for emptying.
  • The mulching adapter or plug (if the mower has one) should be easy to fit and remove.
  • Big wheels improve handling on rough ground.
  • With a wash port or nozzle on top of the housing, cleaning the underside of the mower should be easier.
  • For maintenance, spark plugs, oil and air filters should be easy to access.

Mulching or catching?

  • A lawnmower with a mulching plug or adapter is designed to chop the grass finely and blow it back down, forcing the clippings deep into the lawn.
  • Mulching will reduce your lawn’s need for water and fertiliser, as the mulch slows evaporation and returns the nutrients from the decomposing grass back into the earth. You’ll also need less time for mowing, as you no longer have to empty the catcher constantly and rake up unsightly strips of chopped-up grass left on the ground.
  • The only downside is that a mulching mower is less suitable for long grass, so don’t let your lawn grow to more than around 25 mm. If it’s longer, mow in steps and reduce the cutting height between cuts. Or use a catcher for long grass.
  • Many mulching mowers can also be used with a catcher. With most, you simply pull out a mulching plug or adapter from the back of the mower and fit a catcher.
  • All 12 mowers we tested are of the mulch-or-catch type, and they’re all pretty easy to convert from one mode to the other.
  • When you use a mower in catcher mode, the lawn should look perfectly clean afterwards, with no visible grass clippings left on the ground. None of the mowers tested had any problems in this mode when cutting short grass, but with medium and long grass, some slight differences started to show. The more grass clippings a mower left behind, the lower its cutting score.
  • In mulching mode, most mowers tested received excellent scores for cutting grass. The five listed at the bottom of the results tables scored a little lower for the grass’s appearance after mulching, with the last two leaving a narrow row of clippings behind on short grass and a thick row on medium-length grass.

Four-stroke or two?

  • Four-strokes are the most common and popular choice in petrol mowers. They run on standard unleaded petrol and have an oil sump that should be checked and changed regularly, just like the oil in a car engine.
  • Two-stroke mowers burn a mixture of petrol and oil rather than straight petrol and thus generate more air pollution. Their motors are much simpler and very reliable and they’re often preferred for mowing steep slopes because they don’t have an oil sump where the oil can drain to one end and stop lubricating the engine. However, four-strokes can generally cope with slopes of at least 15°, according to manufacturers.
  • As far as cutting performance is concerned, the two types of engine made little, if any, discernible difference in our tests. We included two VICTA two-stroke and two four-stroke mowers, to see how the two types of engine compared for cutting and mulching performance — the differences were minimal.
  • The biggest difference between four- and two-stroke mowers is their environmental impact. Four-strokes are much less polluting, typically emitting half the carbon monoxide and one-tenth the hydrocarbons.