04.What to look for
What to look for
- The handle should be comfortable to hold and preferably height-adustable (as on the two tested ROVER's). A turned-up handle is easier on your wrists and gives better control over the mower. All the tested mowers except the ROVER Easy Start and the SUPASWIFT have one
- Four-stroke or two-stroke? See Different strokes for more
- The engine control lever should be on the handlebar for easy access, and should be easy to operate
- Check the starter cord is easy to pull. It's generally easier to operate when the cord is located on the engine, but a handle-mounted cord can be handy if you can’t easily bend over; just make sure it’s not mounted too high, as this can require a lot of shoulder strength to pull. The SUPASWIFT's starter cord is mounted quite high on the handle and our testers didn’t find it as easy to pull as the others
- Look for a large number of cutting positions spread over a useful range of cutting heights. The TALON doesn’t have as useful a range of heights as the other models
- Make sure the cutting height is easily adjustable, using one lever that acts on all four wheels. The MORRISON, SUPASWIFT and YARD-MAN are the hardest to adjust
- A rigid plastic catcher is better than a bag, which is more likely to let dust and clippings escape. It should have two handles: one on top for carrying, and one on the back for easy emptying. Look for a catcher with a good capacity so you’re not forever having to empty it; all the mowers on test have a good-sized rigid plastic catcher, though the SUPASWIFT’s is a little smaller than the others
- The mower should be easy to push and manoeuvre across all the conditions you'll use it in. Big wheels improve handling on rough ground, and light weight generally makes the mower easier to push and turn. All the tested models handled well, except the TALON: it’s heavy and hard to manoeuvre, particularly around corners
- If you can, try starting the mower to check whether it's too noisy or vibrates more than is comfortable. All the mowers tested have noticeable vibration — the MASPORT Lawnmarshall, MORRISON, ROVER Easy Start, SUPASWIFT and YARD-MAN are the worst, while the VICTA Lawnkeeper and the TALON rated best in this respect. All the models have similar noise levels
- A wash port or nozzle on top of the housing makes it easy to clean underneath the mower, including the blades
- Is the mower easy to maintain: can you easily change the oil, air filter and spark plugs?
Nearly all current petrol mowers are four-stroke. They’re popular for two main reasons:
- They use standard unleaded petrol
- They’re much less polluting than two-strokes.
A four-stroke motor typically emits half the carbon monoxide and one-tenth the hydrocarbons that a two-stroke produces. Four-strokes have an oil sump that should be checked and the oil changed regularly, just like the oil in a car engine.
Two-strokes emit more pollution because they burn a mixture of petrol and oil rather than straight petrol. Some people still prefer them because
- Their motors are simpler and very reliable
- Also, because they don’t have an oil sump as four-strokes do, two-strokes tend to be better suited to mowing steep slopes. On a steep angle, the oil in a four-stroke’s sump can drain to one end and stop lubricating the engine — very bad for its moving parts. However, manufacturers advised us that four-strokes can generally cope with slopes of at least 15°
Petrol, electric or manual?
The average lawnmower doesn’t use a lot of fuel, but with the price of petrol soaring ever higher, you might be considering an electric mower instead. They compare well with petrol mowers in many ways: they’re generally lighter, quieter, much less polluting and often cheaper.
On the downside, some models aren’t as powerful, so may not be as suitable if you let your grass grow long. They’re also limited by battery life or their extension cord, and many have a smaller width of cut than petrol mowers, so they’re best suited to small or medium-sized lawns.
CHOICE tested electric mowers (mains-powered and battery) in November 2009 and found most of them very capable of mowing typical suburban lawns.
Or, if you don’t mind the exercise, there’s always the old-style push mower, especially worth considering if you only have a small lawn. They’re also the most environmentally friendly of mowers: they use no fuel, create no pollution, are very quiet and their scissor-like cutting action (as opposed to the tearing action of motor mowers) not only gives a neater look but is better for the grass.