Friday, March 6, 2020

Adventures with lawnmowers


At the end of last summer, our old lawnmower (a low-end Toro unit we bought when we moved here in 2016) blew its engine in fairly spectacular fashion:  a loud bang, a puff of white smoke, and a deafening silence thereafter.  Our local small engine repair shop said it was deader than the proverbial doornail.  I asked the mechanic's advice on a replacement, and he said that none of the low-end machines were worth getting these days.  He pointed out that all their engines either came from China, or incorporated Chinese-made parts, and estimated that none of them had a useful life longer than 2-3 years.  He recommended paying a little more for something with a good engine.

I did some research.  Better-quality mowers mostly cost several hundred dollars, and at that price point, battery-operated units were price-competitive.  The thought of quiet, gasoline- and oil-free operation appealed to me, and so I decided to try one, as reviews and surveys seemed to indicate that they were now ready for prime time.  Unfortunately, the model I chose (a Ryobi 40-volt unit) proved to be very disappointing.




It stopped running no less than five times on a single trip across our back yard (less than 100 feet!), even though it was set high enough to trim only the top half-inch to one inch from the grass.  It was worse than useless.  I took it straight back to Home Depot, who were their usual efficient selves at issuing me a full refund.

I took another look at the lower-cost gasoline mowers available, but most of them seemed to fall into the "dubious" category described by our small engine mechanic.  I didn't want to waste money on something that would have to be replaced in another two to three years.  Fortunately, Home Depot has a special at present on a Honda self-propelled mower, which came to not much more than I'd spent on the Ryobi and an extended warranty.




That made my choice a lot easier - Honda engines have a well-deserved reputation for quality and longevity.  One of them followed me home today.

The Home Depot salesperson made some disparaging comments about most battery-powered lawnmowers during our discussion this morning.  I'd be interested to hear from readers who've bought or used them.  Have any of you found a model that suits your needs, and operates well enough to do a good job?  Please let us know in Comments.

Peter

31 comments:

sysadmn said...

I have a Kobalt (Lowe's store brand) 40v rear-propelled electric mulching mower. It's the second-lowest in the lineup if I recall. If I mow weekly, a single charge will do my entire 75' x 130' lot. If the grass is too long, I need to run the mower faster and get about 3/4 done on a charge.

I like the silence, it's powerful enough, but it was probably %50-100 more than an equivalent gas mower. I would not be surprised if I have to rebuild or replace the battery pack in 5-10 years. Lowe's charges $80 for the pack, or quality replacement cells run $40-60.

Knitebane said...

I have a RY40109 Ryobi 40v self-propelled mower. I previously had the slightly-lower-end version that was not self-propelled and it failed by not being able to shut it off except by pulling the battery. I contacted Ryobi about the obvious safety issue and they replaced it with their top-of-the-line model.

And it had to go in for repair by Home Depot after about 6 months.

But since then it's been perfect. If the grass goes more than a couple of weeks or it's rained in the past 24 hours it tends to bog down but other than that it's been fine, even with a teenager behind it.

CDH said...

Not a battery powered unit but my Black and Decker corded electric is going on 12 years old and runs fine. Then again my yard is about 400 square feet of St Augustine so when it gets thick I just cut partial swaths.

John Ray said...

Where I live, I no longer need a lawn mower. But, I've had and have gasoline, electric (extension cord) and battery powered equipment. Each with its own drawbacks. I still need a shed full of tools (trimmers, chain saws, pressure washers, etc.). So, I have a mix of all power sourced machines.

I have some battery operated equipment, but reliability and power is always an issue. One would initially think reliability would be on top -- not so. And the solution is always junk the machine and buy another.

Of all brand of gas powered motors, and I think I have had them all, the best is the Honda motor. I have two Honda powered machines, and they have run for years without any service (except the spark plug replacement I do myself). Modern alcohol content crappy gasoline mandates that when through cutting, chopping, power washing or whatever, let the machine run itself dry -- gasoline has a shorter shelf-life than egg salad on a pic-nic. Honda costs more, but lasts longer.

As an aside, my best mower was an electric powered by extension power from the house plug (and I tend to wait until the jungle appears). Neighbor borrowed it when her B&S would not start and I didn't want to address her engine problem. She ran over the power supply, fried the motor and damn near electrocuted herself. I guess this is why these are rare to non-existing.

John

Borepatch said...

I got a Honda much like that in Georgia. While #2 Son was the one who ran it, it ran like a champ.

Oh, and the motorcycle I went down on in Florida? Honda Shadow. Started right up when I sold it.

When Nuclear Winter comes, the only things that will still be viable are cockroaches and Honda engines.

MrGarabaldi said...

Hey Peter;

I got tired of buying low end mowers from the clearance aisle at Lowes and having them croak every few years, I bought a Sears Craftsman mower with the Briggs and Stratton platinum motor. I have owned it for 5 years now and will never buy cheap crap again. Eventually when the mower die I will check on electric ones, but since my Craftsman rider is 22 years old and runs well, it might be a while.

Paul, Dammit! said...

I've got the same mower as Knitebane, and my kid (I do not mow) has good luck with it... provided he mow once a week in the summer and one every 2 in what passes for winter in S. FL. He does split it into 2 days to avoid running out of power.

It does a serviceable job. However, it does not do a great job picking up heavier small leaves like Live Oak leaves, and my lawn is getting a bit stressed by all the tannins. Gonna have to upgrade too.

drjim said...

Can't go wrong with a Honda!

Change the oil, clean the air filter, and put a new spark plug in it once in a while, and it will run a very, very, very long time.

My Honda generator is over 15 years old, and never misses a beat.....

JNorth said...

I have one of these;

https://www.amazon.com/EGO-Power-LM2000-S-Lithium-ion-Cordless/dp/B01DL6GVKW/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=eGo+power&qid=1583532931&sr=8-3

With the 7.5Ah battery it will both my front and back lawn with probably enough charge to do the front again. The only time I had any issues was once I went a bit long without mowing and then didn't wait after some rain for it to dry, it had a few issues overheating then but when I did the back yard, which wad dry, it had no problems.

I also have their trimmer and blower which use the same style of batteries.

Glen said...

Peter,

The rear wheels on the honda will wear smooth in a few years. Good to pick up a spare pair during end of season sales.

Dad29 said...

Bought an Ariens gasoline-fired self-propelled 2 summers ago, with battery-start. It has a Subaru engine (!)--mostly because Dan Ariens will NOT purchase engines from B&S, who is now a competitor (Simplicity, etc.)

This is a heavy-duty machine. Blade didn't need sharpening until this fall (so 2 seasons). But the battery for the starter? Ugh. Dead last fall, will have to be replaced. Ariens admits that it was a mistake.

Raptor said...

My father bought an electric mower - I believe the same Ryobi model you mentioned - after he and Mom retired to Florida, and while his did not suffer from the same atrocious range as yours (sounds like a defective battery to me), it's simply unable to cope with how thick the grass gets during the rainy season.

So he bought a zero-turn-radius ride-on gas mower.... that was on the clearance rack at Lowes.

I'm pretty sure MrGaribaldi can see where this is going...

After quite an ordeal actually getting it (ordered online for free shipping, arrived two days AFTER the "guaranteed" delivery date), the [CENSORED] thing wouldn't start at all.... because it had been a display model that had been sitting outside in the southern Florida weather (read: constant rain) for about two years. So all the mechanicals and electrics were toast.

Yeah... Dad doesn't ever seemed to have figured out the concept of "buy once, cry once." Though in his defense, he grew up in an era when you could have left the mower out in the rain for two years straight and it would've started right up.

Will said...

Stocked at HD. Toro Recycler, rear wheel drive, electric start. $399.

Briggs & Stratton motor. ISTR there could have been two different brand motors available in the mid 00's.
Property owner bought one in '06, and it is still working well. Used on 5 houses year round. Other than spark plug and filters, the only service I had to do was replace an inner wheel guard for a drive wheel, and clean the grass packed axle gear that resulted from lack of coverage. Also had to replace the rear axle bearings last year, about $20 for the parts. Still running the same belt that drives the wheels.

That $400 is about the same as when this was bought 14 years ago. Looks identical. The service shop where I bought the parts was impressed that it was still in such nice shape, as they mostly seemed to service commercial lawn care businesses. They also sold Toro, and stocked the same unit.

Tam has been using a battery mower in Indy. Since last year? She has mentioned it on her blog a few times.

Will said...

Forgot that I've sharpened the blade a couple times. Rear tires are near bald, now. Same wheels in the front, but there is no provision to swap the drive gear that has rivets molded into the plastic wheel. Shame, as it makes the rear wheel assembly expensive.

tweell said...

Mine is a Kobalt corded mower. I'm okay with pushing with one arm and using the other to keep the cord safe. Haven't owned a gas mower in decades, got tired of dealing with them.

Chris Nelson said...

I have a Troy built mower with a Honda engine 10 years ago. Mowed for the first time this year last Sunday. First start pull. Low maintenance. Never gonna buy another thing that has a gas engine unless it is Honda. Looking at their passenger vehicles. Maybe their jet too...

B said...

WHen you do your first oil change, switch to synthetic oil for the rest of it's life. Not that much more expensive, but it will extend the life of the engine by a factor of two or more.

drjim said...

Agree with B! Ran my Honda with the supplied oil for about 20 hours, and then switched to Mobil1.

Tooldandtired said...

I have Miguel. He mows my lawn. He mows my lawn every week. Which I would not do myself, if left to my own devices.

Also, the monthly payments to Miguel are less than my choice of mower from Lowe’s with the 3 year warranty plus interest.

Tsgt Joe said...

Bought a honda similar to yours 3-4 years ago. Runs like a top. The only electric mowers I’ve had luck with were corded.

Tonerboy said...

When I was living with my daughter, used to see the "crew" roll up, 4 guys get out, unload, and 10 min later the truck drives away. Mowed, trimmed, bagged. $20.

C. S. P. Schofield said...

"When Nuclear Winter comes, the only things that will still be viable are cockroaches and Honda engines."

And Kubota tractors. I know nothing about their mowers. They MAY be junk. But when I moved to the Peoples' Republic of New Jersey (which I have since - thank God! - left) I bought myself entirely too much tractor for me to manage, ran it with nearly no maintenance for several years (which was probably stupid) and in the end sold it for just about what I paid for it new. Their only weak points are their tires; they are designed to be used in rice fields (or so it was explained to me) and have big inner tubes that can be punctured by nails, which is a nuisance when you are clearing a field that conceals long derelict outbuildings. Supposedly, the balloon tires help keep them from sinking in marsh.

IF their riding mowers are built to the same standard, they should be effectively immortal, and the tires are probably better.

waepnedmann said...

Bought a Honda sel-propelled mower with electric start three years ago. I also bought a battery charger for the battery.
I have never had to use the battery charger. This mower starts almost instantly when you turn the key.
I started using ethanol free gasoline in all of my small engines.
At $6.85 a gallon it is still cheaper than replacing expensive equipment and it stores for three years without fuel stabilizers.
Love Honda engines. Their generators are sooo quiet.

Innocent Bystander said...

The Honda mower I bought in 1986 is still running, although it's starting to use a little oil. Another 3-4 seasons and I'll probably have to have it bored and replace piston and rings (and that's after a 20-year stint in Florida where we mowed for an hour every 5-6 days year 'round).

I'd suggest changing the oil after 5 hours use (probably about 4-6 average mowings), again after about 12-15 hours and refill with a good synthetic (I use Amsoil in the cars, so it goes in the mower, too). Don't start with a good synthetic, they're so slippery break-in takes forever. Change oil twice a season, 4X a year if you mow year 'round (calendars are easy to track, hours of use not so much). Get a couple spare blades for it, that way you always have a sharp one to put on, catch 'em before they're really dull and you can get a good edge back on both ends of the blade with a vise and 12" bastard file in about 5 minutes, follow the original edge grind angle (tip:wear gloves, a small slip cuts deep on a truly sharp blade); I swap blades after every 5 mowings. With an electric or cordless impact wrench it takes about a minute, let it sit "right side up" for 5 minutes before starting so all the oil drains back to the sump. Fresh air filter and spark plug every other season unless you mow all year, then it's each spring, lubricate control cables each mowing season (I use "Dri-Slide" sold at motorcycle shops or online) the driven tires will wear out about year 15, the blade clutch will get noisy about year 20 but still works fine. Take care of it and your grandkids will be using it until they retire.

tkdkerry said...

Honda engine can't be beat. I've had mine for at least 15 years, and it starts every spring with the first pull. I think I will be too old to pull it before it quits.

Orvan Taurus said...

No mower anymore (mowing is hired out) but the snowblower? We made SURE to get electric (not battery) start... BUT heeded the advice to use ONLY non-ethanol gasoline in it, and EVERY tank gets Seafoam. Result: Pull start suffices. If it's sat a long time (Summer..) it might take TWO pulls. Three if I screw up and don't follow the as-written start-up sequence or get it wrong somehow.

Robin Datta said...

Watt-hours/Kilogram:
Energy density
Lithium ion battery 265 Wh/kg
Gasoline 13, 200 Wh/kg

Bob G said...

Honda mower with no problems. It wasn't cheap, but another brand would've died by now. When wheels start to wear, I clean the surfaces and slather on JB Weld epoxy. Cheaper than a new set of wheels.

I follow the manual religiously regarding shutdown: fill the tank, turn off gas supply, start and run until it shuts off (out of gas). I've also followed the maintenance schedule, but I think I'm going to start changing oil more frequently than the manual calls for. Oil is cheap; new mowers are not.

Ruth said...

I work for HD, specifically in the garden and seasonal department, so thats my stuff. I'm not personally a fan of the Ryobi's, but I will say that when I compare the numbers sold to the numbers returned: we don't get very many back, and most of the customers I talk to later aren't unhappy with them. Having said that, if you're going to go battery I'd recommend the Ego line instead, they're all around better units. But it also depends on your yard and your usage of them, and I try to put a fair bit of effort into talking to a customer before suggesting one. Having said that, the Honda's are worth every penny!

AJ said...

Briggs & Stratton 82V x 18". Not as powerful as a petrol donk, but it does most of what I need, quietly. No petrol going off due to old age. What it doesn't do well is pick up leaves off paths & driveway. To minimise energy losses, the designers have just enough blade turn-up to throw clippings into the catcher, but not more than that.
I was ummming & ahhhing between B&S & AEG as I like their other battery powered yard tools. In the end, the B&S came up first at the right price.

joe said...

We bought an 80v Kobalt (Lowe's brand, not self propelled) and it's done very well for us for 2 seasons so far. Our yard was small and our new yard is smaller, so yard size matters.

It came with 2 batteries that also fit the string trimmer. The first battery would mow the whole back yard and part of the front. The second would finish the front and side and trim all around. By the time I was finished, the second battery would still have some charge while the first was back up to over half, so we could probably just keep swapping them out if needed.