In Consumer Reports’ 2017 survey of 11,217 subscribers, John Deere takes the top prize as the most reliable brand of lawn tractors and among the more reliable zero-turn-radius mowers. And reliability is key — in our fix-it surveys, readers told us that they're more likely to repair lawn tractors and ZTRs than any other products we ask about, even such big-ticket major appliances as washing machines and refrigerators.
But while several John Deere models, including the John Deere X350-42, $3,200, and the John Deere S240-42 Sport, $2,500, top our riding mower tests, they tend to be pricey, and you'll sacrifice a bit of performance if you zero in on a John Deere ZTR. So how heavily should you weigh reliability when deciding on the best riding mower for your property? Consider these key findings.
By the fourth year of ownership, we estimate that 22% of John Deere lawn tractors will experience a breakage. On the opposite end, 40% of Troy-Bilt tractors are estimated to break in that time. But while that seems like a tale of two extremes, our survey reveals it's actually an indication of John Deere's stellar reliability, not necessarily an indictment of Troy-Bilt's, as owners of a Husqvarna, Cub Cadet, and Craftsman can expect breakage rates in the mid to high 30s.
Zero-Turn-Radius Riding Mowers
As prices fall on peppier and nimbler ZTRs, they've gained in popularity. And they're improving — many top ZTR models, like the Troy-Bilt Mustang 42, $2,300, now match or beat the best tractors in cutting. And as a group, our survey found their reliability is on par with traditional lawn tractors. John Deere again gets top prize for its lower breakage rate — 30% of owners are likely to experience a break by the fourth year of ownership — but Toro, whose Toro SW4200 74784 ZTR, $3,000, is among the best models in our test, comes close, with a breakage rate of 34%. At the bottom of the pack is Husqvarna. A whopping 55% of owners will likely need to make repairs by year four. That’s high enough that we can no longer recommend its ZTR mowers.
Consider All the Costs
Riding-mower breakdowns are no fun. You'll need a trailer to transport the machine to a repair shop, or pay a fee for pick-up and drop-off service. And of course you may need to pay a lawn service to cut your grass until your rider is repaired. The upshot is that repair costs are rarely staggering — our survey respondents reported paying a median repair of $110 to repair a riding mower. Consider that number carefully, along with reliability and performance, when choosing a riding mower. As explained in this head-to-head matchup of the John Deere D130-42 and the Cub Cadet XT1 LT42, the Deere does get the edge for reliability, but the Cub Cadet is $400 less. With nearly identical performance from either model, you'd still still come out ahead if you choose the Cub Cadet, even with an extra repair thrown in the mix.
A Word on Warranties
With prices for some riding mowers pushing $3,000, warranties become increasingly important. But having a repair that's actually eligible to be covered by a manufacturer's warranty is the exception — not the rule. Only 17-20% of the lawn mowers repaired in our survey were covered by the original warranty, depending on the brand. For ZTRs, that range jumps to 26-34%, suggesting ZTRs may be more prone to breakage early on.