Riding-lawnmower innovation

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On some riding lawnmowers, when you forget to set the parking brake or turn off the blades before you climb off, the engine shuts down. You must restart the mower when you climb back on.

On Toro’s TimeCutter zero-turn-radius (ZTR) models that have the new SmartPark function, when a person climbs off the mower, the parking brake is set automatically and the blades are turned off, but the engine remains running. Toro’s Tanner Erickson says the system was developed in response to customers who expressed frustration at the required steps to restart a riding mower.

Andrew G. Alleyne, who is a professor of mechanical engineering at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, calls the SmartPark concept “very viable and straightforward,” although he doesn’t have experience with the product. However, Alleyne has two concerns: the reliability of switches, sensors and the engage/disengage mechanisms and added cost of the SmartPark system.

Toro didn’t respond when we asked about the reliability of the components that Alleyne mentioned. However, we found that the warranty for the models that have the SmartPark function is the same as the warranty for comparable models that lack the system.

Erickson says the SmartPark increases the cost of the mower, but he didn’t specify by how much. We found that the entry-level TimeCutter model that has SmartPark has an MSRP of $2,999. The least expensive non-SmartPark ZTR of comparable size or power from Toro has an MSRP of $2,599. However, the price difference can’t be attributed solely to SmartPark. For example, SmartPark models have a steering-wheel-based steering mechanism; the non-SmartPark models have a conventional control-arm-based steering mechanism.