Exceptional Lawnmowers: Taking Care of Your Turf

Walk-Behinds • Lawn Tractors • ZTRs • Manuals

Today’s battery-powered lawnmowers deliver more power than their predecessors do. Meanwhile, more lawn tractors have a continuously variable transmission (CVT), but consumers might find some easier to operate than others.

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Improvements that have been put forth by lawnmower manufacturers recently focus on cutting the time that it takes to mow and on making it easier to care for your lawnmower.

Meanwhile, battery-powered walk-behind lawnmowers are more powerful, which translates into more models that have increased cutting widths, and transmission technology on lawn tractors is being transformed.

WELL OILED? Lawnmower manufacturers want to reduce the amount of time that you spend on maintenance. In February 2015, Briggs & Stratton introduced a line of engines for walk-behind lawnmowers that it says never requires an oil change. The Just Check & Add EXi engines are in at least 13 different models of lawnmowers from seven different manufacturers. Rick Zeckmeister of Briggs & Stratton expects the number of models that have the engine to increase to at least 25 in 2016.

Because these engines have been on the market for just a year, in-field evidence that the engines won’t be damaged or that their durability will be compromised is lacking. However, an expert whom we interviewed believes that the convenience of not changing the oil isn’t worth the risk.

“Oil does two things: It cleans, and it lubricates,” says Tim Almgren of Pruitt Outdoor Power, which sells and maintains outdoor power equipment. “When it’s cleaning, it’s absorbing the dirt and byproducts of combustion, and then those are in that oil. So, once the oil is full of dirt, it isn’t lubricating correctly. Changing oil is so inexpensive and so worthwhile. I don’t care what a manufacturer says—I’m never going to recommend to my customers that they don’t change their oil.”

When he was asked about this concern, Zeckmeister says the proprietary design of the Just Check & Add EXi engines includes an automotive-style air filter that’s sealed tighter than is the air filter that’s in other lawnmower engines. This prevents debris from making its way into the engine where it could contaminate the oil, he says. He says the engine also is designed to run cooler. “If you can keep the engine temperature cooler, and if you can keep the debris out of the engine, you don’t need to change the oil, because the oil won’t break down,” Zeckmeister says.

An independent expert whom we consulted tells us that that makes sense. “The EXi engines are designed to run cooler,” says Rankin Barnes, who is the author of an instructional book and runs an online tutorial on lawnmower engine repair. He says that fact combined with modern engine materials and manufacturing processes reduce piston ring wear that causes oil oxidation and oil sludge build-up. “Although these engines are relatively new, I do feel that they will outlast the older engine types,” says Barnes. “Can the EXi engines last without routine oil changes? Yes, if the oil filter is changed.”

Briggs & Stratton backs that view with its warranty: Just Check & Add EXi engines carry the same 2-year warranty as do the company’s other consumer engines.

Other maintenance, including changing the air filter and spark plug, still is required, and owners have to check oil levels regularly, Zeckmeister says. Briggs & Stratton tell us that these engines will consume about 4 ounces of oil during a typical mowing season—about the same amount that the company’s other engines for the consumer market consume.

BIGGER BATTERIES. The batteries that are on battery-powered walk-behind lawnmowers are becoming more powerful. Although the number of battery-powered lawnmowers remained constant over the past 2 years, more high-powered (and, thus, high-priced) models are available. Two years ago, only three battery-powered lawnmowers cracked the $400 mark; now nine do.

Battery-powered walk-behind lawnmowers that have a 36-volt or a 40-volt battery and cut up to a 20-inch swath were the previous benchmark, but now at least four manufacturers make battery-powered walk-behind lawnmowers that have at least 56 volts of power. One of those models, the Greenworks GLM801601 ($700), has an 80-volt battery. In practical terms, this allows these lawnmowers to have a mowing width of 21 inches, although you’ll pay at least $500 to get a battery-powered walk-behind lawnmower that has that capability. (Although cutting a wider swath means that you’ll reduce the number of passes—and, thus, the time that you spend mowing—increased voltage doesn’t guarantee that the lawnmower will run longer. That’s a function of amp-hours, which haven’t seen the same surge as have voltage amounts.)

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