When is a Lawn Mower a Lawn Mower?


Here you are searching Craig’s List once again for that great deal on a John Deere garden tractor.
Then you see this ad “John Deere Garden Tractor For Sale – $XXX”. With great anticipation you
click on the ad expecting to see a 140, or a 318, or perhaps a 430, and there it is a RX75 rear engine
rider. Or perhaps you’re clearing off your drive way with your John Deere X748 when your
neighbor asks about your “lawn mower”. Annoying, yes, and perhaps nitpicking, but when will the
populace learn that your garden tractor isn’t just a lawn mower.

Riding mower, lawn tractor, garden tractor, the names get tossed around and can get intermingled
and confused. So with this in mind, this little article will help explained what is what and what
nomenclature we should be using to avoid confusion and our own annoyance.

First off, there are several different categories, rear engine rider to a super garden tractor. Knowing
what constitutes a machine in each category will help you explain to your wife that your “garden
tractor” is not a “lawn mower”.

First what is a lawn mower? This term can be used for a walk behind mower to a ride on mower.
It isn’t really a category, but more or less a generalization or a cross of several categories. I would
categorize a walk behind, a rear engine rider, and a lawn tractor as a lawn mower. These machines
usually have just one function or just one function it does well, and that is cut grass. For this article
sake, a lawn mower is not a category, but a blend of several machines that only functions well
when it’s mowing grass.

Since we all know what a walk behind, or push mower, is we will skip that category. Sufficient to
say, they only have one function and that is to mow grass and it’s pretty oblivious to all that this is
what we will call a lawn mower.

Our first category we will discuss is the rear engine rider. The category name pretty much
describes this category. It’s a ride on lawn mower and will have the engine in the rear of the
machine, either behind the operator or slightly underneath the operator. They normally have small
tires and rims, have small decks as small as 24 inches, but can have decks up to 38 inches. They’re
fairly light machines, usually under 350 lbs and may even have a bicycle type handle bars instead
of a steering wheel. Some manufacturers even offered a small snow blade for these, but they’re not
heavy enough to be efficient enough to push snow. They’re pretty popular for small, postage size
yards, but are not suited for larger yards.

Next category we will discuss is what is known as the lawn tractor. Keep in mind that some will
call a rear engine rider a lawn tractor, but in theory a rear engine rider is not a lawn tractor for it’s
not a tractor at all.

A lawn tractor will usually have slightly larger tires than a rear engine rider, have the engine in the
front of the machine or at least in front of the operator. They’re excellent at mowing the lawn, but
can handle attachments like a small snow blade or a small snow thrower on a small scale. They can
pull a small yard cart, an aerator, a spreader and other non-ground engaging implements. Deck
sizes can range anywhere from 24 inches up to 54 inches. Even though they can handle a snow
blade or a snow thrower, their transmission isn’t rated for heavy implements or for ground
engaging implements. Some in this category will have updated, expensive features like power
steering, liquid cooling, bolt on rear rims, upgraded, high back seats, front bumper guards, etc.
They are mainly designed for mowing grass and are best suited for small to mid-size yards. We
must understand their main function is to mow grass and were first designed to do that task. Snow
blades and snow blowers were options to appeal to homeowners who didn’t want to spend more
money on a garden tractor.

Next category is what I would call a cross over – a yard tractor. They are usually a lawn tractor
with bigger rear tires. They may be able to handle some ground engaging equipment, like a tiller
with its own engine. They will usually have a larger engine and a more robust transmission than a
lawn tractor, but not always. Decks are usually from the 42 inch range to 54 inch range. Some
manufacturers will just put larger tires on their lawn tractor and call it a yard tractor. Unless you
want a smoother ride the larger tires provide, I wouldn’t really look at a yard tractor over a lawn
tractor as their capabilities aren’t that much more than a lawn tractor. If you think you need a
garden tractor, then I would overlook this category and go straight to a garden tractor. If you want
to mow the lawn, then buy a lawn tractor unless your yard is rough and the larger tires are

The last category is the garden tractor. I will place the super garden tractor in this category as well
as a garden tractor will do as much work as a super garden tractor and have almost as much

A garden tractor will have at least 23 inch rear tires and 16 inch front tires, minimum. They are
usually bought originally to mow the lawn, but with an eye for other implements. A garden tractor
will have decks ranging from 38 inch to 60-62 inch. They are excellent mowing machines and are
best suited for mid-size to very large yards. Most only see mowing duties, but their real value lies
in their ability to handle several implements and attachments, and can handle them very well. The
garden tractor were designed for home owners, estate owner, etc., who wants their machines to do
more than mow grass. Garden tractors can handle snow blades up to 54 inches or more, 2 stage
snow blowers, mechanical as well as hydraulic tillers, center (mid) dozer blades, back blades, box
blades, mold board plows, disk harrows, cultivators, etc. 3 point hitches, including category 0 or
category 1, are offered for the garden tractors, as well as integral (sleeve) hitches. Features can be
hydraulic lift, even up to 3 spools of hydraulics, power steering, rear and front PTOs, liquid cooling,
diesel engines, tilt wheels, 4 wheel drive, differential locks, turning brakes, etc. If you want your
lawn mower to do more than mow a lawn, then you want a garden tractor.

One other category I guess we should mention is the zero turn. If you want to cut grass and get it
done very quickly and have no need to move snow or plow a field, and have a fairly large area to
mow, then you might want a zero turn. They’re good for one thing, and one thing only, to cut
grass. Some zero turns are best suited for hilly or sloping yards, but are great for mowing large
areas. Some may have dual steering levers, some may have a steering wheel. Engines are usually
in the rear behind the operator and some may have casters as front wheels. Decks can range upto
72 inches. Some zero turns are designed for commercial use and will have more robust frames,
heavier built decks, roll over protection (rops), commercial grade engines and separate, dual hydro
pumps and motors. Some are made for residential use and will be more economical to buy, but will
have less expensive engines, lighter decks, some may have single hydro pumps and motors, and
overall aren’t as robust or durable.

The next category I guess we should mentioned here and that is the front mower. Front mowers
are meant to cut grass, but some can handle a front snow blade or snow blowers. Engines are
usually in the rear and deck sizes range up to 72 inches and are in the front, hence the name front
mowers. They can have dual steering levers are a steering wheel and usually have hydraulic lifts.
Some may have a single tire on the back.

The last category is the SCUT or sub-compact utility tractor. These machines will come equipped with diesel engines, 4 wheel drive, a mid and rear PTO, and a limited category 1 three point hitch. These tractors are designed considerably more heavy duty and are just the smallest version of the big boys on the farm. They will easily handle heavier loads on the optional front end loader and rear 3 point hitch. The best way to explain a SCUT is it’s a tractor that can mow, not a mower that can do limited tractor chores. With one of these machines, you can quickly find your list of chores get shorter much quicker. In fact you’ll look for a lot more to do other than just “cut the lawn.”

So the next time someone calls your John Deere 430 a lawn mower, remind them of what it can do!

If you have more questions on tractors you can visit the John Deere Forum at Green Tractor


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