There are only two valid reasons to want to shop for second-hand ride-on mowers. One, you want to get something better than you can afford. In this champagne taste on a beer budget scenario, buying a used ride-on lawn mower may be the only way you can afford a ride-on mower at all, and looking at the likes of used John Deere tractors and Kubota mowers is the only way you can reach for the premium brands.
Two, you want to save a few hundred quid or more by buying a ride-on mower that’s used (but hopefully not abused). It’s not like you can’t afford a new one, but you’ve had good experience buying used. Your decisions to go with used vehicles or used stereo equipment or used musical instruments have worked out well and saved you a bundle, so why not a good deal on a used ride-on lawn mower?
There is some difference. Ride-on mowers are not as advanced or well-built as cars, nor are they as foolproof as musical instruments, so those who consider buying second-hand ride-on mowers should know someone or a local shop that can take care of problems that might arise. Either that or they should be mechanically inclined and not afraid to get their hands dirty.
Start with Research
The first step is research. Find out about as many brands as you can, what they are known for, their best and most popular models, etc. After that you’d be able to narrow your search to a manageable list of brands and models. Bookmark online sources where you can find lists of manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP).
As part of your research, consider if you should go with a certified pre-owned ride-on mower or lawn mower tractor. John Deere, for example, has a certified pre-owned program of used John Deere tractors not unlike those of luxury car manufacturers. A certified pre-owned tractor is not more than a few years old, passed rigorous inspection, and most importantly comes with factory warranty and looks almost like new. Naturally, you won’t find any steal prices going this route.
There are also well-known manufacturers and nationwide dealers that offer factory reconditioned used ride-on lawn mowers with warranty and at prices more attractive than certified pre-owned. Alternatively, many reputable dealers offer their own inventory of certified pre-owned ride-on mowers. The selection will not be as flawless as factory programs but at least they would be serviced and brought up to full working condition and come with some semblance of limited or full warranty.
The Price is Right
Fair prices of second-hand ride-on mowers are expressed as percentages of the original MSRP’s. You can expect to pay 70% of retail price of more for a two-year-old factory-certified used ride-on lawn mower. You should set your own target price if you’re taking the higher risk of buying from an individual seller. For example, you may not want to pay more than 50% of MSRP for any reason. Whatever that percentage is is a guideline to start with. You can always adjust it later or on a case by case basis.
Every cosmetic or functional problem that you discover when you inspect or test the mower should deduct the fair price further. Don’t be afraid to walk away. There’s always another cheap ride-on lawn mower to explore. The used equipment market is generally a buyer’s market, except maybe for the handful of powerful high-volume dealers out there, which you don’t have to deal with if they rubbed you the wrong way. But then you are less likely to run into problems with reputable dealers in the first place.
The thing to keep in the back of your mind is the maintenance and potential repair costs of these large yard machines. It’s safe to assume that higher end ride-on mowers are also more expensive to upkeep. With that in mind, do not blow all your disposable income on the most expensive mower. Always leave some room for maintenance and replacement parts.
Point by Point Inspection
You should know the exact year and model of the mower before you go to see it. When you’re there, ask to see the manual. Not having the manual is a bad sign. How can you be sure that the mower was properly maintained if the seller didn’t have the manual?
The usual question of “why are you selling” and “how often do you use it” are totally not important because it’s easy for the seller to not tell the truth. The mower is right there for you to judge if it has had rough use or if the seller has some nefarious reason for getting rid of it.
On to the inspection. First check the engine for leaks. Inspect everything including the key for damage. Look closely at the paint for rust, damages and cover-ups. Check the cutting deck for the presence of lodged grass and dirt. You’ll be surprised to learn that many owners of ride-on mowers can’t be bothered to clean the cutting deck after every use. Check the condition of the blades and the edges for sharpness. The blades are usually easy to sharpen and new ones are readily available, so they’re not a big deal except you can get an idea of how much use and care this mower has had from the blades, and also from thecondition of the tires and rims.
Next check the oil level and appearance of the oil. Then do the same for the air filter (and the spark plugs too if you’re so inclined). It’s not a good sign for a seller to not at least make sure the air filter is clean and the oil is kosher before putting a fairly costly machine like a ride-on mower up for sale. Finally, check the engine once again for leaks.
Take a Spin in It
If you think taking a car out for a spin is fun, wait till you take a spin in a ride-on mower. These mowers are built for spinning around and around to get at hard to reach places. But first, start it up and see if it turns on quickly on the very first try. Let it idle for a bit while you bounce on the seat to check for comfort and noise. Make sure the engine idles smoothly without any hiccup. Turn it off and start it back up.Check the side to side balance before you put it in drive.
Now we’re ready to take a spin. Put in on the lowest gear and drive. Shift up to higher gear one at a time while testing the brake occasionally. Turn the mower in every direction and listen for noise. Drive it to a spot where the grass could use some cutting, engage the cutting deck and see how well it cuts. Does it make you do a double take of the cutting patterns? See if the deck lowers and lifts smoothly. Turn around and make sure the cut grass is actually collecting in the bag. Does it collect well?
In the end, just like it’s impossible to buy at the lowest and sell at the highest in the stock market, holding out for the best deal in the used ride-on lawn mower market is fool’s gold. The ideal is to find a well-maintained mower in good condition at a price that you’re comfortable with, and then you can pat yourself on the back and enjoy your new ride-on mower.