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October 11, 2011

My grand experiment; the truth about lawnmowers and fuel consumption

Three mowers1

Which of these would you say uses dramatically more fuel?


A Gassy Experiment Leads to Horsepower Love 

I’ve always objected to ride-on mowers because I’d heard that they consume a gallon of gas faster than a university student can shotgun a beer.  Is it true?

I went searching for specs comparing the fuel efficiencies of different types of mowers.  I couldn’t find a thing online, so I contacted some people I knew at Sears and Husqvarna asking for any research they had. 

They had charts comparing the amount of time that different mowers require to cut the same area of lawn. But they couldn't answer my burning question about how much more gas it takes to do the same job with a bigger mower.

So I proposed to Sears that I borrow a few of their demo models for the summer to do an experiment, cutting the same area of lawn throughout the summer using three very different-sized mowers.

They agreed to the experiment.  A few days later a big truck came up the driveway and dropped off a 190cc Eco Plus mower, a 12-horsepower Smart Rider, and the big daddy, a Craftsman 26-horsepower garden tractor. 

I alternated machines weekly throughout the summer and early fall.  I carefully measured the fuel consumption when refilling the machines, and kept a chart of litres used. 

I was really, really surprised by the results. 


There was virtually no difference in fuel usage.

Here are the averages for each machine:

Eco Plus lawnmower - FUEL: 1.8 litres per cut - TIME: 3 HOURS

Smart Rider lawn tractor - FUEL: 1.75 litres per cut - TIME: 1.5 HOURS

Craftsman Garden Tractor - FUEL: 1.9 litres per cut - TIME: 30 MINUTES

Who would have guessed that a garden tractor uses essentially the same amount of fuel as a little lawnmower to cut the same area - and in one sixth the time!

And the noise is over sooner too, because after 30 minutes you’re sitting on the patio sipping a beverage.

If you’re thinking about trading up to a lawn tractor while the sales are on this fall, here are some key considerations. 

The Craftsman Professional 26HP Kohler Pro 54'' Garden Tractor was equipped with a side-discharge 54-inch deck.  It can chew through grass that’s at least 8 inches tall without any apparent effort.  It’s a riot to ride (12K/hour top speed), has cruise-control, a cup holder, a 12-inch turning radius and endless power on hills.  You can also equip it with snow-blowing, harrowing, tilling and hauling attachments. It has headlights for cutting after dark and an adjustable seat to account for different leg lengths. And a reserve fuel tank in case you run out of gas on the back 40.  List price: $3500

The mid-size Smart Rider arrived set up with a mulching deck (30 inches wide).  It moves along at a good clip with its 12-horsepower engine, and rarely gets bogged down in heavy grass.  At only 30 inches wide it easily manoeuvres through gates and between plants or trees.  It's also got great visibility because the engine is mounted behind the driver's seat.  List price: $1100   

The Eco Plus mower sported a mulching deck (22 inches wide) and a keyed electric ignition to make it incredibly easy to start. List price: $400

Mulching mowers are way more easily overwhelmed by long grass.  This means that you can’t ignore the grass till it’s 8 or 9 inches tall.  Well, you can, but you’ll have to cut in half-swaths so as not to stall the engine and that doubles the mowing time (and fuel usage). It will help to cut twice a week instead of once a week (but your seasonal fuel consumption will be higher of course).   If fuel conservation is your main goal, convert the mulching deck to side-discharge with the included kit. 

One other thing to consider if you go for a hot little lawn tractor or its big brother the garden tractor; your machine will need occasional maintenance and you can’t just throw a 400-pound unit into the trunk and drive it to the small engine repair place.  Sears offers onsite service for a reasonable fee and they're very prompt.  So unless you have a flatbed trailer, you’ll probably need that option.

Thanks a million to the helpful teams at Sears and Husqvarna for the opportunity to run this experiment.  Ride ‘em if you got ‘em, baby!


Jerry Keller

Glad you've sorted this out Mag, it's good information to know.
I've owned a Craftsman garden tractor (23HP 48" deck) for about 7 years. It has a Kohler engine that has been very reliable and considering it receives a lot of abuse cutting over 5 acres, occasionally riding it into tree roots, off a steep hill, and crashing into deep ruts, has held up well. I do however, do my own maintenance.
I like the fact that it's a 12 volt system, so it could be jump started from a car if ever necessary. With an automobile voltage inverter added, it can be driven while decorated with holiday lights, or run my coffee pot.


Hi Jerry,
Glad to hear that you love your Craftsman garden tractor. I have to say, you got my heart beating faster with the tip on adding a voltage inverter so the tractor can sport Christmas lights! OH BABY!


Derek UK

We have a Smart Rider and have no complaints whatsoever.

Bruce Raymond

Hi Mag,

I've always enjoyed your work. Original contact: you did a commercial at a Toronto church that I was connected with, around 1990 or so!

Your material on the ride on tractor says it has a 12-inch turning radius! I think this needs editing - that's shorter than the machine itself. Should that read 12-foot turning radius? In fact I'm not sure how you've "measured" the turning radius.



Hi Bruce,
I remember that commercial! Nice to hear from you. It really is a 12-inch turning radius. The mower turns tightly enough to make a circle that is 24 inches across. The radius of that circle (i.e. half the diameter) is 12 inches. That's how they determine turning radius. Make sense? Just for fun I like to use the tractor to make 24-inch donuts.

residential home builders

Thank you for sharing this. I didn't realize that lawnmowers can consume that much fuel.

Moncler Jackor

Those are super cute. I like you on Facebook.

artificial lawns

For best results, lawn mower blades must be kept sharp. Lawn mower blades can be sharpened with a file or on a grinder wheel. Never attempt to sharpen the blade while it is on the mower. Special care should be taken to keep the blade balanced.

trailer flares

This post is very informative. We've always been just focused with car fuel consumption. Never thought that lawnmowers consume a lot of fuel as well.

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