Self-Propelled vs. Push Mowers – How to Choose The Right For You

The spring and summer months are a great time to enjoy the fresh air, but for homeowners, it’s not all about enjoying the sunshine. There are lots of outdoor chores to take care of and cutting the grass is one of the most important if you want to keep your yard looking great for family and guests. That makes your lawn mower an important part of your weekly routine.

The question is, which type of mower suits your needs and lifestyle best. Is one of the many push mowers best or do you like the idea of a self-propelled mower?

There are a number of factors to consider if you’re on the fence between a self-propelled mower or a push mower and we’ll explore these in detail below.

Types Of Mowers To Choose From

Deciding on a mower that’s right for you is more than just about choosing between a push mower and a self-propelled mower. Even if you are leaning towards a push mower, you still have a number of options.

Before we take a close look at what you should consider when deciding between a push mower and a self-propelled mower, let’s look at all of the different types of mowers available.

Manual Reel Mowers

Reel mowers have been around for decades. They’re not as popular these days, but you may remember your father or grandfather cutting the lawn with one. These mowers are completely dependent on you to provide the power – there are no engines or mechanical parts. The blades are connected to the wheels and as you turn the wheels, the blades spin and cut the lawn.

manual reel mower

There are a couple of key advantages to these old-fashioned mowers. First, they’re affordable, usually well under $100. Also, because of the fact that there are no mechanical parts, they’re easy to maintain – keep them free from rust and well oiled and you’ll get years of use from, not to mention they start every time even after sitting for the winter!

One other thing to consider is that they’re great for the environment – they produce zero emissions and they don’t consume any resources other than your own muscle power.

Gas-Powered Mowers

Gas-powered mowers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some of them are push-powered mowers and some of them are self-propelled. The one thing that all of them have in common is that they’re powerful and can generally cut through any kind of grass without any problem. If you need reliable cutting power and you don’t want to be tied down by cords, gas-powered mowers are often the best choice.

There are some downsides to using a gas-powered mower. For one thing, they’re usually heavier than other kinds of mowers because of the internal combustion engine that drives their cutting power. Those internal combustion engines also have a lot of moving parts and require a lot more maintenance. They also give off harmful emissions that can negatively affect the environment – even modern high-efficiency models.

Electric Mowers

For anyone concerned about the environmental impact of cutting their lawn once or twice a week, an electric mower has been one of the best options for decades. They produce zero emissions and you never have to worry about running out of gas – all you need is a nearby power source to plug into and you’re good to go.

corded electric lawn mower

Another great thing about an electric machine is that you won’t have to worry about a lot of maintenance as there are fewer moving parts. For the most part, they’re more affordable as well – usually priced between $100 and $200.

Their biggest drawback is that you have to have a wall outlet nearby to plug into and you’re constantly fighting to keep the cord out of your way as you go. They are lighter than gas-powered mowers, but you will have to do the pushing as they’re not self-propelled.

Battery-Powered Mowers

In the last couple of decades, environmentally conscious consumers have discovered a new choice that also produces zero emissions while its in operation – the battery-powered lawn mower. Earlier models had limited range due to inadequate charging capabilities, but today’s best quality battery-powered mowers can usually last for an hour or more between charges and many come with a backup battery that can be switched out in a few seconds for continuous cutting capability.

The one thing to keep in mind when deciding on whether or not a battery-powered mower is right for you is that they are usually noticeably heavier than a corded electric model.

battery-powered self-propelled lawn mower
Image credit: EGO

You can find battery-powered mowers that are self-propelled, such as the EGO Power+ 21″ (LM2102SP) mower – an amazing machine that also comes with an attractive price tag around the $500 mark. These days you don’t have to break the bank for battery-operated lawn mowers with a self-propelled option.

Standing Self-Propelled Mowers

People choose self-propelled mower for a number of reasons and we’ll go into them in more depth. But first, it will probably help to understand just what we mean by self-propelled.

The idea is that the mower does most of the work for you. It has an engine, either gas or electric, that turns the blades to cut the grass, but it also has a transmission that drives the wheels forward so that all you have to do is steer. The mower provides the push for you.

There are also two different kinds of standing self-propelled lawnmowers – the front-wheel-drive machines and the rear-wheel-drive options. Both have their pluses and minuses.

Front-Wheel Drive Vs. Rear-Wheel Drive

A front-wheel-drive self-propelled mower is a simpler design and because of that, they tend to have fewer breakdowns. They’re great on flat lawns where there isn’t a lot of resistance to slow the machine down, but they’re not very good on hills. If you have a lot of uneven ground you’ll find it difficult to navigate one of these machines as they have a tendency to slip a bit.

That’s why people with larger yards with a number of hills to work with are usually best to go with a rear-wheel-drive self-propelled mower. They are usually more expensive and they do require more regular maintenance, but they’re much easier to steer on hilly areas. If you’re okay with being a little more hands-on with your lawnmower maintenance a rear-wheel-drive self-propelled lawnmower has a lot going for it.

Riding Self-Propelled Mowers

While this article is mainly focused on the various options available for standing lawn mowers, both push operated and self-propelled, it is worth remembering that a riding mower is a great option if you have a large yard and you don’t mind the extra cost associated with these machines.

In terms of the physical demands placed on your body by a lawn mower, they have the fewest. They’re usually easy to operate and you can operate one oven if you have a number of physical limitations. They do require regular maintenance though, so if you’re not mechanically inclined you may end up having to pay for professional help every cutting season.

Check out our picks of the best riding lawn mowers and the best budget riding mowers.

Considerations – Cost

At this point, you should have a fairly clear picture of the wide range of options available to you both push powered and self-propelled, but if you’re still not sure what options is right for you, you may want to start by looking at the cost considerations.

Self-propelled lawn mowers are always going to be more expensive than push mowers, whether they’re electric, battery-driven, or gas-powered. A standard push mower is usually priced between $100 and $300, depending on the type you choose. You’ll have a tough time finding any decent self-propelled mowers for under $300.

For the most part, you can expect to spend between $400 and $600 on a decent self-propelled lawnmower and it’s not unusual to find the price tag is much higher – often in the $800 to $1000 range.

Considerations – Exercise

If cost isn’t a major consideration for you, there are a number of other factors to look at and one of them is exercise. Pushing a lawn mower around a big yard can be a great workout. If you’re an office worker and you don’t find a lot of time to exercise during the week, you may want to choose a push powered mower as part of your weekly exercise routine.

If you have a few hilly areas on your property, cutting the yard under your own power can be a real challenge, but it may be something you find enjoyable if you don’t find a lot of time to exercise during the week. The hour you spend cutting the lawn can easily be counted as part of your weekly exercise regimen.

Considerations – Health

Health may be related to exercise, but it deserves separate consideration. You may like the sound of using your lawn cutting duties as a great way to get some exercise, but that doesn’t mean that your body will cooperate. If you have a bad back or other chronic health conditions, pushing a lawn mower around that isn’t self-propelled may not be an option.

Choosing a self-propelled mower is a great idea if you have health problems preventing you from pushing a regular push mower, but you still want to remain as independent as possible. With the lawn mower doing all of the work except the steering, you can cut your own lawn without the help of others, even if you have some health considerations limiting your physical abilities.

Considerations – Environmental

While battery-powered self-propelled lawn mowers do exist, they have limited range. It takes a lot of battery power to drive a self-propelled lawn mower. If reducing your environmental footprint trumps your desire to own a mower that you don’t have to work hard to operate, a self-propelled lawn mower is probably not the best option for your circumstance.

If you have a small to a medium-sized yard, a battery-powered self-propelled mower may be a good compromise, but you’ll want to be keenly aware of its limitations. Having a second battery that you can swap out as you cut is a great workaround.

Considerations – Hilly Vs. Flat Lawns

The layout of your property is another point you’ll want to think about when deciding if a self-propelled lawnmower or a push mower is your best choice. If you have a standard sized lawn that’s relatively flat and you don’t have any major health issues, a push mower is probably just fine for your purposes and you can save a lot of money.

If your property has a number of hilly areas, you may find a self-propelled mower is a must, even if you’re in great physical condition. Cutting a large hilly lawn can be hard work and it can quickly wear you out if you’re not used to extended physical labor.

Considerations – Property Size

It isn’t just hilly vs. flat terrain you’ll want to consider though – when you’re deciding on a lawn mower you should also keep in mind the size of your property. If you have several acres of lawn to cut, even a great self-propelled lawn mower may not be practical.

For lawns that big it’s normally a good idea to think long and hard about a riding lawn mower. They do have a higher price tag and they are going to need more regular maintenance, but they can save you a lot of time and reduce the amount of wear and tear on your body. In many cases, it’s an investment worth making.

Check out our recommendations for the best riding lawn mowers and the best budget riding mowers under $1500.

Considerations – Mechanical Complexity

As we’ve alluded to earlier a self-propelled mower has more moving parts making it a more mechanically complex machine than its push-powered cousins. You don’t just have a small engine to contend with, you also have a transmission that drives your mower forward. You’ll find yourself dealing with more mechanical issues if you’re comfortable with doing repair work yourself, or you’ll have to make more frequent visits to your local lawnmower repair shop. Before you make the switch to a self-propelled mower it’s something to think about.

Making An Informed Purchase Decision

The bottom line is that there is no one right answer to whether or not a self-propelled lawnmower is a good choice. All of the factors we’ve looked at above such as cost, health, mechanical knowledge and the type of property you have should be factors in your decision.

We hope we’ve given you a lot to think about and provided you with the information you need to decide if it’s time for you to make the switch to a self-propelled mower or if a push powered mower continues to be the right choice for you.

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