Buying Guide: Self-Propelled Walk-Behind Mower

by / January 13, 2020 mower info No Comments
Self-Propelled Personal Pace Toro Walk-Behind Mower

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What is a Self-Propelled Walk-Behind Mower?

The vast majority of self-propelled gasoline walk-behind mowers are rotary type, meaning they cut the grass with a horizontal blade attached to the vertical drive shaft of the engine.  The deck of a self-propelled mower is a protective housing component and an integral part of the mower that supports the engine and wheels and controls the airflow to maximize the cutting and bagging efficiency.  Most decks are steel, but some are aluminum alloy or high-impact plastic.

Most non-commercial models (called residential or consumer models) cut a swatch 21 or 22 inches wide.  Most people prefer self-propelled models, even if yards are flat and small enough to be candidates for a push model.

Here are the Top Features to Look For When Shopping For a Self-Propelled Walk-Behind Mower:

  • Drive Options: Front Wheel vs Rear Drive
  • Cutting Options: Mulching or Bagging
  • Model Options: 3-in-1 or 2-in-1
  • Wheel Sizes: Low vs. High
  • Engine Options: Two-Cycle vs Four-Cycle
  • Convenience and Ease

Drive Options

Do I Need a Front Wheel or Rear Drive for my Self Propelled Walk-Behind Mower?

Some people find it easier to maneuver a front-wheel-drive self-propelled mower in a complex landscape because you can easily tilt the mower back on the rear wheels to stop or change directions.  However, if the self-propelled mower you choose has controls that enable you to easily vary ground speed and engage or disengage the drive, a rear drive is probably a better way to go.

With rear drive, it is easier to mow a straight line and the traction is better, especially when bagging because more weight is over the rear wheels.

Cutting Options

Should I get the Mulching Feature or Manually Bag Grass Clippings Myself?

A Self-Propelled Mower that has a mulching blade will cut clippings small so that they decompose quickly, returning nutrients and water to the soil.  Whereas manually bagging clippings yourself will leave your lawn clean, but end up being more work since you must either dispose of or compost the clippings.

Choosing a self-propelled mower with mulching features is usually the best option since most states ban the disposal of lawn waste into landfills, and because composting large quantities of grass can be problematic.  If your lawn is overgrown, the best option is to broadcast (spread) the clippings through a side-discharge opening leaving larger clippings to dry out on the lawn, which then may require raking.

Mower Model Options

Should I get the 3-in-1 or the 2-in-1 Self-Propelled Walk-Behind Mower Model?

Three-in-one models—mow, mulch, and bag—are the most popular and versatile models.  Two-in-one models either mulch and bag, or mulch and side discharge. Changing between modes is usually quick and easy and often requires no tools.  You may want to avoid buying a mower that requires tools and has small parts that may get lost.  Grass-catcher bags are available for side-discharge mowers but they get in the way while mowing and also hold less than.

Note: People who want to manually bag their clippings should only consider a rear-bagging model.  In addition, premium bagging or mulching blades can give better results than the standard multi-purpose blades; however, the extra-fine clippings derived from these blades tend to clump more because the clippings are often wetter.

Wheel Sizes

Do I need Standard Low-Wheels or High-Wheels for my Self-Propelled Walk-Behind Mower?

Standard low-wheel models have the same size wheels (diameter of about 8 inches) on the front and on the rear. High-wheel models, which can cost $20 to $40 more for an otherwise identical mower, have larger wheels (diameters about 9 to 12 inches) on the rear for a smoother motion over bumpy turf.  Wheels mounted on a full-length solid-steel axle are more durable than wheels attached to cutting height adjusters.

When buying, also pay attention to the quality of the wheel, and make sure that the height-adjustment assembly is easily replaced in case the wheels wear out.

Engine Options

Should I Choose a Two-Cycle Engine or a Four-Cycle Engine for my Self-Propelled Walk-Behind Mower? 

Noisy, two-cycle engines (requiring oil mixed with gas) are outdated now.  Today’s four-cycle engines range between 5.5 and 7-horsepower, are quieter, and are more efficient.  All engines within this range are adequate, but if you have coarse grass or a large or hilly lawn, you may need more horsepower.

Overhead valve or overhead cams offer greater efficiency, durability, and are quieter than standard side-valve engines.  Today there are more moderately priced mowers available with OHV/OHC engines.

Starting a self-propelled mower is now easier and more reliable than in the past.  Some gas caps dispense fuel stabilizers to keep gas fresh.  The automatic choke recover system (ACRS) on some engines allows the user to set the choke when starting a cold engine then return to the operator’s position to start the engine.  The choke slowly returns to the open position as the engine warms up.  Other engines start with no priming or choking—just pull the recoil starter once or twice.

Convenience and Ease

Check out the Following Convenience and Ease Features Before You Buy a Self-Propelled Walk-Behind Mower:

  • Look for a key-start model.
  • Try the cutting-height adjusters, typically at each wheel.
  • Make sure the handlebars are at a comfortable height and can be easily adjusted, especially if there will be more than one use.
  • Check to see if the handles fold easily for compact storage.
  • Make sure the handles are comfortable to hold.
  • Make sure the control bail is easy to hold in place.

*All self-propelled mowers are equipped with a lever or bar, called a control bail, which is held against the handlebar for the blade to rotate.  This federally required safety feature ensures that the blade stops when the operator leaves the operating position (releases the bail).  Some bails are noticeably more stiff and uncomfortable to hold in place. Learn more at