I have stopped buying brand new lawn mowers. I purchase only used, refurbished machines from local small engine repair shops. Here is why I came to this decision, why I believe it would benefit others, and how where they might find good used models.
Once upon a time, lawn mowers were thought of as major appliances-the kind of purchase that was supposed to last for many years. I don’t remember my father making more than perhaps two lawn mower purchases throughout my childhood in the 1960s and ’70s. Today, however, lawn mowers are assembled from cheap plastic parts manufactured all over the world. They simply do not last beyond their warranty. After that they are often deemed not repairable and ready for the junkyard. Thus, we are forced to think of bi-yearly $400.00 to $500.00 lawn mover purchase as a kind of regular household expense, like paying for broadband or telephone service.
How familiar is the following scene? Early in the spring when the lawn beings to grow, we pull out our approximately two year old gas powered push lawn mower, fill it up and pull the starter chord. It will not start. We check the oil and the air filter. We know that the problem isn’t that we left it filled with old gas gumming up the engine- because we found out about that possibility during a past mower breakdown. Though even then, the gas didn’t turn out to be the culprit. But needless to say, we only use new gas.
So what is the problem with this nearly new lawn mower? We find online instructions for pulling the machine apart. However, we have also tried that strategy in the past, only to find ourselves in a heap of unfamiliar parts, trying to cure symptoms without adequate knowledge and experience.
So, it’s off to the lawn mower repair shop, which, though it’s early in the season, is completely overwhelmed by a sea of bright shiny not very old, but totally dysfunctional, mowers. Apparently, we’re not alone in this endless cycle of purchasing, repairing and discarding these failed grass-cutting appliances.
It is important to note that this situation is worst for those of us with medium to large lawns: too big for an old-fashioned non-motorized rotary mower, which would otherwise be my choice, and not large enough to justify an expensive riding mower.
Each year we would decide that we would never again make the mistake of buying a mower at the location where we bought the previous dead machine. One year it was Sears, then Lowe’s, then Home Depot. We had a Lawn Chief, a Craftsman and a Toro. As absurdly as in the movie Ground Hog Day, we found ourselves repeating the same drama: They all broke down, beyond all repair, after one to two season’s use. After much anguish, we’d bite the bullet and spend the money on a new better machine. We’d bring it home, start it up and to our great relief, we’d be in the lawn cutting business again! The pain would soon be forgotten! We take care of the now overgrown lawn. Until one and a half to two years later when the drama would replay itself.
I finally decided to at least partially remove myself from the consumer side of this wasteful and expensive cycle. If mowers are disposable items, which should I pay full price for what are clearly false expectations? Here is my strategy which I recommend to all:
Unless you know the seller, don’t buy those mowers you see with for sale signs on peoples’ lawns. They have likely have already broken down and had a targeted repair or two, with lots of other parts soon on their way to failing. Or, if the owner has had the mower long enough to want to upgrade, it is probably ready to die soon.
However, the solution is still a local one. I found two reliable lawn mower repair shops in our area that refurbish old machines. Both are run by reliable men who are steeped in small engine repair. These men prefer older models that are actually solid enough to warrant repairing. Thus, I look for older refurbished mowers; the older the better. These independent small engine repair shop owners I have come to know have integrity. They fix the mowers by going over them for head to foot. They price them at below half the price of a new mower, and should anything go immediately wrong, they fix it quickly and cheaply. Thus, for the past few years, I have paid from $50.00 to $100.00 for mowers which have lasted just as long as the whole string of new mowers that I used to buy.
There is something liberating about removing oneself from this cycle of false expectation and needless spending.