If you are in the market for a Riding Mower you might be thinking about purchasing a used one to save a few hundred dollars. So, in this how to we will look at the benefits and drawbacks of a used riding mower and what you should look for when buying a used one.
Before you jump right in and think you can deal with repairing a used riding mower you really need to understand your skills in this area. Riding mowers are pretty basic pieces of equipment however you will need to understand how engines work, you will need to be good with a wrench and not be shy about getting dirty.
In addition to all the basic skills you will also need to understand the differences between automotive engines and small engines in lawn tractors. Yes there are differences and you will also need a few special tools if you find yourself deep in a problem.
Mower Age vs Mower Condition?
Every riding mower is going to be different depending on how the owner took care of it. You might find a riding mower from the 1960’s thats in better condition than one thats just a couple years old because of poor maintenance.
There are three important parts of maintenance that an owner must do.
The first is storing the riding mower in an enclosed area year round. This will reduce rust due to the elements and it matters that the mower is in a shed or garage or enclosure year round.
The second important part is maintaining the mower at the beginning and end of the season. If a riding mower has its gas left in it over winter the ethanol in the gasoline will eat the rubber parts in the carburetor. This can mean $50 in parts let alone the half day to perform the job. Drain the carb and run the mower dry and its also safer to store it without gas. You also need to change the fuel filter, oil filter, oil and inspect the belts and replace them as needed. You should do this at the beginning of the season and then as needed while the summer goes on.
You should never run the riding mower if you know its having problems. Always fix the problem before it causes larger ones.
Third you need to maintain the riding mower throughout the season. This means cleaning off debris from the top and also washing the underside of the deck. Many people never wash the underside of the deck and wet grass will cause rust to eat through the deck or through weld points on other areas of the mower and then you are talking hundreds of dollars in repairs if you can’t patch it … and normally when there is rust through the deck or another heavy part like the frame.. then the entire mower really needs to be fully disassembled, sanded and painted. This can take 3 days or longer to do.
Owners who do not care to get involved in the maintenance of their equipment and think they can sell their tractor in a couple years and buy new again are often a problem for people who want to buy.
On the other hand you have people with a lower set of skills who think they can do anything to their tractor to repair it and they often end up causing terminal damage.
One main thing people do is try to repair an engine when they don’t really understand what is wrong or how to fix it. The worst part about this is in some instances you really need special tools to get the job done but people won’t invest in them or have a professional do it for them.
I have seen people yank out crankshafts and valves and when inserting them and running the motor they end up throwing a rod through the wall of the engine. This can be seriously dangerous if something was to puncture a gas tank or fly into your face.
If you are doing something more than general maintenance you need to know how to do it correctly and if the previous owner decided he could straighten a bent valve instead of replacing it you could end up with a dead engine once his work fails in a month and the valve seats end up puncturing the piston and scoring the cylinder wall.
So, with that said what you might think is a great deal could be something waiting to explode on your next run. On the other hand if you find a good deal you should take it.
Riding Mower Age as a price point
In my personal experience I think you have to take into account the condition and the age of the riding mower at the same time but an easy method to do this is basic depreciation.
If you do your own taxes, own your own business you understand that basic depreciation is 10% per year.
That means a tractor that sold for $1,000 new and is ten years old has a realistic value of NOTHING. Unfortunately no one is going to just give away their tractor no matter how old it is.
This is because there is a base buy in floor for used Lawn Tractors and it varies in different parts of the country. In suburbs of cities you might find that it is very difficult to find any mower of any age and in any condition for under $300. This is what people will ask for them.
I often see lawn tractors with asking prices of $350 with problems like:
A missing or completely useless seat which will cost $100 to replace. Even used seats will cost you $40 + shipping on Ebay.
Leaking tires that won’t hold air which will cost you $50 per tire new or $20 for a tube. You don’t put tubes in tires with dry rot or sidewall gashes.
A dead battery which will cost you $35 at a local store.
Bad Spindles that run the blades which cost $35 a pair but take a half a day to replace and since you are replacing a dead spindle you need new belts for $40 each.
All of these things add up so if you see someone saying the carburetor needs tuning or cleaning expect to rebuild or replace it.
What about Transmissions on Used Lawn Tractors
If you find a seller with a beautiful lawn tractor that says it needs a drive belt because its slipping .. or that is doesn’t go up hills like it use to. You can expect it will need a new transmission.
Replacing a transmission is really not that difficult but finding one and the cost is where it gets real bad.
If you need to replace a transmission on a riding mower you might as well call the trash man.
First parts are not available because they are factory sealed units and they just do not sell the parts. It does not matter that warranties are only 2 to 3 years on a new tractor that you payed $2500 for if you are outside of warranty the tractor is now dead and the only thing you can do is find another one like it that has a blown engine and harvest its transmission if it still works.
Can you repair a Seized Engine?
Sure anything can be repaired even if repairing means replacing and if you find a used lawn tractor that has a seized engine that will not rotate manually when you try to turn the metal grill over the flywheel on the top of the engine.. or if it rotates part way then locks… just don’t buy it.
It is really not worth replacing or repairing an engine today. I say that with the caveat that sometimes it is worth it. I saw a 3 year old Craftsman lawn tractor that had a dead engine. The rest of the tractor was in great condition. The owner pulled the engine and kept all the parts. He had the pulley and starter and wiring and basically everything except the block.
Now those parts with the exception of the pulley aren’t really helpful for other than replacement parts later but you could harvest an engine off another cheap and older tractor and make this one run well for a number of years.
Why buy used? Why not buy new.
Well thats the question. If you are buying someone elses used riding mower they have most likely got as much out of it as they think they can.
Whether it runs or not doesn’t matter because they have got to the point where they just don’t want it anymore. Now sometimes people move or retire and buy a condo but if they just went out and bought a new one you have to consider that when buying their old one.
Would you go out and buy a new tractor for no reason if your old one did its job really well without problems?
Yeah no one would.
On the other hand there are shops that sell reconditioned tractors with full warranties. I would want a full warranty on a used / reconditioned tractor and not a 90 day one that gets you out the door. If necessary kick in for the extra warranty for at least a year and then run the tractor well during that time to make sure it won’t fail.
When buying a lawn tractor you need to do your research.
Any standard riding mower with the shifter between the dash and the seat (excluding rear engine riders) is at least a 1990 or earlier.. that is 25+ years old and unless you like restoring antiques or want the rider your grandpa owned its not worth more than $75 – $100 but only if it is fully functioning with no problems.
If you find a riding mower thats only 2-3 years old you are probably going to be asked to pay higher than its worth. Remember 10% per year deduction on price but also you need to add a second deductuction up front for a mower that is that new. So, a $1000 mower three years old you take 30% off for age and normal use and then you take another 10% to 20% off for (why is this guy selling this thing)…. so you are at 40% or more off for a three year old tractor and offering $600 at the most.
You really have to hold to that because you are out of warranty and the warranty might not be assumable meaning the original owner might be the only one who can take it in if they registered the warranty card. Read the fine print.
For everything in between use the standard deduction and add on everything thats wrong with it.
If someone wants to sell you a LT1000 with an Automatic that is 5 years old and they paid $1,400 then the first thing you do is take 50% off that price. Your starting price is $700 and then you look for problems that are not general wear or will cost a lot to repair. If it needs a new seat… that is going to cost you $144.94 from Sears or you can get a crappy generic for about $60 + $15 shipping or you can buy a used one for about the price of the generic. So you subtract $72.50 off the price because that comes in at about 50% off the new and about the minimum you can pay to get it fixed… then you decide to buy new or generic on your own. You end up with a final high price of $627.50 for a 5 year old tractor if the seat is the only problem. If not add the rest of the parts and eat the labor if you want unless its engine work.
Then you end up factoring in the cost of a reconditioned LT1000 that is brand new or 1 season old that you can get from Sears factory stores for about $750 and you drop your price again because you won’t have a warranty and you might not be able to get parts if something like a crank bearing goes or a transmission in a year.
Your final maximum price in my opinion should be between $400 and $500 for a 5 year old base model riding mower that is in most respects excellent condition and hasn’t been used by the owner’s kid to earn money or the owner to cut a field.
Unfortunately Riding Mower Owners don’t look at their equipment at the same way they do their cars.
A 5 year old car that has seen pretty good use, fair care, is not good enough for the current owner for some mysterious reason… And it is not a Luxury Model that will hold value then you start to understand a bit more… it might be a great car or it might be a pain in the butt.. The owner might have changed its belts and brakes and muffler and tires and changed the oil every 12,000 miles or they might have turned the key and drove it into the ground.
Its the exact same thing with riding mowers .. but it is much worse because most people don’t care about their cars and even fewer people care about their lawn equipment.
Don’t pay the premium of someone not understanding what they have is not worth what they want for it. You can try to explain it to them but most likely some fool will be more than happy to give them what they are asking so just look for a good deal .. or buy reconditioned with a warranty.