The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App

Keep Your Lawn, And Your Wallet, Green

Lawn mower
AP / CBS
This could be the right time to replace that old clunker in your garage. High-quality lawn mowers and trimmers are now available at low prices.

Consumer Reports has done the homework and can pinpoint some of the best on the market. Peter Sawchuk, senior project leader in testing recreation and home improvement products for Consumer Reports, joins The Early Show with the lowdown.

BACKGROUND

Consumer Reports has 175,000 square feet of lawn in Florida, where all mowers and trimmers are tested. Peter is the man behind all of these tests, and he's spent multiple hours pushing mowers and evaluating trimmers. His big discovery about the newest crop of machines: You no longer have to spend $700 to get a top-performing lawn mower. It's also possible to buy some great trimmers for significantly less money than in the past. How often you replace your mower and trimmer varies by how much you use the machines and how well you maintain them. In general, expect to replace them every five to eight years.

MOWERS

Honda HRR216K3VXA
For some time, a $700 Honda mower has been Consumer Reports' top-ranked model. It is No. 1 again this year. However, the No. 2-ranked model is an almost-identical Honda mower — and it costs $120 less. This is a significant difference. The less-costly Honda has very similar "cutting characteristics" and is equally easy to handle. So why does one cost less than the other? In the expensive model, some parts of the mower are made with a high-tech plastic. In the cheaper model, those same parts are made of steel. This is nothing that the average consumer would really notice, and it doesn't affect performance.

Premium features:

  • Traction System: You can easily make the mower go faster or slower by pushing one of two tabs on the handlebar. It's like the gas pedal on your car, but it's at your fingertips.

  • Blade-Brake Clutch: The law requires a mower's blade to stop spinning when you move away from the handlebars. In most models, the entire engine shuts down in order to stop the blade. If you simply need to move a child's toy out of the way or need to switch the bags on your mower, it's a pain to have to constantly restart the engine. This feature allows the blade to disengage while the engine continues to run.

    Toro Recycler 20070
    At $400, this is a Consumer Reports "Best Buy." This means you receive above-average performance for a reasonable price. Sawchuk says the mower tested well in all three cutting categories: bagging, mulching and side discharge. It also has a good self-propel mechanism and good speed control. The Toro has an electric start. You simply turn a key, just like you do with your car.

    How cheap is too cheap?
    It's great to have less-expensive options, but Sawchuk points out that some models on the market simply are not worth your money. For example, the Yard-man 12A-26MB. This mower is sold exclusively at Wal-Mart and is priced at only $215. It's Consumer Reports' lowest-ranked self-propelled mower. The engine is made by a Chinese motorcycle company that's unknown in the United States. This is the first mower on the market with this engine, so there's no way to gauge its dependability. It doesn't have a bagging option, and the side discharge leaves a row of clippings behind, forcing you to rake after you mow.

    Three essential features when buying a lawn mower:
  • Multiple speeds — so you can slow down and speed up
  • Side discharge option — some mowers only allow you to bag or mulch your clippings
  • Comfortable handlebar — you'll be sorry if you buy a mower with a poorly designed handle bar.

    TRIMMERS

    After mowing, most people go back and trim around driveways, flowerbeds or garden walls. This provides the finishing touch that sets manicured lawns apart. The usual assumption has been that gas-powered trimmers were superior to electric trimmers. But they also cost more — at least $100. However, Sawchuk discovered that many plug-in electric models now on the market perform as well as their gas-powered counterparts — and are priced at only about $60. Prices have also come down on quality gas trimmers.

    RYOBI EL15 RY41002
    This corded electric trimmer, priced at $60, is a Consumer Reports Best Buy. Although the obvious downside to electric trimmers is that you are limited by a cord, electric models are much easier to maintain.

    Homelite UT20004
    This $70 gas-powered trimmer is another Consumer Reports Best Buy. It does not have as many features as the more expensive models, but it will get the job done effectively.