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Best Buys For Lawn Tools

If you're up to the challenge of caring for your lawn, but your mower and other tools are looking a little rundown, the folks at Consumer Reports can help.

They've compiled a wealth of consumer information in a new book called "Best Buys for Your Home."

On The Saturday Early Show, Peter Sawchuk, the Senior Project Leader who tests recreation and home improvement products, provided some information on the lawn tools Consumer Reports recommends.

If you haven't shopped for a big power lawn tool recently, there are two trends you will notice immediately as you begin your browsing. First, prices on all equipment have fallen due to increased competition between Home Depot, Lowe's and Sears. Second, engines on all equipment are considerably cleaner than they were even five years ago. New emission standards are now totally phased in and require that the machines release fewer pollutants into the air.

Lawn Mowers

The big news in lawn mowers is that the price on riding mowers has dropped dramatically this season. Some models have dropped by as much as $800.

Last year, John Deere and Home Depot agreed to team up and develop a new line of tractor mowers for the chain store. The result was a great machine at a great price, Sawchuk says. The move sparked a true price war and consumers are reaping the benefits. Sawchuk demonstrated the Consumer Report Best Buy's John Deere L110 Automatic, $1,800

Five million consumers a year are still buying walk-behind mowers. Honda's newest mower is Consumer Report's top-ranking, gas-powered, self-propelled model. The mower can mulch grass and bag it at the same time. Most mowers can do one or the other, but this is the first to do both simultaneously. The downside to the Honda HRX217HXA is its price of $700.

If that Honda is out of your price range, Sawchuk also demonstrated a Consumer Report Best Buy alternative: Toro Personal Pace 20031, $380.

No matter what mower you buy, Sawchuk recommends that you always buy a second blade. This way, one blade will always be sharp, allowing you to get the optimal performance from your machine.

String Trimmer

Now that you've mowed your lawn, it's time to go back and trim around the trees and the fence posts. More people buy trimmers each year than any other type of power lawn equipment, according to Sawchuk, because they are relatively cheap and thus easy to replace.

When shopping for a trimmer, you can choose between electric, gas or battery powered. Consumer Reports has found that battery trimmers typically do not deliver a great performance and run out of juice after 15 or 20 minutes. According to Sawchuk, most consumers find that gas trimmers are best for tackling tall grass and weeds. The model that was demonstrated on Saturday is Sawchuk's personal favorite, in part because it's easy to start. Firing up a gas-powered trimmer usually requires several yanks on a starter rope while the Troy-Bilt TB25CS requires one or two. The Troy-Bilt is a Consumer Report Best Buy that also accepts attachments such an edging blade. It is priced at $130.

Unfortunately, gas trimmers -- like other gas-powered lawn tools -- are quite noisy. After testing the noise levels, Consumer Reports has determined that users should really wear ear protection when operating the equipment. Sawchuk demonstrated two types -- muffs that cover the ears and disposable foam earplugs.

If you buy an electric string trimmer, you don't have to worry about noise hurting your ears. These trimmers also tend to be more lightweight than gas-powered models and less expensive. The electric models do need to be plugged in to an outlet. So, Sawchuk says, if you don't have a power source on the exterior of your home or you have a very large yard, you may not want to buy an electric trimmer. Sawchuk demonstrated the electric string trimmer by Ryobi 105R, $60.

Power Blower

Finally, once you've cut and trimmed, you need to tidy up your patio and driveway. Many people also like to use their power blowers to clear away leaves in the fall. Again, you can choose between electric and gas-powered machines. What's impressive about the electric model, Sawchuk says, is that it performs as well as a gas model. The Consumer Reports Best Buy's Toro Super Blower Vac 51591, which costs $70, also converts from a blower to a vacuum. While you can't suck up your whole lawn with it, it's useful for getting leaves out of shrubs and other similar tasks.

If you opt for a gas-powered blower, you can take it anywhere because you are not constrained by a cord. Sawchuk demonstrated the Stihl BG55, which he says is easy to use and does a good job sweeping and loosening debris. The $150 blower also has an optional vacuum capability.

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