Why You Shouldn’t Buy An Electric Lawn Mower – Review Geek

Ride-on lawnmowers are ideal for quickly maintaining the lawn. But they are loud, jerky and feed on oil and gas. An electric lawn mower promises to solve all that. But after two years of owning one, I’m here to tell you not to make the mistake of buying one. At least not yet.

I’ve owned a variety of lawn mowers, both push and ride, and tried both gas and electric options. I switched to electric mowers years ago, first with my push mowers and then with my rider. And although I loved my electric lawnmower at first, I now regret buying it. The purchase looks like a mistake, and it’s all due to the use of old technology.

The advantages of an electric mower

A Ryobi electric lawn mower seen from the side

While it’s easy to think that an electric mower sounds like a dumb idea, it’s not true. Range really isn’t as big an issue as you might assume. While corded electric mowers were once a thing, battery technology has come a long way. If you have an electric push mower, chances are a single battery can get through the average 1/4 acre yard found in the United States, and if not, you can swap it with another battery on the fly.

It helps that companies selling electric push mowers also usually sell other garden tools, like weed whips, that use the same batteries. It’s a lot like power tools at this point – stick with one brand, buy more batteries and you’ll have plenty of juice for the job. And you get other benefits along the way.

For one thing, whether pushing or rolling, electric mowers are much quieter thanks to skipping the traditional motor. Depending on your machine, the loudest part will be the blades themselves; you may not even need hearing protection like you do with conventional clippers. In the case of my riding lawn mower, I once helped a neighbor who ran out of gas during a mowing job. When I started mowing, she caught my eye like something was wrong. Turns out she thought I hadn’t started the blades on the machine because it was so quiet.

An electric mower is also easier to use. No seriously. Think of all the times you’ve pulled the chain from a gas mower only to have to pull it again and then a third time. If you’re lucky, that’s all it took. Even with a riding lawnmower, you’ve probably managed to get everything set right so it starts when you turn the key. Electric mowers are none of that. You push a button, and it’s gone. Every time, assuming you remember to charge the battery.

On top of all this, although an electric mower is generally more expensive to purchase than a petrol mower, it is also less expensive to operate. Electricity is cheaper than gas, especially right now, and you won’t have to worry about oil. Depending on where you live, it will cost you a few cents to mow your lawn with an electric mower.

When I first bought my electric lawn mower, I loved it for all of these reasons. It starts quickly, it’s quiet, it’s cheap to run, and I feel like I’m done mowing the lawn faster than with my old gas-powered lawnmower.

But two years later, I’m not so in love with it anymore.

The problem with most electric lawn mowers

A warning label to always charge a mower when not in use

The first year and a half I owned my lawn mower, I loved the thing. But from this summer, I changed my mind. In fact, I cannot in good conscience advise anyone to buy an electric riding mower at this time. You shouldn’t buy one at all. Better off with a gas mower, at least for the next few years.

Why have I changed my mind so much? Batteries. When you buy an electric push mower, you get a nice set of long-lasting, easy-to-change lithium-ion batteries. But that’s not the case with an electric riding mower. Instead, most currently use a sealed lead-acid (SLA) battery. You’re probably already familiar with SLA batteries – there’s one in your car. Yes, it’s the same type of battery your car uses. And chances are, if you have a gas-powered ride-on mower, she’s also using one too!

But there’s a big difference between how your gas-powered riding mower, your car, and an electric riding mower use that battery. In very basic terms with the first two, the battery starts the engine before the gas components take over to get things going. After that, the battery powers other electrical functions, like those unnecessary headlights on your mower.

Electric riding mowers rely entirely on SLA batteries. In the case of my machine, it houses four SLA batteries under the seat, and they all work together to provide 48 volts or about an “hour of run time”. My mower promises to go an acre before needing a recharge, but I can tell you from my experience that’s inaccurate. It’s probably something closer to 3/4 of an acre.

So what’s wrong with that? Well, SLA batteries are, frankly, terrible. They don’t last long at all and are easy to damage. They work quite well in a car (although some people might disagree) as most people drive their vehicle on a daily basis. But you probably don’t mow your lawn every day, and you certainly don’t in the winter.

And therein lies the problem. Buy any electric mower with an SLA battery, and you’ll find some heavy warnings:

Always connect the trimmer to the charger when the device is not in use. If it is not possible to leave the clipper charger connected, be sure to fully charge the batteries at least once a month.

Unlike other battery technologies, SLA batteries need to stay charged, and dropping them below 50% can damage them. They also can’t stand the cold. Ignore these warnings and you can kill the batteries. Or the batteries may no longer hold a charge. We did our best to follow these rules, but our batteries no longer work properly two years later.

I think the range issues ended up killing the batteries. Our mower is rated for a full acre before needing a refill, but is realistically closer to 3/4 of an acre. We have half an acre of land, so just mowing the lawn regularly drained the battery below 50%. Again, dropping below 50% can exhaust the recharge life of an SLA battery.

From the information I now get from the battery indicator display, I can tell that two of the four batteries are dead. This follows because when I start the mower (it now takes several tries) I only get half the range I had when I first bought the mower. Two years later, my electric mower needs two new SLA batteries, which will cost around $480 to swap. And it requires a tricky procedure that involves disassembling the mower, sliding a heavy deck backwards, avoiding tipping the mower in the process, and then avoiding shorting the system since all four batteries are linked together. It’s not pretty.

I spent over $2,000 on a mower that is now half as useful as it once was, and I will spend hundreds more to get it back to working order. Only to have to repeat the process in two years. This same mower now costs even more than when I first bought it. A gas mower would be better. You might be wondering if better electric riding mowers are on the way, and the answer is yes. But it’s not all good news.

The future of electric lawn mowers

A li-ion battery electric lawn mower

Obviously, the biggest complaint and biggest downfall of most electric lawn mowers today is reliance on SLA batteries. And if so, the solution is, in theory, quite simple: switch to lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. You probably own devices that already use Li-ion batteries. Do you have a smartphone, a cordless drill, true wireless headphones or an electric vehicle? All use Li-ion batteries.

It’s no surprise that so many gadgets have made this choice, as Li-ion solves many of the problems that plague SLA batteries. It doesn’t hurt them to drain the battery to zero (at least not that much), you can keep them charged all the time (modern technology prevents “overcharging”), it doesn’t suffer from “memory issues”, and like much it is generally more durable. With a Li-ion battery-powered electric mower, you won’t have to worry about maintaining a charge or plugging in during the winter.

So what’s the problem ? Price. Electric riding mowers are already expensive. You’ll pay over $2,000 for a model that promises to mow a single acre on a charge, more if you need something that can handle a bigger yard. Compared to other similar ride-on mowers, that’s a 20% premium. But if you want to buy a Li-ion electric riding mower, the price skyrockets.

Ryobi only recently started selling its first Li-ion options, and the starting price is $6,000. That giant price gets you a mower that only promises to mow about an acre of land on a single charge. And remember that companies tend to over-promise and under-deliver on claims. When it comes time to recharge, you’ll have to wait an hour and a half to regain a full charge. You can buy a model with more battery life, but each step adds another $1,000 to the price.

Other mowers are similarly priced or come from lesser-known manufacturers. The most affordable entry I can find is an artisan, tipping the scales at $3,000. But scroll through the reviews and any comments not labeled as a promotion are pretty negative.

For that kind of money, you can buy professional-grade equipment that will mow your lawn in a fraction of the time.

The bottom line is until prices drop and enough time has passed to prove reliability; you probably shouldn’t waste a ton of money on a Li-ion electric riding mower. Push mowers, on the other hand, are a solid bet. These work well and don’t break the bank. Right now, electric riding mowers just aren’t worth the money, despite their benefits. They will either cost way too much upfront or too much as you replace batteries over and over again.

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