Used Riding Lawn Mower And Garden Tractor Checklist

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This checklist is a starting point in helping you decide whether to purchase a used riding lawn mower.  It will give you an idea of what to look for when you inspect the mower.  We've also included a description of what to look for and why.  When you're ready to actually look at a mower, take our printable checklist with you.  While the list may seem like overkill for an older lower-priced model, at least you'll have an idea of what may need repair or work in the future. 

If you want to get an idea of how much a riding lawn mower or garden tractor is worth, visit How To Find The Value Of A Used Riding Lawn Mower

What To Ask The Seller

If you haven't already, find out or research what year the mower was manufactured based on the model number, the original engine model, and comparable sales.  Some mower models were manufacturered over several years.  The model number and serial number will let you know what year it was produced.

How long have you owned the mower?  If your research says it's a six year old model and the owner says he's had it for two years, you know he's not the original owner.  That really doesn't impact the price, but it let's you know that the mower has already had more than one owner, or that this guy might repair and sell mowers (if you didn't know that already).  

There's nothing wrong with mower flippers, but there are a few out there that offer to pick up dead mowers then fix them up just enough to sell for a profit. They'll do a little paint touchup, install scavenged parts from other mowers to fix obvious problems, unscrupulous guys might even perform a few tricks to hide other problems, and then list the mower for sale.  Although they've repaired the mower, they probably don't know the full history, and probably have only tested it just enough to make sure it works when a potential buyer looks at it.  Whether the mower will hold up to regular use won't be known until you've used it a few times.  For these guys, it's not unreasonable to ask for a 30 day warranty.  

Why are you selling it?  This will just give you a little background information to keep in mind.  And, if you're lucky, a private seller might hint to a couple of problems.

Are there any problems with the engine or the deck?  You'll figure out how honest he is after you inspect the mower.

Take a look at the owner's property.  Are there a lot of exposed tree roots, property inclines, etc.  Are there any areas in the lawn that look scalped or roots that have been sheared by the blades?  You can get an idea of the kind of wear-and-tear the lawn mower has been through.  You'll also know they're a mower flipper if there are a lot of other mowers.

If you are going to be spending more than $1000 for a mower, you might consider asking if you can get the mower inspected a a mower repair shop before you commit to the purchase.  If the owner isn't willing, you can see if they'd be willing to (contractually) agree to take back the mower if your repair shop identifies any significant performance problems (maybe any engine repairs requiring more than 10% amount of the sales price to fix).

Inspecting The Riding Lawn Mower

When you first look at the riding lawn mower or garden tractor, open the hood and feel the engine.  Is it warm?  If it's warm, the owner may just have been testing it out before you arrived.  Or, maybe the owner wanted to flush out any problems you might see (smoke, slow start) if you had started the engine cold.  If it's warm, keep that in mind when you do the rest of your inspection.

Inspect the "deal breakers" first.  Don't waste your time inspecting if the lights work if there are problems with the engine or deck.

Engine

  • Original engine model? 
  • Check for oil or fluid leaks on engine Tip: bring a small inspection mirror so you can look at out-of-reach areas of the engine.  If there's a build-up of grime or oil around any seals or gaskets, that may indicate a gasket or seal is worn and in need of replacement.  If the engine is completely clean (especially if it's an older lawn mower), check for leaks again after you test drive the mower.  Some leaks only occur when the mower is used and when the oil is heated;  these leaks are easier to locate immediately after you've driven the mower.
  • Check wiring for damage
  • Check air filter Should be clean; not greasy; if it's missing, find out why because that usually means there's been problems starting the mower
  • Check gas lines for cracks or hardening 
  • Check underside of hood Is it reasonably clean?  If there's a heavy buildup of grease and grime, there's a chance the engine smokes or has a leak
  • Check oil Tip:  bring a paper towel or rag to wipe down the dip stick.  Oil level should be good, oil should be clean.  If it's low, it could be a sign of a leak so you'll need to inspect gaskets a little closer.  If the oil is sludgy, regular maintenance has been neglected.  If it's milky, there may be water.
  • Check gas tank Gas should smell like gas and be clear, not smell like varnish or cloudy - which is a sign of old gas; inside of tank should be clean
  • Check battery connections Are they heavily oxidized? If so, the terminals may be loose.  Or, the alternator may be overcharging/failing.

Deck

  • Check for rust
  • For stamped decks, check welded seals
  • Check the belts Look for uneven fraying or uneven wear (signs of possible spindle/pulley problems), or excess looseness.  
  • Is the deck level With the mower on a level surface and all blades turned forward, does the deck sit evenly above the surface on both sides
  • Check for damage to the discharge shoot and safety deflector Has the mower been chewing up a lot of large sticks/debris
  • Does the deck raise and lower into each position Lift links shouldn't give too much resistance
  • Check mandrels Located on top of deck above the blades, check for any play or wiggle; even a bad spindle shouldn't have any play when the belts are tight

Tires and Axle

  • Check tread wear
  • Check for damage, cracks in rubber, or dry rot
  • Check rims for rust
  • Check that the front tires are aligned with one another.  If one or both tires are leaning slightly inward or outward, the wheel spindles may be damaged.
  • Check the axle between the front tires Look for any signs of stress cracks or damage
  • Check tire axle pivot for excess wear by turning steering wheel left then right

Basics

  • Check lights Lights should be bright, housing clean and lenses clear
  • Gauges and indicators work
  • Pedals intact and responsive
  • Steering wheel Turns left/right smoothly; not too loose; doesn't jump gear teeth
  • Hour meter (how many hours)
  • Throttle moves easily
  • Fuel tank cap is tight
  • Hood Hinges aren't damaged; hood not too loose or rubbing on body of mower

Cosmetics

  • Paint condition  Faded, repainted, touchups?
  • Rust on body?
  • Scratches, dings or dents?
  • Paint bubbling Rust is underneath the paint
  • Seat condition Any tears or rips; depending on the brand, new seats sell from $40-$190
  • Foot rest condition Rust usually starts underneath the pads

Test Drive

  • How quickly does the engine crank (in seconds)
  • Any smoke upon startup?
  • Does it idle smoothly?
  • Test forward and reverse
  • Test brakes
  • Test turning radius
  • Test steering Smooth going both hard left and hard right
  • Test throttle from lowest to highest Does the engine stall?
  • Test the mower at all speeds
  • Check deck sounds when engaged If you feel excess vibration or a loud whining sound, there may be a problem with the spindle assembly
  • Test mow if possible The grass should be evenly cut.  There shouldn't be any high peaks or low areas in the grass, and the grass blades shouldn't be frayed.  If there are uneven cuts, the deck may not be level, a blade or the deck or a spindle may be bent. If there's an incline on the property, go uphill to see if the mower stalls
  • Finally, turn the choke all the way down  The mower should not stall
  • After the test drive, reinspect the engine's seals and gaskets for oil leaks