A Comprehensive Guide to Self-Propelled Lawn Mowers

what is a self-propelled lawn mower

What is a self-propelled lawn mower? Discover everything you need to know about self-propelled lawn mowers, including what they are, how they work, and their benefits. Find the top brands and models to help you find the best self-propelled lawn mower for your yard.

What is a Self-Propelled Mower?

Self-propelled lawn mowers are a type of walk-behind mower. They have a drive system connected to the wheels so that when you hold down on the handle, it moves the mower forward. 

Self-propelled mowers have several benefits, including making mowing large lawns, slopes, and uneven terrain easier. They also make it easier to mow through dense grass.

The Evolution of Lawn Mowers to the Self-Propelled Variants

rotary lawn mower
Early mowers like this walk-behind rotary model from the 1880s were difficult to use.

The lawn mower has been around since 1830, with the first one coming out of England. In 1890, the first steam-powered lawn mowers were invented, and by 1915, the first gas-powered lawn mowers were being manufactured. 

By 1922, the first self-propelled lawn mowers became available to make lawn mowing easier and faster. Today, they come in many styles with different attachments and are powered by different fuel sources. 

Understanding the Mechanics of Self-Propelled Lawn Mowers

The best thing about a self-propelled lawn mower is that you don’t have to push it around the yard. But what powers a self-propelled lawn mower? Learn how self-propelled lawn mowers work and explore the different types of drive systems that make them go.

How Does a Self-Propelled Lawn Mower Work?

Self-propelled lawn mowers have a drive system connected to their wheels, similar to a vehicle. A system of pulleys, cables, belts, and gears connects to a lever near the handlebar, which, when pressed, turns the wheels to make the lawn mower move. 

Drive System

Located near the handlebar, a lever (or bail) controls the drive system on a self-propelled mower. When you engage the bail, the drive system turns the wheels and propels the mower forward.

Speed Control

Self-propelled mowers can be either single-speed or variable-speed. You can adjust a single-speed mower to slow down if it’s going too fast for you.

You can control variable speed mowers to slow down or speed up the lawn mower by using the control on the handlebar. Specifically, this makes it easier for you to slow it down around corners and obstacles and speed up on straight stretches.

Different Types of Self-Propelled Lawn Mowers

The three types of self-propelled lawn mower drive systems are front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive. 

The least expensive option is the front-wheel drive lawn mower, usually because it is less complicated and doesn’t cost as much to manufacture. All-wheel drive lawn mowers are typically the most expensive and may require more maintenance in the long run.

Front-Wheel Drive

Toro front wheel drive self propelled mower
Example of a Front-Wheel Drive: Toro Model 20379

Front-wheel drive mowers, where the front wheels propel the mower, are better for flat yards because the mower’s weight is behind the wheels. If you are on an incline, the wheels have more difficulty pulling the weight.

An advantage of front-wheel drive mowers is that they are easier to turn than other mowers. You can simply lift the front of the mower, turn it, and place it back on the lawn to maneuver around obstacles like trees, shrubs, and sprinklers.

Rear-Wheel Drive

rear wheel drive self propelled mower toro 21352
Example of Rear-Wheel Drive: Toro Model 21352

With a rear-wheel drive, the center of gravity is on the drive axle, and the weight helps propel the mower up steep inclines better than front-wheel drive. However, this makes rear-wheel drive mowers more challenging to move around obstacles. 

All-Wheel Drive

what is a self-propelled lawn mower Toro Model 21472
Example of All-Wheel Drive: Toro Model 21472

On all-wheel drive mowers (aka four-wheel-drive mowers), all four wheels connect to the drive system, giving them the best traction and balance. 

The most significant advantage of all-wheel drive mowers is that you can use the levers to switch between front-wheel, rear-wheel, and all-wheel drive for optimal maneuverability and traction.

Benefits of Using a Self-Propelled Lawn Mower

Is a self-propelled lawn mower worth the extra cost? They are easier to use, faster, and more efficient, which is why they have become so popular.

Ease of Use

Pushing a lawn mower around the yard can be hard for some people. Self-propelled lawn mowers are more suitable for people of all ages and physical capabilities. 

Suitable for Different Ages and Physical Abilities

Flat yards are usually pretty easy to mow, but if you’re getting on in your years or not as physically strong as you used to be, using a self-propelled mower will make mowing your lawn much easier.

Less Physical Strain

Pushing a lawn mower back and forth across the yard can be a great workout, but if you don’t feel like using up all your energy on mowing the lawn, a self-propelled lawn mower is a better option.

Efficiency and Speed

Self-propelled lawn mowers are also faster and more efficient. Whether they are powered by an electric motor, battery, or combustion engine, they provide power to the wheels to make mowing your yard faster and more efficient.

Fast Lawn Mowing

Many homeowners enjoy taking care of their lawns, but mowing can be a chore when you have to do it every four to five days all summer long. Faster lawn mowing with a self-propelled lawn means you can spend more time doing activities you enjoy.

Consistent Mowing Speed

Self-propelled lawn mowers move at a consistent speed, which makes for a more even cut of your lawn. If you’re using a self-propelled mulching mower, once you get it set to the right speed, you can rest assured that the mulching action is working correctly all the time.

Factors to Consider While Buying a Self-Propelled Lawn Mower

There are a lot of different self-propelled lawn mowers on the market, and selecting the right one can be difficult. Consider the following factors when you’re shopping for a self-propelled lawn mower.

Features to Look for

Before you buy, here are the top features to look for when it comes to self-propelled lawn mowers.

Cutting Width

The most common cutting width for self-propelled mowers is 21 inches. Choose a lawn mower with a 28 to 33-inch deck for large yards. You can find up to 36-inch decks, but they are much more expensive.

Fuel Source

Choose from battery-powered, electric corded, and gas-powered self-propelled mowers. Gas engine mowers have the most power, but battery-powered mowers are effective and easier to maintain and use.

Drive Options

One of the most important decisions is the drive type. Choosing an AWD model will cost you more, but they are the easiest to use. 

Adjustable Speed

Most models have variable speed controls. It’s an important feature if you want to control the speed you’re mowing at, so be sure to check if it’s an option on the mower you select.

Mulching vs Bagging

Some mowers are called 2-in-1 or 3-in-1, which refers to the mulching, bagging, and discharging functions. The 3-in-1 models are nice because they allow you to choose how to handle your grass clippings depending on your lawn conditions.

Wheel Size

Does wheel size on a self-propelled mower matter? High-wheel mowers are best for slopes and uneven lawns. The cost difference between low and high-wheel mowers is minimal, but if you have a hilly lawn, choose one with high rear wheels.

Convenience Features

vertical storage system on a self propelled mower
Vertical storage system

Here are a few convenience features that make it easier to operate your mower:

  • Key or button start to eliminate pull-starting
  • Quick-adjust wheels to raise or lower the mowing deck
  • Adjustable handlebar height
  • Smart storage technology

Brand and Model Comparisons

Choosing the best brands is an excellent place to start when shopping for a self-propelled lawn mower. One of the best lawn mower brands is Honda. 

Honda offers premium lawn mowers at top prices and is the best choice for commercial lawn mowers. When looking for a quality product at a more affordable price, Toro is hard to beat.

Top Products

Take a look at the top self-propelled lawn mowers in various categories and read reviews of the best self-propelled lawn mowers.

Best Self-Propelled Lawn Mower OverallHonda HRC216HXA
Best Residential Self-Propelled Lawn MowerHonda HRX Series
Best Cordless Electric Self-Propelled Lawn MowerMilwaukee M18 Fuel 21-Inch Dual Battery
Best Large Walk-Behind MowerToro TimeMaster 30-inch Personal Pace Mower
Best Budget Self-Propelled Lawn MowerToro 21-Inch Recycler

Maintenance and Care of Self-Propelled Lawn Mowers

The first thing to do when you become the proud owner of a new or used lawn mower is to read the owner’s manual. Familiarize yourself with the manufacturer’s recommendations for operating and caring for your lawn mower to get the most out of your purchase.

Routine Maintenance

Depending on the type of lawn mower you get, you’ll need to perform different maintenance tasks throughout the year. 

The two most common times to perform routine maintenance on lawn mowers are in the spring when you’re getting your lawn mower out to start mowing, and in the fall when you’re putting it away for the winter.


Keeping your lawn mower and its components clean will keep it in good condition. Clear out grass and debris after every mowing and throughout the growing season. 

You should also clean the air filter and replace it as needed. 

Oil Changes

self propelled mower oil change
Swapping out the filter is part of an oil change.

If you have a 4-cycle gas-powered mower, you must perform regular oil changes. Check your owner’s manual for instructions.


At the end of the mowing seasons, use this routine maintenance checklist to keep your lawn mower in top-notch shape:

sharpening mower blades

Troubleshooting Common Issues

You can avoid most problems with routine maintenance, but if you run into engine or drive system problems, use this guide for troubleshooting.

Engine Problems

Check the following if you’re having issues with your mower’s engine:

  • Gas level
  • Fuel filter
  • Battery
  • Oil level
  • Spark plugs
  • Air filter
  • Mower height (may need to be raised)
  • Clean under mower

Drive System Problems

If your self-propelled lawn mower stops propelling, you’re not alone. It’s a common issue related to drive system issues, often caused by problems with the drive belt or control cable. 

Follow these steps to troubleshoot drive system issues, replacing components if necessary:

  • Check the belts for wear and defects.
  • Inspect the drive pulley for damage.
  • Check the control cable and adjust if necessary. If it doesn’t move freely, it may need to be oiled.
  • Inspect the wheel assembly and drive gears.
  • If the transmission is turning, but the wheels won’t turn, then the transmission may need to be replaced.

Get the Perfect Self-Propelled Lawn Mower for Your Yard

Self-propelled lawn mowers are a step above regular push mowers, making it easier than ever to care for your lawn and garden. With plenty of choices of drive trains and power sources, you won’t have any problem finding the best one for your needs.

FAQs About Self-Propelled Lawn Mowers

What makes self-propelled mowers different from push mowers?

The main difference between self-propelled mowers and regular push mowers is that self-propelled mowers have a drive system that moves the mower forward.

Can you use a self-propelled mower without the self-propel feature?

You can simply remove the drive belt to use a self-propelled mower without the self-propel feature. You can also push a self-propelled mower, but it is usually harder than pushing a regular mower.

How do you maintain a self-propelled lawn mower?

what is a self-propelled lawn mower and how do you maintain one
Don’t forget to clean under the deck. This will improve your cut and take stress off of the motor/engine.

You maintain self-propelled lawn mowers in much the same way as any other type of mower. Check the blades, engine bolts, and grass catcher components for damage and wear. Routine maintenance should also include checking the fuel lines, tanks, and caps for leaks and cracks. Always practice safe lawn mower maintenance by ensuring it is not powered before removing or adjusting the blades.

What are the common problems when using self-propelled mowers and how to fix them?

The most common issue with self-propelled mowers is the drive belt. Indeed, belts don’t last forever, and while you may be able to adjust the cable tension to tighten the belt, sometimes you have to replace it.

Are self-propelled mowers suitable for hilly terrains?

Self-propelled mowers are the best choice for hilly terrains because they will move themselves up the hill, making the job much easier.

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