Seven Best Riding Mowers Under $1500 for 2018

So you want a lawn tractor to mow your 1/4 to 1 acre yard but you don’t have a lot of money to spend?

There are currently about 2 dozen lawn tractors and riding mowers that are available for under $1500.  The quality and durability of these machines is less than the $2200+ models but there are a few gems that will do a great job of cutting your lawn and will last for years with a little maintenance and care.

The entire list of mowers under $1500 is at the bottom of this article.

The top seven riding mowers on this list is very easy to decide. They all use the heavier yard tractor style frames so they have more leg room, mow better and can do more than the mowers that use the lighter lawn tractor frames.

The number one pick though is a lot harder to decide. I had a very hard time deciding on the best mower.

Features I had to consider were:

  • Which one makes me feel like have spent my money wisely?
  • Which one has the best mowing, mulch and bagging deck?
  • Which one has the best cut for your average lawn?
  • Which one has the best engine?
  • Which one has the best frame and steering?
  • Which one has the best transmission?
  • Which one is the most maneuverable?
  • Which one is easiest to use for me?
  • Which one has the best parts availability?
  • Which one has the best service network?

So let’s go through the logic I used to decide which riding mower under $1500 was the best.

I won’t waste your time, I’ll discuss the top mowers first and then go over the rest.

Mower 1. Craftsman 46″ 20 HP Hydrostatic Model 27333!

 

 Price: My number one choice is slightly higher than $1500. With all the discounts and points Sears offers this on it is about $1599. But it is well worth that extra money. For the extra money, you get the heavy-duty Pro style frame, good hydro transmission, reliable v-twin engine and a great cutting deck. Seriously look at this machine if you want a long-lasting, budget friendly mower.

Engine: Most of the under $1500 lawn tractors use a single cylinder engine but this one uses a V-twin so it has less vibration.  All the 2018 models are Overhead Valve. (OHV) All the 2018 engines in the under $1500 lawn tractors can use 87 octane, 10% Ethanol (E10) or less fuel. The main feature I looked for was full pressure lubrication (internal full-time oil pump) so the engine would last a long time on not only flat lawns but lawns with 15-degree slopes. The 20 HP V-twin Brigg & Stratton Platinum engine has the full pressure lubrication and the best B&S oil filter. It has plenty of power for mowing heavy grass and throwing it into a bagger. It’s very fuel-efficient. There are 10’s of thousands of this engine out mowing lawns every week and I can say it is a dependable, long-lasting motor. Change the oil, oil filter and air filter at the required times

Here are few more features that make the Craftsman 46″ 20 HP Hydrostatic Model 27333 the best choice for most people: 

  • Uses the stronger mid-size yard tractor frame. This is a thicker, stronger frame than the sub $1500 mowers.
  • 16-inch turning radius.
  • More accessories and attachments including specialized mulching, bagging blades and a 2-bin bagger.
  • H46 hydrostatic transmission that most people can use.
  • Mow-In-Reverse
  • 24/7 hour parts ordering online or by phone. All you need is the model number under the seat to get your parts.
  • Deck Washout Port
  • Spring assisted deck lift
  • Warranty: 2 years/lifetime frame and axle
  • Cast iron front axle
  • FREE Craftsman Smart Lawn app to help keep track of maintenance and help you do your own tune-ups.
  • Sears in-home repair available.
  • Of course, it has a cup holder 🙂
  • Check the special offers tab on the page link below. Most of the time they offer “Online Only! FREE Delivery on this Riding Mower Sold by Sears!  Plus 5% off or up to 18 months Special Financing on Riding Mowers & Tractors with qualifying Sears Card.”

Read More and Buy From Sears.com: Craftsman 46″ 20 HP Hydrostatic Model 27333

Mower 2.  Cub Cadet XT1 Enduro Model # LT42 at The Home Depot

 Craftsman has the most riding mowers and lawn tractors in the under $1500 price category,  But there three other brands that sell good value lawn tractors in this price range. The best of the “other” tractors is the Cub Cadet XT1 Enduro Model # LT42 available from The Home Depot. If you really don’t want a Craftsman this is next best choice.

Engine: Kohler 18HP Single Cylinder OHV.  This is a very dependable engine and is counterbalanced well so there is little vibration from the single cylinder. It will work on the hills as well as the Briggs & Stratton Platinum engine in the Craftsman above.

Deck: The other review sites feel this deck mulches better than most of the decks on the market. I have to agree. If you are mowing at the right height and mulching properly this deck is one of the best non-baffled decks for mulching. The Number 1 choice above is also highly rated. There is only one bagger available, a 2-bin, for this lawn tractor. Like the Craftsman, it is a stamped deck and has 4 anti-scalp wheels. This deck in combination with the Cub Cadet XT1’s stiff frame allows it to mow flat, smooth lawns very, very well. In other words, if you volunteer to mow the local softball or soccer field this will give you that perfect cut.

Transmission: This tractor uses the K46 hydrostatic transmission. There are millions (yes millions) of these transmissions out mowing lawns every week. I want to be very clear about this transmission – the tractor forums and some John Deere lawn tractor owners want you to believe that you should never buy a lawn tractor with this transmission because it won’t last. In reality, the only reason this transmission fails is that some manufacturers try to save costs and install this lawn tractor transmission in a larger tractor/mower than it should be installed in. The Cub Cadet XT1 Enduro Model # LT42 is the size this transmission was designed for. If you mow your normal lawn and pull a yard cart like the Cub Cadet Hauler Tow-Behind Dump Cart for clean up this transmission will last the life of the lawn tractor.

Other Features:

  • Uses the mid-size yard tractor frame. This is a thicker, stronger frame than the sub $1300 mowers.
  • Standard 16 inch steering. Owners state this mower steers very easily
  • Accessories and attachments including a 2-bin bagger.
  • Foot controlled hydrostatic transmission with cruise control.
  • Mow-In-Reverse
  • Deck Washout Port
  • Spring assisted deck lift
  • No hour/3-year limited residential including the powertrain and 5-year chassis/front axle warranties
  • Cast iron front axle
  • Of course, it has a cup holder 🙂
  • Cub Cadet open high-back seat that is designed with an oversized base and elevated back support
  • Cub Cadet LT42 comes fully crated and requires some assembly
  • Model 13AVA1CS056

Read More and Buy From The Home Depot:  Cub Cadet XT1 Enduro Model # LT42

Mower 3 Craftsman 42″ 19 HP B&S Fender Hydro Model # 25587,

Mower 4 Craftsman 46″ 19 HP Fender Hydro Model #25588 at Sears

I grouped these two tractors together because they are the same tractor just with a different deck.

 Engine: This Briggs & Stratton Platinum 19 HP single cylinder engine has one of the best reputations of all the single cylinder engines.

Deck: The Model 25587 uses a 42-inch deck.  The Model 25588 uses a 46 inch 2-blade deck that allows you to get done just a little faster.  The slightly wider deck sticks out the side of the lawn tractor just a little bit more and that allows you to trim around obstacles, buildings and fences just a little easier. These decks cut just a little better thn the

Transmission: The transmission in this riding mower has been performing well for your average residential lawn for many, many years. In fact, it is the transmission of choice for this size lawn tractor for just about every manufacturer. Yes, it has cruise control.

Let me expand on the fender speed control. It is the best option for many owners even though almost all riding mowers and tractors today use a pedal that you press with your right foot to control the tractor’s speed. The foot control style is common because the engineer’s think you will find it easy to use because it’s supposed to operate basically like the accelerator in your car.  The problem with a foot control though is you have to keep a constant pressure on the pedal and the pressure is greater than what you need for the accelerator on your car. For example, if you have arthritis of the knees mowing for more than a few minutes can be quite painful. If you have arthritis in your hips or other leg joints or circulation problems, the foot control forces you to stay in one position for a long time while you bounce around your yard. In other cases, you may be much shorter than the “average” person and the pedal makes you sit too far forward on the seat. Sitting too far forward is hard on your back and can make the seat safety switch cut in and out.

Even though I highly discourage letting underage teenagers drive, this fender control is the best choice for them. They can sit back on the seat comfortably, set the mower to move at a realistic speed and concentrate on not hitting obstacles. There is no awkward, unsafe twisting and stretching trying to reach the right foot control. To stop they can pull the speed lever back to neutral or step on the left clutch/brake pedal. If the mower deck is running they can even just stand up and the engine shuts off.

If you are in a wheelchair because of leg problems but you can use your arms well, this lawn tractor with the fender control is the best, inexpensive lawn mower option.

And finally, if you are one of the U.S. population like myself who ate too much over the years the fender control allows you to move the seat back far enough for your belly to clear the steering wheel.  You don’t have to reach a foot pedal to maneuver the lawn tractor.

The fender control is very easy to learn, has built-in speed control and works the best for anyone with physical conditions different from the average person.

Other Features:

  • Uses the mid-size yard tractor frame. This is a thicker, stronger frame than the sub $1300 mowers.
  • More accessories and attachments including specialized mulching, bagging blades and a 3-bin bagger.
  • Fender controled transmission that most people can use.
  • Mow-In-Reverse
  • 24/7 hour parts ordering online or by phone. All you need is the model number under the seat to get your parts.
  • Deck Washout Port
  • Spring assisted deck lift
  • Warranty: 2 years / 5-year frame and axle
  • Cast iron front axle
  • Craftsman Smart Lawn capable with purchase of Craftsman Smart Lawn Connect Kit #071-25200
  • Sears in-home repair.
  • Of course, it has a cup holder 🙂
  • Check the special offers tab on the page link below. Most of the time they offer Online Only! FREE Delivery on this Riding Mower Sold by Sears!  Plus 5% off or up to 18 months Special Financing on Riding Mowers & Tractors with qualifying Sears Card.

Mower 5. Craftsman 42″ 20 HP V-Twin Model # 27330 at Sears

 

 This is a special Craftsman model that to me reflects the most popular Craftsman Lawn Tractors of yesterday and today. A good, well-built mowing machine at a less than expected price. In fact, there are many similarities with this lawn tractor and the most popular Craftsman lawn tractor ever from the year 2000. That old lawn tractor has proven so dependable that you can still find a “green hooded” Craftsman out mowing in your neighborhood every week. The right stuff has been improved over the years but this model still has the roots of that original lawn tractor that so many owners love.

Engine: This is a sweet “little” 725cc V-Twin. The V-Twin 20 HP Kohler 7000 OHV. It’s very compact and fuel-efficient. One of the features I really like is how smooth-running this engine is.

Deck: This is good cutting 42-inch deck. A mulch kit and 2-bin bagger is available.

Transmission: Foot controlled hydro.

Steering: This lawn tractor uses the standard 18-inch steering radius.

Other Features:

  • Uses the mid-size yard tractor frame. This is a thicker, stronger frame than the sub $1300 mowers.
  • More accessories and attachments including specialized mulching, bagging blades and a 2-bin bagger.
  • Foot controlled hydro transmission that most people can use.
  • Mow-In-Reverse
  • 24/7 hour parts ordering online or by phone. All you need is the model number under the seat to get your parts.
  • Deck Washout Port
  • Spring assisted deck lift
  • Warranty: 2 years / 5-year frame and axle
  • Cast iron front axle
  • Craftsman Smart Lawn capable with purchase of Craftsman Smart Lawn Connect Kit #071-25200
  • Sears in-home repair.
  • Of course, it has a cup holder 🙂
  • Check the special offers tab on the page link below. Most of the time they offer Online Only! FREE Delivery on this Riding Mower Sold by Sears!  Plus 5% off or up to 18 months Special Financing on Riding Mowers & Tractors with qualifying Sears Card.

Mower 6. Troy-Bilt Model #TB46 – Horse Lawn Tractor

This is the new model Horse (13WX79BT011) not the older model rated by Consumer Reports. This new model uses the fender mounted speed control. This is a good alternative to the Cub Cadet Mower 2 above.

Engine: 20HP Kohler single cylinder

Deck: 46 inch 2-blade deck

Transmission: Hydro Gear T2. This is a great lawn tractor transmission. Be aware I don’t recommend it for hills and regularly pulling heavy loads.

Other Features: “The Horse lawn tractor features a reliable 20.0 HP* Single Kohler® Courage engine and a rugged cast-iron front axle.  Built comfortable with a hydrostatic transmission, a Soft Touch steering wheel and high-back seat,  the Horse XP riding lawn tractor is equipped to handle the largest of lawns.”

Mower 7. Poulan PRO 46 in. 20 HP Model # 960460079

 This mower is made by Husqvarna and is very close to the Craftsman 90th Anniversary model. Mower 5 above.  I want to point out that the picture on Home Depot and Poulan Pro both show the 6 inch turning radius steering but the description and parts listings show the standard 16 inch radius. I trust the Illustrated Parts List as the actual product so I am going to state – it has the 16 inch radius steering.

Engine: 20 HP V-Twin B&S Intek.

Deck: 46 inch 2-blade

Transmission: Auto/CVT GTRS800

Other Features: It has the flat metal deck reinforcements found on the more expensive Husqvarna Yard Tractors

Bonus Mower 8. Craftsman 46″ 540cc Auto Riding Mower Model # 27343

Engine: The 540cc engine, 19 HP Briggs & Stratton and is plenty for this lawn tractor and deck.  The engines ais full pressure with oil filter and tool-less air cleaners.

Deck: 46 inch 2-blade deck. This deck cuts, mulches and bags very well for the price of the lawn tractor but only has two anti-scalp wheels. If you lawn is very rough I suggest Mower 1, 3, 4, or 5 instead.

Transmission: CVT. This CVT has been around for years and it just works. It is designed to mow your 1/3-1 acre lawn and pull a small cart. In other words if you just want to mow your lawn and pick up leaves and branches with a cart this transmission will last you many years. The speed is controlled with your right foot and the direction with a shift lever on the left fender. It does not have cruise control.

Other Features: 

  • Automatic transmission makes mowing your lawn even easier
  • All models mow in reverse.
  • 18″ turning radius helps you to navigate around obstacles in your yard
  • 540cc engine delivers plenty of power to cut grass quickly and effectively
  • Features hauling capabilities that allow you to add rolling or aerating equipment
  • Controlled via foot pedal and can drive up to 5.5 mph forward or 2.3 mph in reverse
  • Comes with 2-year limited warranty as well as a 5-year frame/front axle warranty

What about rear engine riders.

Rear engine riding mowers are placed at the very bottom of this list because of the simple fact that they can be very unstable on any slope. Yes, they are great for getting through small areas and gates but for anyone, without a lot of experience, they are too unstable.  Just trimming around an old tree can be more of a slope than theses rear engine riders can handle.  Rear engine riding mowers are smaller and less powerful than the other lawn tractors on this list. Even more so than zero-turn riders, which also have their engine at the rear, rear engine riding mowers are very light in the front. That will cause the front end to pop up when starting out in too high of a gear or going up hilly terrain. The only real advantage over traditional lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers is they are cheaper than most. But if you only have $1200 to spend and your property is under an acre in size there are still better options on this list. (Look at Number 9, 10 and 11)

Note: These small rear engine riders are only rated to 12-degree slopes or less.

Mowers 17, 18, 19. The Cub Cadet CC30H, Craftsman Model 29000 and Troy-Bilt TB30R Rear Engine Rider

The Cub Cadet CC30H, Craftsman Model 29000 and Troy-Bilt TB30R are basically the same mowers with each one having a few different features. They are small mowers for 1/3 to 3/4 acre lawns.  The main reason I am rating them so low is they are very tippy and should not be used on any kind of slope. Even mowing around an older tree should be done with extreme caution. They actually mow and bag well but be aware of the longer 30-inch single blade. They will scalp an uneven lawn quicker than a 42 or 46-inch deck.

The Cub Cadet has a dependable hydro-static transmission and is the easiest model to use. Parts and service are available through your local Cub Cadet Dealer.

The Craftsman 29000 has the best service and parts availability. You can order parts online or schedule service anytime day or night.

The Craftsman and The Troy-bilt have the 6 speed shift on-the-go transmission. The tranny is dependable but many people complain that the Forward/Reverse lever is hard to reach. (it’s below the seat, between your legs)

Mower 20. The Poulan Pro PB30

The Poulan Pro PB30 is arguably the worst mower available for 2018. People buy it because it’s cheap and has a small deck. It shifts hard. The clutch is very jerky. Braking is almost non-existent. It mows poorly. It has a very poor turning radius and it harder to steer than the MTD built rear engine riders. Many owners state their deck does not stay level and a few fell off. Front steering wears out quickly. Does not have a bagger available. It is top-heavy and I don’t recommend it for any slope over 5 degrees.

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James Marshall
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James Marshall

Paul, no doubt your website has saved me from making a bad mower decision, but I still need your advice before I wind up with the wrong mower. I’ve been double cutting my 1/2 ac lot with a worn out 21″ push mower, so I decided to upgrade to a high-end Honda mower hoping to shorten my mow time. I expect the Honda twin blades will cut better, but it’s a still small mower. I looked at big box riding mowers but realized they are mush; soon I was looking at Toro’s SS4200. zero turn. Even a small zero turn… Read more »

Tom M
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Tom M

Hi Paul. I’ve been looking at non-hydro tractors with a deck shifter, and there don’t seem to be many models. Are you familiar with the Craftsman model 25586? I have questions about it that the Sears website seems unclear on. The website has it advertised as a 7-speed manual transmission, but the photos only show a 2-position deck mounted shifter with F and R. Looking in the owners manual for clarification, it’s listed as a CVT with a 7-position dash mounted speed control. I’m curious as to whether it’s a CVT or geared transmission, and also how it operates. Must… Read more »

Keith
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Keith

Paul, thanks for answering my question about the JD e100. I found this page and it is like gold. It seems like the craftsmans listed in the top 7 are no longer available. That leaves me looking at the cub cadet and poulan. I have a 1/2 acre on a 8 degree hill. How do you think these two will make out? Or do you think I am overlooking another model? It seems like the Poulan is cheaper, bigger deck, and better transmission. What makes the cadet ranked higher? Thank you for your consideration. Loading...

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