So, you came across a used riding lawn mower on craigslist, offered at what seems to be a fair price. But what should you check to ensure you aren’t buying a lemon? In this article, we’ll take a look at the key points in our checklist.

As it turns out, selling used lawn mowers is a flourishing business. People will offer to pick up an old riding lawn mower from you for free, before fixing it up and selling it on at a profit. Sometimes these people are honest and do a great job, other times they are just flipping the machine for a quick buck. But how can you tell?

Before You Meet: Do Your Research

Before you travel to inspect the mower, first research the make and model. You can even ask the seller for the serial number. You can use this to find out how old the mower is, and you can often figure out if it has any known weaknesses. Knowing which parts typically break on a machine will give you a sense of what you should look for when you inspect the machine.

If possible, it helps to print out the manufacturer’s specifications or owner’s manual if you can find it on the internet. Bring this with you when you inspect the machine. This site has a huge array of machinery owners manuals

Inspecting The Mower: First Impressions

If your initial research checks out, the next step is to go a see the mower in person. Before you get into the details of the mower though, first take in the overall situation, and get a feel for the seller.

You should ask – why are they selling it this mower? If you are lucky, they might hint at some upcoming repairs or potential faults with it. How long have they owned it? Comparing this to the make and model number you researched, you can figure out if they bought it new. If the dates don’t check out, then you have reason to be cautious.

Take a look around the person’s house or yard. Are there other mowers around? If so, you might be looking at one of the mower flippers we mentioned previously – so again you should proceed with caution (although they aren’t always bad). Does the lawn look good? Are the other machines in the garage well cared for? Are there signs of scalping on the lawn or exposed roots?

Taking in these first impressions will help you build a picture about what you should look for in this mower. At this stage, you’re just building up your understanding of the situation.

Inspecting The Mower: In Detail

Now it’s time to get into the details and go over the mower to make sure it functions well. Remember to take into account anything you’ve learned already about that mower make and model and anything you’ve learned from or about the seller.

The Motor

  1. Is the engine the same make and model as the original specifications?
  2. How does it look visually? Is there any sign of leakage?
  3. How does the wiring look? Is it in good condition?
  4. Check the quality of any rubber lines on the machine for gas etc. Are these hardening or cracking?
  5. Inspect the inside of the hood – is there any sign of rust?
  6. Inspect the muffler. Is there any sign of rust? You can prod it to see if it is softening – it should feel hard to the touch.
  7. What condition is the battery in? What expiry date is shown on it?

The Cutter Deck

  1. Visually inspect the cutter deck. Is there sign of corrosion?
  2. Is the paint fresh? If it is, prod and poke the deck in various spots to check for rust underneath.
  3. What condition are the blades in? Are they sharp or rusted? Do they have any damage on them?
  4. Check the condition of the belts.
  5. Check the system to raise and lower the mower deck works well.

Chassis Inspection

  1. Check the condition of the chassis as a whole. If it’s freshly painted, continue to prod it. Triangulate that with the age of the machine to see if anything is being hidden.
  2. Check the seat, steering wheel, and controls. Does everything appear in order?
  3. Check the condition of the wheels and tires. Are they rusted?
  4. Inspect the steering system. Give the wheel a wobble. Is there any sign of looseness in the steering system? Some mowers do have a degree, but look for excess.

Test Drive

  1. You should always ensure you test drive the mower to make sure it starts and works correctly.
  2. Does the mower start well? Is there a lot of smoke, rattling, or noise? These could be signs of a serious long-term issue.
  3. Test the electrics. Do the headlights work?
  4. Take the mower for a drive. Do you notice any rattles or creaks? Does the steering respond well to input?
  5. If it has them, test the gears. Do they work correctly? Are there any loud noises? How about reverse?
  6. Now find a spot to do some mowing. Engage the cutters. Does it do so smoothly? Is there a lot of vibration or bad noises?
  7. Check the machine mows effectively. Can you raise and lower the deck?
  8. Check any other controls on the machine. You should aim to test them all.

Final Points

If the machine passes all of those checks, then chances are it’s in decent shape. If you are spending over $1000, the next thing to decide is whether to negotiate an inspection at a repair shop. Not everyone will agree to that, so you might have to compromise, and make a written and signed agreement for a 30-day warranty from the current owner.

Again, some sellers won’t agree to this, and this is where you have to make a judgement call. If you think the machine is good, then you should be ok. If you aren’t sure, you could knock the price down by the price of a mower service (normally around $200).

Finally, if you have any doubts, don’t proceed with the purchase. There are plenty of used riding lawn mowers around – and you’ll be able to find another one soon. Don’t get stuck with a lemon!

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