Push Mower vs Self Propelled

Push Mower vs Self-Propelled: What’s Best for You?

For any homeowner or prospective home-buyer, the lawn is a key point of pride for many Americans. That’s why owning a lawnmower that fits your yard—and your budget—is more important than ever. Whether you’ve just moved, or are just looking to upgrade, I’m here to help you make the best choice. Today I’ll compare push mower vs self propelled lawn mower. I’ll share the differences between the two, and highlight reasons why one (or the other) might be a better choice for your yard care.

Trust and Accuracy Information

This article was last updated on by Lawn Chick Owner Sarah Jameson
Article content reviewed for accuracy by Certified Horticulturist Nicole Forsyth, M.S., and by Horticulturist Arthur Davidson, A.S.

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Walk Behind Mowers

The walk-behind mower is the most common in American yards (or sheds/garages), and they come in a few varieties, either push or self-propelled.

Push Mowers

Push mowers are usually manual, with no motorized capacity to drive them over your lawn. Common push mower varieties include:

  • The reel mower,
  • Motorized (gas-powered) push mowers, or
  • Electric motors.
Push Mower

Let’s talk briefly about each of these types of push mowers, what’s good about them, and who they may be best for.

Reel Mowers

Reel mowers have a horizontal cylinder of blades attached to (and spun by) the wheels. They are quiet and cleanly cut grass with a scissor-like action.

Reel Mower - a Type of Push Lawn Mower

You may be familiar with this type of push lawnmower from “the old days” when gas-powered mowers were too expensive for many families.

Reel mowers tend to be the least expensive models, due to their simplicity of design. They’re a great choice for smaller yards, fit homeowners, and yards with uniform, high-quality grass.

If you have a larger yard, or your lot has hills or a bumpy lawn, a reel mower may not be a great choice for you.

Motorized Push Mowers

Unlike reel mowers, motorized push mowers use the same rotary blades as self-propelled mowers.

Motorized push mowers come in either gas, or electric varieties and beyond the power source, they work in (basically) the same way.

Motorized Push Mower

Reel mowers use friction to cut the grass, while motorized push mowers do not. That puts the effort onto the user to make sure the grass gets cut with a reel mower, but with an electric or gas-powered push mower, all you have to do is steer and push the mower around the yard … the blades are not powered by you.

Rotary blades hack at the grass with a motorized push lawn mower. The grass is cut like a set of helicopter propellers might.

This method of cutting leaves a rough edge on the grass, which is not ideal, but the motor—in both push and self-propelled models—removes a lot of burden from the user and they’re easier to push around your yard.

If your lawn is larger, or uneven, that effort requirement becomes very important.

Choosing the Best Type of Push Mower for Your Property

An uneven lawn won’t provide reel mowers the consistent friction necessary to properly cut your lawn. This is not a concern with a motorized push mowers, so if your lawn is uneven you can either level it and then buy a reel mower, or choose a gas or electric mower for your yard.

Motorized and reel push mowers do share some of the same benefits, however, as they are both lighter, simpler, and (in general) significantly less expensive than their self-propelled mower counterparts.

Push Mower or Self Propelled Mower Comparison

Depending on your level of fitness, the light weight of a push mower more than makes up for its lack of self-propulsion, but the user’s strength is the driving force, so be honest about how much work you can (or want to) do when you mow your lawn every 10 days or so.

The push mower’s simplicity also has fewer fail-points than a self-propelled mower, giving these mowers greater longevity for homeowners.

That, combined with their lower price, makes this an excellent choice for homeowners on a budget who also have a small yard.

Self-Propelled Lawn Mowers

The self-propelled mower, on the other hand, has a transmission that drives its wheels.

Self Propelled Lawn Mowers

Like a car, self propelled lawn mowers use either front- or rear-wheel drive.

Unlike push mowers, self-propelled mowers carry the burden of pushing the mower across your yard. The user is usually only responsible for the effort of steering these mowers.

Despite what you may have heard, self-propelled mowers won’t run away from you. Most have a way to set a comfortable speed and then every time you engage the mower’s drive, it will remain at that speed consistently.

All motorized mowers have a safety bar that must be squeezed to engage the motor and make the cutting blades spin. Self-propelled mowers have an additional bar that, much like the gas pedal in a car, has to be squeezed for the mower’s wheels to engage and for the mower to begin to drive.

Self-propelled walk-behind mowers travel typically at speeds from 1 to 3 ½ miles per hour, with high-end models going up to 4 miles per hour.

My Self Propelled Honda Lawnmower (manufacturer photo)
Manufacturer’s photo of my Honda self-propelled mower.

These mowers can cut down the time spent mowing your lawn significantly. They are also better suited to maneuvering uneven terrain.

I own a Honda 21 inch self-propelled mower and it’s a fantastic machine. I bought it new, locally from Home Depot, for $399 many years ago, and have done all the maintenance on it myself.

It starts on the first pull every season after sitting all winter. I highly recommend it.

Front-Wheel Drive Self-Propelled Mowers

Front-wheel drive mowers are propelled by the front wheels. Of the self-propelled mowers, these tend to have simpler mechanics, which means you can anticipate fewer problems as a long-term owner.

Front wheel drive self propelled lawn mowers also tend to price lower and are more easily maneuverable.

Self Propelled vs Push Lawn Mowers - Difference Between Front-Wheel Drive and Rear-Wheel Drive Self Propelled Mowers

These mowers make 180-degree turns smoothly. This makes it easy to navigate around shrubbery and lawn ornaments.

That said, front-wheel drive (as well as all push mowers) work best on flat terrain, as they cannot pull the weight necessary to maneuver steep inclines. For that type of lawn, a rear-wheel drive self-propelled mower is more suitable.

Rear-Wheel Drive Self-Propelled Mowers

Rear-wheel drive mowers have rear-wheel propulsion. They require more complicated internal mechanics to operate. This makes most rear-drive self-propelled mowers more expensive up front, and more costly to maintain.

They also can be more challenging to maneuver, especially if you’re a smaller person. The rear-wheels need to pivot to turn your mower, so you may find yourself occasionally lifting the rear of the mower as you navigate around obstacles.

You cannot pull either variety of self-propelled mower backwards easily unless you disengage the propulsion, or tilt the mower to lift the spinning wheels (I do the latter).

Where rear-wheel mowers shine is in their propulsion power.

The rear-wheels create the driving force and as a result those wheels can push almost the entire weight of the lawn mower. For hilly terrain, this is especially beneficial because the mowers practically drive themselves uphill. Its engineering makes up for its weight, and if your property has a lot of hills, this type of lawn mower is usually the safest option … a better choice than any riding lawn mower in my view.

Choosing the Right Mower for Your Yard

Ultimately, when comparing push mower vs self propelled models, the most important factor when choosing a new lawnmower is your yard.

Push vs Self Propelled Mower - Choosing the Right Lawn Mower for Your Yard

True, self-propelled mowers tend to be more expensive, but there are still quality mowers and when you compare their cost to lawn tractors or zero-turn riding mowers, self propelled mowers are quite reasonable. The best ones tend to be $500 or less.

These self-propelled mowers also tend to be heavier, but their ease of use makes up for that added weight.

Push mowers are lighter weight to lift … so if you regularly transport your mower to your parents’ house or to a neighbor’s to help out with their lawn maintenance that may be important to you. But a ramp can solve the issue of getting a self-propelled mower into a truck.

Your circumstances should dictate which mower works best for you.

Choosing The Best Lawn Mower For Your Yard
Look — Honda self-propelled mowers are even used on properties like this one!

Push mowers are great for small yards or flat yards. If your yard is large (anything more than a third of an acre), but otherwise flat, and especially if it has decorative flowerbeds or ornaments, then a front-wheel drive, self-propelled mower will probably work very well for you.

The propulsion would lower the time spent mowing your lawn and require less overall effort from you. If you have a steep, hilly lawn with uneven terrain, then a rear-wheel mower is your better buy.

My Recommendations: Push Mower vs Self Propelled

Type Of YardBest Mower
Small, FlatReel Mower
Small, UnevenPush Mower
(Gas or Electric)
Small, HillySelf-Propelled
(rear wheel drive)
Medium, FlatSelf-Propelled
(front wheel drive)
Medium, HillySelf Propelled
(rear wheel drive)
Large, FlatSelf-Propelled
(front wheel drive)
Large, HillySelf Propelled
(rear wheel drive)

Arthur Davidson, a member of our expert panel and a horticulturist with over five decades of hands on experience adds that, “if you live where there is sandy soil, self propelled mowers have one major issue. The drive wheels tend to wear out quicker due to abrasion.”

He adds that this shouldn’t discourage you from going with self-propelled, but that “you may have to replace those wheels for recommended propulsion.”

The Wild Card: You

Another factor of importance is your overall fitness.

A push mower requires your strength and your ability to mow your lawn. A self-propelled mower will move itself, taking the weight off of you. It also eases the burden of maneuvering a flat but uneven ground.

Push Mower vs Self Propelled Lawn Mower - What Will Work Best For You?

Front-wheel drive is easily maneuverable. A rear-wheel drive mower will push itself better, but it requires more effort when making turns.

More complicated mechanics increase the cost of the mower, but when you compare push mower vs self propelled you’ll find that you can find a variety of price points which reflect the manufacturing quality of the mowers you’re considering.

There’s no “right” answer to this comparison between self propelled and push lawnmowers. To me, it’s most important to know what you need, so that you can find a mower and a price to match.

I hope this article has helped you make a great choice for your lawn!

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Sarah Jameson’s blog, Lawn Chick, is read by over 2 million homeowners each year and she is regularly cited as an expert source of lawn care knowledge by major publications. Her goal is to meet you where you are, and help you achieve a yard you’ll be proud of. Ready to take the next step toward improving your lawn? Grab her free lawn care cheat-sheet: What to Do When - Take the Guesswork Out of Lawn Care, or upgrade your garage by browsing her favorite DIY lawn care products.

6 thoughts on “Push Mower vs Self-Propelled: What’s Best for You?

  1. Alan

    I made the mistake of buying a Hart brand rear wheel self-propelled lawnmower from Walmart a month ago. It was a disaster! Unlike all the potential scenarios in this article, rear wheeled sounded like it might solve some problem areas I have in my back yard. And, yes, it conquered those tiny dips in my backyard just fine. However, I have a couple hundred areas under my hedges where the mower needs to be pushed in, then pulled out, back and forth style. This mower was so powerful that when I pulled it back, it simply gouged my grass out, leaving huge trails of sand (I live in Florida, where the soil is nothing more than sand.) Since we’re having a drought here, tearing up my grass is exactly what I DON’T want. Not to mention the horrible pain I was in after trying to mow my yard. In my front yard, the wheels wouldn’t turn at all. Instead, the curves involved with my landscaped areas all ended up being gouged out and rutted. I immediately took it back to WM for a refund, even though we got a good deal on the mower and a weed eater. The deal wasn’t worth me being in severe pain for days after every time I mowed my lawn. If you have overhanging hedges or bushes where you need to push in then pull out, I do NOT recommend these types of lawn mowers. They damage a lot more than just your lawn. I now have to re-landscape half of my front yard and try to re-grow the grass in my back yard. Avoid my nightmare and stay away from this or any kind of powerful rear-wheel self propelled lawn mower!

    • Hey, Alan! Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

      I’ve never tried a Hart mower, and my self-propelled Honda mower is front wheel drive which works really well for my property, but I’m sure that the tips you share about types of yards that aren’t well suited to a rear-wheel drive mower will help other readers choose the best mower for their property. If it’s in your budget, I can recommend a Honda front-wheel drive mower because I use mine every week and haven’t had any trouble with it in the 7 years I’ve owned it. Home Depot usually has a range of models in stock.

      Also, for any readers who may be struggling in a similar way to what Alan describes … one trick I’ve learned when trying to mow around or under obstacles such as a deck or hedges with a self-propelled mower is to disengage the drive and simply use the mower as a push mower in those areas. This gives you more control and you won’t be wrestling against the power of your mower.

  2. Rob C

    I am really struggling with self-propelled vs. push in a battery-powered mower. I bought a Ryobi and it was a little hard to maneuver. Going to try the Ego mower, and see if that is better. Another primary factor for me is that I want my son (11 years old) to be able to do it too. The self-propelled I tried seems like it might pull him a little too much, but if I go push will he be able to even push it (our land is pretty flat for the most part)?? Help!

    • Hey, Rob!

      Great, thoughtful question.

      Since you are thinking of sharing this with your young son I’d try a self-propelled mower. I’m partial to Honda. The Honda self-propelled paddle is actually really easy to rotate and you can control the speed/power of the propulsion. You could set it to a high setting when you use it and a lower setting when your son uses it so that the mower moves at a good pace for both of you and is easy to control. You can also just not use that feature when you want to use it as a standard push mower, it’s as simple as letting go of that paddle and just pretending it isn’t there!

      If you want to go electric (it sounds like you do), Ego is the brand I’d recommend. They’re more expensive than Ryobi, but it’s a better product. Personally I’m a fan of gas-powered mowers, but my neighbor down the street raves about her Ego electric mower, and her lawn looks great, so that’s the direction I’d steer you in for electric.

      And definitely invest in ear protection for your son to use – there are great options now that he’ll actually want to wear (unlike what was available when we were kids), and setting that as a habit early will really save his hearing long-term.

      Good luck!

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