Types of Lawn Mower Engines

Types of Lawn Mower Engines

You can buy any type of lawn mower. But buying the best type of mower for your property, is a little more difficult. In this article I’ll introduce you to the most popular types of lawn mower engines, how they work, and help you decide which type of mower might be best for you.

Trust and Accuracy Information

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

Choosing the Best Mower for You

How necessary is a riding mower when you’ve got a small lawn?

Should you choose a walk-behind mower with auto-choke?

What’s the best way to keep your mower running smoothly for years to get the most out of your investment?

Choosing a lawn mower comes with a lot of questions, and while I won’t get into or answer every one of those questions in this article about the different types of lawn mower engines, I hope you’ll stick around to explore other relevant articles on my blog.

First, consider the size of your property. Also, consider your level of physical fitness.

If you don’t have a large property you probably shouldn’t buy a riding lawn mower, unless you have a bad back or other physical limitations.

If you have a massive property with many different trees, gardens and planting beds, a high-end zero turn mower or lawn tractor might be best.

Best Electric Zero Turn Mower

The Zero Turn Mower I Recommend

Once you try this electric zero turn mower from Greenworks you’ll never look at battery powered tools the same way again.

  • Mows up to 2.5 acres in a single charge.
  • Fully charged in 90 minutes.
  • Equivalent power to 24 HP gas engine.
  • Quiet, no fumes, and faster than competitors (8 MPH max speed).
LawnChick.com is reader supported. If you make a purchase after clicking a link, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Type of Lawn Mowers and Their Engines

Now let’s dig in and get to know the various types of lawn mower engines and the mowers they power.

Push Mowers and Push Mower Engines

The sound of a lawnmower starting up with the yank of its pull cord.

One of the most familiar sounds on a summer morning in the suburbs.

Most lawnmowers you see in the suburbs and smaller lots are probably walk-behind or push mowers. This is one of my favorite types of lawn mower.

Push mowers, in general, allow you to direct the mower whichever way you want, manually. You have control to stop instantly by releasing the throttle (which needs to be held down to keep the motor running).

The Silent Walk-Behind Reel Mower

Reel mowers are eco-friendly, quiet, cost-effective and much easier to maintain.

They run off no engine and offer a more efficient lawn cut. They work best on smaller lawns, and are not ideal on steep lawns or hilly yards.

With reel mowers there’s no need for gas or oil changes, they are as basic as it comes, and they’re good for the environment.

Electric Push Mowers

Electric push mowers are also quiet and environmentally friendly. Some have cords (a pain in my view), and they can also run on batteries.

These electric walk-behind mowers weigh a lot less than traditional push-mowers, making them a popular choice for older homeowners and women.

Unfortunately, they don’t cut quite as well as some other options, which might force you to have to cut over the lawn several times to be satisfied.

Last but not least, you don’t have to worry about lawn mower maintenance that is part of your annual routine if you own a gas-powered mower.

The Classic: Gas Push Mowers

Unlike its more modern (and more expensive) self-propelled option, the classic gas push mower has been time-tested. Push mowers are one of the most popular options for small, flat lots.

Gas push mower engines come either in two-cycle, or four-cycle. They’re noisy, so you’ll want to wear ear protection when you mow, but with proper maintenance and using the right kind of gas (preferably gasoline without ethanol) they can last for years.

Self-Propelled Lawn Mowers and Their Engines

Avoid muscling your mower around the lot and still treat your lot to an amazing cut.

Self-propelled mowers have adjustable speeds that make it easy to enjoy the control of a push mower without quite as much sweat.

Similar to push-mowers, self-propelled mowers offer a throttle that needs to be gripped in order to run and when released will stop.

There’s a lever on the mower’s handle which powers the mower’s wheels, driving it forward across your yard as you steer.

I personally use a Honda self-propelled mower that I’ve owned for years.

Not only does it mow my lawn evenly and beautifully, starting up on the first pull every time, but it also does an amazing job mulching and bagging the leaves from my big maple trees each fall.

It’s a great piece of equipment for my 1/2 acre lot in the suburbs, and of all my lawn equipment it’s the best investment I’ve ever made.

Engine types – Both two-cycle and four-cycle engines, depending on the model

Maintenance – These mowers take gas and oil, which should be specific to the cycle type (2 cycle engines need to have gas and oil mixed in a specific ratio, 4-cycle mower engines will take gas in the gas tank and oil in the oil resevoir). Similar to push-mowers, make sure blades are in good shape and remain sharp, and that rust doesn’t develop over time.

To keep these mowers running smoothly, follow your manual instructions on your specific model and ensure that you check underneath the deck after every mow to ensure there isn’t any damage. I change my air filter, oil, and spark plug every season and use TruFuel ethanol-free gas to keep my mower running trouble-free.

Cost – Expect to pay between $300-$800 dollars.

Riding Lawn Mowers & Their Engines

Types of Lawn Mower Engines - Riding Lawn Mower Engines

Big yards need big attention and that’s exactly what lawn tractors provide.

Also known as lawn and garden tractors, these riding mowers are great for larger properties you find on larger lawns. Riding mowers have steerable wheels to provide strengthened maneuverability. The offer you the ability to cut your lawn while being comfortably seated.

Lawn Tractors

Garden Tractors are capable of pulling attachments or using snowblowers to manage a multitude of tasks on your property in any given season.

They are a heavy-duty alternative to traditional tractors if you’re looking to do more than tidy up your lawn.

Zero Turn Lawn Mowers

Zero-turn lawnmowers are riding mowers that provide great performance. They use four-wheel steering to complete sharp turns and move around any objects and obstacles like trees, garden beds, and landscaping boulders. Drivers can raise blades and control speeds much easier with these mowers and, to be frank, they’re lots of fun to drive. 

Engine Types – Typically around 14 horsepower engines

Maintenance – These mowers take a lot more gas and oil, which should be expected due to their size and the fact that they can handle a heftier workload.

To keep your riding mower running smoothly, follow your manual instructions on your specific model and ensure that you check underneath the deck after every couple of uses to ensure there isn’t any damage.

To avoid injury, refer to an expert to check underneath the deck if you’re not confident to do so since these mowers are often very large and heavy. Always make sure your mower is turned off and the key is removed.

Cost – Riding mowers typically start around $1,000, but high-end zero turn mowers can cost upwards of $10,000 depending on the horsepower engine and features.

Zero-turn mowers are often the most expensive and the latest models with all the bells and whistles (what landscapers will buy) can cost $12,000.

Hover Mowers

You may have never heard of hover mowers before, but they do exactly as advertised – well, sort of. They are extremely mobile and use rotating cutting discs to cut your grass. Air is trapped underneath the deck to create a lift, making it lighter and easy to move around.

I don’t consider these an everyday option, and if I’m honest I personally don’t care for hover mowers, but if you have a very small yard and like unique tech, then you might love one.

Engine Type – Both two-cycle and four-cycle engines, depending on the model

Maintenance – To keep it running smoothly, follow your manual instructions on your specific model and ensure that you check underneath the deck after most uses to ensure there isn’t any unexpected damage.

Cost – These can cost as low as $50 to as high as $1,000 or more.

Robotic Lawnmowers

Yes, it’s time! Automated machines have made their way onto our lawns. What the Roomba has down for vacuuming, robotic mowers are now doing for suburban yards around the country.

Sit back and relax while your robotic mower does all the work of mowing your lawn. Your weekends are now free, and you can enjoy a healthy, freshly cut lawn every day of the week.

You manage the boundaries of the mower by installing a boundary wire which restricts where and how far the mower will roam (you don’t want it cutting the neighbor’s lawn, right?).

The set up is not as easy as regular mowers, but once you’re set up you can pretty much ignore your robotic mower for the rest of the season.

Engine type – These have several different types of engines, but most of them are battery-powered and have a docking station that they return to to recharge when their battery begins to get low.

Maintenance – Because these are robotic, much of the maintenance has to be done carefully to ensure the mower is completely powered off. To keep it running smoothly, follow your manual instructions on your specific model.

Cost – You should expect to pay $1,000 or more for a high quality robotic mower that will last.

Engines up!

Lawnmowers and cars have a lot in common. If you’re familiar with your car and the type of engines out there, this is just a rehashing of what you already know.

For those out there not too familiar, however, I’ll quickly cover the common types of lawn mower engines.

For starters, the cylinder number refers to the total number of pistons in the engine.  The pistons move vertically inside the engine, opening and closing the air intake valves to combine air with fuel for combustion. The air and fuel combust, which provides power to the engine.

In general, the more pistons an engine has, the more powerful the lawn mower engine will be.

  1. Two-Cycle
    Two-Cycle lawnmowers aren’t as optimal as their counterparts and often require pre-mixing of oil and fuel. This type of lawnmower engine is sometimes found on small mowers, weed eaters, and other small pieces of lawn and garden equipment. They are lighter to use and are best for smaller jobs.
  2. Four-Cycle
    The more common type of lawn mower engine is the four-cycle engine. Often better on the environment and more efficient than two-cycle lawnmower engines, they have more parts, do more work, and last longer. Unfortunately, due to having more parts, these lawn mower engines require more maintenance (though with proper maintenance, they’ll last longer).

Auto vs Manual Choke Lawn Mower Engines

Last, but not least, does your lawnmower use an auto choke or manual choke?

Manual choke lawnmowers incorporate a little push valve or dial located near the engine to give your mower optimal starts by being pushed several times. Auto-choke lawn mower engines, however, do this automatically and don’t require the same attention and function by being automatically opened and closed.

Auto choke mower engines are designed to save you time. Old-fashioned manual choke engines tend to be less prone to engine issues, so it’s what I typically recommend if you want a mower that will work for years without issue and are new to owning lawn equipment. That said, my auto-choke self-propelled Honda mower works great. I’m not sure how much stock I put into the engine issues for auto-choke lawn mower engines.

Sorting Through the Best Types of Lawn Mower Engines & Mower Types

No matter what type of lawn mower engine you choose to cut your lawn, pay attention to your budget, your lawn, and your abilities.

Don’t tire yourself in the process of creating a wonderfully cut lawn and don’t take a shortcut to save a few dollars. Invest in an appropriately sized, highly reviewed mower.

To put a bow on it, Art Davidson, a horticulturist and member of our expert panel, suggests that “your typical Briggs and Stratton 6.5 HP engine is suitable for most applications,” adding that “the Honda engines are the best in my opinion.”

At Lawn Chick, I am committed to publishing accurate, useful, and trustworthy resources for my readers. As part of this commitment, I’ve invited subject matter experts to review our articles for accuracy. I invite you to read our editorial policy and publishing standards which outlines in detail how every article on this site is sourced, edited, fact-checked, and vetted.



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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *