Cheap lawn mowers – the case against

In 2022 I’ve decided I no longer want to bathe in stale petrol or filthy four stroke motor oil anymore. Which means a parting with my old cheap lawn mower ways and trust me, that’s a good thing…

We all remember our first lawn mowing experience..

Mine was in beautiful Warnambool Victoria, in a fairly new two story rental with a 2.5 meter square patch of grass out the back. And right up until the first rental inspection, I just let that patch of grass grow and grow with mad abandon not giving it even a seconds notice.

But suddenly it’s the eve of the inspection, the house has been done but the grass hadn’t. So I popped out and started getting into it…by hand. Yes too late to call in the professionals, too late to call any mate with even a cheap lawn mower, I just started pulling out the grass in great handfuls. Luckily the bemused neighbour next door saw my plight and offered an instant solution.

‘Mate, do you want to borrow my mower?’

-Super helpful neighbour, Warnambool, early 2000s.

It took me ten minutes to figure this strange device out (‘the gear stick is where exactly?‘) before I had it up and running and making short work of that tiny patch. I put it back in his garage with my last two beers next to it and passed the inspection with flying colours.
‘I really should buy my own cheap lawn mower’ I thought, never guessing that I’d end up owning a string of the cheap and nasty things with mixed levels of success and frustration.

Okay, mostly frustration.

The stealth mower was actually so stealthy it didn’t do anything.

My first second hand mower cost me all of 10 bucks at the Bendigo recycling centre and was a hilariously cheap punt on 90’s mowing technology, because it was one of the very first electric ones. With the charger taped to it, I took it home, charged it up and surprisingly nothing happened. No spring to life, no electrical smoke, nothing. So I put it out at the back of the garden, put it out of my mind and left it there.

A few months later my future father in law saw it festering away and wondered what this strange looking 90’s stealth canopy mower business was all about and I gave him my blessing to add it to his collection. And he did promptly, taking it apart and discovering that it was so full of shredded garbage bags (seriously, who mowed over all these garbage bags??) that nothing was moving.

Then he reassembled it back into one of the greatest re-purposings something like this could ever end up being: a motorised go-kart for the grand kids.

Yes of course I tried it out myself. Yes that’s me in the picture above. The welding helmet is obviously for safety due to the blistering speed of 5 kph. And of course the grand kids thought it was a riot.

The cheap Talon didn’t actually talon it’s way through anything..

A cheap lawn mower from a shop is still a good mower yeah? Well that depends on what you buy and how cheap. Mine first newly bought one was a Talon eh…grass muncher 2000? I forget the name. But it was four stroke, a couple of hundred bucks at the nearest hardware store and completely useless in that order.

On normal level grass it mowed. Anything slightly higher than that and it choked like a kid at an all you can eat pizza joint who momentarily forgets how to swallow. Hit a patch of grass that hasn’t seen a blade for a while and it would stop right there and throw up the white flag of defeat. Pull start, mow, stop, wash rinse, repeat. While I like mowing, I don’t like spending the afternoon restarting every few minutes like a dodgy Windows 10 install.

The more I look at this one, the more I think mine was very much like it. Condition wise as well!

Eventually I went to start it one day and it just wouldn’t go. I wasn’t sad about this fact in the slightest, leaving it out on the nature strip where some poor unfortunately took a shine to it and ultimately took it home.

Since then there have been many, many more. Both free and cheap lawn mowers..

-Baz the insanely helpful father in lawn helped resurrect an old Honda mower I picked up from the nature strip across the road. Having had a tough life it only ended up with one speed left but that speed was actually grass destruction. Unlike the Talon that stopped if it sensed a long blade of grass five meters away, this thing ate everything and anything. Grass, the kids toys, dog bones, the works. It smoked, it was as loud as hell but it made short work of the jungle and I wished I didn’t lend it to the brother in law in the end (guess who never got it back?)

-There was a mower I got for free from the boss at work that had an amazing knack of falling to pieces whenever it came cutting time. Hilariously, I kept bringing it back to life in the cheapest way possible and even made a video of this fact way back when:

Like most of my mowers there came a day when it too refused to mow ever again and ended up on the nature strip where it lasted all of five mins before a very happy bloke in a ute swung by and snapped it up in a heartbeat. Considering the sorry state it was in by the time I’d finished with it…well he really had his work cut out for him.

-There was the millionaires mower when I moved to the Gold Coast. I bought it for $50 off eBay, sold it for $15 when it died and met a couple of millionaires in the process. Although selling it brought some strange people to my door..

-And last year when we moved to Albury NSW and I needed a mower again, I ended up buying three. Yes three cheap lawn mowers from a Babushka for a solid $100 that turned out to be Aldi special buys and came with interesting quirks like rattles and a complete lack of wanting to start. My theory was that if one died, I could just swap parts off the other ones because I now had plenty to go around.

Well they all died didn’t they? Well one held on for a bit but got so loud it hurt my eardrums (I work in radio, those drums have copped plenty of abuse already!) and so I used parts of it (the not loud parts) to try and resurrect the other two. That didn’t work and at the time of writing they’re all still parked in the rotunda out the back of the house still for sale for next to nothing on Gumtree..

The solution? Stop buying cheap lawn mowers (or picking them up from the side of the road.)

I spent far too long during my recent bout of annual leave trying to get my special buys to do something special. And after four days of stinking of stale petrol and wearing oil like it was something stylish (yeah my wife loved that!), I gave up, parked them and bought another one.

This time however I bought from someone who’d been recommended to me through work, a bloke called BJ that actually serviced and refreshed mowers. On his Facebook page I saw he had a Victa mower with a Briggs and Stratton engine, freshly refurbished and good to go. Solid brand, solid engine. I messaged him, got him to give me a demo (it fired up straight away) payed my $110 and took it home where it’s worked ever since.

From a Talon to a Sabre

No longer do I have to take out my socket set to help convince a lawn mower to actually mow a lawn. I don’t have to wrap a computer cord around things to start it or jury rig a bottle to it to hold fuel because reasons. I start the Victa Sabre up, it mows and at the end I have time for a celebratory beer and maybe even a lie down.

For random fun and games (read: very little fun) buy a cheap lawn mower. For getting on with your life, spend a bit more coin and get something you know is going to work from the get go.

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