Let’s look at self-propelled lawn mowers.

Have you decided to switch from your old-fashioned push mower? Or are you looking to replace your current self-propelled model and are wondering about the pros and cons of front vs rear? Either way, we’ve got you covered.

In this article we’ll look at both front and rear wheel drive lawn mowers. We’re going to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both and take a closer look at what each is best for. And we’ll even discuss some common self-propelled mower issues.

And the short answer to our question: front vs rear wheel drive lawn mower – will it matter? Not really!

Both types of self-propelled mower are excellent in aiding you around your lawn. But there are subtle differences that could make a difference depending on the type of lawn you have.

So, to explain these differences and decide which mower might be best for you, read on!

What’s does self-propelled mean?

Before we get into comparison of front and rear wheel drive mowers let’s take a quick look at what we mean.

On a push type mower, the engine (or motor if it’s electric) drives the mower blades, and that’s it. The blade design and rotational speed give the mower an upward force in much the same way a helicopter works.

red self-propelled lawn mower
With a self-propelled mower, the engine channels some of the power to the wheels (front, back, or both)

This helps you push your mower along by taking some of the weight and effectively making your mower lighter. This is why it’s still easier to maneuver a push mower when it’s working than when it’s turned off. But, you’re still doing the work of moving the mower and the engine does not assist the wheels.

With a self-propelled mower, the engine channels some of the power to the wheels (front, back, or both). This drives the wheels in a similar fashion to a car. With a self-propelled version, there is usually a bar on the handle. Depressing this bar, engages the wheels and your mower engine drives them forward so you don’t have to push.

The difference between front and rear wheel drive is simply which set of wheels the engine is powering.

Comparison

Now that we’ve established what we’re working with, let’s get down to business. Here is a look at the major features and difference of front and rear wheel drive mowers.

Cost

The first, and perhaps most obvious feature is cost. A front wheel drive mower usually costs less than a rear wheel drive version. This is mainly because rear wheel self-propelled mowers are more complicated and cost more to build.

These days, the cost isn’t as pronounced as it once was because there are a lot more rear wheel drive mowers available. But as a general rule, front wheel drive mowers are cheaper.

Maneuverability

While both types of mower are relatively easy to maneuver, a front-wheel drive version is easier. The best way to maneuver a front-wheel drive mower is to push down on the handle until you raise the front wheels off the ground. You can then swing the mower around wherever you like and turn it almost within its own radius. This maneuverability means it’s easier to move your mower around obstacles, plant pots, uneven edges, or your collection of garden gnomes.

One other advantage of the front-wheel drive versions is that it’s easier to move them backwards. By lifting the front wheels up, you can easily drag your mower backwards without stopping or disengaging the drive. Something you would have to do to pull a rear wheel version backwards.

A rear-wheel drive mower doesn’t have the straight up maneuverability, but it does have a couple of other advantages while mowing. The first is that most rear-wheel versions have a variable speed control. This means you can set the velocity to match your own comfortable walking pace and optimal grass cutting speed.

The other advantage is that some come with the ability to disengage the blades without turning off the motor. This makes it easier to move, pause, and remove an obstacle without stopping the mower. Saving time and extending the life of your mower engine.

Rugged terrain and traction

When it comes to lawns with challenges, usually a rear-wheeled version will deal with them better than a front-wheel version. A lawn on a slope, or with a lot of little bumps and hillocks is better served with a rear-wheel drive.

lawn
For uneven surfaces, rear-wheel drive is better that front-wheel drive. An even lawn like this one is just fine for FWD.

The reason for this is that you will normally get better traction with a rear-wheel drive mower. On an uneven surface, a front wheel drive mower will often struggle for grip. Making your mowing considerably harder than it needs to be. You have to push and wrestle your mower around a lot more.

Another consideration is the weight distribution. If you are bagging your cuttings, as the weight of the bag increases, so does the weight on your rear wheels. While this increases traction for a rear wheel drive, it will decrease traction for a front wheel drive. You may find the front wheels spinning more as you fill up the bag.

On a lawn, with a slope these considerations are amplified. So, if you have an uneven lawn on a hill, definitely consider a rear-wheel drive. Or even better an all-wheel drive.

A note on all wheel drive mowers

Since I mentioned all-wheel drive mowers, I’d like to add some quick information about them. Just like a 4-wheel drive car is necessary for going cross-country, a 4 or all-wheel drive mower is the best option for seriously rugged and uneven lawn terrain.

With power to all-four wheels, it gives unrivaled grip for challenging lawns. But the advantages come with a cost premium. An all-wheel drive costs more than the other options. So, if your lawn is flat and even, it’s probably not necessary with an all-wheel option. But if you have a steep slope or bumps and hillocks, the extra cost might well be worth it.

Common self-propelling issues

Now that we’ve established the pros and cons of front vs rear wheel drive mowers, let’s take a quick look at some of the most common problems that cause a self-propelled mower to stop self-propelling.

Top 5 reasons a self-propelled mower stops moving

  • Dirt & debris – Keep the wheels and underside of your mower clean. A regular clean will stop the buildup of debris that can cause issues such as a skipping drive belt, worn drive wheel assemblies, and extra strain on the transmission.
  • Drive wheel assemblies – After a period of use, the drive wheel gear can wear down. It will then slip and stop the wheels from turning. Replacing the gear will solve the problem.
  • Drive belt – Eventually, every drive belt will wear, become brittle and fail. Check your drive belt for signs of wear that might be causing it to slip, and brittleness that will indicate it needs to be replaced.
  • Drive Cable – If the drive cable is loose, the end connectors stretched, or if the cable is not moving smoothly, it may not engage the drive and your mower won’t move. Inspect the cable from top to bottom and look for signs of rust, wear or damage. Replace if necessary.
  • Transmission – If you tried all the above and still can’t find the fault, it may be there is a problem with your transmission. Depending on your model, you might be able to disassemble the transmission to check and replace parts, or you may need to buy a complete transmission replacement.

Conclusion

That’s our rundown on front vs rear wheel drive mowers. Now you know what self-propelled actually means and the difference between front and rear wheel drive versions.

If you have a good flat lawn, then a front wheel drive will probably be best. It’s cheaper and more maneuverable.

But if you have an uneven surface, a lawn on a slope or are worried about traction, then a rear wheel drive mower could be the better choice.

Just remember, both versions of self-propelled mowers are useful and make your mowing a pleasure. Good luck with your choice and have fun!