If you’re currently in the market for a new mower, particularly if it’s the first time you’re looking in a few years, you might just be a little overwhelmed by all of the choices that are available to you. Different power sources, different sizes, fancy little add-ons to make your life easier…the list goes on. But what a lot of people don’t talk about is the high wheel vs low wheel mower. High wheel mowers will often have 8-inch front wheels and 9 – 12 inch rear wheels, whereas low wheel mowers will have 8-inch wheels on both the front and back. Each of them offering their own benefits, and each suited to different conditions.
In this article, we’re going to compare the two options and hopefully help you decide which is best for your yard.
Benefits of the High Wheel Lawn Mower: Who are They For?
In our experience, there are a few different scenarios where high wheel mowers really come into their own.
- Mowing on Rough Ground – If you’re tasked with mowing any areas of lawn that are less than perfect and have to contend with ruts, divots or perhaps even holes (pesky gofers!) then you’re definitely going to see some upside when using a high wheel mower. This is because with a low wheel mower, as you pass over these areas, the wheels will dip down with the change in gradient and bring your mower blade dangerously close to the surface. There’s a real possibility that you may scalp your lawn when this happens. With a higher wheel mower though, the distance between the blade and the ground is maintained in areas where the ground is uneven, with the higher wheel providing an extra buffer.
- Mowing on Slopes – If your lawn isn’t perfectly level and has some tricky little slopes that you need to navigate, then you might find a high wheel mower will benefit you. The larger rear wheels cover more ground with the same amount of effort, making inclines a little bit easier on your body. That said, it won’t be a night-and-day type of difference. If you do have slopes and find it challenging to push a mower even on level ground, you’d probably be wise to invest in a mower with a self-propel system, rather than thinking the slight improvement high wheels offer in this regard will be enough.
- Cutting Particularly Long Grass – You’re probably familiar with the rule that says you should never remove more than a third of the length of your grass in any one cut? But what happens if you’ve been away the whole summer and your lawn is particularly overgrown…With a low wheel mower you’re probably going to find it challenging to stick to the rule of thirds, but a high wheel mower makes this easier to do, since those high rear wheels keep the blade higher off the ground. And if you’re just not into that whole “bowling green” look, there are lots of benefits of cutting grass high anyway.
- Can Offset Grass Catcher Issues – I don’t think this was an intended advantage of large rear wheels on a lawn mower, but it can be useful nevertheless, so I thought it was worth mentioning. On some mowers, the grass catcher and the mechanism it uses to connect to the main body of the mower is not all that well designed. And as the bag fills and gets heavier, that connection is not able to handle the weight and the grass catcher dips to the point that it’s scraping along the ground. Now let me point out that this shouldn’t and does not happen with most mowers, but I have seen this happen myself with some cheaper mowers. And it’s not great as if it’s a mesh catcher, eventually it’ll wear a hole in the bottom. And if it’s a plastic catcher, dragging it along the floor isn’t going to do your grass any good! Having higher rear wheels prevents this from happening, as even if that catcher sags, it’s unlikely to touch the ground because of that extra height buffer.
Any Drawbacks to High Wheel Mowers?
Tougher to Turn – We haven’t experienced this ourselves, but have heard plenty of reports of folks finding high wheel mowers tougher to turn, particularly in tight spaces. This is important to mention, because lots of mowers that are sold with high rear wheels are actually promoted as being “easier to turn” due to this feature.
What we’ve found is that on a lot of high wheel gas models, the manufacturer alters the design of the mower slightly to mount the engine further forward. And as the engine is one of the heaviest parts of a gas mower, this affects the balance of the mower and makes it more front-heavy. Now unless you make a pass around the edge of your lawn to give yourself extra room when you turn at the end of each pass, you will likely be pivoting your mower in a tighter turning circle. To do this, you’ll be pushing down on the handlebar to lift the front end of the mower up so you can turn the whole thing 180 degrees to start the next pass. And if the mower is more front-heavy, that’ll be more challenging from a physical perspective, so that’s something you might want to keep in mind if you’re not all that strong.
- They Cost More – The other drawback is that you’ll almost certainly pay a little bit extra for the pleasure of having your new mower come with high wheels. Not a huge amount extra, but you need to weigh up whether it’s a feature that is going to make any difference to your mowing experience. If it’s not, then it’s not going to be money well spent.
High Wheel vs Low Wheel Mower: Which is My Best Option?
If you’re going to be mowing lawns that have lots of rough patches and/or slopes to contend with, checking out a high wheel mower is something we’d advise. But for virtually any other scenario – particularly if you’re only mowing a small, relatively level area of lawn – low wheel mowers should be more than adequate for the job.