June 10, 2010

The end of an (experimental) era

Two years ago I finally bought my first house. As a first-time homeowner, I needed a lawnmower.

After much debating and reading reviews, I decided that for my yard (not terribly large, but not a tiny patch either) I'd give a cordless (rechargeable) electric mower a try. My thoughts went like this:

Pros:

  1. No gas/oil/tune-ups to fuss with.
  2. Instant start/instant stop.
  3. No cord to worry about -- with some of the landscaping left by the previous owners, a corded would have been a pain in the ass at best.
  4. (Dubious) "green" factor
  5. Less expensive (so I thought) overall -- similar entry cost to a mid-range gas mower, without needing to buy supplies. Sure I'd have to eventually replace the battery packs, but that was YEARS down the line. And the cost of electricity to recharge this was just noise on the power bill compared to the fridge, A/C, etc., right?

Cons:

  1. Limited runtime between charges
  2. Battery weight
  3. Not self-propelled

The pros outweighed the cons for me, and I purchased the Black and Decker CM1200. At first I LOVED this mower. It was trivial to operate, did a good job, and the battery was indeed up to the task of mowing the entire yard. At first, anyway. Sure, it was a bit heavy to push around, especially on the hilly parts of the yard, but it was exercise and I didn't mind it.

So, first summer was a DREAM (ok, that's exaggerating a bit -- I hate yardwork. But relatively speaking, I really liked this mower). Second summer, I noticed the battery life had dropped off a little bit. If the grass was long, the battery would poop out before the entire yard was done. I took to mowing the front and sides one day, and the (small) back the next, or just skipping the back entirely on alternate weeks. The love affair was starting to dwindle just a tad (although to tell the truth I found I didn't mind having an excuse to not mow the entire yard in one marathon)

This year, right at the start of only the third grass-mowing season (not even two full years since purchase), the mower completely died on me. The charger would indicate it was done as soon as I plugged it in, but take it outside and it MIGHT run for a few minutes, if it would even get the motor spinning. I priced new batteries, and the cheapest I could find online were roughly 1/4 the price I'd paid for the mower -- not horrible, but after not even 2 full years of use? (And that's assuming it was the batteries, and not a dead motor or something)

I found the paperwork, and remembered that I had purchased the mower with an extended warranty for just such an occurrence -- premature battery death. I called the service line, and we arranged for me to bring it into the nearest authorized repair shop. Not 30 minutes after I hung up with them, though, the woman I had talked to called ME back. The conversation went something like this:

Her: "So, that extended warranty you bought with that mower? It should have never been sold to you, it's not valid on that mower at all!"

Me: "What?!?"

Her: "Well, this might work out better for you. Bring it into the store with the receipt, and they'll allow you to return or exchange it"

Me: "Seriously? Ok..."

So, off to the store I went. Sure enough, in spite of the mower being used and 2 years old, they gave me full credit! Wow. (As an aside, I never properly figured out the electricity cost on this mower. I meant to plug it into my Kill-A-Watt to see the real draw on a recharge, but somehow never got around to it.)

Of course, now I needed a new mower. I didn't want electric anymore, not wanting to face another 2 year lifecycle. But I didn't want a big beastly difficult to maintain gas monstrosity either. I toyed with the idea of an old-fashioned reel mower, but my yard seemed a bit too large for that. In the end, I went with a basic inexpensive push mower, the Lawn Boy 10640. It's still not self-propelled, but I decided for my use that's a FEATURE (less to break, and my yard has plenty of places where I want to pull the mower backwards out of corners and whatnot anyway). This little guy is the highest-rated push mower at Consumer Reports (subscription probably required, sorry).


So far, I love this mower. Easy start, and it's much lighter and more nimble than the cordless had been. The blade doesn't seem to bog down in long grass as easily as the electric had, either. As a bonus, it cost quite a bit less than I'd paid for the first mower, so I netted getting some money back (although that could very well vanish in gasoline costs as prices rise...)

Of course, I loved the cordless at first, too, so we'll see...

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