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Ok so before I begin listing my questions I'll start with some background. So I'm tired of renting and where I live I could actually make house payments cheaper than paying rent, even for a 100k house. So I'm hoping to buy a house this year, and would either like to live in a rural or at least semi rural location. Things I want to be able to do are burn leaves, have bonfires, and practice archery in my yard. So currently places that I'm looking at are places which have a 1/2 acre thru places that have up to 5. I don't think I'd buy 5 acres of just plain field hopefully, it would have some woods on it.

The last time I had a riding mower I had a used White brand mower which I had bought from some guy who had a bunch of them sitting in his yard, as I was short on cash I decided to buy it for $400. He said he had rebuilt the motor, and while I never had problems with the motor I had other problems like it eating belts, not starting or charging the battery, and it seemed to have an overall lack of performance.

So this time around I'm looking to get a good quality mower. I'm tentatively allocating say 1500-2500 for a good used mower. Ok so I've heard that in years past they built mowers better than they do now, so I think I'm going to lean toward buying a used high quality mover vs going to Lowes and buying a $1500 craftsman one or whatever. But I'm not totally dead set on this. So now for my questions;

On average how many hours does a riding mover last before it needs the engine/& trans rebuilt? 2000?

I noticed a lot of John Deere mowers have hour meters, do Cub Cadets, and Wheelhorses often have them too?

If I'm looking at used mowers what Brands should I look at? I'm thinking JD, Wheelhorse/Toro, Cub Cadets? Any more?

Can zero turn movers be used for any of the other functions that a traditional riding mower can be used for? Like tilling a garden?

Which brands have good parts availability, for example if I were to score an old Simplicity for $400 or whatever would I be able to get parts for it? Or should I shy away from stuff like this due to lack of parts availability?

Also I've noticed some mowers on Craiglist have less than 1000 hours but have new decks, if the original deck got trashed should I stay away from these mowers, or is there like some kind of pin that shears when the spindles lock up that prevents the engine/trans from getting trashed?

And last but not least what are some pricing resources I could look at? I've looked at some JD and Wheelhorse mowers on Craigslist, but there seems to be a bewildering amount of different models.

I'm still in the research stage right now, so I probably wont buy a mower next weekend unless a super deal pops up. But I don't want to end up in a situation where I have a large yard to mow, and have to buy a mower in a hurry. If I have to I'll park it in a garage for a few months while buying a house.

I'd like to thank you in advance for reading this very lengthy post and for any info you can provide me with.
Monte84
 

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Lots of questions, but it makes for fun research. One place that's helpful to get a start is the Lawn and Garden Tractor section of tractordata.com. You can read up on the specifications and such about many brands and models.

TractorData.com - information on all makes and models of lawn and garden tractors

Consumer Reports puts out their ratings annually for a reference on new models, and might be a good source to help narrow the field on what to look for too.

Like you said, older models are much different than present models. Names like Cub Cadet and Wheel Horse, to name a couple, have changed hands over the years, and their features and some will argue their quality has changed too. So, it helps to sort of have in mind what sort of things you want your equipment to do, what uses you'll have for it, and go from there first.
 

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It's true that many brands like Craftsman and Cub Cadet have reduced in quality over the years. Now most makes use the same light-duty Briggs engines, cheap stamped decks, and low-end spindles. Buying a used tractor with reasonable hours, such as a higher-end JD with a strong frame and Kawasaki engine, would probably be better. ZTRs work great for those who need maximum speed and productivity, but can't be used for heavy towing, plowing, or tasks that require ground engagement.
 
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