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Which lawn mower is worth your money?

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It's that time of year when lawn and garden stores are starting to run sales on mowers. But which mower works best?

Keeping your lawn cut can be a big job, dragging your mower out dozens of times a year. To help you find mowers that are easier to use, Consumer Reports testers put their backs into it at the company's Florida test site, mowing 18 acres of grass with more than 45 mowers.

According to the tests, the easiest to use are the self-propelled mowers.

"It'll get the job done faster, and it'll save you energy," said Peter Sawchuk, Consumer Reports outdoor-power equipment expert.

A self-propelled mower with variable-speeds is good for speeding across flat sections of your lawn, and slowing down for tough grass. 

Sawchuk said a feature to avoid when buying a mower is big wheels.

"A popular misconception is that large wheels make it easier to mow. However, they're moved further back, making the mower heavier to push down on every time you go to turn the mower," Sawchuk said. "The same-sized mower with the smaller, regular wheels [is] much lighter to push down every time you turn."

After months of testing, Consumer Reports found several good choices.

The $400 self-propelled Honda HRR2169VKA is a "best buy." The unique twin blades chop the grass into fine clippings that blend into the lawn when you mulch. And it's also better at bagging.

"These clippings are smaller, so that this bag will hold four, sometimes even five pounds more clippings than any other mower," Sawchuk said. 

They also recommend the $330 Troy-Bilt TB-320 12AVC35U .

Like the Honda, the Troy-Bilt has rear-wheel drive, which helps on hills. And its single-lever height-adjuster makes it easy to change the cutting height. You can also attach your hose to easily rinse away built-up clippings.

Consumer Reports says a push gas mower is fine for small, flat yards. You'll work a little harder, but that can save some money on a gym membership.

Consumer Reports named several push gas mowers a "best buy", including the Craftsman model 37432 that sells for around $220.

Last tip: A small mower or garden shop will give you more personalized service than a big box discount store.

If the prices are similar, you may want to consider the local shop, which will be able to help you if you have any problems down the road. That way you don't waste your money.

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