Selecting the appropriate piece of equipment is the first step in getting the full value from your purchase. Whether it be a mower, string or hedge trimmer, chain saw, go-kart or any other product powered by a small 4 or 2 stroke engine or electric motor, think about what you need and how you'll be using it before heading for your local retailer. If your yard is small it probably won't be worth the added purchase and maintenance expense of a mower that is self propelled or has the widest cut. You won't need a hedge trimmer with 30" blades, and a line trimmer designed to knock down a wheat field would go to waste. On the other hand, if you've got three acres of pasture to mow, a battery powered electric wouldn't make it far out of the garage.
Some considerations you need to take into account are the following.
1. The first on the list is your yard size and layout. If you have a small yard you may want to consider a corded or battery powered electric model. Generally you want to limit any extension cord to under 100'. Longer distances are possible but require a heavier gauge cord which can become burdensome to drag around. Click HERE for extension cord sizes. Landscape obstacles should be studied also. Even a good electric unit will become a real pain if the cord keeps getting snagged around trees, bushes, swing sets or other landscape features. Battery and corded electric powered units are becoming more popular all the time for those who don't want a gas can around or for those who want to do their small (very small) part for improving the environment.
Choose a model which fits your needs. Match the size, shape and features of your yard with the capabilities of the unit you buy.
2. The second thing to consider is how you'll be using the equipment. Do you need a reel or rotory mower? If your lawn is one of the bermuda type grasses (they usually go dormant in the winter) and you want to keep it mowed very short, you'll want a reel type mower. Most other lawns are fine with the less expensive to buy and maintain rotory mower.
Most homeowners can do without a sidewalk edger. With a little practice you can do a fine job with a string trimmer. Many commercial gardeners still use sidewalk edgers for doing long stretches in apartment or business complexes (they are faster) but for the average home job you're going to have a string trimmer out anyway and by the time you get a sidewalk edger out of the garage and fired up you'd be done with the string trimmer. This means selecting a trimmer which is easily handled not only in the standard horizontal manner but also when turned sideways to vertical edge. Check out units to see they are comfortable and balanced in either position. Also consider the length of the trimmer shaft and your height. Some string trimmers are fairly short and if you're tall it will mean bending or stooping while operating. Naturally if you are short then a short trimmer would be a much better choice.
Whether it be a wheeled unit or hand held, check for balance and controllability. A good example of a product where balance is very important is the chain saw. The ideal balance point is at the top center of the forward handle. Some models aren't even close. Remember, just about all lawn and garden power equipment has a function to cut something. Balance and ease of operation is both a comfort and safety issue. More about safety in the "SAFETY" section.
3. Power. How much? This is something you really don't need to worry about. All small engines have been going through many changes due to environmental laws. These more efficient engines are for the most part higher in horsepower and a little lower in torque than older versions. If your load demands are very high look for cubic inches or cubic centimeters rather than horsepower. Engine displacement is a little better indicator of heavy load torque power. For the average user though the power output of todays engines are matched to the equipment better than ever.
4. Bagging versus mulching or side discharge. Depends on your preference and conditions. Bagging and disposal of the clippings from mowers has become another environmental issue. Some landfills won't take grass clippings. Side discharge mowers are the cheapest but they don't leave your yard looking the best. Mulching mowers work for many but to do it right you need to mow the lawn before it grows much. If you cut off more than an inch the results may not be to good. Part of the year you may need to mow twice a week. Some mowers convert from bagging to mulching, this may be something to consider.
5. Warranties. G-I-M-M-I-C-K-!-! There are some long, unrealistic warranties out there. Don't pay more to get one. Obviously, you want a warranty but lets face the facts. Unless you purchase a cheap home use unit and use it commercially, you're going to get at least a one year warranty and probably two. In MOST cases, a true warrantable failure will occur inside the first five hours of running time. After that a failure is likely gonna be something you caused. Abuse, misuse or wear out is not warranty, regardless the length of time left in the warranty period. That's not to say something won't happen at a later time that is warrantable, it happens, just not very often. Besides, most manufacturers are pretty good about making exceptions when something legit comes up after the warranty expires.
Extended warranties are really nothing more than sales gimmicks. If you aren't paying more for it, fine, just don't pay extra to get it.