Advice on new Honda self-propelled mower

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by Mr_G, May 3, 2014.

  1. Mr_G

    Mr_G LawnSite Member
    Messages: 6

    Hey, guys. I am looking to start up a small lawn service this year as the job market in my neck of the woods is pretty much awful. I've been unemployed now for a little over a year and a B.S. degree that is apparently useless to any employer within an hour drive. I enjoy working outside, and I used to work on a grounds crew when I was in high school so I thought I'd give this a shot. I don't have much cash on hand so I'm going to have to do what I can with what I have available this season. I already have a weed trimmer and a blower (both are Stihl) and a truck to haul stuff in, but I need a mower. I was thinking of one of Honda's higher end residential models. I've read many places on this site already about how most residential equipment won't last more than a season, but I've also read that some commercial guys do use some of Honda's residential mowers with no problem (although I'm certain those are not their main mowers).

    Here are the ones that I'm considering and that are in my price range:

    The last one at $599 is at the absolute limit of my budget. Is the smart drive feature and better engine in the last one worth the additional cash? Also, I've checked Craigslist but no dice there. I wish I had enough cash for a good, used WB but I haven't found anything for less than $2,000 which I cannot swing right now.

    I'm hoping to start small and land some customers with .5 acre yards and smaller and win them over with good service and a good job. I can worry about expansion later. First, I've got to get in the game though. Any thoughts or advice on the mowers I listed? I'm also open to other brands, Toro, etc. if I can get a solid one for up to around $600. Thanks in advance!
    Last edited: May 3, 2014
  2. ozarkbilly

    ozarkbilly LawnSite Member
    Messages: 85

    I'd get the middle one if it were me, so I'd have the blade brake clutch. You'll find that that'll be very handy for being able to stop the blades but keep the mower running in order to move toys/sticks/rocks/whatever from in front of you without having to allow the mower to shut off & then be restarted.

    Maintain it religiously. Things will still wear out on it over the course of a season if you get much beyond 10-15 yards weekly, but you will have made far more than $500 by the time it gets to where it's just not worth keeping up with repairs. At that point, go buy another one. Run as many ads as you can afford (craigslist is free). Don't take on big yards, just say no if it's beyond your capabilities (NO is a hard word to say when you're starting out, but trust me on this). Print flyers & look for neighborhoods full of small yards to target and get to walkin' those sidewalks. Tell everyone you know to please let you know if they or anyone they know needs mowing done.
  3. Mr_G

    Mr_G LawnSite Member
    Messages: 6

    Thanks for the advice! I know it will be hard to turn down a yard, but with only a 21" mower there are going to be many that would simply take far too long. I haven't started working on my flyers yet, but after I finish I'm going to pepper them throughout town, leave business cards at local restaurants, grocery stores, and other places, and I'm going to start a Facebook page and use my own FB page as well to promote it. My goal this year is to get customers and do a good job. If all goes well, I hope to get a "36 quality WB next year and a 5x10 trailer. Thanks again for your input!
  4. inzane

    inzane LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,474

    i wouldn't get any of them. I admit they cut great, but it won't last very long. I have 2 that i don't use much, and i would have been better off with a good commercial 21" as these have been nothing but problems.. parts always falling off.. blah. I'd say get a good commercial push mower or good used walk behind.
  5. rbljack

    rbljack LawnSite Senior Member
    from Texas
    Messages: 725

    Another option id recommend is to finance a Honda HRC 216 commercial model. Put the 600 towards it, and you can have small payments for the other 700. They run about 1250 new, and are a commercial grade mower. I REALLY like mine, and I think for a 21 inch mower, they are a great choice.
  6. OakNut

    OakNut LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,105

    I have two Toro Super Recycler 21" mowers. They are not commercial mowers, but they are the best homeowner mower Toro offers. You can't get them at big box stores - those are "Recyclers" and they are not as good.

    I bought the first one in the spring of 2011 because I was starting with no money and couldn't afford a commercial 21" mower.
    I used it exclusively my first season and in 2012 I picked up a 36" Ferris walk behind, but still used the 21" Toro for the bulk of my work because the lawns were all small.

    Aside from the rear tire tread wearing out in one season, and minor issues with the Personal Pace, I think it's a great value. I was happy enough with it that I bought a second Super Recycler and made the original one a backup mower.
    I hate having to use something I'm not used to as a backup - I prefer "redundant" gear - one goes down, just grab an identical unit and keep on trucking with no difference in how it feels/operates.

    The SR4 is light and extremely easy to operate. I can "one hand" it back and forth under obstacles in a way that I could not imagine doing with a heavy, commercial unit. I can make my mower go any speed I want with no need to do anything at all besides "walk". No levers, no bars, no nothing - I can literally make it go with two fingers - it's that easy.

    It's really the ideal mower for the jobs I use it for. If I were mowing larger, flat, obstacle-free properties, I'd probably get a commercial mower, because it would shine in that role and last for many years, but for what I use it for, a commercial mower would be a complete pain in the arse.
    Personally, I'd rather have a mower that is easy to use day in, and day out, and repair, or replace it as needed, than have a mower that is not easy to use, just because it will last a long time.

    None of this has anything to do with Honda mowers, but I really don't subscribe to the notion that a 21" mower needs to be a commercial one - especially if it's not your main mower, and if you're solo and not going to have someone else beating the snot out of it, I think it will hold up just fine - mine did.

    I HATE the Honda engine on my new SR4. Another example of something that's supposed to be SO great, but isn't. (in my experience)

    My original SR4 has a Briggs (Oh NO! Those are GARBAGE! lol) and hasn't given me problems.
    Toro then switched to (depending on model) a Chinese made "Toro" engine, or a Honda GVC160. Mine has the Honda engine and when it's cold (around 40 degrees) it doesn't want to run right for a few minutes.
    When I run it across a hillside (required on 99.9% of properties here) with the air filter side facing downhill, gasoline runs out the filter. My Briggs equipped Toro would drip only on extreme slopes and JUST drip a few drops - not the Honda - that thing just seeps gas like mad.
    Another issue I have with the Honda engine is on a weekly property I cut where I run the mower two passes down a 30' strip before shutting it off to roll it over an obstacle to get into the main lawn. EVERY time I pull the cord to re-start the mower backfires, takes 6-7 pulls to get it to start again, or both - drives me insane. (and it's embarrassing) It only does this if you run it for a minute and shut it down and immediately try to re-start - no problem starting any other time.

    I'm all about "commercial" for just about every other aspect of what I do, but I just have no desire to own an expensive 21" mower that isn't easy to use, so I'll stick to what works for me until someone can convince me that a commercial unit is the better choice for what I need.
  7. Mr_G

    Mr_G LawnSite Member
    Messages: 6

    I may do some checking into financing a commercial 21" but odds are I'll go with one of higher end residential models that I listed. I'm going to see if someone in my area has the Toro Super Recyclers that OakNut mentioned (very informative by the way!) to see if I can get a better deal on one of those. Believe me, I'd love to have a commercial 21", but I feel like the better investment would be to save my money (what little I have) to put towards a good walk behind next year and bump whatever I end up getting this year down to a secondary if it's still running well.

    Thanks for the advice, guys. You're all much more knowledgeable in this area than I am. I only wish I weren't starting out nearly broke! Haha.
  8. Mr_G

    Mr_G LawnSite Member
    Messages: 6

    I did a quick search online and there are a couple of Honda dealers within an hour's drive of me. It looks like one of them has two commercial models: the HRC216XA with a MSRP of $1249 (still a little steep for me) and the HRC216PDA with a MSRP of $749. The second one is a possibility though it is quite a bit more than my budget...but I think I could manage that one. I do notice that it does not have the Roto-stop system, which kind of sucks because that would be a pretty helpful feature.'s a push type and not self-propelled. That sounds a lot like a summer of misery.
  9. rbljack

    rbljack LawnSite Senior Member
    from Texas
    Messages: 725

    I agree that it would be misery without the self propelled. The self propelled commercial grade Honda is the one for 1250.00.

    I also agree with the OP about the super recycler. I started out with residential mowers until I could afford the commercial model. I started with a snapper that was good, then had a super recycler, and it was the best residential mower I used...PERIOD. From there, I bought the Honda in my signature block.

    I posted a long time ago that you don't need a commercial model mower to get started, and I stand behind that statement even today. But keep this in mind, IF you can afford extra 600 to get a Honda HRC, you probably wont be disappointed. Although I don't have one, I've heard good things about the exmark 21 inch mowers also. And if you want to finance about 1900, that would get you an exmark 30. Just depends on how much you want to spend, and whether or not you will have a customer base so you can make the payments. The exmark 30 is kinda heavy though, if your trying to get it in the back of a truck or something. It can be a big timesaver over a 21 inch mower as well. But I would advise against it unless you have a trailer.

    Ive heard a lot of guys say that they like the Honda 217's too, which aren't as much as the commercial models. I have no experience with them, but mention them as another option. Here is the link:
    Last edited: May 3, 2014
  10. PicturePerfectLawns

    PicturePerfectLawns LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,845

    I'll chime in on this post because I love helping people out and giving them encouragement. I still consider myself new to this field also. I did 7 neighborhood lawns last year and this year I actually "went into business", started marketing hard, and mowing hard. I too advise you to use Craigslist. I just used Craigslist and Flyers and ended up with 60 properties from when I started advertising (Mid February) to (Now.) As for your situation, I was in a very similar situation. I started with a 22" Toro Personal Pace, which is $399.99 at Home Depot. I ran that all last year on the neighborhood lawns and started off this season with it. As for commercial versus residential, I'm with a few of the guys above. Commercial all day, there's a night and day difference in build quality. BUT, and that's a big BUT, everyone has to start somewhere. Just as I mentioned above, I started with a residential mower, and to tell you the truth, with all the problems you hear people complaining about with them, I had ZERO problems with mine. In fact, it's probably got 100-200+ mowing's on it and still has had ZERO problems. HOWEVER, I'm a big believer in preventive maintenance. I've always changed the oil around the every 20 hour mark, way before the manual calls for it. I've always changed filters before schedule. Belts before schedule and so forth. I upgraded to the commercial 30" Toro Turf Master after I picked up 15+ lawns and I can tell you it is a night and day difference in the build quality. Even the small things like having the BBC (Brake Blade Clutch) and the quick adjusting of the height with a pull of a lever makes a world of difference then changing each individual wheel for height when switching from lawn to lawn. But like I said, don't even listen to the words commercial with your budget right now, UNLESS you can find a good deal on a used one on CL. Other then that, work within your budget, get what you can afford, go make some money, it will come so fast that you'll be able to afford what you want in no time. By that time, you'll see what size lawns your picking up, you'll get a feel for gate sizes, obstacles in the property, and be able to better determine exactly what size commercial mower you want. Some work best with ztr's, some with walk behinds, some with the 30's. I personally love my 30", I can get through every gate, I can whip it around just as easy as a push mower, and it feels as if I'm cutting twice the grass. I really think as soon as you get a handful of lawns 10-15, you'll be already wanting a bigger mower, but time you have that many, do them a few times, and get a feel for them, you'll know exactly what you need. Then one day you'll get your big commercial mower, keep your push for trimming and backup and when you need a part to come in for the commercial and you have to use the 22", you'll be like me, wondering how in the world you ever used it. ;) I wish you the best of luck, and I strongly encourage working within your budget and working your way up and remember there's nothing wrong with that. I'd rather be the man that started with the 22" and worked his arse off to buy the commercial mower that he enjoys, needed, and wanted, rather than the man that just went to blow $8,500.00 on a commercial mower because he had the money and thought he needed it.

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