With summer coming up, lots of people are looking to purchase a used lawnmower. There are a few advantages to buying used, but really it comes down to paying less for a better mower. If you follow these steps you'll be sure to get a great deal on a used lawnmower.
First, a word about where to look for a good mower. Craigslist is probably your best bet, followed by moving sales and then estate sales. At any of these locations, the price can be haggled down, and in my area you can expect to pay about 100 bucks for a nice powered walk-behind lawnmower from toro. Thats about half of what you could expect to pay for a comparable new machine!
Before you start searching Craigslist though, you'll want to figure out if you want to go with a regular push mower that doesn't move under its own power, a walk-behind mower with power to the front or rear wheels, and whether or not a mulch-bag is important to you. Unless you need this mower just for trim work, I'd highly recommend a walk-behind with front wheel drive but no bagger. The price is about the same for a walk-behind as a push mower, and I can't remember the last time I saw anybody using the bag for mulching!
After you find a mower you want to take a look at, make sure to tell the owner not to start it before you get there, but make sure there is gas in the tank. This is important because sometimes issues with the engine can be covered up by having the mower warm when you get there. When you take a look at the mower, you'll want to start it; it should start on the first one or two pulls. Give it a moment to warm up and then engage the clutch and check the speed. If it's too slow or squeaks, the drive belt could be worn out. Some mowers don't use belts (like the honda hr214 mower that I ended up with), but in general if it is powered by the front wheels it does. Lastly, As the engine is running, check for excessive smoke or vibration.
When you're done with starting the engine and checking the clutch action, turn the motor off and turn the mower on its side (make sure gasoline doesn't spill out and onto the hot exhaust!). Check to see if the blade is bent, or deformed in anyway-that could indicate a bad crank if accompanied by excessive vibration. Next, take a very close look for any cracks or rust in the deck; if you find any it's probably best to move on to the next one!
If the mower starts on the first pull, doesn't smoke or vibrate too much, and has no issues with the deck, go ahead and make a deal with the owner.