We live in Toronto and have a modest sized front yard and a large back yard. I don’t particularly like cutting the lawn and I had an electric lawnmower for many years. When I don’t cut the lawn regularly it gets thick, especially during the spring rainy season. I found that my electric lawnmower didn’t have enough power to handle our lawn so I decided to switch to a gas-powered lawnmower instead.

I also decided to pay extra and buy a premium priced model that would last me twenty years and make the total cost of ownership per year low. You could buy a gas-powered lawnmower for a few hundred dollars, but I didn’t think those models could do the job.

I researched online for lawnmowers and read reviews from other homeowners. I was looking for a self-propelled model with sufficient horsepower and a mulcher. Other bells and whistles like an electric starter weren’t necessary, especially if they come at premium price. It looked like I was going spend around $500 for the type of lawnmower I wanted.

In addition to online research I visited various retailers to see what they had on display. I checked Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Lowes and Rona. Home Depot had a Toro model on sale for $100 off. I wrote down the model number and returned home to do another round of research.

When doing research on a product I always find a contingent of unhappy buyers. What I tend to look for is patterns of unhappiness and the percentage of good vs. bad reviews. If there is a pattern of flaws in a product or the rating by consumers is predominantly 3 out 5 or lower, I pass on the product. The Toro model from Home Depot passed the test and I purchased it for $425.

I was quite proud of my new Toro purchase and ready to put my new “toy” to work. I followed the setup instructions and everything went smoothly the first two weekends of cutting the lawn. On the third weekend, it wouldn’t start. There wasn’t even the slightest burst from the engine. I checked all the fluids and everything looked okay. I read the instructions again in case I missed something. I even went online to search for a similar problem reported by other homeowners and couldn’t find an answer.

I took the lawnmower back to Home Depot to get it replaced. Their lawn and garden associate met me outside and I explained the situation. It was obvious that the lawnmower wasn’t abused after just two weekends. It was clean and shiny just like it came out of the box. The associate tried to start the lawnmower with no success. Without hesitation, he said “Yup, it won’t start” and he took it inside. I completed the paperwork and Home Depot gave me a replacement without any hassle.

My replacement lawnmower worked for a year without any problems. I followed the maintenance guidelines, including preparation and storage for winter. The following year problems began to emerge. The engine wouldn’t start one time and after some troubleshooting, I replaced the spark plug and that solved the problem. A month later the engine wouldn’t start once again, and this time the pull chord wouldn’t even release. I took it to George at my favourite small engine repair shop, and he told me it was a symptom of lack of oil. I know I was diligent with the maintenance but I couldn’t dispute his claim. It cost me $100 for the repair and my lawnmower was working again.

Another year passed (the 3rd season for this lawnmower) and in early August I was cutting the lawn when the engine suddenly stopped. I pulled the chord and could tell right away that parts of the engine were no longer attached to each other. I looked at the engine compartment and saw a three-inch hole on the right side. Something got loose inside the engine compartment and thrashed around enough times to cause the damage.

I was ready for a fight with Toro. Much to my dismay, I couldn’t find the original receipt from Home Depot. This would make my case with Toro difficult since I couldn’t prove when it was purchased. I had to let it go.

I took the lawnmower back to George’s repair shop and was told it was not worth repairing. Three years and two Toro lawnmowers later, I have to buy something else.

Aside from the hard lesson I learned about Toro, George enlightened me on the manufacturing practices of most lawnmower manufacturers. Apart from Honda and Mitsubishi, all manufacturers use plastic instead of metal in their engines, and they outsource their manufacturing to China. That’s a double dose of potential problems because plastic breaks too easily, and the quality of manufacturing in China is often suspect. However, Honda still manufatcures metal engine compartments and assembles their units in Japan and the United States.

With this new-found information, I was off to buy another lawnmower. There’s no time for extensive research as it didn’t do me any good the last time around. I need to find who sells Honda lawnmowers in my area. It shouldn’t have been a surprise but Honda quality comes at a price. The lawnmowers I was looking at ranged in price from $750 to $1,000. I have a real problem paying that kind of money so the next best thing was to look at other brands that use Honda engines.

I ended up buying a Troy Bilt lawnmower with a Honda engine from Canadian Tire for $450. I found it telling that when I read the instructions, it made a point of stating that this unit was assembled in the United States from parts that originate from other, unnamed, countries of the world. I’m sure there are still some cheap plastic parts and components that come from China. At least it has a Honda engine and it was assembled in the United States with better care.