Tired of the noise and exhaust fumes of small gas-powered lawnmowers, we decided to field test one of the new cordless electric mowers. We checked Home Depot and other likely suspects but found none in stock. Oddly, Amazon.com had them. It even had reviews by happy users, as though it was a novel about lawn mowing. Equally oddly, Amazon quoted a delivery price of about $5. Do they think this thing's a book?
It took a week or two but the big orange battery on wheels finally showed up, displaying signs of a week of harsh treatment by UPS. The box was crushed and some small parts were missing. We soldiered on, however, and plugged the thing in, then turned it over to the lawn-maintenance technician, whose report appears below.
By Jonathan Hood
The lawnmower starts coughing as the hum of the motor fades away. I mutter another stream of curses as I push the mower out of the grass and onto the driveway. After cleaning out the underside and trying unsuccessfully to start it, I throw up my hands in disgust and walk up the hill to the garage.
Sound familiar? It's probably not what you're thinking; this is one of those newfangled electric lawnmowers. No cords either. It's powered by a battery that charges when the mower isn't in use. A good idea for small lawns in the shade, but a nightmare for any lot more than a quarter acre in size.
This particular afternoon, the grass was ankle-high because of torrential rain that our area received during the previous week. Weeds were shooting through what could be called grass, and it would be a struggle to mow with any lawnmower. But this small orange Black & Decker electric mower simply wasn't up to the job. After charging the battery for a week or so, the mower started fine and handled areas in the shade that were fairly short as any other good piece of lawn equipment would.
However, once I got it into the broiling sun, it immediately started hacking and shortly thereafter quit altogether, remnant of a 1985 Buick Skylark we once owned. After letting the lawnmower sit a good two or three minutes to regain power, it only took about thirty seconds for it to quit again. Eventually, about a third of the way through the front yard, it decided that it had had enough and ran out of juice for good.
We discovered that there are ways to remedy the problems described above. The undercarriage, as it were, must be cleaned out every time that a row of grass is cut. The mower should be set on the highest possible height setting to avoid the thick, wet grass that sits at the very bottom of the lawn's turf. This is rendered difficult, however, by the very flimsy height-adjustment mechanism, which tends to collapse every few minutes.
Thinking of getting one? Patience is absolutely necessary. Anyone with a short fuse isn't likely to get along too well with this handsome but temperamental gadget.
No question, Big Orange has its advantages. It starts right up in the spring after sitting all winter, and there is no gas to deal with. Thus, it's impossible to put the wrong kind of gas into the motor or to let it sit too long with old gas in it. If you have a townhome or a condo with a small lot, particularly one in the shade, this may be the last lawnmower you ever buy. But if your single-family split level sits on an enormous lot baking in the heat, you'll want to stick to the family John Deere, at least for now.