Pros: Easy pull to start, easy to guide, easy to walk behind...everything is easy!
Cons: After a couple years, it needs the drive belt replaced--but that's OK
I'm adding a note in August, 2003, to my original September, 2001 review which remains below. After almost two years, I've had the first breakdown. The drive V-belt is worn out and needs replacement.
All of a sudden, the drive wouldn't engage. The belt is driven from a pulley on the motor central shaft and runs to another pulley at the front axle, under a cover held in place by 3 screws.
I'd been out of town on vacation, and three weeks since the last mowing, the lawn was getting shaggy. Sears retail store doesn't open until 10AM on Saturday, so they're missing the early trade. I called the Sears parts center in Mobile and was quoted about $14 including shipping, with delivery next Friday--not acceptable. I had already checked an auto parts store and a small engine service store, and found the 32-1/2" belt is not common to the industry. Maybe a 33" belt would work, but 32" would be too short.
After 10, someone in the Sears Lawn & Garden department referred me to Sears parts & service store near Tamiami Airport. There, only 4 miles from my house, and they did have the part for $8.99 as kit #157769 (not part #146527). The kit includes a spring and a spring retainer in addition to the belt.
The kit instructions were a little more complete in the kit than in the manual. First, you remove the upper belt cover and take the belt off the front pulley. Then, the mower gets tilted on its side, muffler side up, the blade gets removed, a plastic belt-cover slips off the motor shaft. You remove the old belt from the shaft pulley and slip the new one on and through the mower deck. I elected to complete the belt installation before re-installing the belt cover and blade, to be sure the belt remained on the shaft pulley.
The spring and retainer might not have needed replacing, but they were supplied, so I replaced the old ones. That easily done, I installed the belt on the front pulley--it was necessary to remove that pulley from its shaft to loop the belt around it. I used the old belt along with a vise-grip and a piece of wood to grip the pulley tightly enough to unscrew the nut holding the pulley on its shaft. The center hold of the pulley has flats which line up with flats on the shaft, thus transmitting torque to the shaft and the wheels.
With the pulley reinstalled, I slipped the underbody belt cover in place and attached the blade. Then I set the mower back on all fours and screwed on the rectangular plastic upper belt cover. The small screw at the back is inconveniently under the muffler, but my socket wrench engaged it at an angle.
After gassing the tank (drain it before tipping the mower because it will leak out) I primed the carb and started the motor. The drive engaged smoothly and I proceeded to blast about 7 inches of growth off my lawn. It had been a fairly simple repair, well within the capability of a household handyman.
Down the road, the drive-engage cable may be a problem, as it binds when I fold the handle for storage. The cable has a kink in it, but seems to move smoothly. I fold the handle after each mowing. The plastic motor cover has been slightly damaged from running into the boat trailer.
I'm leaving the durability rating "very durable".
My biggest problem is that another reviewer got the mower for $180. I paid $270!
Original Review September, 2001_______________________
Sears has a number of similar 22-inch mowers. The actual model number of my new mower is 917.378070.
St. Augustine grass widely used in Florida is like concertina wire. You don't walk barefoot in this stuff. At the opposite end of the scale from foot-friendly red fescue we had up north, St. Augustine is stiff, springy and makes deep mass of fibers that the standard 5" wheels sink into as you push a non-self-propelled mower along. Left alone, St. Augustine grass will grow 8 feet tall.
The heat and humidity of Miami summers brings out a sweat almost before the mower rolls onto the grass. Pushing a mower for 45 minutes in the midday sun is decidedly unhealthy. Early morning mowing is a little cooler, but not popular with the neighbors.
I've had three other mowers in 9 years in Miami, a 2-cycle, a 4-cycle and an electric. All pushers. One expired after I ran it into an "obstruction". Another sputtered to a stop after I ran it into sailboat gear hidden in overgrown grass (I had begun avoiding the task). The electric mower was quiet and cheap ($30 used), but the deck rusted out and the plastic "flipper" lever broke. I had borrowed an older electric and was getting desperate.
I even considered hiring a lawn service, as many people here do. But my Scottish heritage won out and I elected to keep doing the mowing myself. Any self-propelled mower would be an improvement.
Craftsman's reputation for quality drew me to shop at Sears. This, despite an unsatisfactory, poorly engineered snow blower bought 20+ years ago in Michigan. On Labor Day weekend 2001, an end-of season sale was in progress.
My requirements were simple enough: a mulching mower (why bag it?), self-propelled, not too rich, not too cheap. After a few minutes of toe tapping and heel cooling in the mower section, a saleswoman offered assistance. I'd already just about decided on a 22" deck mower with 6HP motor, but the helpful woman urged me to get big rear wheels. The large wheels cost $20 more. I'd never had them before, but I soon found the big wheels are well worth the few extra dollars. The dark green deck and black matte-finish plastic engine cover & trim look good.
Things never move fast at Sears, but within only 40 minutes, the mower was loaded in my trunk and tied securely to keep the large box from bouncing out on the road. It had started to rain.
Maybe three days later, I unpacked the mower from its box, attached the handle, poured the (supplied) oil into the crankcase, and checked its level easily with the top-mounted dipstick. The mulching plate fits simply and easily in place. The handle unfolds and is held rigid with two bolts and large, plastic-coated wing nuts. That's all there was to putting it together. The wheels were already mounted. Height adjustment is easy enough with the spring-loaded levers.
I added fresh gasoline, pushed the primer bulb a few times, and pulled the starter cord. It wouldn't crank. The motor seemed stuck. I tilted the mower and pulled the blade to rotate the motor through a couple turns. With difficulty.
Standing back, walking around it, thinking. Then it hit me--I'd failed to pull the "dead man switch" bar up. I grabbed it, held it against the handle, and pulled the cord. The mower started smoothly. Maybe I should have read the instructions.
On the yard, the mower tore right into the St. Augustine grass, giving it a smooth cut. The 6 HP motor adequate for the task. It bogs down a little in thick places when the grass is wet, but that's to be expected. Engaging the drive is easy, and a partial release of the dead man switch disengages the drive.
The front wheels pull the mower with no strain, and I was surprised to find the mower moved at the speed of a casual walk. It doesn't make you hustle. It runs at a leisurely pace, about like the way Florida natives walk. It would be easy for an elderly person to keep up with. A carburetor adjustment would be needed to make it go as fast as a normal walk.
The big rear wheels make a simple but important difference. Turning is easy, and backing up or rolling without power is much easier with the 10-inch rear wheels.
I'll probably find a carburetor adjustment that will run the motor faster, but no crisis if I don't. Even on a hot day, mowing is an entirely different (easier) experience. This was $270 well spent. This mower seems well engineered. It handles well and runs faultlessly.
Sometime, I'd like to see a mower that folds to take up less space in the garage. Maybe it could fold like a baby carriage or a card table chair. My garage is full, and hasn't housed a car in 9 years. I'd like to see a handle that folds without the 6-8 turns of the screw clamps on either side.