Pros: Looks like a Deere, Kohler 23HP, Deck easy to remove, comfortable,
Cons: Inferior parts, uneven mowing, needs better warranty
When shopping for riding mowers, don't be fooled even if it looks like a Deere. Be warned that John Deere is now building a line of mowers to "compete" with the Yard Man and Murray type mowers and to compete means inferior parts and production un-like the John Deere's of old.
The title of my review is a direct quote from the service manager at the John Deere dealership where I took my new mower for it's third repair visit within a year after buying the mower. I told him that I was expecting to buy something that would last a long time and would run like my dad's 20 year old Deere mower. He said (see title).
I purchased this mower from Home Depot in Spring 2003 for $2600. I explained my needs to the salesman: 3 acres flat, straight mowing with very little landscaping to mow around. He suggested the L130. It wasn't the most expensive model they had but it was the next model up from what I went to buy. I thought it sounded good so that's what I got. At the time the bumper was an option and I thought it was a good idea for extra $40. The mower mowed fine for about 4 weeks then one Saturday I started it up, mowed about 50 feet and the mower deck quits mowing. Pulling & pushing the PTO knob didn't help and I decided it needed a trip to the servicing dealer for a repair. Keep in mind that Home Depot doesn't assemble and repair the Deere's they sell, instead, they partner up with a local John Deere dealership that does that work. Trips to the dealer for repairs for me probably wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't a 160 mile round trip, but, since that's where the warranty work was to be done, that's where I was taking it.
I took it in the following Saturday and the service man listened to my description of the problem. He decided it was a bad PTO switch, pulled one off another mower, snapped it in, started the mower, pulled the switch and the deck starts up, all without even removing my mower from the bed of the truck. No paperwork, no hassle. I get home the same day, unload the mower, mow 50 feet, and the deck quits again. Since my job took me near the dealership the following week, I took it back to the dealer again where they decided to unload the mower and actually do some diagnostics and called several days later and determined the PTO clutch was defective and replaced it (again under warranty). It was ready a week later and I brought it home and the mower mowed fine for about 6 weeks. Then on another Saturday late in the summer, my wife was mowing and after about 5 minutes, the deck came to a clunking stop, the motor stopped cold and the mower wouldn't budge or even start. I rolled it to my knowledgeable neighbor and he discovered shards of metal stuck to the magnet in the PTO clutch. Once again, I loaded up the mower and drove it 80-miles to the dealer, this time wanting a better explanation for all of the problems I was having. I spoke to the service manager and even suggested that I may have a Lemon and was it possible to exchange the mower for another. He said since his dealership didn't sell the mower that I would have to take it up with the Home Depot I purchased the mower from (I did speak to the Home Depot store manager about this and he said no). Then, the service manager explained why this wasn't my fathers John Deere.
In order to compete with the Murrays and Yard Man mowers, John Deere built a new plant in Tennessee specifically for the manufacture of an inferior line of mowers designed to compete with the Yard Man's. This means that John Deere is now building a mower with inferior parts, shortcuts, cheaper deck metal and less technical design engineering. The service manager was even happy to point out several other parts I would probably be having problems with in the near future including the rear trans axel and the steering mechanism. The motor, since it was not a John Deere product should last a long time. He even stated that the hour meter wasn't as good as those on some other models because it ran up the hours if the key was accidentally turned on without the motor actually running. My kids did this one time playing on the mower and ran up about 70 hours on the counter. He agreed, yeah, that's a problem.
Since it was late summer, the warranty would run out the following May and this mower seemed to be repair prone, I was concerned that I was going to have to replace parts three times every summer, and after the warranty, this could be expensive. His only suggestion was to purchase a limited extended warranty for an additional 300.00. I didn't agree and suggested a warranty on each part they replaced and he said I know this is not what you want to hear but we can't do that. I'm sure he could have done something to stand by the products that even his dealership sells but I think it was he "didn't" want to because I didn't buy directly from him and in a way I dont blame him..
The following summer went fine. This summer, there is a rattling sound coming from the PTO clutch and during the 3rd mow of this season, the deck quit once again. This time the wiring harness to the clutch had to be replaced because the wires were cut by the back and forth shaking movement of the clutch. Since I purchased my mower, a new dealership has opened closer to home and the wiring harness was purchased there and self installed for about $20.00.
Keep in mind I have followed the maintenance schedule faithfully, have greased and changed the oil, filters, belts and spark plugs as instructed using John Deere parts. The deck is super easy to remove to change belts and blades and other than the problem with the clutch and the problems I can expect to have with the other parts that the service manager described, this mower mows fine. It's comfortable, the hydrostatic type transmission is a great way to control a mower and the 48 inch cut makes for a quick job. Theres also a nice difference between the highest and lowest cutting height. I would say that the way the front of the deck connects to the mower allows the deck to rock some especially when turning thus resulting in uneven mowing. I'm not too particular about that but if you were, this would probably drive you crazy and you would have to adjust the deck frequently to prevent this problem. I understand the higher end mowers have a more stable mount that would eliminate this problem.
The focus of my problems seem to be the PTO clutch. All in all, I hope to get at least 10 years out of this mower with out a lot of repairs. This is sad to say since Deere has built a reputation on mowers that consistently last twice that long and beyond. Be warned, they are now selling a lot of inferior mowers based on that reputation. Lets hope theyve retooled these mowers since 2003 and have a little better product that can actually compete with the Yard Mans of the world. Do your homework !
UPDATE June 2006: Already replaced the transaxel fan (remember the dealer said there would be problems and he was right) and the clutch wiring harness again (this is the 4th one). The newest one lasted 2 weeks and the PTO clutch slipped its retainer bracket and broke another harness (that will be the 5th one). This mower is a P.O.S.
UPDATE May 2007: BEWARE: LOWES NOW SELLS THESE! In September 06, the local dealer felt sorry for me after a "Dear John Deere" letter and repaired the mower again for very reduced price. Updated the PTO clutch, mowed for about 4 weeks more and the mower stopped dead in the yard. Towed it to the back of the barn, bought a new blue tarp and there it sits to this day. Have you ever driven down the highway and have seen a lone wreck of a car sitting out in the middle of a pasture all rusted out and weeds growing up into it? Well, I know how it got there.