Pros: Even a budget model John Deere is a solidly built machine.
Cons: Manual 5 speed transmission isn't as nice as infinite speed operation of LA 115.
After 20 years, it was finally time to replace my John Deere RX-75 ride on lawn mower. After my experience with the RX-75, I was willing to spend the dollars to purchase another John Deere, but didn't want to spend anymore than necessary. This led me to research the two budget model lawn tractors, the LA-105 and the LA-115. The LA-115 was rated as a "best buy" by Consumers Reports, and costs about $150 more than the LA-105. The only difference I can see in the two models is that the LA-115 has a "hydro/automatic" drive system which gives you infinite speed control. In effect, you have an accelerator pedal and control the speed via one foot. With the LA-105, you have a 5 speed selector, and must press the brake pedal before selecting the gear you want to use.
If it had been available, I would have gotten the LA-115. But, waiting until late October to make a purchase left me few choices but to spend either a lot more for a higher priced model, or go with the LA-105, which I did. Before proceeding with my review, let me explain that my usage of this mower thus far has been primarily for mulching the maple leaves in my yard, and a certain amount of lawn mowing the first day I used it.
Moving up to a mulching mower for leaf season was one the best things I've done in a long time. For $35, I purchased the mulching cover for the cutting deck, and used the multi-purpose blades that are standard on the 100 Series lawn tractors. Over the past couple of weeks, I've mulched a lot of leaves and have avoided having to rake and bag at least 40 bags or so of leaves. By keeping the tractor in second gear, I've been able to reduce those leaves to a mulch that won't harm the grass and actually provide some nutrition. Where the leaves are heavy, it works better to actually make a second pass to produce the best results and evenly distribute the mulch. There are specialized mulching blades available that are suppose to provide better mulching performance, but should be used only when mulching is the intent. I may buy a pair and try them out when spring arrives.
With the arrival of November in western New York, I can't say we have any grass to mow, so I'll have to provide an update to this review when the grass season returns in 2009.
Why buy a Deere? Perhaps it's true that "Nothing Rides Like a Deere", but my reasons go deeper than that. I like to buy a tool and keep it for the long haul. In order to do this, I look for the construction, performance and availability of parts and service. Over 20 years ago, I bought my first John Deere RX-75 because it was (in my opinion) a well built product. Over the years, it served me well, and getting parts for tune-ups and repair was always a snap. Having a local dealer, I know that I can get the service and parts that I need. And, my observation is that the extra dollars spent on a $1500 John Deere versus a sub $1000 mower from the likes of Sears, MTD, Troy Built, etc. is warranted by the differences in construction, operating features, company service, etc. At the same time, I know that many folks can buy a cheaper lawn tractor and get just as many years of service out of it....so it boils down to personal choice.
So, lets get a little more specific about the LA 105. Powered by a 19.5 hp Briggs and Stratton engine, the LA 105 has a 5 speed in line gear shifter. All gear shifts have to be made by braking first. The RIO (Reverse Implement Option) feature cuts out the mower (or any power attachment) whenever the machine is put in reverse. By pushing in the RIO button before shifting to reverse, the mower deck or power attachment will remain in operation. The RIO device is considered a safety feature, and John Deere advises against running the mower/power attachments when backing up the tractor. The oil reservoir dip stick and oil filter are conveniently located under the flip up hood. The tube for draining the oil is located such that changing the oil should be fairly easy as well as replacing the snap on oil filter. And, the spark plug is easy to install/remove with a basic socket wrench.
The 42" cutting deck features dual 21" blades described as multia-purpose blades for mulching or bagging grass clippings or leaves. The design of the deck allows for fairly close trimming on the operator's left side, with the side discharge on the right. Safety features include the deflector attached to the deck opening, and a cut-off switch mounted under the seat. If the operator removes his/her weight from the seat, the tractor will shut down. As is the norm for basic lawn tractors, the unit has twin headlights, ignition key, power implement lever, throttle control and locking device for the brake. The mower deck adjustment is located to the operator's left and the gear shift is located on the right. The brake pedal is operated by the left foot. Located on the front panel near the steering column are the ignition key, throttle and PLO lever. To the left of the panel, above the brake pedal is the locking device for the brake....simply push down the brake pedal while pushing down on the lever locks the brake in place. Starting the engine requires that the brake pedal be depressed....locking the brake pedal is recommended in the starting directions. Accoding to the owner's manual , changing belts looks to be fairly easy and a task that most "handy" homeowers could handle. The battery is located under the front hood, and the gas tank is located under the seat platform. The filler inlet is centerd on the tank and trim panel. I've found that using a funnel helps to avoid spills. There is a small window opening located on the front of the tank which is visible from the operator's seated position. With a transluscent tank , you can see how much fuel is in the 2 gallon tank.
The operator's manual provides detailed instructions on the operation and servicing of the unit. And, they also include a DVD that provides information on safe operation of lawn tractors.
Operation of the LA 105 is pretty much the same as any riding mower. The machine starts easily by using the choke position when the engine is cold, or placing the throttle midway when the engine has already been in use. It is important to remember to have the engine running and up to speed before using the mower deck or power attachment. Likewise, disengage the mower before idling down or shutting down the unit. Failure to do so can result in the engine backfiring and/or damage to the engine. I can tell you from experience that the engine will backfire! I also encountered some initial starting problems with my unit, which had about an hour of operation on it (dealer set up). After checking and cleaning the spark plug, I came to the conclusion that the plug was faulty. Once I installed a new plug, the engine has performed flawlessly. I'm not concerned about this, but will check the plug again when I perform an oil change after the first 8 hours of operation as recommended by John Deere.
One of my concerns in moving up to a lawn tractor from a rear engine ride on mower was the trimming ability of the larger lawn tractor. At this point, I must say that I find the small turning radius of the LA 105 along with the mower deck design provides for a pretty agile machine. I can trim around flower beds and other objects rather easily and then complete the job with a line trimmer as I have done in the past. While the accelerator pedal/infinite speed design of the LA 115 would be even nice, having to select and switch specific gears isn't that much of a hassle. BUT....I'd recommend purchasing the LA 115 if spending the extra dollars isn't an issue. If you're really squeezing the pocket book, than spend some time operating the LA 105 before making your decision.
If you prefer to bag grass clippings, there is a bagging system available. The bagging system that I used with my RX 75 was very good, and I still have the original bags.......and I would expect that the bagging system for the LA 100 series tractors will also perform well and last for many years. I've also noticed that an optional front bumper guard can be installed, as well as a weight kit for use with a power snow blower attachment or snow blade (use of wheel chains suggested).
While my experiece with this machine is limited, I can say that I'm pleased with the design, operation and performance of the John Deere LA 105. After I use the mower extensively in the spring and early summer of 2009, I'll provide an update. Please feel free to comment on my review or ask any questions via the comment option. Thanks for reading and/or rating my review.