This is the review of the White LT1650 riding mower I wish I had been able to read before we bought ours.
Consumer Reports rated this mower in their magazine. I used to put a lot of stock in Consumer Reports' rating system until they reviewed a few things that I knew about, and then I was amazed at how off-base they are. Now I take their reviews with a healthy dose of sodium chloride. In the case of this mower, I didn't even know they had rated it until after we'd made the decision to buy.
The major decision we had to make was whether we wanted a disposable mower or a lifetime mower. The general consensus on Usenet and elsewhere is that there are two classes of mowers. The high-end models (John Deere, Simplicity) go for 6 grand and up but will last 20 years. The other mowers, largely made by MTD and relabeled (Sears Craftsman, Cub Cadet, Troy-Bilt, White Outdoor, Yard-Man, etc.) are of lower quality and will not last nearly as long.
When we moved in here at the homestead the grass was growing thick and fast. We went to a mower store and got a White LT-12, which is an MTD mower with a 38-inch deck, a Briggs & Stratton Industrial/Commercial engine (11 horsepower, if I recall correctly). The LT-12 was a cheap mower, but it was still going strong 6 years later. By that time we'd realized that a 38-inch deck was too small, bouncing and jouncing along on this mower was rattling our teeth. We wanted a bagger, and the local White dealer said that the bagger for the LT-12 (actually the bagger for the LT-13, its replacement) would not fit on the other models. Rather than invest in a bagger that would have to be gotten rid of when the LT-12 died, we decided to get a new mower. The dealer gave us a generous trade-in on the LT-12, so we decided to go with the TL1650.
Our neighbors have had two John Deeres in the last few years and have had (expensive) problems with both. That and the idea of paying an obscene amount of money for a mower drove us to the White. The dealer is nearby so it was worth buying from him rather than getting a cheaper mower from Lowe's and having trouble finding service for it.
One of the first things I noticed was that the ride on the LT1650 is much smoother than the LT-12. This is due to the larger wheels and the padding on the seat. Still not as smooth as it would be with shocks, but a big improvement.
The power take-off is a manual lever on the left side of the console. You push it forward and clockwise to engage the blades of the mower deck. Unfortunately, this is awkward. It would be much easier if it were reversed, and you could pull the lever toward you to engage. As it is, I end up banging my wrist on the steering wheel when I engage it and it whacks my left knee when I disengage it.
The LT1650 has a 16 horsepower engine which practically guzzles gas (at least it seems so in comparison to our old mower). But it's powerful.
The deck is called a "turbocut" mowing deck because it has an air intake in the center. This gives the deck great suction. Unfortunately the aerodynamics are such that a lot of grass clippings end up on the top of the left side of the deck.
Also, on the LT1650 the pulleys that drive the blades are enclosed with a plastic guard. On the LT-12 they were accessible all the way around, which meant if they got clogged with debris I could clean them easily. I'll have to see whether the plastic guard prevents clogging or simply prevents me from unclogging the pulleys.
I guess the theory behind the "turbo cooling" hood is that air is sucked in through the intakes on the sides and goes directly into the engine, thus preventing dandelion seeds and other floating things from catching on the engine's air intake, but as you can see, this has little effect. One still has to clean the engine air intake every time.
Also, the hood is made of plastic. That's right, plastic. The dealer told me most people get the optional metal bumper to prevent damaging the plastic hood if you run into something.
The front axle is cast iron, which is a big improvement over the LT-12 and makes for a sturdier mower. Note the rust.
This mower currently has 3.2 hours of use. The exhaust shoots out the front through the grate. The paint is coming off after less than four hours of use. And really, the large hole should be larger to prevent overheating. The dealer told me that the spacers were added after the heat from extended mowing burned the guard above the muffler (remember, that hood is plastic), and that if I planned to mow for hours at a time I should consider enlarging the hole with a hacksaw.
Would I buy it again? I dunno. I wish the hood were metal and not plastic. I wish the PTO lever were better and the throttle lever wasn't so flimsy. But it mows well, rides OK and hey -- can you beat that cupholder?
Update: the mower now has about 9 hours on it. I dutifully changed the oil at 8 hours, a task made much easier by the push-and-turn valve on the oil drain tube. No more fumbling with a drain plug and dropping it into a basin of hot oil!
Unfortunately, the LT 1650 has a fatal flaw, and we've found it. The front-mounted muffler, pictured above with the paint peeling off, is simply too close to the ground. It gets very hot and if you stop the mower on the lawn for a few minutes (say, to empty the bagger), the muffler will burn your lawn and kill the grass. See the picture below? I was mowing another section of lawn and returning when the bagger was full. I parked the mower next to the garden just long enough to empty the bagger. Each of the spots where the grass is dead is caused by the heat from the muffler.
No, I definitely would not recommend this mower simply because of this design flaw. Now I make sure to stop it on a driveway or over wood chips when I empty the bagger. That means carrying the grass clippings farther and having to remember to not stop on the lawn. What an annoyance.
Update, October 30, 2002: an alert reader writes, Your review was very helpful to me as I discussed this model with my dealer. Fortunately, newer models now have a revised exhaust system he says. He crawled under it and called me. It now has a heat shield and a deflector. He also thinks the port is larger than earlier models.
Update August 7, 2003: another alert reader writes:
I just read your review of the LT1650 mower. I purchased one 2 years ago after shopping fairly hard for the "best buy". I relied heavily on the consumer reports review and the features comparison.
Now, 2 years and 100 hours of use later (the meter just turned 100 exactly) I definitely see pros and cons to this piece of equipment.
- Hydrostatic transmission - for the price point I don't think you can find a drivetrain that works better. One may find a comparable unit, but this one works very well and after having owned one I will not go back to manual shift tranny's on mowers-hydro us just much more efficient.
- Power - I have been pleased with the power of this mower. Engine pulls hard and does not bog down under heavy loads.
- Muffler - I don't like the front mounted muffler at all. I have not experienced the grass burning you mention, but definitely feel the heat and breathe the exhaust fumes while using this unit. I would prefer a better overall design, but this is very common among these type mowers.
- Cutting deck - my unit has trouble cutting deep grass effectively. I realize this is difficult task for any mower, but I expect more than what the LT1650 provides and with over 20 years experience mowing lawns on the weekends like the rest of us, I don't think my expectations are unrealistic. It cuts very well as long as you don't try to tackle more than 1-2"s of cut.
- PTO Belt - This is my largest complaint with this machine. The PTO belt is rapidly wearing out and affecting the cutting efficiency of the mower. Maybe you should expect to replace this belt every year, but that was not my expectation. I'll be on my third one soon - and I don't like spending the hour or 2 it takes to disconnect the deck and pull/replace the belt.
Otherwise I have been very satisfied with this mower. I still think it would be difficult to find a better unit at the price point which this one sells.