Hi-End Honda or Toro Walk-Behind?

ColloquorMay 14, 2013

I've owned a Toro SuperRecycler 20033 push mower since 2003, and it's been an excellent mulching mower. No problems, and it still looks, and works, almost like new. Due to some recent spine surgery, and other health issues, I'm now in the market for a self-propelled push-mower - no room for a rider - and am looking at either the Toro 20384 or the Honda HRX217HZA. I've looked at both, and there's some evidence of cost-efficiencies with the Toro, but I like - and, my wife does too - the operator simplicity of the Personal Pace drive system over the a more complicated control systems of the Honda. Other than quality and reliability - and, cost of repair - the most significant concern is the ease of using the mower while backing up. At least 10 to 15% of my mowing is while backing up due to all of the obstructions on our property.

Any suggestions, real-life experiences, and thoughts regarding this would sincerely be appreciated before I go out and spend between $630 and $850. I am sure this has been covered in other posts...


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A quick follow-up to my post above... we are looking at mowers with an electric start, not because they're necessarily hard to start (our 20033 push mower starts on 1 or 2 pulls), but because of my spine problems and surgery, and my wife's desire for an electric start - if she's going to mow!. Also, I'm a bit concerned with Toro's "Honda Clone" engine - where it's manufactured - and overall reliability compared to a real Honda engine. Toro has certainly cheapened the height adjustment as compared to my SR 20033 purchased 10 years ago. BTW... I will only purchase a mower from a locally-owned and authorized mower shop due to service and support. I don't mind paying a few extra $$$ for that aspect. I spoke with a local shop owner this morning on the Toro 20384, and he said the Toro rep for this region (central IL) is more concerned about pushing volume through Big Box stores, than selling the high-end quality mowers through locally-owned shops.

Finally, I won't purchase any walk-behind without an aluminum deck, or possibly Honda's NeXite polymer deck.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 3:41PM
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'At least 10 to 15% of my mowing is while backing up due to all of the obstructions on our property.'

You could be getting into trouble with Personal Pace. There's a little procedure you have to do to disengage the drive. If you don't do it just right every time out of dozens of times each cutting, the thing will drag terribly on the pull-back. I sold a wonderful and collectible Lawn-Boy 10550 because it was PP. What I use now is Toro 'Variable Speed'. It's the exact same thing as PP but with a conventional bail handle to control the drive. When you let go of the bail, its an instant push mower with a free pull-back. You can also 'feather' the bail to go as slow as you want or hold it down tight for top speed, which is not too fast for most people.
The only aluminum-deck mower I know of in the residential category with Variable Speed is the Super Recycler 20380. It does have the 'mystery' OHV engine, but the engine has a 5-year warranty. I also don't get the 'Honda-clone' suggestion on the engine - can you clarify that?
In the commercial category there is the 22156. Now if you want to take it to the next level, that is your mower. 190cc Honda commercial OHC engine, Variable Speed, steel wheels with replaceable tires and sealed bearings, aluminum hi-dome deck. I've had the same thing for several years. It first came out in Lawn-Boy green in 2007. They only made a few before Toro started painting them red. IMO it is the ultimate 21" mower. They ain't cheap.

Here is a link that might be useful: Toro SR 20380

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 7:59PM
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rosemallow(z7 Md)

Personally I love Honda equipment.
The HRX are the ultimate for mulching. Two blades do a excellent job for mulching. The curved blades cannot do what the Honda does.
The only problem on the HRX for you is you will need the rubber flap on the rear bottom modified.
I have noticed that if you pull it in reverse too far it will go under the frame and it will hang up if you go forward.
I have added straps to stop this. Some people have cut the flap down. This will not do it on the showroom floor, but on grass it will happen.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 8:00PM
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The Toro 22156 commercial would be the mower I'd personally buy, if I didn't have the cervical spine problem, and other spine problems. When you're age 66, things begin to happen unfortunately. Thus, I'm locked into buying a mower with electric start - my first. In fact, buying a self-propelled mower is a first for me, as I always used either Toro or Lawn Boy (the old 2-stroke OMC versions) push mowers. Never owned a self-propelled push mower in my life - hence all of the questions.

Yes, due to all of the obstructions in our yard, back and forth mowing is a requisite. And, I was wondering if Toro's PP may be a problem. I was looking for something as simple to use (read: as few levers and bails as possible) so that my wife won't be intimidated by the mower's operation. And, the latter impacts the Honda HRX.

As to the Toro "Honda Clone" comment... I talked at length with the owner of an independent Toro dealer who's been in the mower business for over 30 years - and Toro dealer for that long. He said the Toro Premium OHV 159cc engine is a clone of the Honda OHV engine, and it's built under contract in China. Additionally, when there's a failure with this engine under warranty, Toro corporate will not allow him to repair it to the component level. Rather, they require him to return the entire problematic engine to them for diagnosis. He simply swaps out the engine with, of course, new units when there's a failure. He also flatly stated that Toro seems to be cheapening the residential mowers with each new introduction. He strongly condemned MTD for the downward spiral in residential mower quality and price pressure.

Regardless, I was actually leaning toward the Toro 20384, but if indeed the PP is problematic in backing-up, especially in short distances, perhaps I need to look elsewhere. However, I know my wife will be intimidated by the two bails, and two levers on the HRX! I'm sure it becomes a non-issues after using it, but the learning curve appears to be steeper than the Toro's PP design - especially when neither of us have ever used a self-propelled mower!

Thanks for the input.

This post was edited by Colloquor on Tue, May 14, 13 at 21:36

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 9:27PM
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Sorry for the couple of typos in the above post... I guess I should proof read more thoroughly!

Perhaps I should take a closer look at the Variable Speed Toro 20380. But, no electric start...

This post was edited by Colloquor on Tue, May 14, 13 at 21:35

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 9:34PM
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Not sure how much the toro weighs but the HRX is 100+ lbs. I have one but I'm 30, 6'1" and pretty fit. I can whip it around one handing it back/forth with little issue bit that may not be your/wife's case.

If you have a weed whacker then there's no need for the ballet but if not to could present a problem.

You can't break the Nexite deck and the biggest co with the HRX is the ethanol in your fuel!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 11:19PM
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Yes, I'm aware of the 100+ lbs. weight of the HRX, as the existing Toro 20033 push mower is only 69 lbs. The B&S 6.5 HP GTS side-valve engine on the 20033 hardly seems to be fazed by 10% ethanol in the gas - this engine has started on the 1st, or sometimes if I haven't primed it enough, the 2nd pull since purchase. I always use fresh fuel with fuel stabilizer. And, only use Mobil 1 10W-30 synthetic oil...

I'm very fit for a 66 year old, except for my spinal problems - a time-based result of playing HS and college football (receiver), and being a catcher in baseball. These things have a way of catching up with you in later years! My wife is only around 5'1", so I need to be careful on which mower I purchase. Even the existing 20033 is too hard for her to push.

I'm going to have to think long and hard on this. The weed whacker idea may be the thing to do to eliminate all the back and forth mowing around our grandchild's play structure, deck, and all of the other obstructions in the yard.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 7:45AM
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Sounds to me like you may get into a Super Recycler with electric start and PP. Not everybody has trouble with PP. I guess you'll just have to try one out at the dealer. If you do be sure to do plenty of pull-backs in case they have revised it to make that easier. I'm just thinking, with that back of yours, having to pull a mower back that's fighting you will not be fun. The best way to learn to use one on the pull-back is to approach the stop point - just before the stop, keeping arms stiff, stop walking and let the mower coast forward, letting the sliding handle come all the way up, which stops the mower because you're holding onto the handle and not moving. At this point the drive should be disengaged so you can pull back without a drag. On a turnaround, you don't do anything special. Just push the handle down and pivot on the rear wheels. The drive picks up again as you push off in the new direction.
How it works: when you push down on the handle, the drive cable is pulling the tilting rear axle back, tightening the drive belt on the front and rear pulleys. But, you're pushing the mower away from you at the same time, so the belt is constantly slipping. They set up the springs so no matter how fast (or slow) you walk, or even run, the mower is always driving. The gear ratio has to be higher than usual to accomplish this since the belt is always slipping. It's really an incredible drive system of deceptive simplicity. The belts last a long time and typically the major maintenance consists of taking the wheels off and cleaning/greasing the spur gears, which contain ratchets, and the wheel gears and axles. You do this every fall when you put the mower away along with the other recommended storage procedures.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 7:03PM
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saxman1 - Thanks for all of your input, as well as everyone else. I'm close to making a decision. There are two aspects of the current Toro residential product lineup available at dealers (mower shops) that I'm not sure about: 1). the 159cc Premium Chinese-manufactured engine, albeit built to Toro's specs - some have claimed it's a clone of the commercial Honda OHV engine - who really knows, as it still seems to be a bit of a mystery engine, and 2). I really don't like the new wheel adjusters, as they seem cheap as compared to the older Toro's with aluminum decks.

My wife and I visited the mower shop which sells Toro, Honda, and mostly commercial mower lines, and checked out the 20384, as well as the 20382 (without electric start, but with the Honda GCV160 engine and PP of course). The 20382 started so easily that we're both considering foregoing the electric start, and buying the 20382 with the Honda engine. This would address one of my major concerns. I just don't want to be a long-term Beta tester on Toro's new engine venture in China.

Due to the strict EPA regs, most of these new engines seem to run as lean as possible, causing surging during operation. The 6.5HP Briggs that I have on the circa 2003 Toro Model 20033 never misses a beat. I've heard this can be especially the case with the Honda GCV160. The more I get into this, maybe I should just try to find some parts (likely very difficult) to rehab my old 1976 Lawn-Boy Model 5274. It's so light, my wife can push it easily, and always did reasonably nice job of mulching.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 6:59AM
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Just curious, what's wrong with the LB? Actually, most repair parts are available. If the deck is good its generally feasible to put one back in service.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 9:36AM
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I wonder if the Toro Chinese Honda knock offs are the same as the ones sold at Harbor freight?

    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 9:52AM
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You get used to the PP but it may be an issue with your back. I can not attest to the newer PP models suffice to say the HD versions look inferior to my 1999 model PP. I think the dealers still sell the better PP models starting around $499 on sale.

We also use the $399 Honda jobber with thumb control. For whatever reason I find it difficult to pull backwards..when not in use. It gets stuck as and is hard to pull.

My rant on the $399 Honda is thats its a HORRIBLE mulcher I have ever seen. See my Vomitator post. At least the new model $399 Honda allows you to keep the bag on at all times and flip a lever to go between mulching and bagging. Based on my experience, you will use that feature often since the Honda leaves a steady strem of clippings from the right rear wheel....that never seems to stop even going over them repeatedly. Then again, with your back, you may not want to be emptying the bag.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 11:48AM
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What is the model of your Honda mower and are you sure your issue does not stem from dull blades/improper blade installation, cutting the grass while its wet/too long, build up under the deck?

The only time I get the right side green streak is when I have gone far too long between cuttings when it just finished raining. This means cutting 12" tall grass that's sopping wet, if a green streak is all I have to deal with on those conditions im good with that.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 1:09PM
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saxman1 - The LB has been in storage, and unused, for around 10 years. The engine is still in pretty good shape, but the carb likely needs rebuilding, and muffler and ports will need cleaning. The CD ignition worked fine when I put it away, except the shut off knob on the top of the engine shroud turns 180 degrees rather than the normal 90 degrees to on and then back to off. I guess that's a good thing, as I understand the CD ignition module is now "unobtainium." The deck is in good shape. The downside is the chrome handle is rather rusty, but probably could be cleaned and painted.

I always like the LB, even with the requisite mixing of gas and oil. Perhaps I should look for a shop to give it a once over, or just do it myself.

On another note - quite the absolute reverse of my original post and intent - what are your thoughts on the rather inexpensive LB 10606 with the Chinese-built Kohler? Reviews are generally very good on Amazon, and on some other sites, as my son is looking for an inexpensive self-propelled mower. The LB (owned by Toro of course) appears to use the exact same steel deck as the Toro e-Cycler 20360, except it's painted green!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 3:38PM
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Why not fix the lawnboy? Do you know how much people would pay for a mower as light as your 5274 if new? $1000?. A lawnmower can not be made as light due to laws and regulations.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 2:01PM
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What is the model of your Honda mower and are you sure your issue does not stem from dull blades/improper blade installation, cutting the grass while its wet/too long, build up under the deck?

I'll have to get the number. Its the $399 model. Bought late last year. Blades are sharp, grass was dry and not 12" high. Peaked under deck no build up. Sorry...its a crappy mulcher. My 1999 PP leaves nothing behind and even cleaned up what the honda would not eat. I could post pics or try to create a short video...not sure how to upload it.

The only time I get the right side green streak is when I have gone far too long between cuttings.....

I could be going too long...5/6 days...then again, like I said, the PP goes thru with no mess....I'd rather cut every 5/6 rather than 2/3!

I still wonder why Honda would put that little trap door on and encourage leaving the bagger on all the time....all I know is I wish last year's model had it!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2013 at 3:24PM
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...another post indicates the possibility that the blade on hte honda is upside down...I am hopefull of a pict so I can check...further hopefull that this improves the Honda's mulching ability...if such is the case I will let you all know...

    Bookmark   May 24, 2013 at 9:09AM
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rmui(ZONE 7 Northeast USA)

Colloquor, have you considered a cordless electric, if your yard doesn't take more than about 45 minutes to mow? Some of these are easy to use, but durability and service support is questionable. I considered the B&D at Home Depot for around $400 and the Greenworks at Lowes for around the same price, but besides the durability question, my 1/4 acre lawn would take me more than one charge to do. One concern, given your back issue, is the heavy battery in the B&D. It doesn't need to be taken out regularly though, as it can be charged while in the mower It weight 40 pounds I think, and sit on top of the mower.

andrelaplume2, I hope your 399 Honda just needs some sort of adjustment. In fact I just bought one of these, picking up from Home Depot today (thought about buying higher-end Honda at a local mower shop but decided I didn't want to put that much cash into a mower this time). I read all the reviews of this mower on the Home Depot web site, and some at Amazon, and there were very few complaints of mowing quality, and many praises of it, even from those with thick lawns, so I'm thinking something probably isn't working as it should when mowing is bad.

I bought this after doing a lot of research, and not sure it's the best decision, unfortunately like a lot of thing nowadays mower have come under heavy price cutting pressure and often made to marginal quality levels. But I had to get something for now. I'm still hoping I can get my 1996 John Deere 14sb working again, that I posted on another thread. It's engineered and made well, and cost of lot back in 1996, but has worked great for me for many years and most of the main parts still have little wear.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 9:04AM
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Not sure if it matters but I find the Honda power plants much more smooth. In that they donâÂÂt seem to transmit harshness and vibrations back to the mower frame. Now not sure how the new OHV B&S motors are⦠I did have a John Deer from Lowes with the older side valve B&S and well returned it for a Honda at HomeDepot (steel deck) seemed to have more actual cutting power, less vibrations, and better fuel usageâ¦

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 7:54AM
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Well, just to update everyone on my decision and purchase... (Note: I tried to do this last week, but GardenWeb had a server problem which didn't allow me to Log In).

After much research, visiting and "test driving" the Honda HRX217HZA and the Toro 20384 SuperRecycler (with Personal Pace) at our local mower shop, and talking with friends who own both brands, I purchased the Honda HRX217HXA, Given the excellent experience I've had with my 2003 Toro 20033 SuperRecycler, I was leaning very hard toward Toro. But, after testing both in my "real world environment" which includes quite a bit of mowing forward and backward due to all of the obstructions in the yard, the Personal Pace drive system was a bit awkward to use. Setting the Honda's "Cruise Control" of the HydroStatic drive at a convenient speed, and then just dropping the clutch bail when I need to reverse my tracks was much easier to use than the Toro's Personal Pace system. If I was just buying this mower for my use, and not also my wife's, I would have likely bought the Toro SR 20380 with the Variable Speed drive, instead of the Honda.

At first, the Honda HRX was a bit intimidating with the two bails and two control levers, but after one mowing it's all very intuitive. Since this is my first walk-behind mower with the self-propelled feature, I must say it does make the job of mowing the lawn much easier. I do have one rather steep slope near our driveway that is more difficult with the Honda, and that's primarily due to the weight differential (Honda 102 lbs. vs. my old Toro 69 lbs.). The Honda wants to slide sideways down the slope when I'm mowing across the slope.

The electric start is a very nice feature, and a God-send for my wife. The overall cut and mulching quality of the Honda appears to be on par with my old Toro with the SR deck design. One strange thing that I've noticed is that with the Honda it's a bit difficult to see the "track of the cut line or path" while mowing, whereas that was never a problem with the Toro. Why this is so, I really don't know, but I've found myself re-cutting paths that I've already cut with the Honda.

Overall, I'm very happy with the Honda HRX, but check back with me in 10 years for a long-term comparison with my still like-new Toro 20033 SR push mower! ;)

Thanks again for all of the input from everyone! saxman1... BTW, I have decided to restore the old Lawn-Boy Model 5274 2-stroke... I have found a person willing to rebuild and restore the D601 engine, so I will have a 19" easy-to-push trim mower here soon as well.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 10:48AM
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