Bought a New Lawn Mower -- Cub Cadet SC100H -- Long Term Review

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ken-n-nancy
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Bought a New Lawn Mower -- Cub Cadet SC100H -- Long Term Review

Post by ken-n-nancy » July 2nd, 2020, 6:26 pm

I'm hoping I don't end up regretting this, but I actually bought a new rotary lawn mower.  I'm still a little surprised.  I'm also still expecting it to be a disappointment in the long run, but I guess we'll find out.

I've always been a fan of cheap basic rotary mowers.  As a teenager, I mowed lawns on my own as a summer job.  I had a basic mower -- no fancy features to break.  No self-propelled drive.  No single-point height adjustment.  No clutch for the blade.  No electric start.  Just a pull cord and a throttle adjustment.  Simple.  I loved mowing lawns and that simple mower did everything I needed, reliably.

Then came college in metro Boston, followed by apartment living for a few years.  No lawn mowing required.

When it came time to buy a mower when we moved into our home 28 years ago, I went and bought a cheap basic mower.  It was probably from HQ.  (Does anybody even know what that is anymore?  "HQ to the rescue...")  Very similar to my "high school summer business mower."  Same limited features, except it added a dead-man's handle, as required by law.  Red steel deck.  Briggs and Stratton engine.  Separately adjustable wheels at each corner.  I used it for years and years.  

I don't remember what eventually went wrong with it after about 10 years.  I vaguely seem to recall that the plastic wheels wore away to practically nothing and the deck had a stress fracture in it where the wheels mounted to it.  It still ran great and cut well, but age had caught up with the cheap mower.  So I went to the big box store and bought another similar mower.  The new one, though, didn't have the throttle adjustment.  Apparently those had been outlawed in the intervening decade due to emissions restrictions.  After getting the mower home and starting it up, the engine rpm hunted continuously, surging and falling, and surging and falling, again and again and again.  I examined the carb more closely and became disappointed in the all-plastic construction.  I called the manufacturer, who said that some rpm hunting was normal.  I said "It isn't normal; just listen to this..." and held up the phone towards the mower so that they could hear it.  They insisted it was fine.  (It wasn't.)  I took it back to the store for a refund.  I then went home and kept using my old mower for a while longer -- I'm not sure how long, at least a few months.

Then, however, our neighbor across the street was moving away and put lots of stuff out on the curb that they weren't taking with them.  Among the items was an old mower that they had replaced with a new one many years earlier, but apparently had kept the old one.  I went over and brought it home.  It was a basic mower, with a Briggs and Stratton engine, but it had a throttle adjustment.  Old gas had been left in it, but the metal carburetor seemed like it would be fine after disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly.  So, I cleaned it up, put in fresh gas, and it started fine.  Decided I should probably change the oil and the spark plug, so I did that too.

In the 15+ years since then, that mower has been my friend.  Over the years, I've replaced the starter cord about 3 times, replaced the wheels twice, even replaced the deck from a nearly identical donor mower that I got free on craigslist a couple years ago. The carburetor has been cleaned numerous times, but is still the original one. That mower has mowed the grass just about every 4 days during the growing season since becoming "lawn crazies" 7 years ago.  It "scalped" portions of the lawn before a half-dozen renovations, has mowed 12-inch tall grass after being on vacation for a couple weeks, has mowed in the rain on a couple desperate occasions, and by headlamp at least a few times in November when the sun sets even before 4:30pm.

This year, though, the deck is again failing from stress cracks where the front wheels attach.  It's clearly a design flaw with the mower, as I've now seen it happen to three different mowers of this model.  I've looked for identical "donor" mowers on craigslist but haven't been able to find one, so I concluded that it must actually be time to get a new mower.

A couple years ago, I tried to figure out what to get for a mower, but couldn't find quite what I wanted.  I knew I wanted a basic mower without fancy features, but also wanted something durable.  Alas, without going for a commercial grade model, those seem to be mutually exclusive.  The higher quality residential mowers come loaded with features.  To my way of thinking, those features just make the mower more likely to break due to increased complexity, and make it heavier.  I wanted something basic, light, and simple, yet durable. The closest I had been able to identify was the bottom-of-the-line model from Cub Cadet. A viable alternative was the bottom-of-the-line Honda push mower, but it was significantly heavier and more expensive. Going to a commercial model was an option, but a LOT more expensive.

This year, I looked again and eventually settled on getting a Cub Cadet SC100H.  It's a simple push mower, with the only added complexity being dual height adjustments (one adjustment for the front and one for the back, rather than separate ones for each wheel).  The Honda engine gives hope for a long life of easy starting.  The basic Cub Cadet is lightweight, with a shipping weight of 65 pounds, as contrasted with about 95 pounds for a Honda HRX217.  The SC100H is a 3-in-1 mower -- I almost always mulch mow, but there are occasional situations where I need to bag (scalping before a renovation or coping with fungus) or want side discharge in case I didn't have anybody mow the lawn while having been on vacation for a couple weeks.  The one feature I wish it had was ball-bearing wheels, rather than sleeve wheels. However I'm considering ordering a set of generic ball bearing wheels from McMaster to upgrade the wheels before the axles get worn from the sleeves to address that potential future problem.

I ordered the mower online as there didn't seem to be one available at any of the local stores.  It arrived after a few days, and seemed to survive shipping well, other than missing one of the bolts for the handle.  I've since requested a replacement from the supplier, who says they have ordered one from Cub Cadet and it should be on its way to me any day now.  In the meantime, I substituted a similar bolt from a lifetime's accumulation of random nuts and bolts, so I could start to use the mower.

After assembling the handle, putting in the pre-supplied oil, and filling with gasoline, I gave one pull on the starter cord, and the mower started immediately!  I guess the automatic choke feature works fine, at least on the new engine.  We'll see how it does over time...

In terms of mowing, the mower is nice and light, making it easy to push, fine to get up to street level at the edge of the lawn, easy to turn while following curved garden borders, and okay to maneuver on an area where I have a steep slope.  I've been satisfied with the cut quality while mulching.  Seems to mulch the grass blades sufficiently finely.  It does seem to occasionally fail to pick up a tree leaf or two that have fallen deeply into the grass, but I think that may be a result of my cutting with the mower deck at the highest or next-to-highest setting for our summer cut height.  Hopefully that will be better at a slightly lower cut height when I'm mulching leaves in autumn.

In any case, we've used the basic Cub Cadet to mow the lawn three times, and we're pleased so far.  We'll have to see if the mower lasts well -- we tend to expect that with proper maintenance, our tools should last for a long, long time...  If this mower isn't still performing well in 15 years, we'll be disappointed, but at just over one week in to owning it, we're still happy!

We intend to have this thread be a long-term review, so we'll make additional posts here from time to time in case others are interested.

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Smolenski7
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Re: Bought a New Lawn Mower -- Cub Cadet SC100H -- Long Term Review

Post by Smolenski7 » July 5th, 2020, 11:06 pm

Good luck.

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ken-n-nancy
Posts: 2507
Joined: July 17th, 2014, 3:58 pm
Location: Bedford, NH
Grass Type: Front: KBG (Bewitched+Prosperity); Side: Bewitched KBG; Back: Fine Fescue Blend + Prosperity
Lawn Size: 10000-20000
Level: Experienced

Re: Bought a New Lawn Mower -- Cub Cadet SC100H -- Long Term Review

Post by ken-n-nancy » July 19th, 2020, 3:40 pm

Today, I changed the oil in the new Cub Cadet SC100H for the first time, seeking to remain in compliance with the owner manual's recommendation to change the engine oil after the first 5 hours of use.

The oil change wasn't bad, but I miss the convenience of having an oil drain plug. Rather, the Honda GCV160 engine oil is drained through the oil fill hole, which requires turning the mower on its side, which isn't convenient, but is doable. Ideally, if I had a large shallow sheet pan to use as an oil drain pan, I think the oil change would be easier. Since my oil drain pan is about 3" deep, I instead set the mower on some plastic totes and turned it on its side while up on the totes, which was less convenient, but it worked.

So far, I have mowed with it seven times and continue to be happy with it. The best features so far are that it is light and thus easy to maneuver, has started on the first pull every time whether hot or cold, and has done a good job of not leaving grass clumps, even on the two occasions when I've had to mow with it on damp grass.

There are only two negatives that I've noted with the new mower so far. One is that it seems that it doesn't have quite as much "suction" as my old mower, sometimes leaving a leaf or pulled weed down in the grass instead of vacuuming it up and mulching it into smithereens. Maybe I should consider replacing the factory blade with a higher-lift blade, but I haven't investigated that possibility yet. The other negative is that if there is a leaf on top of the grass, the mower sometimes seems to want to blow the leaf ahead and to the right, rather than just driving over the top of it. This may turn out to be a big aggravation when getting to leaf-mulching season. However, we'll find out for sure in about 3 months...

So, in sum, I'm still happy with the mower, and see it as an improvement over my prior one. We'll follow up with another status update by at least the time we are doing leaf mulching in the fall.

Below is a pic of the lawn from last night, before today's mow.
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User avatar
ken-n-nancy
Posts: 2507
Joined: July 17th, 2014, 3:58 pm
Location: Bedford, NH
Grass Type: Front: KBG (Bewitched+Prosperity); Side: Bewitched KBG; Back: Fine Fescue Blend + Prosperity
Lawn Size: 10000-20000
Level: Experienced

Re: Bought a New Lawn Mower -- Cub Cadet SC100H -- Long Term Review

Post by ken-n-nancy » September 25th, 2020, 9:38 am

It has been a few months since I've posted an update on the Cub Cadet SC100H mower so I figured it was time to add some more thoughts about the mower to this thread.

I continue to be very happy with the new mower. I've come to appreciate that its light weight makes it easy to push and maneuver. I definitely prefer a non-self-propelled mower as it's always going exactly the speed I want it to go without any fuss.

The mower has started for me on the first pull every single time, whether cold, partly warm, or fully warmed up.

I have also noticed that the mower is definitely more fuel-efficient than my old one. It's nice to not have to refill the gas can quite as frequently, especially since I mow every 3rd or 4th day for most of the growing season.

The two issues I mentioned in my posting from July (less suction and causing leaves which would be about to be mowed over to be blown further forwards and to the right) remain an issue, even now that I've dropped height of cut down from the highest setting, 3.75" with notch 6 of 6, to notch 4 of 6 which gives 2.75" HOC. I have wondered if switching to a high-lift blade would help with either of these problems but haven't taken any steps to pursue purchasing a different blade.

Looking forward to see how the mower handles the leaf-mulching task in a few months. We mulch up many cubic yards of leaves every fall, so how well the mower does at that task will be an important factor for our year-round happiness with the mower...

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