Every so often, a leading brand offers up a product that leaves even a dyed-in-the-wool evangelist wondering what went “wrong.” Troy-Bilt’s relatively new TB30 13B726JD066 382cc Neighborhood riding lawn mower maneuvers more deftly than a number of bigger, more powerful and pricier mowers in its class and even quite a few that share its barely four-figure price point. At its best, it cuts to a flawless, even finish on mostly level ground. Unfortunately, this is one of the few times I hesitate to unconditionally recommend a mower based on a disconcerting string of customer service issues.
- 30-inch cutting deck
- Single-cylinder 382cc OHV engine
- 18-inch turning radius
- Clear fuel tank window displays remaining gas
- Manual PTO and six-speed transmission
- Choose from five adjustable height settings
- Body constructed from durable 14-gauge steel
Aside from the six-speed transmission consistently jerking through gear-changes, the sturdy 14-gauge steel body of the TB30 has all the hardware packed into it to seemingly perform pretty admirably for a smaller mower weighing just under 340 pounds. Still, this is hardly a heavy-duty riding mower. Its plucky single-cylinder 382cc Troy-Bilt OHV engine kicks up to a brisk 4.5 mph top speed and its durable 13-inch front and 16-inch rear wheels turn notably tightly on an 18-inch radius. Just keep in mind, Troy-Bilt designed the TB30 to emphasize its agility in tight quarters and allow it to zip across sprawling, flat terrain. Attempting to ride it across or up a hill becomes an instantly regrettable life choice after just a few minutes enduring its wobbly balance. Owners might do well to also have a self-propelled mower on hand to groom any significant slopes rather than test the TB30’s surefootedness.
Finally, if ever there were a mower to close the case for always wearing ear protection while cutting, this is it. The TB30 is louder than a number of heavyweight riding mowers I’ve tested. I wouldn’t make many plans around moonlit landscaping if your nearest neighbor is within shouting distance.
Ease Of Use
To its credit, the TB30 isn’t exactly a complicated beast. When it isn’t in use, its undersized stature saves noticeable garage or shed space. True to Troy-Bilt’s more lauded models, the TB30’s engine fires up responsively and reliably on the first turn of the key nearly every time. The padded mid-back seat rates among the most comfortable saddles I’ve ever climbed into and feels fantastic even at higher speeds. Using the clutch to downshift a gear or so on the fly is just too damn handy not to appreciate. The convenient fuel window eschews letting a gauge tell you how much gas you have left in favor of providing a view directly into the tank. Installation should consist of installing the steering column and wheel, rear engine cover and seat, a matter of under an hour to have your TB 30 ready to roll.
Cut Quality & Options
My compliments to Troy-Bilt after experiencing just how easily the manual power take-off (PTO) engages and disengages the blade. One thing hasn’t changed since the bestselling days of the TB30 series in the 1970s: the cutting quality is even, clean and consistent to a “t.” Granted, 30 inches isn’t a massive swath to trim with every pass, but this mower makes up for it with speed and just the right dimensions to handle precarious squeezes other riding mowers can’t handle. The TB30 mulches and side-discharges clippings equally effectively, but its bagging could improve with a larger receptacle for fewer unloading stops. The option to mow in reverse instead of letting the blade automatically disengage is also an extremely nice touch, as are the five height settings, but beware which level you choose. The three tallest settings should all leave your lawn with an ideal texture and healthy height. However, the two shortest options are low enough to virtually scalp your turf.
After each cutting session, dusting your TB30 off with a leafblower and staying atop its fuel and oil needs should do the trick. Although it comes equipped with a deck-wash port, I had a hard time rinsing away the dirt, stray clippings and miscellaneous debris from the underside as thoroughly as I would like. Considering its relatively light weight, you would be better off engaging the parking brake, taking the spark plugs out of the engine, tipping it up and spraying everything down by hand.
Herein also lies the greatest drawback to investing in the TB30: unfortunately, owner reviews have repeatedly describes incidents of receiving a mower directly from the a factory or dealership and noting any of several defects, from poor assembly or missing parts to nonfunctional engines. That’s bad enough, especially when considering this model’s notoriety for chewing through belts. However, the same reviews often describe the exact opposite customer-service experience any owner wants to endure. The TB30’s two-year warranty is on the short side by industry standards in the first place, but customers often describe difficulty getting an actual human being on the phone, delays spanning anywhere from weeks to months arranging repairs and even occasions when seemingly manufacturer-guaranteed repairs still left lingering problems.
Manually engaging or disengaging the blade is about the extent of the TB30’s safety measures. Then again, that’s about all I would ask.
This is a tough call. On the one hand, when the TB30 works, it’s virtually a steal. If you’re clinging to an under-$1,200 budget for dear life and don’t plan on running it up any severe slopes, this mower should do just fine with lots of speed, agility and precision cutting. It’s even extremely fun to drive. Then again, to some extent, you get what you pay for in terms of its reliability and a somewhat deserved reputation for shoddy manufacturing. It might prove to be an all-or-nothing gamble between a potentially defective liability and a no-nonsense, basic riding mower for lawns just a little too broad for a walk-behind model. Buy at your own risk.
- Decent height range
- Starts easily
- Light and maneuverable
- Steers smoothly
- Mostly even cutting
- Changes gears roughly
- Breaks belts easily
- Somewhat unsteady on hills
- Customer service issues
- Avoid shortest height settings