Like many other garden maintenance businesses who carry out lawn mowing and grass cutting as part of the range of lawn care services they provide, we have been keeping an eye on the development of the professional range of battery powered equipment as a potential alternative to petrol engine powered machinery.
The Lawn Advocates have already made the switch to a professional battery powered grass strimmer and leaf blower, and All For Hedges use professional battery powered hedge trimmers, but as a business we have yet to identify a mower that matches the power output and cutting capacity of our petrol powered mowers.
We have already test driven and reviewed a Pellenc Raison professional battery powered mower. We really enjoyed using the Pellenc Raison mower, but on our final verdict we weren’t quite ready to make the switch due in part to the Pellenc Raison’s wide 60cm cutting deck. This width of deck is great for larger, flatter lawns, but not quite ideal for the smaller lawns in East Kilbride housing estates where the majority of our customers live. You can read our review of the Pellenc Raison mower here: Pellenc Raison review
This meant we were still on the lookout for a professional battery powered mower for commercial use in our gardening and lawn care business. This search, in part, stems from our desire to be continually investing in the machinery of the future, and, where possible, to move away from the petrol driven combustion engine to a more sustainable form of energy and fuel that 21st Century battery power offers. One very well known and highly respected garden machinery producer keen to keep up with 21st Century technology is Stihl. Currently in the UK (May 2019), Stihl’s flagship top of the range battery powered mower designed for multiple sizes of lawns, from small to large, is the RMA 448 TC. You can imagine how excited we where when we got the opportunity to test drive one of these flagship mowers. We were super excited.
My first impression of the Stihl RMA 448 TC was that it looked like a conventional petrol mower, albeit with what Stihl refer to as a ‘mono-comfort’ handle. I was a bit concerned about manoeuvring a mower with a single bar attached to only one side of the mower, rather than a traditional bar attached to each side of the mower. I was worried about the single bar ‘mono-comfort’ handle flexing. I needn’t have worried – it was absolutely solid, with no movement or flexing in the bar at all.
My next impression, and probably one of the most important for me, was the weight. The Stihl RMA 448 TC only weighs 24kg (53lbs) without the battery (the AP300 battery weighs 1.7kg / 3.7lbs). Our other mowers weigh between 1.5 times to 3 times that weight. If we were going to switch to battery powered mowers, they needed to be as good as / better / different to our existing, excellent petrol mowers. To immediately notice the weight difference was a big positive tick in the decision making criteria box.
Using the Stihl RMA 448 TC battery powered lawn mower
Using battery power means there is no fuel to dispense from a fuel can to the mower fuel tank before starting. All you need is a fully charged battery in the battery slot. In this case we used Stihl’s AP300 battery. Other Stihl batteries will fit. The AP100 and AP200 will fit, but the battery life will drain very quickly, and are unlikely to be of any use in a commercial situation, so the AP300 is the recommended battery for this mower.
Starting is nice and easy. Simply press the orange start button and engage the cut-off lever. The motor whirrs into action straight away, and the mower blades spin. On this model there is another lever to engage which starts the forward motion of the self-propelled rear wheels. There is only 1 speed on this mower, and it isn’t slow, so hang on and get walking, quick time. To negotiate tight corners or smaller areas you will need to dis-engage the self-propelled wheels as the speed is a little quick for such fine motions. This isn’t a major problem, and with very little effort, due to the lightness of the mower, you’ll be able to negotiate those types of areas and be back onto the self-propelled lever and be off at a marching pace again. Commercial users are unlikely to have any problem with this 1 speed marching pace of mowing, but if you prefer a more leisurely mowing experience you may need to keep your hands off the self-propelled lever until you are ready to step it out a little.
I deliberately put the Stihl RMA 448 TC battery powered mower through its paces on a real fee paying customer’s lawn. This particular lawn hadn’t been cut since the previous year. The customer’s previous lawn mowing service provider had become ill and hadn’t started cutting the lawn (& we were now in the month of May), so the customer called us in to take care of the lawn mowing.
Our existing customers were already on their 4th fortnightly lawn cut, so the grass on this neglected and uncut lawn was long and thick. I started mowing on height setting number 5. The mower glided over the long grass easily, and pretty soon the grass box was full (indicated by the flatness of the full indicator on the top of the box). I was impressed. The mower didn’t clog up, not even once. It had also started to rain a little, so the grass was sticky. The mower didn’t seem to notice. It mowed the whole lawn at the number 5 setting with ease.
I knew the real test was yet to come. Most mowers can cope with longer lawns on their high setting, but struggle when they get to the thicker grass at a lower cutting height. I moved the height setting down passed setting 4 and on to setting 3. The height adjustment is made by pressing on a lever under the carry handle on the top of the mower deck. I found this a bit awkward as I needed one hand to press the lever and another hand to push down or pull up on the mower to adjust the height. Perhaps the lever mechanism just needed a bit of lubrication, because I’m sure this is meant to be a one hand height adjustment, but I found it a bit of a faff compared to our other mowers.
I was now mowing at a height setting of 3. For the most part the Stihl RMA 448 TC coped really well, and I was beginning to think we’d identified the ideal battery powered mower to work in partnership with the excellent Stihl professional battery line strimmer and leaf blower we had already invested in. However, one particular area of this customer’s lawn was really thick with moss. Every time I passed over this area with the mower I could hear the motor struggling. Nonetheless, the mower still managed to mow the whole lawn again on setting 3.
I decided to move the height of the mower to setting number 2, and make one more pass over the lawn. Unfortunately the mower didn’t cope at this setting. I have absolutely no doubt our petrol mowers would have mowed through the grass and moss at this height. This sort of low cut height is not recommended, but our petrol mowers do pretty much everything we ask in terms of cutting grass, even in the rain. Sadly, the Stihl RMA 448 TC isn’t going to cope with the same aggressive cuts that a petrol mower is very likely to cope with. The motor of Stihl RMA 448 TC I tested slowed to almost a stop when it hit the mossy area and I needed to raise the nose of mower by pushing down on the mono handle just to keep the motor moving. I moved back to setting number 3, deciding that setting 2 was just too low for this mossy lawn.
For the final test I moved from the front lawn to the rear lawns, which were down 3 sets of stairs to the lower half of the garden. There would be no way I’d take these stairs on with my much heavier mowers. One of our petrol mowers cannot be lifted safely single handedly, the other 2 we use can be lifted, but I wouldn’t want to be walking up and down stairs with them. However, the lightness of the Stihl RMA 448 TC, together with how easily the mono-comfort handle folds, meant lifting the mower was doable without too much effort at all. This would be another big positive tick in the decision making criteria box.
The test was over. The mower coped really well, albeit not so well with thick moss at lower height settings. I started mowing the 3 lawns in this customer’s garden with a fully charged AP300 battery with 4 green lights. At the end of the test, I only had 1 green light illuminated on the battery power lever indicator. Oh! This wasn’t so good. Using almost all the power in an AP300 battery for one customer wasn’t, for our business, going to be financially viable or commercially practical. I admit to feeling pretty disappointed by the power depletion of the battery on this test on a single customer’s lawns. I did, however, try to put things into perspective and justified the power usage against the tough test the mower had been through – I’d mowed 3 lawns, with long grass, 3 times each. That’s pretty good going as tests go, and I also had a plan up my sleeve*(1).
I also didn’t worry too much about the time needed to recharge the battery as we already owned Stihl’s top of the range rapid charger complete with internal cooling fan, which is capable of charging the AP300 battery from fully drained to fully charged in 75 minutes, and then automatically switches itself off – very handy. Of course, with the need for multiple AP300 batteries to service multiple lawns in a commercial setting we would need to keep switching charged batteries for uncharged ones every night until we had a set of fully charged batteries ready for the next day’s mowing schedule. We have heard of businesses using chargers in their vehicles so that batteries can be charged and be ready to be switched between lawn mowing jobs, so charging was another big factor we’d need to consider in our decision making criteria.
Positives & Negatives
- lighter & quieter than petrol engined mowers, & no fumes
- easy starting (no engine = no pull cord)
- easy mowing – self-propelled
- mowing deck width of 46cm (18inch) – great for tight areas
- easy folding handle
- battery power drain – long thick grass = power hungry *(1)
- not great on thick mossy areas of lawn
- 1 speed only – may be a little quick for some users
- mowing height adjustment was a bit awkward (perhaps I need practise)
*(1) you’ll need to revisit this website and blog to find out what my plan was to address the power depletion of the AP300 battery on tough commercial settings such as the one in this test – and who might help me with implementing my plan. I look forward to sharing it with you, hopefully within the next couple of months.
I really enjoyed using the Stihl RMA 448 TC battery powered mower. It was a joy to use. If you were looking for a battery powered mower for personal use, then I would highly recommend this mower.
For commercial use, the big question to ask is, would I be willing to give up using a much more powerful petrol mower for the Stihl RMA 448 TC? Well, in an age of eco-gardening, in a world of renewable, sustainable battery technology, as a business that enjoys trying new machinery to improve and enhance operator comfort, and to be known as a lawn care and gardening business who believe in and uphold their philosophy of continual improvement, and to be in a group of early adopters of battery technology, then yes – yes we would be willing to use the Stihl RMA 448 TC battery powered mower as an alternative to our petrol mowers. However, a caveat must be added to this. This battery mower, and, as far as I know, other battery powered mowers are not yet ready to take the place of petrol mowers in all commercial situations. No matter how much I convince myself of the eco-credentials of battery powered mowers, in my view, they do lack the power of commercial mowers for those certain situations where power is key to getting the job done. With line trimmers, leaf blowers and hedge trimmers, the power for commercial jobs already exists – we love our Stihl battery powered line trimmer and leaf blower, but for mowers used in all heavy use commercial settings the battery life and power output needs a little more technology, research and investment before a majority of commercial users will be ready to fully embrace this evolving technology.
If you want to take a closer look at the Stihl RMA 448 TC you can find this model, and an extensive range of other Stihl commercial and domestic products, at Garden Machinery Services in Hamilton. Here is a link to their website: Garden Machinery Services
Give us a call
If you don’t get excited about garden and lawn care machinery, and you’d rather spend your time doing something else other than mowing your lawn, then please feel free to give Mr & Mrs Gardens Limited or The Lawn Advocates a call.
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