California small engine ban – everything you need to know

All you need to know on how not to fall foul of the California small engine ban

A gas mower in a yard in front of a border with a wooden shed behind
(Image credit: Getty Images / Natalia POGODINA)

We're well into the mowing season now, and if you live in California, you may have found it a struggle to find a good gas mower to cut your lawn.

That's because the sale of new small gas engines has been banned in California. Battery mowers are still on sale, but you cannot buy a gas mower in the state of California.

This means even some of the best lawnmowers will no longer be on sale. To help, here is everything you need to know about the California small engine ban.

What is the SORE ban?

Mowing a the lawn with a white gas lawnmower

(Image credit: Getty Images / Ziga Plahutar)

Small off-road engines (SOREs) are spark-ignition engines rated at or below 19 kilowatts or 25 horsepower. In October 2021, Governor Gavin Newson signed Assembly Bill No.1346, banning the sale of these engines in the state of California from January 1, 2024.

SOREs tend to be the gas engines used in a variety of garden equipment - everything from lawnmowers to leaf blowers. This bill is effectively a ban on the sale of gas-powered yard equipment in California.

However, the ban only affects the sale of new lawn equipment. If you own a mower that uses a SORE, you do not need to replace it. However, you will not be able to buy another gas mower once your current mower has reached the end of its useful life.

How can I tell if my mower is affected?

Filling up a lawn mower with gas

(Image credit: Getty Images / Ana-O)

Firstly, if you own a mower with a SORE, you aren't particularly affected unless you want to sell your mower. The ban only affects the sale of these mowers, so if you have a gas mower, you're fine to use it.

If, however, you want to sell your gas mower, the fastest way to tell if your mower is affected is to assume that it is. Almost every domestic push mower and ride-on mower is under 25hp, and therefore cannot be sold in the state of California.

If you're still unsure, check your mower's instruction manual, or look it up online. This should give you the horsepower of your mower - if it's 25hp or less, you can't sell it.

A man replacing the spark plug on a gas lawn mowrr

(Image credit: Getty Images/Tim Stocker Photography)

Are there any ways around the SORE ban?

There are a couple of ways around the SORE ban if you still want to buy a gas mower. The first is to buy a gas mower out of state. There are no bans of this kind in Nevada, Arizona, and Oregon, so if you want a gas mower, you can buy one out of state.

The second is to buy a larger mower than you need. If you have a huge lawn that you think requires a large, riding mower you can find some 26hp models that are not banned - for example, the Toro Titan, available at Lowes, or the Husqvarna Z248F, available at Walmart.

Should I buy battery-powered equipment?

I recommend buying battery equipment. Unlike gas, batteries don't smell or give off fumes. They're also much safer because they aren't easily flammable and don't need as much secure storage. Battery mowers are lighter, because their engines are smaller, and as the technology improves, they're increasingly cheaper than gas mowers.

Gardening expert Drew Swainston told me that 'The drawback is that they aren't as powerful as gas mowers, but this is unlikely to be an issue in most small yards'.

Battery equipment is also better for the environment than gas. While I've often expressed skepticism about the eco-friendliness of battery mowers, they are simply better for air quality. While there are valid criticisms - mining the lithium in most cordless batteries is very destructive, it's no more destructive than petroleum extraction, and unlike running gas, won't create noxious exhaust.

In fact, the California Air Resources Board points out that 'operating a commercial lawn mower for one hour emits as much smog-forming pollution as driving a new light-duty passenger car about 300 miles – about the distance from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.'

Drew Swainston
Drew Swainston

Drew’s passion for gardening started with growing vegetables and salad in raised beds in a small urban terrace garden. He has gone on to work as a professional gardener in historic gardens across the UK and also specialises as a kitchen gardener growing vegetables, fruit, herbs, and cut flowers. That passion for growing extends to being an allotmenteer, garden blogger, and producing how-to gardening guides for websites. Drew was shortlisted for the New Talent of the Year award at the 2023 Garden Media Guild Awards.

California SOREs ban FAQs

Which types of equipment are exempt from California's SORE ban?

Several pieces of yard equipment are exempt from the SORE ban. For example, brush cutters and clearing saws greater than 40cc, chainsaws greater than 45cc, and chippers.

Will a SORE ban be implemented in other states?

SORE bans may be implemented by a number of states and city governments. While there are no other bills put forward, there are pressure groups in several parts of the United States pushing for a ban on small off-road engines.

For more information about mowing, take a look at our coverage of gas mowers vs cordless mowers, or zero turn vs riding mowers.

Alex David
Head of eCommerce

As Head of eCommerce, Alex makes sure our readers find the right information to help them make the best purchase. After graduating from Cambridge University, Alex got his start in reviewing at the iconic Good Housekeeping Institute, testing a wide range of household products and appliances. He then moved to BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, assessing gardening tools, machinery, and wildlife products. Helping people find true quality and genuine value is a real passion.