Zero-turn mowers are a gem for any landscaper. They are quick, have excellent steering, and maneuver around obstacles quickly to produce a beautifully cut lawn. I like to call them “golf course queens.” These machines are perfect for mowing extensive flat yards and slightly hilly areas whose slope is less than 15 degrees.
However, almost every landscaper will admit that, in one instance or the other, they’ve felt that they had little or no control of their mower, regardless of their attempts to stop it. Most z-turn mower accidents happen when the machine slides, and as a result, the operator loses control of it.
Unfortunately, poor traction on ZTRs is a design flaw that cuts across all types of zero-turn mowers. In this resource, I’ll share a few useful tips on how you can get better traction on your mower. But first, let’s have a quick overview of the main reasons that may cause a ZTR to lose traction:
- Operating on slopes of more than 15 degrees
- Making sharp turns on slopes
- Operating on wet grass
- Mowing grass that’s too dry
- Applying the brakes too quickly
- Towing a heavy bagger on slopes
How to Get Better Traction on a Zero-turn Mower
Below I’ll share a few handy tips on how to achieve better traction on a ZTR. I’ve also included some "don’ts" along the way. Avoiding them ensures you’re not exposing your machine to conditions that would otherwise increase the chances of your zero-turn mower sliding or even flipping.
Lower the Tire Pressure
Removing a little air from your ZTR’s wheels right before you begin mowing on slopes or wet grass goes a long way. If the tire pressure is too high, your machine will probably lose its traction.
However, note that lowering your tire pressure also alters your cutting height. You may notice your mower bumping on small obstacles which it would have otherwise passed unnoticed.
Choose Wider Wheels
Wider tires offer better traction. They have a wider surface area, which helps distribute the mower’s weight across a larger surface area.
Install Aggressive Wheels
Turf tires will, of course, offer better traction. Your residential zero-turn will also handle wet surfaces much better. However, they’ll tear up and damage your grass, especially when turning or maneuvering around obstacles.
Remember, poor traction in a ZTR is more of a design flaw than a problem with your wheels. Even with the most aggressive wheels, your machine will quickly lose control when driven too fast, operated on steep slopes, or when suddenly stopped on slopes.
Always Turn Uphill
If you have to mow using a ZTR on a slope, always turn uphill and never downhill. Better yet, find a flat ground over the hill to make your turn. That’s because most of the mower’s weight is usually at the back. When driving downhill, all this weight presses forward. Thus, any attempt to make a turn or stop on your way down makes your z-turn mower lose traction, increasing the chances of a rollover.
Always start mowing from the bottom and work your way up. If you must make a turn uphill, then you must be extra careful. Perhaps you can consider turning out a bit and reversing to get into your next row.
Mow Up and Down a Slope, Never Sideways
Remember that ZTRs are steered by small castor wheels. These offer zero traction to your mower. The traction provided by the rear wheels is barely enough when mowing on a slope.
What’s more, the weight of your machine is unbalanced, with most of it being at the back. Thus, if you mow sideways, the castors may move to either side, causing your mower to lose control.
Don’t Make Sudden Stops
Ideally, the brakes in a zero-turn mower are for making stops, not for slowing down, as is the case with tractors. When applied, these brakes will instantly grip and lock the rear wheels. These sudden stops distort the balance of your mower. The machine will lose traction and will probably take you for a downhill ride.
Thus, when stopping your ZTR, gradually bring both the right and left to a neutral position. Also, be keen to select a moderate initial speed that will allow you to mow up without a need to stop, accelerate, or decelerate.
Don’t Use a Rear-mounted Grass Catcher on Slopes
The weight of a z-turn mower, by design, is already greater at the back than in front. This weight instability is usually the main reason that a ZTR loses traction on slopes. So, attaching any extra weight on the rear while mowing on slopes makes it worse.
Don’t Use a Zero-turn Mower on Wet Grass
Zero-turn mowers are extremely vulnerable when driven on damp grass. They are only relying on the rear wheel to offer enough traction to the entire tractor. Unfortunately, these wheels cannot produce the traction needed on these slippery lawns. You should wait for your yard to dry before you can begin to mow.
Note that drought-dry grass also has the same effect as wet grass.
Never Mow on Steep Slopes
Remember that zero-turn mowers are only ideal for slopes that are less than 15 degrees. Mowing lawns that are steeper than that is dangerous. That’s because the ZTR can lose its traction in an instant and rollover within a split second. The effects are fatal.
The Bottom Line
Every so often, even the most expensive zero-turn mower may still slide on wet grass or slopes. So, why not just embrace the ZTR as it is? Enjoy its best features and learn to live with its flaws.
You can get better traction on a zero-turn mower by reducing the tire pressure, choosing wider tires, and not making turns or sudden stops on a slope. Also, avoid mowing on wet and damp grass. Do not mow slopes above 15 degrees.
Finally, ensure you’ve learned how to steer your mower correctly before you can begin the actual mowing. That way, you’ll enjoy all the benefits of your ZTR while still ensuring your safety.