How to Drive a Zero-Turn Mower Perfectly for the First Time

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Zero-turn mowers are advertised as the best riding mowers a property owner could have. In my opinion, they really are. They’re fun, efficient, and take away the boredom and the lazy attitude we have towards mowing our lawn. And now that you’ve joined the hype, I know you want to have the best experience you can get with a ZTR even on your first try. So, I made this easy guide on how to drive a zero-turn mower for the first time to help you out.

Are zero-turn mowers dangerous?

Zero-turn mowers are designed with advanced safety features, but like any machine, there are still potential risks involved. However, with a z-turn, there would only be minimal dangers in handling it. And these dangers mostly occur due to the rider’s negligence. The potential risks involved in ZTR mowers are:

Roll-over or Tip-over

One of the common problems of having a ZTR is its risk of tipping over but this happens only when you go over the recommended slope angle of between 10 to 15 degrees. Though upgrades allow you to mow slopes of up to 20 degrees, I really don’t recommend you do that. 

Remember, when mowing on a slope, NEVER mow uphill with a z-turn. Since it is a rear-wheel drive, you have no direct control over your front wheels other than turning them. Mowing uphill means that the bulk of the weight of your ZTR is at the back and the lack of grip and control on your front wheels will lead to you tipping your mower over.


This is more of a common problem with a z-turn. It may not pose much danger to your rider unless your mower sinks deep enough to tip over. But the center of the damage would be on your mower. As a large machine, you’d also expect it to be quite heavy. And even if you have the right type of tires for soft solids, the weight itself will cause your mower to sink.

To avoid this, you need to stay away from water banks. You should only mow up to 2 feet away from the bank of water like a pond or creek. 

Shooting blades

This is a rather rare incident that can happen. But reports of this that I have heard of always came from mower owners who bought poor-quality replacements. With a heavy-duty machine, you need to have strong sturdy blade replacements. I highly suggest that if you’re buying mower blade replacements, you need to choose the right type of blades to ensure safety and durability.

To reassure you, as a new Z-turn owner, these dangers are less likely to happen. It’s with proper use and care that we can live decades with a zero-turn and never have to deal with issues like these. See Are zero-turn mowers dangerous for more information concerning the types of danger you could face using your ZTR and the safety measures you could take to minimize or prevent accidents.

How to Drive a Zero-Turn Mower Like an Expert

Upon sitting down, instead of a steering wheel, you have either a pair of lap bars or steering levers on both sides of your seat. These levers replace your wheel, eventually controlling the movement of your mower from moving forward and back to turning left or right. 

The speed of your mower is all hand-operated. Pushing the levers further forward increases the speed of your mower while pulling it back means moving your machine backward. Putting the levers in a neutral position is an automatic brake. This is what makes a z-turn more efficient, unlike a lawn tractor where you control the speed and braking of your tractor like a car.

On your dashboard, usually found on the right side of your mower (I haven’t seen a mower that has its full control panel on the left. Oftentimes the left side is empty or has simpler controls for headlights and even cupholders).


The biggest benefit to a zero-turn is its turning. It allows you to make an on-the-spot U-turn. However, you need to be careful since making a direct turn will cause your non-moving front wheel to dig into the soil. That’s because you are driving your mower’s weight on the pivoting wheel as you go around it.

Three-point turn

To prevent the front wheel from gouging out a part of your soil, do a three-point turn.

  1. Put the lever on neutral to stop your mower.
  2. Pull the levers back in slow reverse.
  3. While pulling on the reverse, push the left lever forward to turn right or the right lever forward to turn left.

The movement allows movement on both wheels preventing the pivoting wheel from locking and sinking into the ground. You may need to practice this one out to accomplish it with a little backward motion.

Mowing on Hills

It’s already a given that you should not mow on slopes steeper than 15 degrees. A 15-degree angle is the steepest angle on highways. If your slope or hill on your property goes on a sharper angle than the freeway, then you shouldn’t use a zero-turn to mow it.

REMEMBER: Always mow downhill on the low throttle and slower speed at a direct straight path. There is no other way to ensure your safety using a zero-turn on hills.

In Summary

For easier controls, take note of the following:

BrakeBoth levers on neutral
Move forwardPush both levers forward
Move backwardPull the levers backward
Turn leftPush the right lever further than the left
Turn rightPush the left lever further than the right
AccelerateGently pull back the levers near the neutral
DecelerateGently pull back the levers near neutral

Operating a zero-turn mower is fairly easy to handle, but you will need to practice and master it to increase your efficiency. I suggest that you try driving your mower over concrete pavement and then your lawn to prevent the wheels from tearing over your turf.

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EL Mehdi (Medi), the founder and voice behind Desired Lawn Mower. He is a riding mower enthusiast who enjoys spending more time discussing and covering various ride-on mower topics. He has been active in the industry for years comparing models of different ZTR and lawn tractor brands.