Zero-turn Mower Basics Explained

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Lawn maintenance has always been a demanding and burdensome task. Take a trip back a hundred years, and you’ll find that mowing was a truly demanding chore, leaving many with aching backs and weary souls. Thankfully, our relatable frustrations as lawn tenders and enthusiasts spurred the development of more sophisticated and efficient mowing machines.

Today, we are fortunate to have a wide range of lawn care machines available, offering highly customizable options to meet diverse mowing needs. A good and distinguished example is the zero-turn mower which has an ever-growing popularity thanks to the capacity of the machine.

What Are Zero-Turn Mowers?

Zero-turn mowers (also known as ZTRs) are mowing machines that have a small turning radius and can pivot on a spot. The zero-turns allow you to maneuver pesky turns, save time, and make satisfying bends when you mow, improving the quality of your task. They’re also way more fun to deal with than the traditional lawnmowers, thus making the rather boring chore easier to tolerate.

In our discussion, we will delve into the intricacies of zero-turn mowers, exploring their features, benefits, pros and cons, and how they have revolutionized the world of lawn care. Read on!

How Do Zero-Turn Mowers Turn With A Small Radius? – The Mechanism Of The 180° Pivot

Now we know what zero-turn mowers are, but you’re probably wondering about the wizardry behind the mechanics. ZTRs are built specially for swift and tight turns, most of which are influenced by three main features that make up the machine:

The Steering Levers (Lap Bars)

Where traditional riding mowers have steering wheels to drive the machine, zero-turn mowers have two levers that propose a sophisticated method of steering. These levers are connected to the dual hydrostatic system that facilitates the movement of the tires independently. By holding one lever in the neutral position and pulling the other backward or pushing forward, your ZTR will make a complete twirl! Here’s how to use the levers:

The Dual Hydrostatic System

The dual hydrostatic system works hand in hand with the lap bars on the ZTR to control each driving wheel separately. When you move the levers forward, backward, or in opposite directions individually, the hydraulic pumps assigned to each wheel allow singular movement with different speeds or directions. This permits your zero-turn mower to be much more precise and flexible enough to take tight turns.

Independent Rear Wheels

On a traditional riding mower, you’ll find that the wheels run uniformly which is why you’d have to do the back-and-forth movement on the machine to make a turn. In comparison, the rear wheels of the zero-turn run independently of each other. This means that you can find balance on one wheel, and make a pivot with the other wheel. Although this is fun, you’d be careful not to create an ugly patch on your turf twirling your heavy ZTR on a spot.

Here’s how to avoid turf scalping on your zero-turn mower:

The Pros And Cons of Zero-Turn Mowers — Sizing Up Your Values

Every lawn machine comes with its delightful and ugly sides and you’re tasked with figuring out the best bang for the buck based on your mowing needs. There are several features you must consider before you purchase a zero-turn mower. An easy deliberation process is sizing up the clear pros and cons. Let’s take a look:

They’re highly maneuverableThey’re quite expensive
They’re speedyThey’re difficult to operate and master
They’re time-efficientThey’re not the best with slopes
They provide visibility of the yard when mowingThere’s no proper coverage from the clippings
They’re easier to cleanThey’re not adequately versatile

Pros Of Zero-Turn Mowers

  • Unmatchable Maneuverability

The best selling point of a ZTR is its maneuverability. Do you have garden gnomes, trees, flower beds, and other pesky items on your lawn? The best way to trim around those blockages would be with a zero-turn. Using a traditional riding mower to attempt the same task would cost you more time, effort, and gas for a “manageable” satisfaction.

  • Better Speed

Zero-turn mowers are speedier than their equivalent counterparts in most cases thanks to the dual hydrostatic transmission systems. When you fairly compare zero-turn mowers to traditional riding mowers, the ZTRs are speedier by 3-5 miles per hour. This allows you to get your task done faster and easier.

  • Time Efficiency

With zero-turn mowers, you can mow large areas with less time compared to other mowing equipment. If you have a rather large yard or are looking to start commercial mowing, you’d appreciate the time efficiency of zero-turn mowers. You can wrap up the tedious mowing faster and get other things done.

  • Better Mowing Visibility

Sitting in your zero-turn mower without an obstruction in sight allows you to view the turf right in front of you. If you’re keen on clean and aesthetically pleasing trims, you will benefit from the luxury of an unobstructed view when you mow. Bumpy and ditch-filled lawns are also much more noticeable on ZTRs than the traditional riding mowers.

  • Easier To Clean

Zero-turns have more access to the cutting decks than lawn tractors do. To avoid rust from damaging your cutting blades, it’s necessary to blow out the debris and mud from the nooks and crannies of the deck which is easier to do on the ZTR. The airflow is also a bonus for cleaning and preventing moisture from accumulating around the deck area, and zero-turns have a slightly better allowance of flow compared to your regular lawn tractor.

Cons Of Zero-Turn Mowers

  • The Sky-Rocketing Prices

Zero-turn mowers and friendly budgeting hardly see eye to eye. ZTRs come pricier than lawn tractors and in most cases, customers would have to forfeit one preferable feature or the other for their price range. Although the pricing depends on the brand and efficiency of the zero-turn mower, they’re still more expensive than the equivalent lawn tractors.

  • The Steep Learning Curve

As a beginner, you must be fully prepared to take on the journey of operating a zero-turn mower. Compared to a lawn tractor with just one wheel, zero-turns are trickier to handle. The levers are highly sensitive and may take some time to get used to before you can fully master the skill.

  • The Danger With Slopes

Zero-turn mowers have a slightly imbalanced weight distribution causing them to be potentially more dangerous when mowing steep slopes. You’d have to employ a certain strategy to move around if your yard is an unstable plane, which is even more hazardous to try if you are not familiar with riding on the machine.

  • The Grass Clippings That Get On You

While you have an open clear view of what you’re slicing over on your ZTR, you’re now exposed to grass clippings getting all over you. However, the design of the zero-turn makes it possible to reduce the amount of clippings expelled on you when you mow, it’s still nowhere as protective as the lawn tractors.

  • Zero-Turns Are Limited To Mostly Mowing

If you are interested in towing heavy material with your zero-turn mower, you may be unimpressed with the outcome. Compared to lawn tractors, zero-turns are mostly limited to mowing and slight towing to sustain the lifespan of the machine. The distribution of weight and the overall poundage of the mower restricts how much towing one can do with it. It could be a bummer if you had other expectations from your zero-turn-asides mowing.

4 Practical Tips for Choosing the Perfect Zero-Turn Mower

In today’s diverse market, you’ll find numerous zero-turn mower brands offering a variety of models, all promising excellent value for your money. Each mower comes with its own unique features that can be advantageous or disadvantageous for you. To narrow down your options and find the ideal ZTR mower that suits your needs, consider the following tips:

1. Evaluate Your Yard Size

If you’re ready to upgrade from a push mower and have a yard between 1 and 3 acres, a residential-grade zero-turn mower with a 52″ deck size and a reasonable budget would be suitable. Gravely and Toro brands are renowned for producing reliable entry-level residential zero-turn mowers that provide excellent value.

For yards larger than 3 acres, you’ll want to consider high-end residential or commercial models with decks over 54″ to ensure effective mowing. If heavy-duty mowing or commercial services are on your plan, Scag is a great recommendation. Their zero-turn mowers in this category are connoisseurs for delivering clean cuts, ergonomic designs, and long-lasting durability.

2. Consider Storage Space and Turf Type

The cutting deck size of your zero-turn mower determines both the amount of turf you can cover and the storage space it requires. If you have a manageable yard size, opt for a deck size no larger than 54″. This choice will save you the annoyance of storing, managing, and maneuvering the mower when needed.

Keep in mind that a larger deck does not necessarily translate to superior cut quality; cut quality depends on specific features such as blades and the deck suspension. For instance, a shaky deck can result in uneven cuts and frustrating stragglers, while weak blades can tear and damage your grass.

For challenging turf, Toro Timecutter zero-turn mowers offer excellent deck suspension and interchangeable cutting blades. Gravely ZTR mowers are also a solid option, as they are built to efficiently handle demanding mowing situations and are particularly ideal for heavy-duty commercial mowing.

3. Cater to Your Personal Preferences

If your yard is less demanding and you prioritize comfort and ergonomic design, focus on finding a zero-turn mower that enhances your mowing experience. Cub Cadet zero-turns excels in combining futuristic designs into their machines. They also offer models with wheels instead of levers, wiping out the learning curve associated with the lap bars.

4. Seek Organic Reviews for Informed Decision-Making

Every yard is unique, and choosing the right zero-turn mower often requires customization. To make a useful choice, rely on reviews from neighbors and critics who can provide valuable insights. Salesmen and structured reviews can sometimes be biased, as their primary goal is to make a sale rather than ensuring you select the perfect brand or model for your needs.

By considering these tips and gathering organic feedback, you’ll be well-equipped to select the ideal zero-turn mower that will transform your mowing experience into a joyous adventure!

Are Zero-Turn Mowers Better Than Tractor Lawn Mowers? – Weighing The Differences

A collective and rather biased answer would be yes, they are better. Nevertheless, since mowing is highly subjective to what you need to achieve on the lawn, it would depend on you to decide which lawn mower is best. You must contemplate the features of each party to draw your conclusion relating to your mowing requirements.

The table below gives you a practical view of the differences between the two parties:

Zero-Turn MowersLawn Tractors
SteeringUse mostly levers or lap bars to steerUse mostly steering wheels to steer
ManeuverabilityHighly maneuverable; great for tight turns and obstacles in yardsLess maneuverable and is more difficult to move around obstacles
Turning radiusSmaller turning radiusLarger turning radius
SpeedFaster speedModerate speed
StabilityLess stable due to uneven weight dispersionMore stable due to even weight dispersion
VersatilityLess versatile; is limited to only mowingMore versatile; can be used for other activities like towing and snow plowing
PricingMore expensiveLess expensive

Should I Purchase A Zero-Turn Mower Or A Lawn Tractor?

If you have a sizably small yard (below two acres) with a fairly plain and peaceful terrain void of obstacles, you may not necessarily ‘need’ the zero-turn mower. Purchasing it may be justified by your preference for making the job a little enjoyable to do. If you have several obstacles in your yard that require you to take follow-up trims around them every time you mow, then you should consider getting a zero-turn to be more efficient and finish the job quicker.

Also, take into account that slopes and extra activities are best done with lawn tractors over ZTRs. Along the line, you’d either overstress your zero-turn machine or put yourself in danger of treading risky slopes.

For much larger yards (above 3 acres) the best bang for the buck is a ZTR. No need to deliberate any further than that. If your budget is high enough to get a powerful zero-turn mower, you’d be able to get the job done faster, more efficiently, and from time to time, perform extra tasks aside from mowing with your machine. The high-end ZTRs cope better with slopes as well; they’re still not a match for lawn tractors in that field, but they are fairly safer than the low-end zero-turns.

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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.