Zero Turn Vs Riding Mowers: Comparing the Best Lawn Masters

zero turn vs tractor

A beautiful lawn is our crowning glory but keeping it that way is a tedious task that requires the right tools and equipment. However, with different types of mowers to choose from, picking out the right one for your lawn may be harder than you think. You need a meticulous understanding of the different types of mowers. Here’s a complete review of the three main types of riding mowers: zero-turn mowers, mowing tractors, and rear engine mowers.

Types of Riding Mowers

The three types of lawn mowers are rear engine riding mowers, mowing tractors, and zero-turn mowers. Though their main purpose is mowing the lawn, they are designed for different types of lawn and grass cutting.

  • Mowing Tractor

The mowing tractor has been around for decades. This is the first riding mower to ever be designed since it was simply adding a mowing deck under a tractor. There are two types of mowing tractors, a garden tractor, and a lawn tractor.

Garden Tractor

Garden tractors are much larger in size equipped with larger engines. They are mostly designed to accommodate multiple attachments like a snowplow, mower, seeders, and more. A garden tractor’s main purpose is not to mow, however, many designs are already built with a mowing deck. 

Lawn Tractor

Lawn tractors are designed for lighter yard work, and this includes mowing. Though it can be used to tow, a lawn tractor has a smaller weight capacity.

What’s the difference between a lawn tractor and a garden tractor?

The main difference between the two is function and capacity. Lawn tractors have a meager capacity due to their smaller build and are thus only designed for mowing. Garden tractors, on the other hand, are made for large-scale usage. They are built for larger use. Aside from mowing, they can tow, haul, plow, and other heavier duty tasks around your property.

  • Zero Turn Mowers

A zero turn mower, in contrast, is a revolutionized lawn mower. It is designed specifically for mowing property with ease, more power, and versatility. Unlike a rear engine and a lawn tractor, the z-turn has a zero turn radius. This means that it can turn on the same spot and continue working with better efficiency.

  • Rear Engine Riding Mower

A rear engine mower is the lovechild of the lawn tractor and the zero-turn mower. It uses a steering wheel like a lawn tractor but offers a 360-degree view of your surroundings as you drive it around. As the child of the other two riding mowers, this is considered to be the smallest in the group.

Zero turn mowers are, honestly, our mower of choice. However, we can’t deny the benefits of all the riding mowers especially when it comes to efficiency and time saved on mowing our properties. The differences between the different types of mowers are vast ranging from design, functions, steering, capacity, and more.

Zero Turn vs Riding Mower

Zero turn and rear engine mowers are vastly different from each other. Zero-turn mowers have the upper hand when it comes to efficiency and faster mowing time because they are larger and have more powerful engines. However, riding mowers are narrower and are more capable of going through and into tighter spaces.

Both mowers have a smaller turning radius but zero turns can turn on a dime while riding mowers have an average of 28-inch turn radius. Nonetheless, rear engines are lighter thus more agile and have lesser tendencies of damaging your turf. They are also more equipped to handle damp and softer soil. On the other hand, z-turns are faster and can handle tough mowing jobs like cutting through denser grass and shrubs.

Zero Turn vs Tractor

Tractors aren’t primarily designed for mowing your property. As a matter of fact, their main function is to haul and transport. However, they are also very versatile making them a  great companion for busy outdoor property owners. They are great for off-road use and are amazing when it comes to towing, mowing, and transporting stuff around the property.

In contrast, z-turns are designed for heavy mowing duties. Its main function is to mow your property with lesser time and increase efficiency and precision. This makes zero turns the golden standard for lawn mowing. 

Points of Comparison

To have a better understanding of what each mower can offer a property owner, here the most striking factors of comparison between the three riding mowers. 

  • Design

With just one look, you can immediately identify the type of mower you’re looking at. A mowing tractor looks exactly like any tractor with the addition of a mowing deck right under it. The distinctive characteristic is its large frontal hood holding the engine of the tractor.

A rear engine mower is relatively smaller compared to mowing tractors and zero-turn mowers. However, unlike a mowing tractor, the engine is found under the rider. The seat is mounted over a rider’s deck with a steering wheel to control the movement of your mower.

ZTRs have a complete design overhaul, the engine is found either behind or under the rider’s seat. Instead of a steering wheel, it uses lap bars or levers for controls. The z-turn mower also doesn’t have equally sized wheels. Instead, it has a pair of larger rear wheels to support its rear-wheel drive and smaller frontal tires to keep up with its zero-turn feature.

  • Steering

Lawn tractors and rear engine riding mowers are driven like a car. The steering wheel, as you turn, moves the mower. These machines also have pedals for brakes and for accelerating across your turf. 

The z-turn on the other hand is completely different because each wheel is controlled directly by a lever. The dual engines’ power each rear-wheel-drive independently making it easier to manipulate the machine towards the direction you want it to go. The lap bars or levers move, speed up, and slow down your mower depending on how far you push each lever.

  • Movement

In relation to the design, the movement of each mower is quite different. Lawn tractors are bulkier and have a larger blindspot compared to both rear engine mowers and zero turns. The bulky hood that houses the engine is in the way of a better view thus requiring you to mow around the perimeter going towards the center of your property. 

  • Capacity

In order of size, the rear engine is the smallest and the z-turn is the largest next to the garden tractor. Overall, the zero-turn mower has the largest mowing capacity while rear engine riding mowers have the narrowest mowing deck.

But mowing capacity is not just limited to deck size, it also depends on the power of your engine and its ability to speed through your property, shortening your mow time.

  • Functions

Aside from mowing, riding mowers are capable of handling other tasks, mainly when it comes to transport. Going around a sizable property can be tiring especially if you have to move heavier objects from one point to another. Since riding mowers are smaller and are gentle on your turf, they are ideal transport machines.

Rear engine riding mowers are limited to transportation since they are made for light yard work, they aren’t fit for heavy-duty use like hauling massive sacks of fertilizer at a time. But these can simplify your gardening work by hauling sprayers and smaller accessories that you need for gardening and landscaping.

Lawn tractors and zero turn mowers offer quite an array of tasks. They are built for diversity especially in hauling accessories such as lawn rollers, soil tillers, and other lawn maintenance equipment. The main difference is that lawn tractors offer better traction and are more capable on hilly slopes. They are reliable in colder seasons since the engine is protected under the hood while ZTR engines are nakedly exposed to the weather or cold climate.

  • Cost of Ownership

Evidently, rear engine mowers are the most affordable since they are smaller. However, with little versatility, you can buy a good lawn tractor for the same price as a higher-end rear engine mower. The initial costs of buying these mowers are hefty investments, but it’s no doubt that the benefits we can get from these mowers outweigh the cost of purchasing them.

As an experienced riding mower owner, I have seen that zero turn mowers offer the best cost of ownership. They are more fuel-efficient, run at faster speeds and cut mowing time thus resulting in less fuel consumed for every mowing task. Lawn tractors are often equipped with larger engines to accommodate versatile use, but this comes at the cost of lower fuel economy.

Parts replacements and maintenance costs are similar to both lawn tractors and mowers. However, since riding mowers are barer leaving the engine exposed to the weather and forces of the environment, it weathers the machine down much quicker compared to tractors whose engines and main parts are protected under a hood.

Header

Rear Engine Mower

Mowing Tractor

Zero Turn Mower

Design (engine location)

Under the rider’s seat

Front Hood

Behind or under the rider’s seat

Steering

Steering wheel

Steering wheel

Levers or lap bars

Movement

28-inch turning radius (average)

Perimeter mowing

Zero turn radius

Mowing deck

Up to 38 inches

Up to 50 inches

Up to 72 inches

Which riding lawn mower is best for specific needs

Getting a riding mower isn’t always about which one has better features than the other, it’s all about choosing which type will suit your property and your needs. Zero turn mowers and lawn tractors are designed for large property mowing while rear engine riding mowers are equipped for smaller yard maintenance. These aren’t the only considerations you need to make before you choose a riding mower.

  • Hilly property

Lawn tractors are definitely the best mowers for hilly slopes. They have better traction and a well-balanced body. They are also four-wheel drives which means that you can control the movement of all the wheels making them more capable of climbing hills and handling tough mowing on slopes reaching up to a slightly over 20 degrees in angle.

Zero turn mowers are only rear-wheel-drive machines, though they have a strong center of gravity, they have a higher tendency to tip over.

  • Narrow properties with multiple landscaping

Rear engine mowers and small zero turns are perfect for residential use especially for those with intricately designed gardens and landscapes. With a smaller turning radius, these mowers can easily navigate their way around your property with ease. Lawn tractors are completely out of the question for properties with landscapes filled with beautiful obstacles to mow around.

  • Large properties

Lawn tractors and zero turn mowers are perfect for larger properties. Lawn tractors can handle up to 4 acres while garden tractors and z-turns are great for larger properties that reach up to 10 acres. Depending on the strength of the engine and the size of the mowing deck, these mowers can even go beyond that.

  • Smaller garden lawns

If you have a small yard that only needs mowing you can settle for a small ZTR or a rear engine mower. These are perfect for simply mowing your property and even some gardening purposes. If you’re looking for a good machine that will last longer and offer better comfort in mowing your property then either of these mowers is ideal.

Common Questions Asked About Riding Mowers

I’ve compiled a list of commonly asked questions about our favorite mowers. 

How large are the rear engine riding mower’s deck sizes?

Rear wheels have a mowing deck of up to 38 inches. This is similar to larger engine-powered push mowers. They have become the ideal host for electric engines making them a greener option for mowing your property. 

Rear engine riding mowers are made for lighter mowing. They are very easy to maneuver because of the lighter weight and the narrow body making it a very agile mowing machine. However, it has little to no capacity to pull carts and other accessories. 

How large are the mowing decks of lawn tractors?

Lawn tractors and garden mowers have different mowing decks. However, on average, mowing tractors have mowing decks of up to 50 inches. Garden mowers that do not have a built-in mowing deck can be upgraded with a mowing attachment with a cutting width of up to 72 inches.

What’s the largest mowing deck size for zero turn mowers?

ZTRs have a wide range of deck sizes but the smallest zero turn mower has a 29-inch mowing deck while the largest residential and professional-grade z-turn measures up to 72 inches.

There are other zero turns that can measure up to 80 inches but they are meant for commercial use and are not readily available in stores. See "Best Commercial Zero-Turn Mowers" to learn more about the best brands suited for lawn care business.

What is the turning radius of a rear engine riding mower?

To accommodate better agility over your yard, a rear-engine mower has a smaller turning radius usually at 28 inches. On average, it removes 10 inches off of a lawn tractor’s turning radius. Thus, the smaller turning radius radically enhances faster and more precise movement around your property. In addition, since riding mowers are smaller, they can go through tighter spaces.

What is the turning radius of a mowing tractor?

A mowing tractor’s turning radius is exactly the measurement of its width. Tractors are incapable of turning on their own thus required a three-step u-turn much like driving a car. This then forces you to mow your property in circles or around the perimeter of your property.

Do zero turn mowers have better movement than riding mowers?

Zero turn mowers, in contrast, have the best movement among the three types. Z-turns can turn on a dime thus drastically improving your movement around your lawn cutting mowing time to a fraction. With a complete view of your surroundings, you can easily monitor the performance of your mower as well as its efficiency in mowing your property.

Bottom Line

Overall, each of these mowers has its lovable qualities that make them essential equipment in maintaining large properties. Knowing the differences among the three top riding mowers, you will know which one you need and which one is suitable for the functions your property demands. From smaller yard care, you have rear engine riding mowers. If you need more versatility especially in colder weather and sloping terrain, the lawn tractor is the best fit. If you’re looking to start a lawn mowing business or is simply in need of mowing large properties then zero turns are the machines to go to.

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