Pros and Cons of Zero Turn Mowers

Zero turn mowers are far superior to lawn tractors - I mean they`re way more expensive, so they have to be better, right? Well, not so fast. There are pros and cons for both types of riding mowers, which we`ll explore in this article.

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Or, if you just want the essence of it real quick, here is the list of pros and cons of ZTR mowers.

Pros

  • Tighter turning radius and better maneuverability, which saves time.
  • Higher mowing precision due to better visibility in the front.
  • Higher priced models are often faster than lawn tractors.
  • Steering-wheel-operated models handle better on slopes than lawn tractors or lap-bar-operated ZTRs.
  • You`ll look like a pro operating one 😉

Cons

  • They have a higher price.
  • More complex and less rugged technology compared to a lawn tractor.
  • Less pulling capabilities due to delicate hydrostatic transmissions.
  • Front casters of small ZTRs can get stuck in soil.
  • Small ZTRs with much weight on the rear wheels (to avoid the front wheels getting stuck) can pop wheelies going uphill.
  • No rough-cut capabilities! You have to mow regularly.

Only lap-bar-operated models:

  • They have a steeper learning curve.
  • Possibility to tear up your lawn if you don`t take care to keep both wheels moving during turns.

What is a Zero Turn Mower?

Everybody who is in the market for a riding lawn mower for your regular plot of land (say no more than 4 acres - above that and you should definitely consider landowner mowers that are priced above what the average user will need to spend) faces the question: Should I buy a lawn tractor or a zero turn mower? And some people are faced with a more basic question: What makes a lawn mower a zero turn mower, an what is the difference between lawn tractors and zero turn mowers?

Cub Cadet RZT S 50_turn

Zero turn mowers are capable of turning in their own footprint, with a turn radius of zero degrees - hence the name. They`re the humming tops of the lawn mower world, they can spin without moving. How do they do it? For one, they have front wheels that can turn way farther than the wheels of lawn tractors - always more than 90 degrees. And their rear wheels are independently driven, so one rear wheel can drive forward, while the other one drives backward at the same time.

The traditional zero turn mower has lap bars to control speed and direction. These are sticks that protrude from the left and the right side onto the lap of the operator. What they do is very straightforward: Push the left one to the front, and the left wheels drives forward. The farther you push it forward, the faster the wheel goes. Pull the bar, and the wheel goes backwards. You can manipulate the left and right bar independently, and hence move the left and right rear wheel independently.

Lap bar operated zero turn mowers have front wheels that turn on casters. In fact they are not restrained by anything - they can spin freely 360 degrees around and are only indirectly controlled by the rear wheels. This makes for incredible maneuverability, but also for a driving experience that is very different from the one we are used o from cars.

If you drive one of these for the first time, you might need some practice to get used to it and drive it effectively. You have to especially practice to drive without spinning one rear wheel in place, which tears up the lawn and leaves ugly dints - you definitely don`t want that!

What are the Pros of a Zero Turn Mower?

The great pro of zero turn mowers is that you don`t need to mow in elaborate patterns, like you have to do with traditional lawn tractors. These typically have turning radii of around 18 degrees, so you need to figure out what to do at the end your lawn: Drive a loop, or mow in circles? There are some lawn tractors that have turning radii of only 6 degrees. With these you can nearly do what you can do with a zero turn mower: Just turn it around and mow one line next to the other, without wasting time and fuel for doing extra turns, and leaving unmowed spots that have to be taken care of later.

Front-decked ZTR

But despite what you might have heard, with a regular residential zero turn mower with a mid-mounted deck you won`t save much trimming time because they can`t get much closer to obstacles and walls than a lawn tractor. Also these residential ZTRs tend to be not very sturdy, so you have to be careful not to hit anything with them. Their stamped decks mow very well, but can`t take brushing a wall or things like that. Front-decked zero turn mowers do save trimming time because with these (usually much more expensive landowner or professional) models you can get under trees and hedges and nearly as close to obstackles as you would get with a trimmer.

During the last years, many companies have developed steering-wheel-operated ZTRs to a point where they really don`t have any disadvantages compared to the lap-bar-operated ones (except for the much higher price!). The big plus of these is that they are as easy to drive as a car - you will find a brake pedal and a steering wheel, both of which the lap-bar-operated ZTRs lack.

Also these models have far greater stability going sideways on hills, and the transmissions will last longer doing hill mowing work. It`s like that because the front wheels hold the mower on the hill, and the transmissions don`t have to do constant balancing, which wears them out quicker.

And what are the Cons?

Zero turn mowers can have traction problems, especially the low-priced residential ones, because the small front caster wheels can dig into dirt or sand, and the mower can get stuck. Also they can tip on their back going straight up a hill, if they are balanced with most weight on the rear wheels (to avoid getting stuck with the front wheels). This tipping-proneness especially holds true for the small residential ZTRs.

Going downhill it can happen that a ZTR won`t turn. You really shouldn`t go straight up or down a hill at all with a ZTR, but drive rather diagonally on slopes. And you shouldn`t go on slopes at all, if there is something dangerous at the end of them, like a drop-off or water - sliding is always possible, even with the best zero turn mowers.

Then there is of course the higher price of zero turn mowers compared to lawn tractors or other small riding mowers. You`ll have to spend between 2,000 and 4,000 $ for a residential ZTR. Semi-professional or landowner models with sturdier decks and faster mowing speeds can cost up to 7,000 $, and for the professional models you can spend easily as much as a car costs. For 2,000 $, you can buy a top-tier lawn tractor like the Poulan Pro PP24VH54 with a 54 inch deck. This is 400 $ cheaper than an Toro TimeCutter SS3225, which only has a 32 inch deck (and no steering wheel!).

Another point to consider are the pulling limitations of small zero turn mowers. The transmissions of these mowers usually can`t handle loads heavier than 180 lbs. If you ignore this limitation, you can easily ruin your transmissions in no time, and face a costly repair. So don`t pull yard-carts full of heavy stuff or leaf-vacuums.

Zero turn mowers perform best on properties that are regularly mowed - twice or at least once a week. You can seriously damage a ZTR if you use it as a rough-cut mower or brush hog and try to clear plots that haven`t seen a mower for weeks or months.

Conclusion

These may seem like many cons outweighing the main selling point of zero turn mowers, their maneuverability. It is true that the decision for a ZTR is not as self-evident as some salesperson or internet reviewer may suggest. I hope that this article will allow you to make a little better informed decision about what type of riding lawnmower to buy.

Lawn tractor or zero turn - no matter which way you go, chances are that your new mower will be much better than the one it replaces because companies constantly improve their technology and invent features that simply weren`t available yesterday.

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