Zero Turn Mower Buying Guide

By Frank Lowery

zero turn mower buying guideOne of the things American homeowners all over the country pride themselves on most is the quality of their lawns.

This is apparent from the huge market for lawn fertilizers, grass seed varieties, lawn care tools like spreaders and feeders, and the large amounts of time we spend every weekend taking care of our lawns.

But if you have a particularly large lawn, often cutting the grass can be one of your least favorite lawn care chores, and even those of us who enjoy the task of mowing the lawn can reach our limits.

This dichotomy – between loving our lawns and not enjoying cutting the grass – has led manufacturers to begin providing mowers that significantly reduce the labor and time involved in the task.

Enter the zero turn mower.

These highly efficient grass cutting machines steer using a rear wheel drive and are a cut above and beyond the traditional front wheel drive lawn tractor design. These were originally developed for commercial lawn care companies, but in recent years a number of models have become available for home use. These residential grade zero turn mowers are a bit smaller than their commercial cousins.

But they still offer all of the advantages of a commercial zero turn mower. They are built to maneuver so closely around obstacles such as trees or walks that they almost completely get rid of the need for edging. And they pivot so tightly at the end of a cut row that there is no need to overlap or cut the grass in a crosshatch pattern.

Zero turn mowers fall into one of four basic categories. Entry level mowers are perfect for the homeowner who will only be cutting their grass once a week or less. And lawn care experts recommend that you do not cut the grass more than twice a month at the most in order to promote the sustained healthy growth of a lustrous lawn. Entry level mowers are also the least expensive category, but this is because they are manufactured more cheaply.

Often entry level mowers are made of stamped parts and steel spindle materials. This means they will not stand up to daily use, and it is not recommended that they be used more than sporadically – no more than once a week at the absolute most. So while they are perfect for homeowners with large properties, they should absolutely not be purchased by even very small business landscaping professionals.

Mid grade zero turn mowers are not particularly faster than entry level mowers, but they allow the user to cut their lawn much faster because of their significantly larger deck size. Deck size – which I will cover in more depth later – measures the width of a mower’s cutting swath. A mower with a larger deck size will permit you to mow your lawn in fewer passes, reducing the amount of time the chore takes. A mid grade zero turn mower is excellent for anyone who owns a property with more than an acre of lawn that needs cutting, or who is responsible for cutting a lawn once a week or so.

Semi commercial zero turn mowers are perfect for owners of small landscaping business, who will be cutting multiple lawns a day and for whom time is a top priority, but who also have thin enough margins that they are not quite ready for a commercial lawn mower. These mowers have a deck size that is a step up from mid grade mowers and go a few miles per hour faster. They are also made from somewhat higher grade parts, such as welded steel instead of stamped parts, so they are more durable than entry level or mid grade mowers. Semi commercial mowers are designed so that they can withstand daily use, but they are also usually half the price of commercial lawn mowers.

Commercial zero turn mowers are the beast of the bunch. They boast the largest deck size, the engines with the most power, the biggest fuel tanks, and the highest speeds. But because of this they also have the highest price tags, clocking in at $5000 and up. These are designed specifically with landscaping professionals in mind, and can cut anywhere from three to four acres in a single hour.

So now you are probably wondering which kind of mower is right for you. This depends on how much property you are responsible for cutting every week, how quickly you want to be able to do it, and how much you are willing to spend. This guide will walk you through a number of aspects of the zero turn mower and help you better understand what to look for when you are shopping for one. By the end of it, you will be an expert in zero turn mowers, and should be able to make your purchase with confidence.

1. Zero Turn Mower is a Good Buyer’s Choice

zero turn mower best choiceThere are a number of reasons why a zero turn mower is a good choice for homeowners or landscaping professionals. One major advantage of a zero turn mower is the deck size and speed it offers, both of which will allow you to finish cutting large lawns much more quickly than with walk behind mowers. If you own a large property with more than a half an acre of grass to cut, you should definitely consider buying a zero turn mower rather than a walk behind mower. That size job will simply take far too much time with a walk behind mower, whereas any grade of zero turn mower – and especially the larger ones – will be able to knock it out in a snap. That means you will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor – relaxing and playing with your kids on your freshly cut lawn – much sooner than you otherwise could. And you will not be worn out from maneuvering a walk behind mower all over your property, so you can actually enjoy yourself!

The next area where a zero turn mower provides a major advantage over any other kind of mower is the turning radius. As the name suggests, the zero turn mower has a turning radius that permits much more maneuverability than other mowers can. The zero turn mower works by allowing the user to provide differential power to the rear wheels. That means that with the push of own lever or another, power is directed to one wheel or another, respectively. If both wheels are receiving the same amount of power, the mower moves in a straight line. If one wheel is receiving more power than the other, the mower will move in a curved line. And if one wheel is receiving power and the other is stopped, the mower will pivot on an axis with a radius approaching zero.

That pivot, along with the wide deck size, means the zero turn mower is the most maneuverable one on the market. There is no need to overlap from one row of cut grass to the next. And obstacles are no longer a problem. The mower can be maneuvered right up to the edges of obstacles with ease. This means you will usually be able to almost completely eliminate any edging duties after you are finished cutting the grass. That is another huge time and labor saver.

A zero turn mower significantly reduces the work that goes into taking care of your lawn. They are probably the most efficient mower on the market, and this makes them an almost required purchase for any property owner with more than an acre to take care of. This is especially true if your property has a lot of obstacles such as trees, walkways, or garden beds scattered around the lawn. A zero turn mower allows you to cut your lawn quickly and easily maneuver around the yard, which means you can finish cutting your grass quickly and painlessly. You may even find that cutting the grass becomes a fun and enjoyable task!

2. Zero Turn Mower Buying Specifications

2a. Deck Size

zero turn mower deck sizeWhenever you are shopping for a new lawn mower, deck size is always going to be one of the primary considerations. A larger deck size means you will be able to cut your grass in fewer passes, which will save you time and money. Large deck size – along with the tight turning radius and maneuverability – is the major advantage a zero turn mower provides. The question you have to ask yourself is, how large of a deck is right for you?

The tradeoff here is between ease of maneuvering among obstacles or on small strips of grass and cutting your grass in as few passes as possible. If the property you need to cut is simply a wide open field, then by all means look for a mower with the widest deck size you can afford. But if you have lots of obstacles like trees or garden beds that are spaced tightly together, a very wide deck size is going to be a bit of a drawback. It is also important to consider the storage requirements for a zero turn mower with a very large deck. Bigger mowers will of course require more storage space.

Landscaping professionals will probably want to consider having more than one mower in their fleet, if they can afford to. They should try to have one zero turn mower that has a very wide deck size – up to at least fifty or sixty inches, and another mower that has a deck size in the thirty inch range. This way, they can use the larger zero turn mower on jobs that are just open lawns or fields, and the smaller mower on jobs that are on properties with lots of trees and other obstacles.

2b. Engine Size and Horsepower

zero turn mower engine size horsepowerThe different zero turn mowers available on the market are going to have markedly different engine sizes, and along with that, considerable differences in the amount of horsepower they offer. Commercial zero turn mowers are of course going to weigh in as having the largest engines with the most horsepower. Entry level zero turn mowers will have the least. But within each category, there will also be a range of options, and you should consider what your needs require.

Engine size and horsepower are measures of how tough your mower is, and this is going to be an important consideration if you have a large property with very thick varieties of grass such as St, Augustine or Bermuda grass. Zero turn mowers that have less horsepower will find thick grasses more difficult to cut through, and this can be problematic for a couple of reasons. First, you will find that you will be cutting through thick grasses more slowly with a weaker mower. But perhaps more importantly, a weaker mower will be worn down over time if it is constantly cutting through thick, tough grasses. This means it will need more maintenance and not have as long a life as a more powerful mower.

Finally, horsepower is important to keep in mind if you are going to be working on hilly or uneven terrain. Zero turn mowers with less horsepower will have a harder time with uneven terrain and may struggle to get up sloping ground. Mowers with a lot of horsepower will have it much easier.

2c. Speed

zero turn mower speedDifferent mowers also have variable top speeds. This is an important consideration especially for landscaping professionals, for whom time is literally money. Bigger, faster zero turn mowers will allow you to cover more ground in less time. For professionals, this means they will be able to finish each job more quickly, and move on to the next one. For the rest of us, this simply means we will be able to finish our weekend lawn care chores sooner and get back to relaxing with our families more quickly. In either case, more speed is always better.

There will not be a lot of difference between the top speeds of entry level and mid grade mowers, both of which tend to top out around six or seven mph. Semi commercial zero turn mowers move the needle up a little bit, and generally top out at about eight or nine mph. Commercial mowers really raise the bar in this area, however, and clock in at up to thirteen or fourteen mph. That difference can allow you to cut a lawn in less than 70% of the time it would take with a semi commercial mower, and almost twice as fast as with a mid grade mower. That’s a big difference.

2d. Controls

zero turn mower controlsWhile zero turn mowers have traditionally been controlled by dual levers, there have been some changes made in that area recently. The original and still most common means of controlling a zero turn mower is with two levers, each one controlling how much power was distributed to one of the two rear wheels. By keeping the two levers at the same power level, the mower turns in a straight line. Pushing one lever to a higher power level than the other will cause the mower to move in a curved line. And increasing the power on one lever while keeping the other at zero power will cause the mower to pivot on its central axis.

While this is a perfectly functional means of controlling the zero turn mower, it does take some getting used to, and some users may find it somewhat unwieldy. This control method is not entirely intuitive, although it does work well with practice. However more recent designs in zero turn mower controls eliminate the dual lever system in favor of an easier to use and more ergonomic joystick. The joystick also allows the user to keep one hand free while they are operating the mower. Joysticks are often much more responsive than dual lever systems, which also helps to improve overall maneuverability.

2e. Price

zero turn mower pricePrice is going to be a major factor when you are shopping for a zero turn mower, because these aren’t cheap. The most inexpensive zero turn mowers – entry level – still carry price tags of at least $2000. The most expensive commercial zero turn mowers will have starting prices of more than $5000. But it is also important to consider what you are getting for the price. More expensive semi commercial or commercial mowers will be built from more durable parts and will be constructed from welded steel instead of stamped parts. This means that over the long run, you will get more work out of them and not need to replace them as quickly.

So a more expensive zero turn mower can be a wise purchase if you intend to use it for a professional landscaping business, or if you are otherwise required to cut more than an acre a week. The more expensive mower will be stronger, last longer, and provide options such as a wider deck and more powerful engine. All of these aspects translate to savings over the long run, and depending how often you use it, you may find that the mower pays for the price differential in a year or two.

Ultimately, you should weigh the price of the machine against its abilities and strengths, and find one that is a good compromise between your wallet and your lawn care needs.