Zero-Turn Mowers: Faster, Easier Mowing

Speedy and agile, zero-turn mowers make mowing effortless.

| April/May 2007

Using a machine perfectly suited to its task gives a certain special pleasure. For my first 35 years of mowing lawns, I never felt that pleasure. Every riding mower I used was clumsy, frustratingly slow and occasionally dangerous. Then I rode a zero-turn mower.

Today’s zero-turn mower is based on an ingenious steering mechanism that controls the direction of travel by operating the rear wheels with two small hydrostatic transmissions. The wheels can be driven in the same direction at varying speeds to make a gradual, precise turn, or they can turn in opposite directions, causing the zero-turn mower to spin, literally, on a dime.

If you’re accustomed to a lawn tractor, the zero-turn mower’s wonderful nimble handling may be a little unnerving at first. Some zero-turn mowers have two big handles in front of the driver, controlling the forward-backward motion of the rear tires. Others have various one-hand control options, most of them operating on the same principle. A few models of zero-turn mowers use a joystick to control the direction and speed of travel. All of them change direction very quickly. And because they operate at higher speeds than most lawn tractors or conventional riding lawn mowers, you’ll definitely want to practice on an empty stretch of lawn before you take a zero-turn mower along the flower bed.

Once you’ve got a feel for it, though, the zero-turn mower will take you as close to the flower bed as you’ve ever gone with a mowing machine. You’ll probably save 15 percent to 45 percent of your mowing time, thanks to the machine’s speed and maneuverability. And if you’re a neat-nik, it may even eliminate the need to trim. The zero-turns we tested were far easier to control in a tight space, once we got used to them.

Smart Shopping for Zero-Turn Mowers

You’ll find lots of different zero-turn mowers to choose from, wherever you live. Zero-turn mowers generally cost anywhere from $3,000 up to $10,000 for a commercial-grade model. A hefty price — but a worthwhile investment for those who maintain large, high-maintenance lawns.

As with many machines, one of the first decisions you’ll have to make regards horsepower. Most zero-turn mowers have typical lawn mower engines in the 18 to 25 horsepower range. We’ve always been very skeptical of these ratings. To us, it seemed like the 18 horsepower model from one manufacturer performed a lot like the 25 horsepower model from another. We recommend finding a few experienced, trustworthy dealers and getting their recommendations. Often, models with larger motors also will have nifty add-on features.

Todd Gwaltney
4/9/2012 7:52:10 PM

Zero turn mowers really do save time, I've heard some folks say they've cut a third out of their mowing time, some people say they've cut even more. Mowers Direct has a lot of the zero turn mower brands you mentioned, and they have some helpful user reviews too.

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