When they began to take hold in the professional lawn care market, they held a sort of mystique in the eyes of the average do-it-yourself “Joe grass-cutter”. The funny looking machines with the engine in the back, undersized front wheels, and no steering wheel were sure making a good impression on those of us used to performing lawn care with the old lawn tractor. It didn’t take very long and the want/need for one of these machines for the homeowner went viral. I’m glad that it did, because as the demand increased, home models became available and the price fell. The day of the lawn tractor is over. The time of the zero turn is here.
The engine is in the back of the mower so as not to obstruct view. You can see exactly what you are driving over making it easier to avoid hazards like roots, stumps, baseballs, etc. Moreover, the engine is larger compared to similarly sized lawn tractors, giving more power both to the blades and the wheels allowing for equally as clean cut lawns at greater speeds.
However, the greatest advantage is clearly its ability to turn on a dime, literally. Instead of a steering wheel, there are two levers to control speed and direction. Zero turn mowers pivot on the back wheels with the use of hydraulics. Pushing both levers forward causes the mower to move forward, while pulling them back causes it to reverse. The farther you push in either direction, the faster you go. To curve right, you push the left handle farther forward than the right handle, and vice versa if you want to curve left. You can also spin around completely in place by moving one lever forward and pulling one lever back with equal force, in which case you’ll be pivoting the mower around the central point between the two drive wheels. This ability is where the name comes from. It has a zero degree turning radius. Zero turn mowers allow you to cut grass in tight spaces and effectively cut close to trees and other objects in your yard. Eliminating much of the need for weed eating (this fact alone making it worth every dime) saves valuable time on lawn care.
The machines are designed from the ground up to cut grass in the most efficient manner possible: No more cumbersome steering wheel, greater visibility, no more clutching and shifting, higher speeds, and more accurate steering. All of the above provide huge time savings, and any chance you get to spend less time in the South Louisiana summer heat, take it. Additionally, if you still have the need for a pull behind trailer/wagon or grass sweeper, there are dozens of aftermarket attachments compatible with zero turns.
While increased efficiency is the greatest advantage, the greatest thing overall about these mowers is that they are just plain fun to drive. There is a slight learning curve associated with driving and getting used to the controls; the operative word there being “slight.” The novel concept of the steering controls makes them incredibly easy to drive.
The only negative that is apparent is the increased price over the traditional lawn tractor. For machines of similar size, you can expect to pay anywhere from a $500 to $1000 price premium for the zero turns. In my humble opinion, the increased price is worth the time, sweat, weed eating saved.
There are seemingly dozens of manufacturers seeking market share these days. Do your research, read reviews, drive and cut grass on a few, and get the one you like the best. My personal favorites are John Deere, Scag, and Dixie Chopper. The latter two are more geared toward commercial use, but if you have a large yard (5+ acres), then they are definitely worth looking into.
~ Andrew S. Mendheim