A well-cared-for lawn does more than enhance the curb appeal of your home. It prevents soil erosion, runoff of nutrients, and it filters air.
Frequent mowings also aid in starving off disease-causing parasites such as ticks. In addition, they prevent the growth of weeds as they leave no habitable places where these unwanted plants can encroach.
But despite these perks, taking care of a lawn is one activity that most homeowners find very tasking and time-consuming. To make this task easier, manufacturers have come up with a new breed of equipment called zero-turn mowers. This article explains how these machines work, and recommends a few models worthy of the best zero turn mower title.
How Zero Turn Mowers Work
There’s a lot of debate on when and how zero-turn mowers were first invented. It’s not surprising considering the profound effect they’ve had in the lawn care industry.
In particular, there are two opposing theories coming from Max Swisher and John Regier. These claims place the invention of this tool somewhere between 1956 and 1963. Unfortunately, we might never know who invented this piece of lawn equipment. We do know how it works.
The zero-turn lawnmower replaces the standard wheel of a riding mower with two levers, which connect to two motors and the rear wheels. A conventional lawnmower relies on its front wheels to turn.
Does the new mechanism make the zero turn mower harder to drive? On the contrary! Operating this mower is pretty simple.
If you want to move forward, all you need to do is push the two levers forward simultaneously. To drive faster, push the bars farther in the forward direction. And if you wish to drive it backward, simply pull the levers back. As with the forward motion, the farther back you move the sticks, the faster you’ll drive in the reverse direction.
What if you want to turn right or left? To move in either of these directions, you’ll manipulate one of the handles instead of both.
For instance, turning right requires you to push the left handle in the forward direction. Doing so causes one side of the mower to rotate faster than the other; enabling you to make a turn.
The Five Best Zero Turn Mowers
If you’re looking to mow your lawn in a practical, easy and hustle-free manner, the Z254 Zero Turn Mower by Husqvarna is an excellent choice.
It’s fitted with a powerful 26HP engine from Kohler, which can handle up to 2.8 acres within 60 minutes, going at speeds of 6.5 miles per hour. This makes it a suitable machine for mowing large areas within a short amount of time.
Another perk of the Z254 is that it’s fairly quiet- which is a real bonus if you’re mowing in the wee hours of dawn and don’t want to wake your neighbors. (We don’t recommend doing this often though – it’s still a gas-powered lawnmower.)
You can also tell that Husqvarna put a lot of thought when making the hydrostatic transmission. This component is aptly designed not to utilize hydraulic hoses, which means you won’t have to worry about leaks.
It also has a generous deck size of 54 inches, which can be adjusted between six positions. The cutting deck constitutes 3 cutting blades, each of which is made of 12-gauge steel for durability.
A great addition to this construction entails the 4 anti-scalp wheels that prevent you from messing up your turf when maneuvering on a bumpy terrain.
- Powerful; uses a 26 horsepower engine
- Ergonomic additions that make it easier to operate
- A large cutting width of 54 inches
- Fuel capacity of 3.5 gallons prevents frequent refilling
- Does not cut thick grass with ease
With its large cutting deck and padded seat, the Ariens IKON-X is our runner-up zero turn mower.
The machine has a 23 horsepower engine, which is slightly smaller than our first pick. However, it’s equally powerful as it averages a speed of 7 mph and 3 mph in reverse.
The cutting deck is also a bit smaller at 52 inches, and is fabricated from 10-gauge steel. The good thing about this construction is that it maximizes airflow, which translates to more precise cuts.
Better yet, the Ariens zero turn mower offers you 3 steel cutting blades. You’ll be able to select from 13 different cutting positions by simply turning a dial. We recommend using the 4.5-inch option for the first cut of overgrown grass and the 1.5-inch for the final finish.
Another reason why this mower is a favorite is because it can be used even on uneven terrain. The commercial-style hanging deck allows you to mow even on such bumpy surfaces.
- Multiple cutting positions
- The padded seats are completely adjustable
- Equipped with 4 support positions to prevent excessive movement when cutting
- Steel cutting blades for extra durability
- Design of the front wheels can be improved
If you’re looking for a zero mower with a really large cutting deck, the Husqvarna MZ61 is your best bet.
It has a massive 61-inch cutting deck, which is perfect for mowing areas with very tall grasses. This larger cutting deck also makes it suitable for tackling stubborn grass. If you factor in its adjustability, you have varying degrees of the quality of cut you want.
Under the hood of this monster machine is a Briggs & Stratton engine. If you’ve shopped for a lawnmower before, you’ve probably come across these powerful engines.
Based on this engine specs, you get an incredible 27 hp engine, which gives you a forward drive of 8.5 mph and a reverse drive averaging 5 mph. This translates to a coverage of 3 to 4 acres of land within 60 minutes.
The strong build of the Husqvarna MZ61 is another plus. Both the body and cutting surface are constructed using steel, making it one of the most durable machines.
Also important to note is that the mower comes with a high ergonomic seat and armrests for improved comfort. The armrests help to minimize fatigue on your arms during operation. Positioning the cutting deck controls on the pedals also adds to comfort as it makes them easy to access.
- High speed and efficient
- Equipped with a powerful 27hp engine
- Adjustable height for the cutting deck
- High seat with vinyl padding for utmost comfort
- Too bulky for some applications
If you don’t mind splurging on a highly-advanced zero mower, the Swisher ZTR2454BS is just what you need.
One thing that sets this machine apart is the proprietary rapid response control system. What this means is that you can navigate it using unique joystick-style controls. These are not only more responsive than the conventional lap bars but also more comfortable.
But even with such a system, the might of any zero mower lies in the engine. Luckily, the Swisher doesn’t disappoint in this aspect either.
It’s fitted with a 24 HP engine from Briggs & Stratton. This engine is powerful and it runs very quietly. Best part is: the manufacturer has incorporated a digital hour meter, which alerts you whenever you need to perform maintenance on this engine.
As for its mowing task, the Swisher has a 54-inch cutting deck that’s made from fabricated steel. You will also find 3 Gator mulching blades, which eliminates the need to purchase a separate mulching kit.
- Patented rapid response control system for seamless mowing operation
- Comes with a large 8-gallon fuel tank which reduces the number of refills required
- Operates very fast reaching speeds of 8 mph in both the forward and reverse drive
- Comes with its own mulching kit
- The bigger tank is also a drawback as you’ll spend more refilling the tank
- It’s the most expensive in our review
The Troy Bilt Mustang 54 is a zero turn mower designed with versatility in mind. It can be integrated with a dozen attachments to make it more functional and efficient. These include a bagger, mulching kit, and tire chains.
Equipped with a 54-inch cutting deck, this mower will help you mow a large area in a short time. The deck is constructed from 13-gauge aluminum and consists of dual blades that have been highly optimized to mow flat areas.
The Mustang 54 also sports the Intek V-Twin engine from Brigg & Stratton. The engine, which is gas-powered, requires a fuel capacity of 2.8 gallons. This is relatively small compared to other models.
On the brighter side, it’s one of the easiest to access and maintain. This is made possible by the filters, which are strategically positioned for easier access and changing. Even better, the filter replacement process does not require any tools.
The engine is also fitted with an overhead valve to prevent it from overheating. This addition also contributes to fuel efficiency and durability. Also worth pointing out is that the engine is easy to start and runs fairly quietly.
- A powerful and efficient engine
- Deck wash port that makes it easy to clean up grass clippings
- Easily accessible controls
- The 18-inch high seat has dual suspension to provide a smooth ride on bumpy surfaces
- Huge cutting deck mows larger areas within a short period
- The front panel incorporates cup holders, fuel tank indicator and a standard hour meter
- The cutting deck is not the most durable
What to Consider when Buying a Zero Turn Mower
When shopping for any type of mower, the size of the cutting deck should always be your first consideration. With a larger cutting deck, you’re able to cut all the grass with just a few passes. This saves you both time and money.
The good thing about zero turn mowers is that a majority of them have large cutting decks. This, coupled with the zero turning radius, gives you a major boost in operation speed and maneuverability.
However, it’s important to determine just how big a cutting deck you’ll need. Some mowers like the Husqvarna MZ61 has a 61-inch cutting deck. With such a large cutting deck, you can also tackle stubborn grass with ease.
But if you’re not dealing with a big plot of land or thick grass, a 50 to 54-inch deck will do the trick. Keep in mind that the bigger mowers will also need larger storage spaces.
Apart from size, the type of deck is another aspect you should keep in mind. You have two options to choose from: a stamped or fabricated deck. The stamped deck consists of a single piece of steel whereas the fabricated is made up of several pieces of heavier plate steel.
Each type has its fair share of merits and drawbacks. Fabricated decks boast excellent rigidity and durability.
Stamped decks, are lighter, and have better airflow. Given these attributes, fabricated decks are often used in commercial mowers while the stamped models are fit for mulching and bagging.
Engine Size and Horsepower
Another aspect that can help you narrow down your options is the size of the engine. As you’ll see in our reviews, zero mowers have different engine sizes, and subsequently, they differ in the amount of horsepower they generate.
If you’re purchasing this mower for commercial applications, you should go for the largest engine size you can get. But if you’re getting one to mow your residential property, an entry-level zero turn mower is enough.
Apart from use, the kind of grass will also determine the engine size. If you own a large lawn with thick stubborn grass- the likes of St. Augustine or Bermuda grass- a larger engine size will come in handy.
The reason for this is that smaller engine capacities struggle to cut the thick grass. If you use a smaller engine, it’s going to mow very slowly. Worse even, the mower will be worn down pretty fast because it’s constantly cutting tough grass. This translates to more repairs and pricier maintenance.
In addition to the engine size, you might also want to account for the type of engine. There are two main varieties: single cylinder and V-twin.
Though they’re more affordable, single cylinders generate less torque; hence they’re more suited for light residential applications On the other hand, v-twin engines offer more torque and better gas mileage.
If you’re a landscaping professional, your goal is to mow every lawn in the shortest time possible and move onto the next job. But even for the rest of us who are not landscaping experts, finishing a mowing task quickly means we have more time to relax or spend it with family.
Thus, another factor to consider is the speed of your zero turn mower. In particular, an entry-level mower will have less speed than a mid or semi commercial-grade mowers. The first two categories of mowers reach speeds ranging from 6 to 7 mph.
The semi-commercial mowers move a notch higher and they average 8 to 9 mph. However, commercial mowers are the ones that really raise the bar as they reach 13 mph. Though this seems like a small difference, it enables you to spend up to 70% less time than it would take you with a semi-commercial model.
It’s easy to get caught up in talks about speed and horsepower and forget about comfort. But this is just as important a factor.
If your property is that big to warrant using a zero turn mower, chances are that you’ll be spending dozens of hours operating the machine. If you’re not comfortable navigating it, you’ll get fatigued quickly.
So what features determine how comfortable you are when mowing the lawn?
With the seat, it should be covered in good fabric and have a higher back. These two features enable you to sit for long hours without experiencing fatigue. More importantly, the type of fabric used determines the amount of vibration you’ll feel during operation. A good seat is one that has cushioning to absorb a significant amount of these vibrations.
In some models like the Ariens IKON-X, armrests are a standard feature. However, these are not included in other zero turn mowers like the Husqvarna, which means you’ll need to buy them separately.
- Steel chassis
Zero-turn mowers that come equipped with premium-quality steel chassis are a better option. The chassis keeps the machine steady, and this translates to fewer vibrations and less noise.
Traditionally, zero-turn mowers have been controlled using a dual-lever system. Each of the two levers controls how much power goes to each of the rear wheels.
By keeping these levers at the same level, you can steer the mower in a straight line. If you need to turn right/left, just push one of the levers farther than the other.
The good thing about this system is that it’s highly responsive and makes navigation less tedious. But it has a couple of drawbacks. For instance, it takes a while to get used to it and some homeowners have complained that it’s slightly unwieldy.
To overcome these issues, manufacturers have come up with a better invention. I’m talking about the joystick-like controls found in models like the Swisher ZTR2454BS ZTR.
With this ‘joystick’ you can operate with one hand and keep the other free. Even better, it offers a more ergonomic operation than the push-and-pull lever system.
Even though I’ve listed price last, it’s a major aspect to take into account because zero turn mowers don’t come cheap. Expect to pay $2,000 or more for an entry-level model and up to twice as much for commercial-grade zero mowers.
That said, it’s wise to have a budget of how much you’re planning to spend on this affair. Once you’ve set the price, check the features of the mowers in this price range. Then, pick the one that offers the most value for your money.
If you’re getting a mower for your landscaping business or are required to mow than an acre every week, getting pricier mowers that have more features is better. Chances are, the more expensive mower will have a larger cutting deck, a more powerful engine and more ergonomic features.
Ultimately, weigh the cost of the machine against its strengths and weaknesses, and find the one that strikes a good balance.
Ease of Maintenance
Given that you’re spending your hard-earned money on such an expensive piece of equipment, you should determine just how durable it is. This entails taking its ease of use and maintenance costs into account.
Checking the length of warranty is a good place to start. Most mower manufacturing companies provide several warranties at once. One might cover the steel chassis while the other covers the engine.
Double-check the final print and establish whether the warranty covers the whole machine or just some of its parts. While examining this document, also check the length of warranty.
Keep in mind that different dealers offer varying warranties for the same product. Thus, you shouldn’t assume that a particular dealer will honor the warranty given by the brand.
You should also inspect the mower before purchasing it. This way, you can determine whether it has any flimsy elements that will need frequent repairs or replacements. Any part that’s too wobbly or made of cheap plastic is going to require a replacement sooner rather than later.
If you’re purchasing online, inspecting might be a little difficult. But then you can always go through other customer reviews. If the mower is raved for providing years’ of service, then it’s a worthy buy.
Zero-turn mowers are highly versatile. Many homeowners consider this equipment the workhorse of their properties. But as we’ve seen, these mowers are created differently.
A few of them are fitted with additional features to increase their functionality. For instance, some mowers come with mulching attachments, which are either built-in or available for purchasing separately.
If mulching is an important function, then look for a mower with this extra feature. A good example would be the Swisher ZTR2454BS, which mulches as it mows.
Another component that comes in handy is a zero mower that can double up as a snowplow. If you live in an area that’s always snowing, this accessory can be very useful as you won’t have to buy a separate snow blower or shovel.
What do you mean by ‘zero turn’?
Zero Turn means that the lawn mower’s turning radius is zero inches. In other words, you can make 180 or 360-degree turns without having to move forward or backward. The ability to make turns without making unnecessary movements enables you to cut more efficiently and cleanly.
It also means that you can mow in a shorter time as you’ll be able to navigate around obstacles with ease.
How do you stop a zero turn mower?
These mowers are operated using levers or handles. So to bring the machine to a halt, all you need to do is ease back on the forward push, then pull them all the way back to the neutral point. If you need to make a sudden stop, you can also use the parking/emergency brake that’s usually located on the right side of your seat.
Why are zero turns’ pricier than traditional mowers?
Zero-turn mowers are more expensive than traditional tractors because they are well-rounded. They have bigger cutting decks, more powerful engines and stronger frames; not to mention, they use steel in places where you’d find plastic construction.
Some zero mowers also have a dual-hydrostatic transmission, which enables the rear wheels to be operated independently. This type of transmission results in a major cost difference.
On the plus side, the long-term savings you get from using this piece of equipment are higher than its upfront cost.
Are zero-turn mowers only meant for large yards?
No, they aren’t. Though they’re mainly recommended for professional landscapers and homeowners who have large plot sizes, they can also be used on small yards. What’s important is that you choose the right deck size. For a small lawn, a 30 to 40-inch cutting deck is all you need.
How do zero turn mowers fare on slopes?
This is one of the few drawbacks of using a zero turn mower because it’s not suited for all slopes. In particular, experts recommend that you avoid operating them on slopes of more than 10 or 15 degrees.
These mowers rely on the back wheels both for traction and steering. When you drive it on a steep slope, the machine can easily lose its balance causing you to topple over.
Another point to keep in mind is to avoid using this mower on wet surfaces. The moisture on your lawn causes the wheels to lose traction and slip easily.
Zero-turn mowers remain unmatched for their power, maneuverability, and pace. These attributes make them ideal for mowing very large areas. Unlike other models, they can pivot 180-degree, allowing you to cut grass with precision.
If you’re looking to invest in one of these machines, the Husqvarna Z254 Zero Turn Riding Mower is a reasonable choice.
It has a wide cutting deck of 54 inches, enabling you to cut more grass with fewer passes. It’s also fitted with a powerful 26HP engine and has ergonomic features that make it easy to operate.