Zero Turn vs. Tractors: Pros and Cons

Reader “Craig” writes…

Can you discuss the pros and cons of a zero turn mower and normal tractor style mower?

Let me start by saying that I am not not an engineer. I don’t know the thread pitch of the engine mounting bolts for every Zero Turn known to man or the chemical composition used to make the vinyl seat covering material- so all you “Literal Larry’s” out there, just turn loose of them computer clickers and relax. We’re gonna do an overview here…so settle down.

When I think of zero turn mowers, four things come to mind: Turn radius, speed, maneuverability and cost.

TURN RADIUS

Tractors drive and turn much like the average rear wheel drive automobile. When you turn the machine,Snapper-Garden-Tractor the rear wheels move in tandem; continuing to push the mower forward with the front wheels determining the direction. On the average, you’re looking at around twelve feet (give or take) of space required for a complete 360 degree turn. This can result in a lot of backing up or second passes when cutting the grass.

With a zero turn mower, the rear wheels turn independent of each other, with the outer wheel (depending on which direction you are turning) continuing to drive forward while the inner wheel either remains motionless or reverses direction. This allows the entire mower to Snapper-ZTRpivot near the center of the machine, allowing for a very tight turn radius. This can help with thorough cutting with fewer passes, but can be a little overwhelming for anyone not used to it.

SPEED

The average tractor style mower will cruise along at a blistering 3-4 mph while most consumer grade zero turn mowers will burn up the lawn at a whopping 5-8 mph. Now, this is a general estimate and truly relies on several factors including engine size, transmission and serviceability.  But for the purposes of this discussion, you’re not getting anywhere fast on either of these. So, when it comes to factors like attachments (pull along carts, de-thatchers), we’re looking at slower but easier to control.

Zero Turn mowers, in my experience are geared towards getting a lot of grass cut as quickly as possible. When you have to get the south 40 cut by lunch time, a Zero turn is the machine for you. Heck, Dixon (the late great blue beast) said it best “Cutting Hours into Minutes”.

MANEUVERABILITY

If your lawn consists of a couple of shade trees and lots of open ground, you may find a tractor to be the machine that is right for you. They tend to be narrower than most zero turns, ideal for moving through existing garden gates. Plus, some folks just like the steady, front wheel control of a tractor style mower. Easy to turn, easy to back up. The down side may be the multiple controls often required to advance, reverse, change gears, etc.

However, if your lawn is home to the 38th Garden Gnome brigade and their squadron of pink flamingo dive bombers, you may want a machine with a little more maneuverability. The Zero turn mower puts the rear wheel drive control in two “row boat” style control handles. There are a few joystick models as well.

Getting around all those trinkets and obstacles can end up costing valuable time. And the last thing we want is to run into that washing machine you’re gonna fix any day now…again. And while your standard zero turn is great on the straightaway as well as the obstacle course, the potential downside is declines.

Upide-Down-Mower

 

Ditches, is what I’m saying.

Zero turns tend to “nose down” on inclines of 15° or more. Wet grass can cause your front end to slide into a nose dive along the gravity express. Too steep of an incline and we could be looking at a very real chance of roll over. Notice the stretcher and the paramedic and the fact that he doesn’t appear to be “in” a ditch. The roll bar probably helped, but the impact was enough to snap off the front caster wheel.

COST

There are always multiple factors determining cost. With mowers, we’re looking at mower size, deck size, engine size, bells and whistles, and of course branding. Is this intended for residential or commercial use? Will your neighbors be jealous when they see you on that shining, majestic beauty?

A 32″ zero turn can run around $2500, whereas for the same money, you could easily land a 42″-50″ tractor style mower. Then there’s this beauty, which will only cost your dignity.

Future-Mower

You can shift that decimal point as far to the left as you want with these things, but before you break out the check book, here are…


A FEW THINGS TO CONSIDER

Lets keep this simple. Lawn mowers do two things. They cut the grass and the move the clippings. I’m not against change. Heck, there are lots of fun stuff out there to pimp yo’ ride.

I just happen to believe that most people don’t want to be suckered into paying for “shiny” and “plastic” when it does nothing to improve the function of the machine.

Let me put it into an equation:

Unique parts + breakage = unnecessary expenditure

I’m a big believer in Consumer Reports as a reliable source of information for the consumer. Another great resource for research is Popular Mechanic. And for all of the latest, up to date information on what’s new in the industry, including the latest in safety and innovation, check out our good friends at Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.

Finally, the most important thing to consider: Support.

When it comes time to fix the thing (and it will come time to fix it), will your dealer stand by your side or toss you out in the cold? If you believe a sales receipt will seal the deal, you may be new to this whole reality thing. So, do your homework. Find a reputable dealer with a solid service history and a machine with easy to understand operations and easy to find parts diagrams.

Regardless of what you choose, with a little information you may just turn this thing around!

HA!

-Bill Brown

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Bill Brown

Bill Brown

Bill is the head of content creation for the LawnMowerPros Blog and DIY section. He’s been in the Outdoor Power Equipment Industry for years and he’s still learning new things everyday. You can often find him creating featured articles, DIY guides, videos, graphics and much more.