If you don’t know how to drive a small zero-turn your lawn may end up looking like wild hogs played soccer on your lawn.
Do you need a zero-turn mower?
Update 2021: Almost three million people have read this article over the last 8 years. There have been some significant changes made to homeowner zero-turns in the last three years so it’s time to update this article!
In this article on zero-turn mowers I am going to:
- Help you determine if a Zero-Turn is what you need.
- Help you determine if a residential zero-turn is what you need.
- Help you determine if a landowner zero-turn is what you need.
- Tell you the real truth about saving time with a zero-turn.
I like zero-turns! I have owned many over years from a 30 inch Dixon to a $45,000 Kut-Kwick Super Slope Master. They are fun and enjoyable to use.
But they are not for every yard. Please read this entire article to see if a zero-turn mower is for you!
When you decide that a zero-turn mower is the best choice for you check out this article: The Best Residential Zero Turn Mowers 2021
Is a Zero-Turn what you need?
Everyone has been trying to tell you that a zero-turn mower is what you need to mow your lawn. The advertising tells you that you can mow your lawn in half the time. The dealers tell you they have the best zero-turn mower. But zero-turns or a brand from your local dealer may not be the best answer you. Why? Because you have to learn how to drive one so you can mow your lawn without tearing it up. Many versions especially the inexpensive, homeowner models do not work on slopes, ditches or hills. They are designed to mow healthy, flat lawns and little else. If you work them too hard the drive systems may fail prematurely. They are more expensive than lawn tractors to buy and they can be more expensive to repair. A 42-inch residential zero-turn that uses the same deck as your $1800 lawn tractor is $2800 or more. A good estate (landowner) zero-turn that will actually cut your mowing time in half is anywhere from $3200 to $7,000. So, let’s go through the facts and fiction about zero-turns.
Zero turns are made for one purpose only, mowing grass. They mow quickly and will save you time trimming around obstacles. A 42-inch residential zero-turn is NOT designed to pull things. Yes, some have a hitch and you can pull a small yard cart or spreader but you will destroy the transmissions in them if you try to pull loads of dirt, firewood, or a leaf vacuum regularly. (There are models with heavier transmissions that cost $4000 and up) Most are not balanced properly to use baggers on slopes and require expensive counterweights in the front.
Am I an Expert at Zero-Turns?
Yes and No. I was one of the first commercial lawn care businesses in the Chicago area to start using zero-turns back in the early ’90s. By 1996 I was using crews of 2 people with zero-turns to do more work than my competitors were doing with crews of 7 using conventional Toro Groundsmasters and commercial walk-behind mowers. I have owned zero-turns as small as a Dixon 30 inch and as large as the $45,000 (Kut-Kwik SuperSlopemaster.)
I have hundreds of hours actually driving zero-turn mowers. I am particularly fond of stand-on models. Many of the problems with zero-turns that I will caution you about I have experienced myself. I have had them slide down slopes and into ponds. I have knocked the decks completely off from hitting obstacles too hard. I have owned a few that I would NEVER recommend to anyone and a few that are the best mowers on the market. Currently: I sold the lawn care business a while back and moved to Iowa but I still use zero-turns on my own yard. Here is a collage of mowers I have owned over the years: Mowers I have Owned
I am not an engineer, but I can talk about the physics and practical reasons why zero-turns act the way they do. I’ve known many of the original engineers over the years (for example, Dane Scag and Gary Kunz) and we have spent many hours discussing the fine points of mowers. For example, a 2-inch shift in where the engine is located on a residential zero-turn means a 50% difference in traction, steering and digging up your yard. I can explain why the original Dixon ZTR was one of the best residential zero-turns and why it’s no longer made.
The real truth about saving time with a zero-turn.
The general advertising states you can cut your mowing time in half using a zero-turn mower instead of a traditional riding lawn tractor. That is partially true.
– The maneuverability of zero-turn mowers allows you to easily mow around trees, flower beds, and other obstacles in your yard more easily than a riding lawn tractor. Not having to back up and go forward or making multiple circles around a bush does save time. Compared to a conventional lawn tractor like a Craftsman or John Deere, this can save you a lot of time.
-There are two styles of residential zero-turn mowers, mid-mount, and front mount. With mid-mount zero-turn mowers, the deck sits under the mower, like a lawn tractor. They are the most common but they do not eliminate trimming completely. In fact, they leave just as much grass to trim as your conventional lawn tractor. Front Mount zero turn mowers, where the deck sticks out the front of the unit do trim better than your old lawn tractor. They will get under fences, under bushes, and around poles easier and faster than mid-mount ZTR’s.
-Residential zero-turn mowers under $3000 typically use the same decks as lawn tractors. What that means is they don’t mow any faster in a straight line as a good yard tractor. The time savings comes from their ability to turn around faster and make tighter turns when trimming. Most residential zero-turn mowers over $3400 have fabricated decks and are designed to cut grass faster than traditional lawn tractors. With a fabricated deck zero-turn, your straight-line mowing speed is improved. When you move up to these higher-priced units you will see significant time savings. For example, a typical lawn tractor cuts at a speed of 3-4 mph. A residential zero-turn will cut about 3-5. If you spend the extra money to buy a landowner grade though you can increase your mowing speed to 6-8 mph.
– So where does the advertised time savings really happen? Once you learn how to turn your new zero-turn without making holes in your lawn you can “zero-turn” on the ends of your long open areas. When you get to the end of your yard and turn around to make the next pass, you can literally spin 180 degrees and come right back without having to back up and cut the strips of grass you would miss when making the turn with a lawn tractor. No more three-point turns.
When you are just mowing large areas back and forth even the residential zero-turns save time on the ends this way. There are also advanced techniques like the “reverse-zero turn-forward” maneuver that will cut seconds out of each turn-around. Over a full day of mowing, those seconds can really add up.
In summary, Inexpensive residential mid-mount zero-turns do not cut better or trim closer than lawn tractors. But once you move up to the fabricated deck models your speed and efficiency increase and you can see significant time savings. With heavy-duty transmissions, tall rear tires, and 48-54 inch fabricated decks designed to mow at 6-8 mph you can easily reduce your mowing time by half or more!
Time Savings – Residential Example:
I’ll use my lawn as an example. I have a one-acre flat lawn with over 40 trees, and other landscape features to mow around:
- Using a 22-inch walk-behind it takes me about 3 1/2 hours to mow and trim.
- With a conventional 42-inch lawn tractor I can cut that down to 1 1/2 hours. About 20 minutes of that is trimming.
- With a 42 inch mid-mount residential zero-turn I can mow my yard in less than 1 hour. About 15 minutes of that is trimming!
- With a 42 inch Walker Front Deck Rider I can mow the lawn in about 45 minutes. About 5 minutes for trimming.
Time Savings – Commercial Example:
Cemeteries have a lot of trimming. A typical job that requires 40 man-hours using conventional lawn tractors can be reduced to 25 man-hours with commercial mid-mount ZTR’s and even more with a front deck zero-turn. The main time savings is mowing speed and maneuverability. Trimming takes about the same amount of time. By switching to front-mount ZTR’s that original 40-hour job can be reduced to 15 hours. Both mowing time and trimming time is reduced.
Is a residential zero-turn really what you need?
Limitations for all small residential zero-turns.
Small zero-turns can be fun and can save you time mowing your yard but they may not be the best choice for you. For example, an entry-level Craftsman Zero Turn is a good dependable zero-turn mower but half the reviews I read are negative? Why? Because the owner did not understand the limitations of a residential zero-turn, not because the machine is bad. If those reviewers had purchased any other brand they would say the same things about them.
Mother Earth News is another good example. They compared a $2400 Craftsman against zero-turn mowers costing $6000 to $17,000 and then rated it poorly without explaining the differences.
Consumer Reports also wants you to be very clear about the limitations of small zero-turns and specifically cautions about using a zero-turn on slopes.
1. If you have never owned a zero-turn there is a learning curve. They are easy to use and will save you time, but it will take you a couple of mowings to get the most out of your mower. Be very careful when you first start so you don’t slam the deck into trees, foundations, rock walls, etc. Practice going around objects closely with something that will not damage the mower before you go out and mow your yard. Take the plastic garbage can, a 5-gallon bucket, or a bale of hay and practice trimming around them at first. If you think you are getting good, lay a bag of dog food, a sack of flour, or sugar on the ground and see if you can mow around it without ripping it open. Learn to keep the zero-turns rear wheels moving when practicing these maneuvers. Letting the inside wheel stop when turning will tear up your lawn.
After you master the art of driving one there are advanced driving techniques like the reverse zero-turn that will decrease your mowing time even more. These techniques are easy to learn.
2. Small zero-turns ride rough. On your typical mole-infested lawn most women have to wear a sports bra to be comfortable driving one. You need a zero-turn that weighs over 700 lbs before they start to smooth out. Even then, many of the higher weight, higher cost zero-turns also mow faster so the ride gets rougher again. More and more brands are now offering thick suspension seats and suspension platforms that smooth out the ride. The Toro MyRide is one of the best.
Note: It’s actually pretty common for people’s hands to go numb on a ZTR. You are not used to holding your arms out and having the weight of your arms resting on your fingers. That’s why many come standard with armrests. Try wearing wrist braces and do some strength exercises for your wrists and fingers. You can buy medical wrist braces at your pharmacy or sports braces at the sporting goods store. They both will work for you. Squeeze a tennis ball for a few weeks can help too.
3. Small zero-turns that are weighted so they won’t pop wheelies going uphill, but will easily get stuck in sand, mud puddles, and loose soil. If there is no turf, the front casters of a small zero-turn will plow into the soil and get stuck. Mid-priced zero-turns use larger front and rear tires that eliminate the problem.
4. If you can lift the front end of your zero-turn by yourself don’t try mowing up a hill with it. There is a fine line between designing a small zero-turn that will turn in loose sand and one that won’t tip over backward going up a hill. Brands of small zero-turns that will turn well in loose soil usually won’t go up a hill without the front wheels coming off the ground.
5. Zero-turn mowers in general don’t turn well going downhill and small zero-turns will not turn going downhill. With wet turf, drought-dry turf, and even good turf, the rear wheels can’t always get enough traction to turn the unit when it’s pointed downhill. Slow down before you go down the hill or mow the hill diagonally going down. When mowing with a small zero-turn across a slope they have a tendency to slide down the slope. This can be very embarrassing and very deadly when you slide into the pond or you slide off the lawn and over a landscape wall. NEVER, I repeat never mow a slope with a pond or drop-off at the bottom of the slope. Aways stay two-three mower widths away from the pod or drop-off. Even the most expensive ZTR’s can lose traction and slide down the slope. Plan on using a walk-behind mower or creating a nature area for those types of slopes.
Steering wheel ZTR’s are better for slopes. They will turn as well or better than your lawn tractor. They also handle slopes better than lawn tractors because both rear wheels are driven all the time.
6. Small zero-turns may tip over backward going uphill. They are much worse with a bagger attached. A good rule of thumb is to try backing up the hill with your zero-turn. If the rear wheels lose traction and start to spin the slope is too steep to mow up. If you have a walkout basement mow the slope diagonally – going downhill! Yes, it takes more time, but it is safer.
7. Small zero-turns are delivered with too much air in the tires. Read the manual and adjust the air pressure to 12-14 lbs.
8. Small zero-turns push hard when the engine is not running. The two transmission release levers may be in front of the transmission instead of on the rear frame like your yard tractor. There are two release levers. Even with the transmissions released they can still be hard to move. If you have to move one without the engine running I find that tying a piece of rope to the front of the zero-turn and pulling it is easier than trying to push it around.
9. Small zero-turns will tear up your lawn. The least expensive ones have rounded tries and tend to dig into your turf easily. Wider, flat tires work the best.
10. Small zero-turns do not have good traction. The turning traction is all on the rear wheels. They can be hard to turn on dry grass or wet grass.
11. Many retailers and most dealers have a 30-day return policy. You have a very short window to decide if you bought the right mower.
12. Many cheap zero-turn mowers do not mow in reverse. They will zero-turn (pull one lever back to rotate one tire in reverse while the other tire goes forward) but the deck shuts off when you pull both levers back. I don’t recommend disabling this feature.
13. Small zero-turn mowers will tear up and scratch anything behind them. I have a hitch on my Dixon ZTR and my wife has had it stuck in the chain-link fence around the dog yard dozens of times. Look for a zero-turn with a rounded rear frame. Also don’t buy a small zero-turn where the engine sticks out farther than the rear frame. If you get too close and hit something with the rear you can easily damage your engine.
14. Residential zero-turn mowers should not be used to pull anything over 200 lbs. Most zero turn mowers under $3000 use Hydro-Gear EZT transmissions are not designed to pull a yard cart full of dirt, a sweeper full of green grass, or especially a leaf vac. That is why most of the cheaper models do not come with a rear hitch. The transmissions are designed to give you years of use mowing your yard but they will burn out quickly if you try to pull loads like a yard cart filled with dirt or a leaf vac. If a dealer tries to tell you his zero-turn can pull a leaf vac and the mower is priced under $3000 ask him to include a lifetime warranty on the transmissions. If you would like a more detailed explanation just ask in the comments below.
15. Be very careful if the zero-turn only has great reviews. There should be reviews where people bought the wrong machine and didn’t like it or didn’t understand how to use it. Note: If the unit only has great reviews I would suspect there are paid reviewers writing the reviews.
16. Zero-turns are finish cut mowers, not field/pasture mowers. Even the $5000 to $14,000 commercial models are designed to mow your lawns beautifully but there are very few that work well on grass/weeds over 6 inches. The long grass can wrap around the components underneath (spindles) and ruin the bearing or cause enough drag to burn out the deck belts. They don’t like stumps, rocks, dirt mounds, or ant hills any better than your lawn tractor. If you want to mow the pasture when the grass is over 6 inches you will have to mow the same area at least twice.
Note. Pastures, fields, paddocks, and timber with grass and brush taller than 12 inches require a rotary cutter (bush hog) or rough cut mower. Yes, I know many of the mid-priced ZTR’s appear heavy duty enough but please don’t blame the mower or the brand when your mower requires $500 worth of repairs because you needed to mow your horse pasture. I will always suggest a rough cut mower like the Acrease rough cut or a tractor-mounted “Bush Hog” brush mower to mow pastures and fields.
17. This bears repeating: NEVER, I repeat never mow a slope with a pond or drop-off at the bottom of the slope. Even the most expensive ZTR’s can lose traction and slide down the slope. Plan on a walk-behind mower or nature area for those types of slopes.
How do you actually drive a zero-turn?
If you have never driven a zero-turn before they do take some practice. If you don’t learn to drive it properly you will tear large divots out of your lawn. Why? Zero-turn mowers do not have a differential and it is up to you to keep the wheels moving when making a turn. If you allow one wheel to stop during the turn it skids and digs a hole in your lawn. This divoting is made worse on the cheaper residential zero-turns that have cheap rounded tires installed. Lawn tractors have a differential that allows one rear wheel to travel at a different speed on a turn. In other words, it allows the inside wheel on a turn to slow down but continues to roll so it does not tear up your lawn. Depending on you and the zero-turn you are using it can take 5 minutes to 5 hours to become proficient.
Here is a video of how a differential works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F40ZBDAG8-o
How exactly does a zero-turn mower save you time compared to a lawn tractor?
Still undecided? Here is another article to help you: The Best Zero Turn Mower Buyer’s Guide – The best ZTR for you is not that hard to figure out..
Is this enough information? When you decide that a zero-turn mower is the best choice for you check out this article: The Best Residential Zero Turn Mowers 2021
Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below.
06 Diane Blackwood
I have planted a few thousand seedlings on about 30 acres for wind block and wildlife. Unfortunately, I cannot get there as frequently as I should and the grass/weeds can get tall between mowing. Slope categories up to 6-12 degrees. I want to mow around trees, use roundup and then wood chips to reduce weed competition. Some plants are as close as 7 ft apart – too close for me to use my Farmall 706 and rough cut rotary mower – can mow the more open areas with that. Ground is semi-rough. Any recommendations? Friend suggested Dixie Chopper. Her pastures have some rough spots, but are mostly flat, and only have a few shade trees.
Hi Diane, While Dixie Chopper is a good brand it is a Lawnmower and not designed for the heavy-duty work you want to do. I suggest a front deck mower like the Grasshopper FrontMount. These mowers are designed for heavy-duty work and the out-front deck allows you to get under and around trees a lot easier.
If you would like to replace your Farmall (I own a Super H) and have a machine that can do multiple tasks I highly recommend VenTrac. The Ventrac has many accessories including decks that will make short work of mowing your seedlings and replace your Bushhog for all mowing. With a few additional attachments it can completely replace your 706.
Grasshopper and Ventrac are both sold through implement dealers and their websites both have dealer locator pages to help you find your local dealer.
I have a Gravely 48” ZTR which I love except for one thing. It throws up a cloud of dust on a dry day that makes it hard to see and I am filthy by the time I get finished mowing my 2 acres. Is there a ZTR or another mower you recommend that throws the least amount of dust in the air
Hi Michael, You didn’t mention which model you have so I’ll be a little generic. Almost all mowers – especially mowers with three blades will kick up dust if the lawn is dry. Stamped decks, like those on a Craftsman lawn tractor, are the worst. The deeper the deck the better they are at throwing dust out the discharge instead of out the front. 5 or 6 inch deep commercial decks are the best.
Hope you’re well. My brother in law actually just got a 35 acres land/ farm (It’s mostly flat) and he is looking for a lawn mower. He also has a tractor and he’s thinking to get a attachment like “https://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/product/countyline-round-back-rotary-cutter-5-ft-rbrc502cl-1359331”
In your opinion, is that okay or he should be getting a zero-turn Mower instead, and if so do you have recommendation? Thanks in advance.
Hi Joe, No, a zero-turn is not the right choice for this kind of work unless he wants it all to be a “perfect” lawn.
A rotary cutter is a much better choice. A couple of things to consider with the rotary cutter.
1. Tractor size. 25 HP should have a 4 ft cutter, 25-40 HP tractor should have a 5 ft cutter and a 40-100 HP tractor can handle a 6 ft or larger cutter.
2. Type of cutting to do. Is going to cut down brush and brambles? The Tractor Supply model is not the best choice. The Tractor supply model is a light duty mower and it can handle grass and brush up to one inch. If he has heavy, tall grass, weeds, and brush up to 2 inches he should look at rotary cutters that cost 2-3 times more than the TSC. Bush Hog is a good brand of heavy-duty mowers. Have him check with the farm store where he bought the tractor to get a good rotary mower.
ZTR and slope question
So my regular lawn service mows all the slopes on my property. My wife just allowed me to buy a John Deere Z930M 60″. It will not mow the slopes on my property, nor, even get close to a few of them without me feeling like I’ll tip over, and I definitely slide some on it. They use 60″ Exmarks (no other info). Other than that I love the new mower, and it does a great job on the rough areas that were cleared last year and this year.
You earlier recommended a Cub Cadet LT3 because I wanted to tow some items, but the Z930M says it has a towing capacity of 400 pounds. Any opinion on an aerator twice a year followed by towed spreaders for lawn care and overseeding or a leaf sweeper being too hard on it?
Finally, I found out that a 1600 pound mower going over a groundhog den got stuck when the rear wheel dropped right in. Fortunately my wife was close by with a four wheel drive to help pull it out while I drove it so as not to hurt the transaxles. But I definitely will stay the heck away from that part of the yard close to a stream!!!
Hi James, I don’t recommend the Z930M very often just for the reasons you mentioned. Yes, It’s a very heavy-duty mower and will last a long time, but the weight distribution is a lot different than an Exmark or Walker mower. It has a lot of front end weight so it mows flat areas well and gives you a smooth ride but it does not have great traction for slopes and gets stuck quicker than most other commercial mowers.
Hello, Paul. With 950 comments and no search field (that I noticed) I was unable to get answers to my problems in a timely manner. May I begin by saying that I live on top of a ridge that falls off on three side leaving me with very little flat ground. I am also heavily wooded, probably 50 trees on the mowable acre. Finally, I have a wicked grade change for the walk out lower level of about 40 degrees that is about a 10 foot slope 30 foot ridge. The remainder of this slope that is about 15 feet wide is at an angle of about 10 to 15 degrees leading to a drop off. Can it get any worse? Originally, I paid little mind mowing the back yard with the dreadful slopes until the growth reached four or more feet in height. Now, I mow it regularly, but I significantly multiply the times I face the challenges.
I suspect that I will be the laughing stock of many of your readers when I say that I haven’t found anything to replace what I currently use. Get ready… Snapper RERs. I have had two, both purchased used and except for two issues, they have been beasts. The first mower came with the front edge of the deck cut away to blade height. This allowed me to drive into 4 and 5 foot high growth. The frame and deck would bend the grass over and the blade would cut very effectively like a scythe. I was very hard on this unit and after many years as a second owner using the cut away deck, I finally twisted out the crank. I replaced this with a second Snapper, without the cut away deck and the change necessitated my mowing that part of the lot on a weekly basis.
My attraction to these mowers was the low center of gravity, crucial for my lot. Even so, I had to design and build front end weights, about 40 lbs to stabilize the unit. Chains on the drive wheels are an absolute must. My current unit is fitted with a Kohler 14hp Commander, electric start. Strong. The unit is about as close to zero turn as I can get, easily running around trees. The steerable front wheels keeps the mower on track along the slopes. The mower easily/quickly changes speed on the fly. Unfortunately, there are two major issues that plague me. 1) The most serious is that the twisting frame design that allows all four wheels to remain on the ground on rough terrain also allows the front and rear sections of the mower to slip toward each other. This releases tension on the belt drive, which stalls out the unit blade and drive wheels. 2) The small diameter front wheels will not steer the mower effectively. The weights are a double edged sword. They increase stability, and turning, but sink the small tires into the ground.
I have looked at many of the zero turns, but there is very little information or offerings on narrow units, low seat center of gravity design, steerable front wheels etc. For example, the Cadet Ultima comes with steering and narrow 30 (?) cut, but the center of gravity is too high for my liking.
After my long explanation of curses, do you have any recommendations? Should be a very small field of choice. Regards, CJC.
PS. While writing this comment/question, I discovered that the Snapper RER is being brought back. I am not surprised. If there has been any improvements on the frame slippage and wheel options, I may go for a third. As I mentioned earlier, the unit is a beast, almost impossible to break.
Hi CJ, Based on your explanation there are only three sit-down ZTR’s that may be able to mow your slopes. All the rest of the zero-turns are unsafe for slopes over 15 degrees.
1. Walker Model R. It has the lowest center of gravity of any residential ZTR. Go to the Walker website, request a demo, and they’ll come out and help you decide if the Model R is a good choice.
2. Cub Cadet Pro Z 972 – 72 inch deck. Can handle up to 30-degree slopes
3. Kut Kwick SlopeMaster 60 inch. Can handle up to 45-degree slopes.
Ride-ons. The Snapper RER was a beast. It was built to last and there are many still running today. Unfortunately, I highly doubt the new model will be built like the ones you own. To get that quality today Briggs would have to charge around $3000.
1. There is only one ride-on that I can recommend for your slopes. The AS-Motor AS 940 Sherpa 4WD XL is used around the world to mow the steepest slopes. Many ski resorts use it to mow in the summer because it’s bout the only mower that will climb up and down the ski slopes.
2. All residential 30-36 inch ride-on’s are only rated for 10-degree slopes.
Stand-on’s. Stand on mowers 48 inches and larger can handle slopes well. The nice thing about them is if you get in trouble you can just step off the mower and let it crash down the slope. DO NOT buy a stand-on smaller than 48 inches. The 32-36 inch models can’t handle slopes.
1. My favorite, affordable stan=on is the BRADLEY 48″ STAND-ON COMPACT MOWER BRIGGS COMMERCIAL TURF. This mower is very affordable and built by a small company that I trust. Bradley mowers have been around since the early 90’s so even though you probably never heard of them – it’s a great machine.
There is one walk-behind mower that I really like for slopes. The Toro T-Bar mowers allow you to use only one hand to control the mower so you can walk alongside of It when the mowing is steep. If you can’t mow it with anything else the Toro T-bar will do it. Toro T-Bar mowers
Hi Paul-I am a homeowner looking to buy an Exmark Radius E ZTR. What is your opinion on the newest 48 in Radius E with the Kawasaki FR691 motor? It is priced at $5999 but with the discounts it is $5299 at my local dealer. I want to add the suspension seat which brings it to $5598. Should I look at the Radius S model with the discounts will be $6099? Will I notice a difference in the Kawasaki FR vs FX motors and the ZT2800 vs ZT3100 transmission? My yard is fairly flat and approx 1/2 acre. Thanks
Hi Pam, The main difference is the Radius E has a residential-grade engine and transmission while the Radius S has a commercial-grade engine and transmissions.
The difference is the residential components are designed to run 1-5 hours a week and last at least 10 years while the commercial components are designed to run 30-40 hours a week and last at least 10 years. So for only another $500 you are getting an engine and transmissions that will last 10 times longer.
Do the normal yearly maintenance on the Radius S and it will be the last mower you need to buy.
Thanks for your response. Unfortunately due to limited supply, I can only locate the Radius E with the Kawasaki FR691 motor and ZT2800. Looking at my land survey my lot is 0.25 acre. I definitely want a solid machine. My local dealer can order the Radius S with a 2 month wait time. Should I wait for the Radius S or purchase the Radius E?
Hi Pam B. For your size property, the Radius E is a very good choice. With the supply issues the industry is having that 2 months may easily stretch into 6 months or longer. While the Radius S is a true commercial mower the Radius E will last you many years without any issues whatsoever.
Hi Paul – I noticed the Radius E comes with 2 blades at 24.5 inches instead of the 3 blades at 16.5 inches. How will this impact the cut quality?
Hi Pam, No. The blade tip speed is the same for both designs so they both cut the same. If you ever want to put a bagger on it the longer blades actually help throw the grass into the bagger better.
Hi Paul I went to the dealer to purchase the Exmark E and I noticed scuff marks on the outside deck, yoke, and a couple of other places. The dealer said its normal to happen during transit because they are transported in a metal crate. He said he could use spray paint from Exmark and it should be fine. Is this normal to happen? I don’t want to buy it if it has issues. He states these are cosmetic marks.
Hi Pam, yes this is normal. Even when they deliver it they may scrape the bottom of the deck taking it off the trailer.
If they are just scuff marks you can rub them out with Turtle Wax polishing compound. (get it Walmart or your hardware store in the automotive wax section) If they are scratches you can apply car wax to them and they won’t show rust.
Thanks for your help Paul! I will get the Radius E.
Paul, picked up my Toro Timecutter 54″ w/ MyRide a few days ago…. it is fantastic!! Thanks so much for your time. I am genuinely impressed with the MyRide seat.
My wife and I are soon to be closing on a new build home. Its going to be approx. 8000 sq ft of TTTF or KGB/TTTF mix – yet to be determined.
Its a walkout with one side pretty steep and the other still steep but less so, the final grade isn’t done and its a muddy mess so i haven’t measured the angle.
I liked the idea of one of the Cub Cadet steering wheel zero turns based on your discussion of how they handle hills but am not at all opposed to a tractor, even a good upper end used tractor.
Will any of the steering wheel ZT’s handle hills and or allow me to pull a small sprayer trailer, mount an electric spreader?
Would your recommendation be a 4 wheel drive tractor, a 2wd tractor with diff lock, a sub compact tractor, or a ZT with addition push sprayer and spreader for applications.
I’m in central Iowa so I have dealers for Cub Cadet, Husqvarna, Toro, Grasshopper, Exmark, and probably more (Gravely?).
Hi Matthew, 8000 sq ft. Is right on the edge for mowing it without a riding mower – if you like to walk. You can easily mow your lawn in less than an hour with Toro TimeMaster and get a perfect cut.
That said, walkouts can be tricky. I strongly recommend mowing down the slope. In other words, start at the top, mow down the hill, drive back around on the more level area, and then down again. It takes longer but that will keep you safe. (NEVER mow up the slope) If you mow it that way any ZTR like the Toro Timecutter Model 75746 will work well. This Toro is nice because it has the really good fabricated deck and Smart Speed. You can put the speed selector in tow and never have to worry about overheating the transmissions when pulling stuff.
If you want the Cub Cadet I recommend a 50 inch model RZT SX 50. The mower’s stance is wider so it will handle the slope very well. The steerable wheels in the front help to hold it on slopes.
Finally, the Ariens IKON XD and Gravely ZT X are two of the “stickiest” ZTRs on slopes. The larger 20 inch rear tires give them the traction to mow on slopes other residential ZTRs just slide down. And – they mower well too! Check out my video of the Ariens 2020 Ariens IKON XD Mowing Review
Matthew R Bono
Thanks Paul, always appreciate some expert advice. I’ll plan on mowing downhill in all cases.
I’d considered a Timemaster but thought it might be of value to have a smaller push mower should I need to mow between fences or transport it, also for storage and I’d rather spend the extra on a rider.
Speaking of push mowers, mow slopes down, across or diagonal?
I’ll check out the review videos, glad to hear I have options.
Would these pull a plug aerator, or is that too ground engaging?
Hi Matthew, Yes, they will all pull and 42-44 inch aerator, yard cart, spreader, etc.
NEVER mow downhill with a push mower. It’s too easy to slip and fall under the mower. Diagonal or across is the best.
The TimeMaster takes up no more room lengthwise than a push mower and it’s only 9 inches wider. Of course, I have a video showing you how big it really is:
I have had a Simplicity tractor for 18yrs with no issues. Now at 50+ yrs I am looking to a zero turn to get done faster. I have about 3/4 of an acre that is mowable. I am looking at the Simplicity Courier. They dealer recommends the 42″. Is it worth the extra $800 for the 48″ with the rear suspension or is that an overkill?
Hi J.R., No, it’s not worth it. The rear suspension helps you with the bumps but may cause your lawn mowing to look wavy. The deck is tied to the frame so when the rear moves up and down – so does the mower deck.
Paul, I have a 1 acre yard that is about 1/2 lawn and 1/2 heavier bladed fescue and field grass (never more than 4-6″ tall). Not too many obstacles but alot of three point turns. The field portion is low lying and is typically saturated well into may/june. I don’t usually start mowing until then as even with a lawn/garden tractor its not really doable without making lasting ruts. Once June/July hits it really drys out and becomes stable. I regularly deal with moles but always knock down the hills before I mow but it definitely contributes to a bumpier terrain in the field portion.
Given my site conditions, do you think a ZRT would be right for me to decrease my mowing time of 1:45 or so? I work long hours and have little kids so even getting back 20-30 minutes each mow would be worth it to me. I see you’ve mentioned Toro as being a model with notably good ride comfort, should I be looking that direction? I was intrigued by the “bad boy” brand’s claims regarding a strong welded frame and deck. I currently have a stamped metal riding mower that just feels like its made of plastic so that seemed like an attractive proposition for a long lasting machine.
What would you suggest? I’m looking to stay at or below $5000. Thanks for your time and knowledge
Hi Conrad, If you want to save time I recommend a ZTR in the 48-54 inch size.
The only mower brands that don’t have a “strong welded frame and deck” are Husqvarna Residential and John Deere residential. The rest including Toro all have very stiff welded tube frames.
Would you please look around your area to see what brands dealers carry? There are at least 20 brands that make a mower that will work well for you. I’d hate to recommend a mower that you have to drive 50 miles to get repairs and parts for.
I’ll wait for your reply.
Paul, The local dealers offer John Deere, ExMark, Toro and Husqvarna. Thank you for your time.
Hi Conrad, I recommend the Toro Timecutter with 50-inch deck or the Exmark Quest S Series. The Toro dealer will have the Timecutter with a Toro, Kawasaki, or Kohler engine. The Exmark will have an Exmark engine. All four engines are good and I have NO preference between the four. In fact, other than the deck, the Exmark S and Toro Timecutter are the same machines. (The Toro deck is a little more rugged but the Exmark deck cuts a little better)
If you really want a Deere you will have to go up to the Z500 series to get the same performance and durability. (starts at $4000)
I don’t recommend Husqvarna ZTRs at this time.
Paul, thank you for your time. Your knowledge is invaluable. I will donate to your site.
Hi Conrad, Thank you!
Hi Paul, I have an Ariens Zoom 2350 and I am hating this zero turn mower. It won’t start and when it does it starts hard. Have replaced numerious parts, batteries.
My wife and I are master gardeners, need something for garden, snow, grass, leaves, bolders, stumps, etc. Best bang for the buck! Thank you. Robert
Hi Robert, Have you ever tried adjusting the choke cable out on the engine? 90% of starting problems as you described is because the choke is not closing all the way.
That said, I won’t have any information on the 2021 mowers for a couple of months yet. But, in the meantime watch these two videos.
David G McDaniel
A few months back you had ask what dealers I had in my area and you could suggest a good ztr for my parents 32 acres. I had expressed interest in a tow behind but mow my parents want to get rid of there lawn tractor and get a ztr. I have Jacks Saw shop which sell Gravelys. Maccon Ford tractor which sell Toro. Macon outdoor sell Bobcats and Hustler. a Big boys dealership and my dad has a John Deere dealership that he deal with near his house. Thanks!
Hi David, you would be happy with a Gravely Pro-Turn Z, Toro Titan with MyRide, a Bob-Cat XRZ™ Pro, 700 series Deere, or a Hustler Fastrak. I’d stay away from the Bad Boy for your application.
I suggest stopping by each dealer and tell them what you want to do. Then pick the mower (and dealer) that you like best.
Hi David, I strongly recommend that you do not buy from TSC, Home Depot or Lowes. The mowers they sell are not heavy-duty enough for your application. Check out Gravely, Toro and ExMark first. You want a mower with ZT3100 or ZT3400 transmissions.
There is only one pull-behind I recommend. It’s the Acrease Rough Cut by Kunz Engineering.
They have the right hitches for your mower so that you can pull it offset Their mower is a heavy-duty mower and they have the experience to set you up with the right model.
Gary and Matt specialize in pull-behind and they’ve been making mowers since the mid-90’s.
Contact them and they’ll help you find a dealer or ship the mower right to you. (Check out my finish mower setup I used for my large properties: Two 60 inch Acrease Wing mowers behind a 60 inch Great Dane. 15 acres and hour!
I’m curious as to how I will be able to connect the pull-behind to the tractor with a bush hog already connected to it. To get it to pull right beside the bush hog or connect the pull-behind to the bush hog and have it offset from there? I know how the offset works but how do I connect it to the tractor. Thanks!
Hi David, I thought you were going to hook it up to a ZTR. Anyway, Acrease makes an adjustable hitch that you can bolt onto a rear corner of the bush hog. Take a look at the picture in the last comment and you can see how to stagger the rough-cut to the bush hog.
Hi Paul , My father has 32 acres that he has been cutting regularly( like a regular lawn) for well over 20 years. So its not over grown any where or too bumpy. Most of the land is just a field but there is a good bit that has a lot of obstacles. He uses a tractor and 84 inch bush hog and a john deere lawn tractor. The john deere is having issues with the belt coming off. My brother says it takes around 8 hours with the bush hog and another day with the john deere to get it cut. Would it be worth it t get a ztr? I will be cutting it probably the most often and I live 2 hours a way so I would want to get as much done as possible in a day. What do you recommend? Thank you!
Hi David, A good 60-72 inch commercial mower ($8000+) can mow 5 to 6 acres an hour. Let me know what lawn equipment dealers there are in the area and I can help you find one that will work well and last a long time.
With having to mow approximately 2.5 acres with about 80 trees what mower will stand up to all of the turning over the years? Is there anything specific I should look for in a commercial grade mower? I am just seriously tired of spending almost 4 hrs of time trimming every time before I mow.
Hi Cris, I suggest a 50-52 inch zero turn mower. The deck sticks out the side of the mower enough that you can get a lot closer and it will save you a lot of trimming.
That size deck will cut your mowing down to about an hour.
I have an article with the best mowers in that size here: 2020 The Sixteen Best 48-52 Inch Zero Turn Mowers
My top three choices are the Toro TimeCutter, Ariens IKON XD and Cub Cadet XT2
I appreciate the reply. I currently have a 54″ which works fantastic as far as cut width. So I do plan on staying around that range. I’m not sure a CVT trans would hold up to years of constant turning on the ZTR. There are very few straight runs on my property. If the hydro gear is a better option in durability how are they on maintenance? I’m not looking to break the bank but I know I’m looking at around 5-8 thousand for a good mower. Just making sure I go in with as much knowledge as possible. Thanks again
Hi Chris, Yes, the ZT 2200 (EZT) transmissions are a little light for 54 inch deck. Troy-Bilt and John Deere can get away with it because their mowers are very lightweight and don’t go over 6 mph.
But if you want trannys to last and want to mow over 7 MPH you’ll need ZT 2800, ZT 3100, or ZT 3200. The ZT 3100 and 3200 are commercial rated.
Check out this article: 2020 The Sixteen Best 54-72 Inch Residential Zero Turn Mowers. There are a few that I recommend in your price range.
Pamela M Barber
I am trying to decide if a ZTR is right for me. I have 0.25 acre lot but it is very strenuous on me. I have developed a slight case of asthma and allergies that make it more difficult to mow the yard. Currently, I have a Toro self-propelled push mower. Does it make sense for me to purchase a ZTR mower? I am looking at the Toro Titan 75311 (48″) only because I want something that will last me for years to come. I have researched several ZTR mowers and I like the build quality of this mower. Please help!
Hi Pamela, With a little practice you’ll be able to mow your lawn in about 12 minutes!
Is it overkill? Yes. Will the mower last? Yes, you should be able to get years out of it without ANY problems. Just sharpen the blades every other year, replace the belts every 5-7 years. Use Synthetic oil and change the oil, oil filter, and air filter every two years. Keep it fairly clean and it will last 20 years!
Pamela M Barber
Thanks the response Paul. Is there a different ZTR that you feel is more suitable?
Hi Pamela, you would be quite happy with any of the zero-turns in this article for your sixe property: 2020 The Thirteen Best 42-46 Inch Zero Turn Mowers
I’ve been driving myself nuts reading reviews and trying to understand what it is that I really need, would appreciate any guidance. I have a house on a 2 acre lot in Texas, so I’m looking at a 7 month or so mowing season and I’d like to “buy once, cry once”. The back half is mostly flat scrub, while the front has 15-18 trees to maneuver around. There is also a drainage ditch that is dry most of the time. It’s approximately 3 feet deep and 6-7 feet wide with a slope of around 30 degrees or so. I’d like to spend $3500 or less, and I think a zero-turn is what I’m after but I’m not 100% certain. I’ve been looking at models made by Gravely, Ariens, Cub Cadet, and others, and now I’m feeling some of that good ol’ analysis paralysis. Your site has been incredibly helpful, and any input would be great. Thanks!
Hi Mike, Riding mowers are designed to mow 15-degree slopes or less. 30 degrees is almost too steep to walk up so you may have to mow the ditch bank with a walk-behind mower or string trimmer. That said,
For your size yard and the possibility that a zero-turn can mow your slope, I suggest a 50-52 inch size. This gives you the best tradeoff between stability and getting the lawn mowed fast. A 60-inch mower is too wide and the mowers are too light for one to stay on any slopes over 15 degrees.
For the longest life, I recommend a zero-turn with the ZT 2800 transmissions but that puts you a little over your budget.
My first choice, the Gravely ZT XL is about $4200. You may also be able to find last years Ariens XL for a little less. (This year’s Ariens XD uses the lighter ZT 2200 trannys)
The second choice is the Ariens XL. It is last year’s model and you may be able to find it for a little less at a dealer. (This year’s Ariens XD uses the lighter ZT 2200 trannys)
The third choice is the Cub Cadet ZT2 50 Ultima Series. It’s right in your price range and the only reason I’m listing it as third is that the Gravely/Ariens 52 inch fabricated decks cut taller grass a little better than the ZT2 fabricated deck. If you let that scrub grass get over 12 inches you may have to mow it twice to get a clean cut with the Cub Cadet. If you are mowing off 2-8 inches this deck is great. You can get this ZT2 50 directly from Cub Cadet if you don’t have a local dealer. Cub Cadet ZT2 50 at Cub Cadet
Thanks Paul! I talked to my wife last night about other things we might want to do besides mow the lawn, and she’d like something that is capable of moving some mulch and pulling a small trailer, so I’m taking a hard look at the ZT2 50. Appreciate the input!
Hi Paul, I have about 0.33 acres to mow. Obviously the house sits there and a good size driveway. We had an acre in the past but recently downsized. Interested to see if you think I should go with a zero turn or a lawn tractor for the new property. I’ve used a 42” Toro Time Cutter and a 60” Toro as well as a 60” Dixon years ago. I like the zero turn, but not sure if I’ll need it with the smaller acreage. Curious of your recommendation on zero turn v. lawn tractor.
Hi Brett, A zero-turn will give you the best cut and will mow a lot faster than a cheap lawn tractor. If you buy the base model Toro Timecutter it will last you years. The Toro42″ TimeCutter 452cc Zero-Turn Riding Mower with Smart Speed, Model 75740 actually will handle a yard cart and other tow-behind tools better than a cheap lawn tractor. I love the sound of a V-Twin so the Model 75742 is also a good choice: Toro 42 in. 22.5 HP TimeCutter Commercial V-Twin Gas Dual Hydrostatic Zero-Turn Riding Mower with Smart Speed
Thank you! I’ve always been partial to the zero turn, but only used for mowing. I was not sure the zero turn could handle the yard cart as well as a lawn tractor. Was looking at a decently priced lawn tractor as well, not super cheap. There is a pretty decent sized slope in the back yard so that was also a concern. Thanks for your response.
Hi Paul – great site!! Thanks for the all the information.
I recently purchased a used Gravely ZT 52 HD and really like it, but it has Kenda Super Turf tires in 20×10-10, and they’re not very good for soft, wet areas and for my slopes (up to 20 deg). I’m looking at two options: 1) Carlisle AT101 Chevron in 21×11-10 and GTW Barrage (golf cart tires) in 20×10-10. Both have plenty of load capacity for my machine and should provide better traction, although I’ll have to be more careful about turns so as not to tear things up. The Carlisles are designed for zero turns, but require some machine modifications for clearance (1/4″ wheel spacer, raise the gas tank 1/2″), because they’re bigger; the GTW’s will fit directly. Which do you think will provide better traction? If the Carlisles are better, are they enough so to justify the hassle of the slight mods? Thanks for your help.
Hi Andy, I’d go with the GTW Barrage tires. They are self-cleaning so they won’t fill up with mud and they are bi-directional so they’ll give you traction if you have to back out of a mud hole.
Changing the tank location and making spacers is too much work. Bar tread(Chevron) really only works for farm tractors working in loose dirt or cut way down for hard clay tractor pulling.
Thank you, Paul. Do any of your sponsors sell them? If so, post a link, and I’ll check it out. If the price is decent, I’ll buy from them.
Hi Andy, The S240 and X series are dealer only mowers. Thanks, But, Don’t worry about it. I make enough here.
If you want you may send a few dollars to PayPal Paul Sikkema. The money will go to running this website.
Good morning sir, Great Article
How do you feel about John Deer Z355R 2020 Model? It’s going to be for personal use. I have a acre of land pretty much flat.
Hi Elvis, I talk about the Z355R in this article: 2020 The Sixteen Best 48-52 Inch Zero Turn Mowers. It has one of the best cutting decks on the market. The Z355R has the most options like armrests, etc. so it’s really the best of the Deere 355 series. For a one-acre flat lawn it is a great choice. Home Depot Link: Z355R 48 in. 22 HP Gas Dual Hydrostatic Zero-Turn Riding Mower
Thank you so much for your response. I would like your input on another mower I fell in love with. I think I am leaning this way. 2020 Toro Timecutter My ride 75745. I went to look at the J/D and a few days looked at the Toro and Omg what a beast looks well built and very sexy. What’s your input?
Hi Elvis, I have a complete article on the Timecutter here: Toro Introduces New 2020 TimeCutter Zero-Turn Mowers.
I’m glad you found the Toro. The Timecutter with the fabricated deck, smart speed, and MyRide make it twice the mower as the 300 series Deere. Everything about the Toro is better, built stronger and the mower will last you many years.
This is the question I was looking for, comparing Toro versus John Deere. The manufacturing warranty is substantially different. Toro is a 3-year, unlimited use; whereas Deere is 1-year or 120-hour use, whichever comes first. I do have a slope in my front yard with a 4-foot drop followed by a 3-foot ledge, followed by another 3-foot drop (think the stone walls in New England). There is a 3-foot gap and the slope is less than 15 degrees the closer you get towards the wall, but the previous owner put in a ton of mulch beds, only a half acre. I am going from the city with about 3,000 square feet of yard with a 22″ deck Ryobi electric mower (awful). I’m hoping the Toro 22.5 hp commercial or the 452cc will do the trick, what would you prefer?
Hi Timothy, The Toro has better traction than the Deere so it will handle those slopes better. I prefer the V-Twin. It’s smoother running and will last longer than the single-cylinder 452cc.
Personally I mulch my leaves and when I get too many then pick them up with a sweeper. But if you want a perfectly clean law a bagger is the way to go.
Thanks a bunch. Your site was very informative, and saved me a lot of time and energy looking at various models. If you are able to see my email I would love to get you a gift card somewhere local to you.
Hi Timothy, Thank you! If you would like to support the work I do here directly you may use this link: PayPal/PaulSikkema. Money collected through PayPal will only be used to improve the experience on this site and purchase demos for testing and review. PayPal does not charge a fee for this transaction so any amount is always appreciated.
Your article has been extremely informative. I grew up in the Chicagoland area and now live in south Mississippi. I’ve been looking into purchasing a ZTR for sometime but the options are endless. Currently, I have a regular riding mower and live on about 2.5 acres. I regularly maintain about 1 acre and the rest is a “field”. I’d like to maintain it once I get it roughcut again. This said, I want to purchase a ZTR that can serve my needs but that I could also use for side work. I figure if I am going to get into a ZTR, I might as well make it worth it and have a side business since I own the other professional tools already. Do you have any specific suggestions for deck width, brand, and/or model? I don’t want to go “full professional” but I also don’t want a consumer level mower. Also, while our terrain isn’t significantly hilly, there are some areas that have slight slopes (less than 15 degrees). Thanks!
Hi Jon, If you are going to mow your lawn and others I suggest a 48-52 inch deck on a high-end residential model. That gives you a great cut, but small enough to fit on most yards. Personally, I’d recommend a mower with ZT2800 trannys minimum – ZT3100 and ZT3200 trannys are considered entry commercial.
Most mowers in the $5000-7000 range will mow well and be tough enough to last a few years doing 20-30 lawns a week.
Brands: If you are mowing for others the biggest thing to look at is your local dealer. If your mower has an issue or you need parts a good dealer will get you back running fast. Exmark, Toro, Scag and Gravely are the top four. Bad Boy, Walker, Hustler, Country Clipper, Cub Cadet Ultima XT, Cub Cadet Pro.
Briggs has Ferris up for sale so I’d stay away from that brand right now. My local Deere dealer is a lot more interested in selling $500,000 combines than mowers – but that’s just my area.
Local Sears store going out of business. They have this mower. Should I buy it?
Have they had problems with it?
Hi Charles, A few things to help you decide.
1. You will be able to get parts for it from SearsPartsDirect.com
2. The mower frame is actually wider than the deck. You will be able to trim from the left side only.
3. Retail was about $3200. I hope you can get it for a lot less. (under $2000?) The 2020 Cub Cadet is $3599.
4. They did not have any problems with the steering and transmissions. But, like most mowers made by MTD in that time-frame (2012-2015) many of them had problems with the deck drive belt coming off a lot. MTD went through and fixed all those small irritating issues last year and the 2020 Cub Cadet is a better choice today: 42 in. 679 cc Fuel Injected (EFI) V-Twin Engine Dual Hydro Gas ZeroTurn Riding Mower with Steering Wheel Control
5. I personally own an ExMark 42 inch steering wheel ZTR and I like it a lot. It’s similar to this mower. I really like it because my wife can drive it without tearing up the lawn.
Thanks for all the Help! I am moving out to GA and my new house is on about 3 acres cleared with no trees at the moment, essentially in a field. No stumps or major slopes, just natural land. I am new to the Tractor/ZTR realm and everyone says ZTR all the time. After reading your article it made me think if a ZTR was needed. Im not looking to make it pristine and flawless just looking to keep it manageable and natural back there and neater in the front and not spend my entire Saturday on it what would you suggest. Since I’m new to this I’m not trying to break the bank either.
Hi Erik, The decks on most lawn tractors are not designed to mow grass over 6 inches tall. In addition, lawn tractors don’t have a heavy enough frame to last mowing rougher ground. You’ll need a garden tractor and they start around $3200.
So, If you are not going to mow the back every week, I strongly suggest a ZTR with a fabricated deck.
You can find a 48-54 inch ZTR with a fabricated deck from Ariens (Ikon XL), Gravely, and Toro (Titan) that will handle taller grass for around $4000-$4500. These mowers will last you many years.
Paul thanks for the Reply. Ive been looking around since then and I am definitaley concerned about quality of the machine and it seems people have pretty strong opinons about these machines. Ive seen the IKON XL 52 & 60 at decent prices. Im willing to look into the $6,000 range and i see the IKON is below. Is it less of a machine? I want something that will hold up. In that range what do you think?
Hi Erik, The IKON and IKON XL are 2019 mowers. For 2020 Ariens redesigned the IKON and now calls it the EDGE. The XL is now called the IKON XD.
So, the IKON XL and XD are built a lot stronger than the IKON/EDGE. The IKON XD is a great, heavier duty ZTR and is worth the extra money compared to the Edge. It has heavier deck hangers, heavier frame, better seat with armrests, (a must have) larger tires and better engines.
I currently mow about six acres here in southeast Texas. It is all covered in St. Augustine grass and has a minimum amount of trees. The problem is that it was formerly a cow pasture and has many high and low spots that will test a mowers frame (just broke the frame on a Husqvarna LGT2654). I don’t really need a zero turn mower because there is no way I’m going to mow fast so is there a good garden tractor that has a frame that can withstand the abuse or should I go with a zero turn. I have a budget of about 4500 dollars. THANKS.
Hi Steve, About the only “garden tractors” that have frames that will handle your lawn are the Cub Cadet XT3, Simplicity Prestige and John Deere 500/700 series. Except for the Cub Cadet though they are a lot more than $4500.
If you buy a ZTR in the $4500 range you’ll never go back to a garden tractor. They cut a lot better and actually will ride better. In that price range, they all have frames that are 2-3 times tougher than any Garden Tractor on the market.
I don’t have a lot of preference with the ZTR’s in that price range. The Ariens APEX, Gravely ZT-HD, Hustler Fastrak, and Toro TimeCutter HD are all good choices. If you want the best ride and a ZTR that will last you a long, long time the Toro MyRIDE® TimeCutter® HD is the best choice. Yes, it’s more than $4500 but you’ll be amazed at how well it rides and how fast you can mow your property.
Thanks for the quick reply…..time to do some shopping!
I know many horse people that really like their dixie choppers for mowing horse pastures. But at least some of those do mow at least every 2 weeks or so.
Great article, Paul. Thanks for all you do.
We are about to purchase a new home on 2 flat acres with lots of large-leaf oak trees to trim around (and bag). It will have nearly 1,000 ft of fence line too. It appears to be similar to the yard you describe above, only twice the size. Until this point in my life I’ve only used push mowers or small garden riding mowers. I’m experiencing sticker shock when I look at mowers now! Any counsel you could provide for a his situation would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance for your response.
Hi Mike, Yes, the quality has gotten a lot better in the last 10 years. That has raised the price somewhat – you get what you pay for. The mowers I recommend will all last you years.
First, I recommend a ZTR in the 48-52 inch deck size. It will allow you to get your 2 acres mowed in about an hour and the deck sticks out the side of the mower a little so it will be easy to trim along your fence. If your fence is chainlink or solid to the ground buy couple of gallons of premixed weed/grass herbicide. (ground clear) Spray a 6-inch wide band along the fence and you won’t have to weed-eat it all summer.
Second, do you really want to bag? You may want to consider mulching and using a lawn sweeper to pick up the leaves. Oak leaves are usually dry so they shatter when mulched and a good lawn sweeper will pick up that well. Baggers take time to install and take up a lot of space to store. A sweeper cost a lot less than a bagger and is easier to use. When you are not using the sweeper the hopper/bag can be hung up in the shed and the rest can stay outside. Here ar the lawn sweepers I recommend: Agri-Fab 44 in. 25 cu. ft. Tow-Behind Lawn Sweeper or Ohio Steel Professional Grade 42 in. 18 cu. ft. Lawn Sweeper
Third, I’m going to send you to another article: 2020 The Sixteen Best 48-52 Inch Zero Turn Mowers. In that article I recommend the Toro Timecutter, Cub Cadet Ultima XT1, and the John Deere for your lawn. Not on the list – I also recommend the Ariens Edge 52 (there is no bagger available for this mower)
Thank you for the quick response, Paul. Actually, I garden, and would love to collect the leaves for leaf mold to add to the beds. The smaller the leaf particles the better, so bagging probably isn’t the best idea. I just didn’t want to have to rake to collect them by hand, and I didn’t want them mulched back into the lawn. Lots of trees on the lot (40-50), and they are random – not in rows. Thank you again.
Really appreciate all of your knowledge. Thanks
I’ve just read your article and it has made me think; Do I really need, or is a commercial/landowner zero turn best for me (16. Zero-turns are finish cut mowers, not field/pasture mowers….)? I’m looking at an 18 acre parcel of land which is said to be free of any stumps or other obstacles which would require a tractor with a cutter. It is currently cut twice annually for hay. I plan on cutting it more frequently and maintaining it at 3 – 5 inches. I do not plan on using the zero turn until after the last hay cutting which will leave the field at 3 – 5″. Am I understanding what you’re saying in the excerpt of Comment 16 above to mean the zero turn would be appropriate?
I neglected to cover part of my question in the initial posting. I’ve been researching ZTR’s to determine which would best suit me. Not knowing the landscape, pun intended, I decided to look at reviews purporting to shed light on the best 5, or top 10 mowers. As you have stated these have their limitations, flaws, and their prejudices also. So far from what I gather a Gravely ProTurn 460, Toro 6000, eXmark X, Hustler Super Z, Ferris IS3200, and the Scag Turf Tiger II reign supreme. All of these are from main stream manufacturers and come with price tags exceeding $11,000.00. Finally, I also read your 2019 Buying Guide which I found very informative. I’m looking to capture some in between the residential ones you mention and the commercial ones mentioned from my other readings.
Can you recommend a few durable, strong and fast front-mounts which have riding comfort, a 7 gauge steel deck, and a 60-61” cut in the $4,000 to $7,000 range…if necessary up to $8,000? If that is too much to ask in a front mount, can you recommend some mid-mounts with the same criteria?
I should also mention I’m in North Central Alabama and the terrain is mostly open and flat to gently rolling/sloping, and yes, there is a pond to slope to.
I intend to cut 18 acres once per week. I correctly / incorrectly associate 27hp and 7 gauge steel to be the baseline for strong, and 5.5 acres per hour to be the baseline for fast…am I far off?
Hi Jeff, there are no front-deck ZTR’s in the $4-7000 range. The only ones worth considering are the Walker and Grasshopper brands. They start about $10,000
Hi Jeff, If you don’t let the grass get over 12 inches tall a commercial ZTR would do the job. The best cutting decks for taller grass currently are the Ariens/Gravely XL and Pro decks.
If you plan on only cutting it every month or less often I actually suggest an ACREase 57 inch Rough Cut Mower. They are the toughest pull behind field mower on the market and designed specifically for the type of mowing you want to do. You can pull it with your ATV or a ZTR with ZT2800 transmissions. I suggest contacting them directly and they can help you find the nearest dealer. I also suggest adding the optional Floatation Kit if you have ditches and berms to cut.
Thanks Paul, that’s really helpful.. Once I start cutting it it shouldn’t get to be more than about 6 inches if it rains bad. Otherwise it’ll be lower. Guess I’ll go with the Gravely since they have the 7 gauge decks. Am I putting too much into that? Which engines do your recommend between the Kohler, Yamaha, and Kawasaki?
Hi Jeff, They are all good engines but I would not pay extra for a Kawasaki or Yamaha. The Yamaha is the newest to the market, Kohler has the best reputation in this price range.
Hi Paul, truly appreciate your informative article! I am undecided between a riding lawn mower/tractor and a Zero turn and want your advise. My yard is .39 acre with a small front yard but a pretty good sized back yard for a city lot with 5 trees in the center of the yard and three evergreen trees at the rear of the yard. Both front and back yard are flat-level. I do not like to devote anymore ti e to cutting grass than I have to. I have NO experience with zero turn mowers. Budget for used riding lawn mower is roughly $1200-$1300, used residential zero turn $1800-$2000. I am leaning toward a riding lawn mower/tractor with with leaf attachment.
With the above information what is your professional recommendation for me between the riding lawn mower and a residential zero turn (used under $2,000.)?
Thank you for replying,
Hi Steve, Sorry, I’ve been busy making videos the last few weeks.
I don’t recommend used – especially lower-priced used zero-turns. You are buying someone else’s problems and have no warranty or recourse if you bought a dud. You can always expect to spend $200-500 on a used one in the first year. (blades, belts, tune-up,etc.) One transmission alone can easily cost over $1000 to repair.
You didn’t say how large the back was but I would recommend taking a look at a good new lawn tractor. For example, the Cub Cadet XT1 Enduro 46 in. 22 HP V-Twin Kohler Gas Hydrostatic Front-Engine Lawn Tractor at Home Depot gives you a three-year warranty, has one of the best mowing decks and will last you many years.
You don’t need a bagger right away. You can always mulch most of the time and if you get lots of leaves in the fall buy the bagger then.
Thank you for replying. The back yard is approximately .24- 29 acre. I so share your concern about buying a used zero turn or lawn tractor, particularly a used zero turn. If I did buy a used lawn tractor it would be a year old and from someone I know who just feels they have to have a zero turn.
Again, thank you!
I’m interested in a ZTR for my 1 acre lot. My grass if very think and if I have to go a week between mowing I need a mower that will spread the clippings out and not leave big clumps. My local dealer carries Gravely and Simplicity mowers. For around $3000.00 would I be better served with the Gravely ZTX-52 or the Simplicity Courier 48″ or 52″. Do you have a recommendation on which would serve me better?
Hi Bruce, The Gravely will do a much better job for you than the Simplicity Courier. You may also want to consider the Gravely ZTXL model. It has a deeper deck and will throw the grass a lot better for you.
I didn’t end up buying a lawnmower last year and have put it off till this year. I am ready to get a new zero turn mower, but I’ve done way more reading and the list of mowers that I’m thinking about keeps growing. Do you have any recommendations between the Gravely ZTXL, Kubota Z100, Scag Liberty Z, or the Toro Time cutter HD with My ride. I have dealers for all in my area and they are all priced in the same $4500 range. Any thoughts to narrow it down would be appreciated.
Hi Bruce, The Kubota is over-priced. The Scag Liberty Z is a very short mower with small tires. It’s great for homeowners with small, complicated lawns but if you have wide-open areas, rough ground, or soft sandy turf you probably won’t like it.
I really like the Gravely ZT XL. It’s built well. It cuts great and is one of the few mowers that cuts tall grass well (roadsides and waterways that you only mow once a month)
The Toro Timecutter HD is now the Titan for 2020. The Toro Titan MyRide Model # 75311 is one of the best mowers on the market this year. If the Titan’s price is too high look at the Toro TimeMaster Model 75759
Hi Paul – appreciate the article. I have about 1 1/2 acres to mow and speed matters to me since I work a lot of hours. I have used a Simplicity Champion 44″, 20 HP for the past 11 years. I am interested in mowing faster and getting better striping, so I have been looking for a bigger machine. I found a Simplicity Cobalt 61, 2017 model with 475 hours on it for only $4600. Seems really reasonable, but wondering how many hours I can expect before major expenses. I think the Cobalt is the closest thing to a commercial mower Simplicity makes and it retails for $10k-$12k.
Hi Mark, If the previous owner took care of it, the Briggs Vanguard engine and ZT-4400 transmissions will easily last 2000 hours before you have to work on them. Just make sure you get a copy of the owners manual and follow the oil change and air filter change recommendations.
You’ll be able to mow your 1 1/2 acre lawn is less than 30 minutes so if you mow about 25 times a year that’s about 15 hours a year use. The mower should last you 100 years before the engine/trannys need work.
Hi Paul, thanks for the article. I have 1 acre of mostly sloped lawn (about 10 degree slope). A family member works for a tractor and implement dealer that also sells Hustler brand ztr. So, I feel inclined to give them business but I am having issues and wondering what I’m missing. I’ve demo’d three units so far. 1 – Hustler Raptor Limited, 52″ deck, basic “EZ” hydros, medium width tire, side discharge. This one worked well, but I felt the hydros were a little underpowered and I’m making right turns facing downhill at the bottom of the hill, it would slide into the dirt landing at the bottom and require work to get out of the dirt. So we moved to #2: Raptor Limited SD, 42″ deck, better hydros (2800’s), standard tires which I didn’t realize at the time I took it, and mulch mit instead of side discharge. It didn’t hold a line running perpendicular and when facing downhill would not turn right or left (wheels spinning in place) and basically stranded me. Dealer said they made a mistake suggesting that one and that I should have taken the 52″ deck SD with extra wide tires, wider deck, wider stance. So, that’s what’s I did with #3: I took that one which also had a mulch kit on it and ran it over the property. I got the job done in less than an hour but the hydros worked overtime to take me out of skids and turning at the bottom of the hill. I feel like it had more power but less control than #1, and was loads better than #2. My thoughts: maybe the mulch kit is causing some of the traction issues (loose grass was all over the back tires and maybe causing “slippage” and tire spin at the bottom of hills and going sideways on hill) and I need to go side discharge only, on #3? Also, maybe I’m expecting too much out of a machine in this slope and will burn up the transmissions? Do you have thoughts or recommendations? I feel like a traditional rider isn’t suiatable for my slope. Thanks in advance. Till now, I’ve been mowing with a push mower 5 hours every weekend.
Hi Chris, Thanks for the long explanation. It really helps me help you.
1. It appears your slope is more than 10 degrees. Especially, if you feel a lawn tractor is unsuitable. Mulching is not your problem – too steep of slope and too light of ZTR is.
2. Residential ZTR’s are NOT designed to mow slopes. Everything you have encountered so far is “normal.” The transmissions are not heavy enough to last, the transmissions are not strong enough to hold the mower on the slope and the mower is not heavy enough to stay on the slope. (By the way, if you are having issues with the ZTR sliding on turns – start mowing the slope at the bottom and the TURN UP THE HILL when you make your turns. That will keep the mower from trying to slide down the hill and if the hill is too steep the uphill tires will just spin)
3. If you want a ZTR you have three options:
a. Move up to a heavier commercial machine. The Hustler Fastrak 54/60 or X-One 52 are good choices if you want to stick with Hustler.
b. Buy a steering wheel ZTR. Steering wheel ZTR’s use the front wheels to hold you on the slope and don’t skid at the bottom of the hill when making a turn. The only one I recommend is the Cub Cadet Z-FORCE® S/SX SERIES. If you have a Cub Cadet dealer in your area check it out.
c. Stand On ZTR. Stand Ons are the choice for commercial operators. They handle hills exceptionally well because you stand in just the right place so you can use your weight to aid in turning and traction. Plus, if you get in trouble you just step off the mower. Hustler has a commercial model but my choice for homeowners is the Bradley ZTR Mower. A 48 inch Stand On will out-mow a 52-60 inch ZTR on slopes.
Thanks Paul, that’s helpful. Now I’m wondering what you think about tow-behind finish mowers. Behind an ATV, for example. As my property is on a hill, perhaps I could get some versatility out of an ATV that I wouldn’t have with a ZTR, etc…?
Hi Chris, Yes, tow-behinds are a good alternative. The best one on the market is the Acrease Finish mower. I’ved owned different pull-behinds over the years and the Arcease is by far the best. I’ll show you a picture of my setup. I could mow up to 8 mph and 15 acres an hour with two of them attached to a ZTR.
Check them out here: Acrease Mowers
18 months ago I replaced my 19-year-old John Deere LX176 with a new Toro 48″ MyRide Time Cutter ZT for my 1 acre property and I absolutely HATE my new Toro. With nearly 40 hours of run time I still can not trim around any obstacle without tearing up turf nor can I cut as close to the obstacle as I could with my JD resulting in more time spent with the string trimmer. Furthermore any 90 or 180 degree turn results in massive divots in my yard as I have found no way to keep the inside tire turning. This has been one of the worst purchases of my life. The local retailer has been little to no help in resolving these issues ….. any suggestions would be appreciated.
Hi Mike, Using a ZTR takes practice and it’s a lot more than just “push the levers forward and drive it like a shopping cart” But, it’s not hard when you use the method I’ll show you here. The method I’ll show you won’t tear up the turf like the “forward” turn way you are now using.
You will learn two methods. Both will seem weird at first but they will help
First Method. 180 reverse turn.
1. Mow in a straight line and when you come up to the end of the row stop.
2. Pull both levers back a little ways until you are moving backwards.
3. Leave the right lever exactly where it’s at – don’t move it.
4. Then pull back on the left lever all the way. Spin around until you are 180 degrees from your starting position.
5. Release the levers and stop. Look down – you didn’t tear up the turf!
6. Push forward on the levers and mow the next row.
7. When you get to the other end repeat this method.
Do this the same way 20-30 times. Then try pulling back on both levers – then pulling the right lever all the way.
Practice this at least 30 times in each direction. You can also use this for 90 degree turns – just reverse turn 90 degrees instead of 180.
Part two. 180-degree fluid turn.
Now once you’ve gotten this method perfected the next step is.
1. Follow steps 1-4 above.
2. Instead of releasing the levers in step 5 and stopping now just push both other forward. In other words, you will make the reverse turn and then fluidly push the levers forward to move right into going forward.
Now once you are used to the reverse turn there is one more step to learn to make a perfect 180 turn without tearing up the turf. It called the 3-point turn.
Let’s assume you are mowing in a straight line and the unmowed lawn is on your left.
1. When you come up to the end of the row turn left until you are over the area you next want to mow.
2. Do the reverse turn and then stop
3. You will notice you are directly inline to mow the next row. (Practice how far of a turn you have to make until you end up in line with the next row)
4. Push the levers forward.
5. No turf destruction!
With practice, you can make this all one fluid motion and also use it on 90-degree turns.
Here is a picture of the 3-point turn
Hi Paul, I bought my first zero turn riding mower last week. It is a John Deere 42″ Z335E. I have practiced riding it for about 8 hours. It mows and handles great on my fairly flat 1/2 acre lot. My only problem so far, is that part of my yard is enclosed with a chain link fence. And try as I may, the bolts that hold the wheels onto the mowing deck. Keep getting hung up in the fence, when I try to trim as close to the fence as possible. I never had this problem with my old riding lawn tractor. But to me the handle bars on the new mower, do not keep the mower going in a straight line like the old mower did.Is there anything I can buy that would either cover the ends of the bolts up. Or will allow me to mow close to the fence but let me sort of slide easily against the fence ? So far I have jerked 2 holes in my fence, and if I can’t somehow correct this problem soon. I will be sending it back to Lowe’s before the 30 day return period ends soon. Thanks for your help and I hope you can reply fairly soon, as time is getting short on the return.
Hi Larry, 42-inch decks and chain link fences are a pain in the butt! Even my $4000 Exmark will catch the anti-scalp wheel bolt if I get to close. I wish more brands would design the deck so the “nut” end of the shoulder bolt fits into the bracket. I also don’t like string trimming my 150 feet of chain link every time I mow so I’ve gone the easy way – I spray about 8 inches on each side of the fence with a total kill like RoundUp Max Control 365. Now even my wife can mow the fence without getting caught in it.
I also have over 400 feet of 8-inch glacier rock landscape border so I use the total kill on those areas also.
The simplest solution you may consider is just removing that wheel. It’s just an anti-scalp wheel to it doesn’t affect the cut height. I need it on my mower because I have a lot of rough areas, tree roots and sidewalk edges where it does help the deck ride over the obstruction but if your lawn is relatively free of those areas just take it off.
About your mower wandering.
1. I’ve noticed that the Z335E is the only Deere zero-turn that gets complaints. No one ever complains about that on the Z345M or the Z345R. My guess is the larger engine (more torque) and the premium lap bars (better control) actually make the difference. By the way, Consumer Reports just gave the Z345R the highest rating for all zero-turn mowers for cutting, bagging, discharge and all around build quality. It’s only $200 more than the Z335E. 2. I also see most of the complaints coming from Deere mowers purchased at Lowes. Why just Lowes? I think it’s because Home Depot and your local dealer have a certified John Deere mechanic set up the mower, inspect it using a checklist, and make sure it is ready to mow.
Hi Paul, I really appreciate this article, including the updates made in 2018. I have been trying to research the best mower to buy for sandy conditions. We live in south Texas, just outside of the San Antonio city limits. We recently bought a house on two acres and our sandy lot consists of native grasses and weeds typical of the dry south Texas plains region. It is covered in stickers and there are many little gopher mounds throughout. We do have some gentle sloping areas, some Live Oak trees and stumps to maneuver around, and also a steep culvert/ditch area at the front of the property. We thought we were going to go with the Toro Time Cutter, but then one of our neighbors told us not to get a zero turn mower in our sandy conditions. He uses a Cub Cadet riding mower instead. Another neighbor said that was nonsense and they use their zero turn on their 17 acres without issue, however they have a commercial grade Scag. We are former city slickers with no experience with zero turns. We were getting by with an old used Craftsman garden tractor (1997 model!) this past summer, but it finally died – I’m sure we killed it. Spring is around the corner and we need a replacement soon. What would you recommend? Thank you so much!
Hi Brianna, Lawn Tractors: Sand and the standard high-lift blades that come on a lawn tractor or residential zero-turns don’t work well. The blades suck up the sand and it quickly wears out the blades. You can reduce the wear by raising the deck up as high as it can go (around 4 inches) and using mulching blades. Because your ground is rough a 50-54 inch deck on a garden tractor is the best choice (around $3300) There is one Garden Tractor – the Cub Cadet X3 series with a heavy-duty deck that is the best choice but it’s around $5000 with a 48-54 inch deck.
Zero-Turn: Medium Grade zero-turns ($4000-$7000) have heavier duty blades so they last longer, heavier decks so it doesn’t bounce as much on the rough ground, stronger frames and transmissions so they don’t break down near as often. Zero-turns have a learning curve to drive one well but with a little practice, you’ll be flying around the field. A zero-turn in this price range will mow twice as fast as a lawn tractor and last years.
I suggest researching local dealers to see what brands they sell. Then come back here and ask questions about the right one for you. I’ll help you narrow down the selection.
Hi Paul, Whats your opinion on the John Deere X354 four wheel steer tractor vs a zero turn mower?
Hi Mike, A name brand zero-turn in the same price range ($5000) mows a lot faster. You can pull all kins of stuff with the X354. You can only pull a yard cart with a zero-turn. The X354 will also bag better and the bagger is less expensive than a zero-turn’s bagging system. Both have a learning curve if you have never driven one. With the zero-turn, you need to learn the steering levers and with the X354 you need to learn the 4-wheel steer.
My main complaint about zero turn mowers is excessive dust. I would like to run my mower at slightly above half throttle, but I have been informed by the dealer that I must keep the engine at full throttle to get enough pump pressure to operate the transmissions and for cooling. I have a Cub Cadet Tank with a 60 inch deck and steering wheel. My grass is pretty thin and consists of whatever mother nature put there. Will operating it at less than full throttle cause damage?
Hi Wayne, What you dealer said is interesting. It’s not wrong. When mowing slopes and other areas where the transmissions are pulling a heavy load the higher rpm does help the oil circulate more. One question. Does that ZTR have an oil cooler over the air intake of the engine? If it does then the higher engine rpm helps to get more air through the oil cooler. If it doesn’t then the aluminum cooling fins on the transmissions themselves do all the cooling and extra oil flow by higher engine RPMs doesn’t help at all. That said,
One thing the dealer didn’t mention is when you increase the RPMs the standard blades generate more lift and the mower cuts your thin grass better – and it generates more dust. You can switch to mulching blades. They don’t have as much lift so you can increase the RPMs without generating so much dust.
There are 2 round oil tube coolers with a fan on each. They are located in front of the engine and the fans are driven by electric motors. Of course, there is also the fan on the flywheel that forces air inside the engine cover, which would not be turning as fast at lower rpm.
It seems to me that lower engine rpm would create less heat due to lower fuel consumption, provided that the engine is not being overload by cutting tall or thick grass. Lower heat shouldn’t require full air flow. In tall or thick grass I would certainly think that full throttle would be necessary. And also if a strain is being put upon the engine or transmissions.
I’m just asking because it doesn’t make sense to me that full throttle is necessary for light duty mowing. The excessive dust also eats the mower blades.
I have experimented with lower rpm briefly and all the grass is being cut unless it’s thick or too tall. The engine doesn’t seem to be straining at all.
Hi Wayne, Since the oil coolers have their own separate fans then engine RPM does not make a difference for cooling the trannys. All the other points you make are valid.
Paul, this article was great. I currently have about 1 acre of land and a well-used craftsman lawn tractor 42″. The land is mostly flat save for a small hill which i use a push mower for. The front lawn has many trees while the rear only has a couple. The lawn tractor I am currently using is on its last legs and it is a pain to shift while mowing and the steering is horrendous. So long story short it needs to be replaced.
I was looking at the JD Z335e mower as its replacement. The ZTR mowers seem flat out more fun to mow with and if there are any time savings that’s great and just a bonus. Do you have anything bad to say about this ZTR? I have complete faith that I will be able to minimize the yard chewing that the ZTR might give me.
Also, would there be an issue mowing the drainage ditch in front of my house near the road with a ZTR? Its not deep, just slopes in like a “V”.
Hi Brandon, For your size law the JD Z355e is a great choice. It’s a well built, lightweight mower that will be easy to learn to use.
About your ditch, the only thing I can really say is “try it.” If you mow the ditch with the zero-turn it won’t tip over running along the slope. (It may tip over backward if you try to mow up the slope) The only problems you may have is the ZTR sliding down the slope when it’s wet or the deck getting stuck in the bottom of the ditch if it’s muddy.
Yes, they are a lot of fun.
Are the baggers okay to use with these mowers? I mean they sell them but that does t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to use it.
Hi Brandon, 1. Baggers screw up the balance and most need front weights added to the ZTR otherwise the front will bounce off the ground when the bagger is loaded with green grass. NEVER, NEVER try to go up a slope with a bagger full of grass.
2. Residential baggers really only work well on dry grass and leaves. The tube from the deck to the bagger is too long for it to work well on green grass and it won’t work at all on wet, green grass.
3. Mid-priced and better ZTRs use a belt driven blower mounted on the deck. They work well. The baggers also come with the appropriate weight kits for the front of the machine. These baggers are expensive – starting around $1800 and can cost as much as $4000 though.
Hi Jim, A locking differential gives a lot more traction for going up hills, plowing snow, using a snow blower and pulling scrapers, tillers and drags. Basically, when you step on a lever on the floorboard it locks both rear wheels together so you get maximum traction. It’s similar to positraction in your car or pickup.
Ground engaging is attachments you use to till the soil and level you gravel driveway like moldboard plows, disks, drags and scrapers.
The 27048 does have the large tires and heavy frame like your old tractor. In addition, it also has a heavy-duty transmission that usually will last the life of the garden tractor.
Hi Paul: Another question… on the pro series 50 inch model number 27048 there is a locking differential. The unit also states it has or can have a ground engaging attachment. The machine also costs $1000 more. Could you tell me The value in having a locking differential? Could you also explain what they might mean with an attachment that’s ground engaging? Model 27042 is my first choice, however I would like to hear what you have to say about both machines. Thank you again Paul, your experience is well received.
Hi Paul: Your advice is well received. Thank you for your response regarding my inquiry about going with the craftsman yard machine. I am preparing to purchase the tractor. I went to Sears and the sales person recommended purchasing the extended warranty. This is in the tune of several hundred dollars depending on if you select the three or five year term. I typically don’t buy these but it may be wise. What’s your thoughts on this?
Hi Jim, The Sears Protection Plan fixes any defects and other problems with your mower like battery, belts, and tires. It does not include normal maintenance items like oil, filters, and mower blades. The price includes the labor and trip charges.
Is it worth it? That’s really up to you but Craftsman lawn tractors are dependable and any defects are included for 2 years, plus longer for the frame and front axle. If you do the normal maintenance they will last.
Hi Paul: Thanks for the article! I was considering a ZTM before I read you article. Now I’m going in the yard tractor direction on your advice. Just went to Sears to see the Pro line. My question is that part of my back yard has a slope ~ 30 deg. Then flattens out level. I know not to walk down it when wet. I mow it now with an electric self propelled walk behind. (EGO). I think it will be ok if I do not attemp to mow when wet and go perpendicular to the slope. What’s your thoughts on this?
Thank you for your insights.
Hi Jim, Basically if you can’t back up the slope it is too steep to safely mow up it. That said, I used to mow steep walkout basements and berms by mowing DOWN them only. As long as there was not a drop-off or pond at the bottom we could safely mow them by mowing down and then drive the mower up a shallower section of the hill back to the top. Then repeating until the slope was done.
Hi Jesse, When it comes to mowing steep hills it’s really hard to find a unit that will have the traction and stability to feel safe and do a good job.
My first suggestion is to look at a Sub Compact tractor like the Mahindra, Koita, Kubota, etc. with a rear mounted brush mower. You can also do a lot more with a subcompact like grade your driveway and use a bucket loader for snow and moving dirt.
You may also want to look at and demo the Cub Cadet Pro Steering wheel ZTR. It will handle slopes and side hills better than the models you listed. https://www.cubcadet.com/equipment/cubcadet/pro/pro-z-100-s-series/features
Hello Paul. Great article. I recently took over mowing approximately 8 acres. It is mostly open fields with just a few obstacles but a good bit is hilly western PA terrain some of which is steep. I’m torn between a commercial zero-turn like a Bob Cat XRZ or Gravely Pro Turn, or a heavy duty 60″ riding mower like a Cub Cadet XT3 or equivalent John Deere. The zero turn would be my obvious choice if it weren’t for the hills and minimal obstacles. What would you recommend? Thanks!
I’m in the market for a new mower. I’ve used my Father-in-law’s John Deere X380 tractor and like it very much compared to the entry-level Cub Cadet I was using. I went to my local John Deere dealer to have a look and see if they were offering any specials and he also showed me a Z535R zero-turn unit. John Deere has no reviews on their web-site for these machines. Other than his word, i don’t really have much info on this model.
Based on reading your article here, it seems that the Z535R falls into the “estate” mower category and does appear to be built a little heavier than the run of the mill residential units.
I mow approximately two acres and one end of my property is on a slope with a few steep areas. I’ve been reassured by the dealer and friends with zero-turns that I can just mow downhill. The dealer even offered to loan me a demo unit. It’s a commercial unit so will mow faster than the model I would end up buying, but the demo is about comfort with zero turns and learning how to drive one.
Any advice? Thanks.
Hi Max, Yes, you can mow down the hills as long as there are no drop-offs or ponds and the bottom of the hill. Most people get injured on zero-turns when they go down a hill – and can’t turn at the bottom away from an obstruction. They slide into the pond and/or tip it over trying to stop it on the slope.
Demo-ing a commercial unit is fine for learning to use a ZTR but it won’t tell you if the Z535R will handle the slope well. The Z535R is lighter so it won’t have as much traction as the commercial unit. It does have larger rear tires so it better than many other estate ZTR’s. (That’s also an advantage because it won’t make ruts in your yard like a heavier commercial unit can)
All that said, I do like the Z535R and it is a good mower. It cuts great and has a good reputation for dependability. So, the only decision for you is: Can you and the mower get along mowing those slopes.
I just bought a house with 3 acres of wide open yard and am looking to purchase my first zero turn. The property is mostly flat or gentle slope with maybe a dozen trees. I was hoping you could help guide me in the right direction as I don’t want to spend more then necessary but also am a believer in buy once cry once.
The most inexpensive mower mower I looked at was the Cub Cadet Z-Force 54″ L/LX (about $3,900) but the sales rep recommended the Exmark Radius E Series 54″ for around $1,200 more. He claimed it mowed at a faster speed, more reliable (1,000+ hr expectancy), less parts in the deck to break, and a better warranty. The other mower I looked at in another store was a Bad Boy MZ Magnum 54″, about $4,000. I like that this brand is made in the USA and the idea of a fabricated deck but I’ve some reviewers saying the ride is on the rougher side.
Do you recommend another over these? The most important qualities to me are a mowing time and machine reliability/longevity, the next being comfort. Speaking of comfort here was also a Radious S Series for $1,200 more then the “E”, are the S upgrades worth it if Exmark is the way to go?
Hi Derek, You get what you pay for with zero-turn mowers. But the first question is what do you need? Based on what you said, The Radius S will give you the best ride and mows at up to 9 mph. With the 52 inch deck, it will mow your property in less than an hour. The Radius E will take an hour. The Cub Cadet an hour and 5 minutes and the Bad Boy about an hour 20 minutes.
The Radius S has the rider suspension platform so the ride is as smooth as your car. The other three don’t have suspension seats so they are a lot rougher ride – but the Radius E has the larger tires so it will ride better than the Cub Cadet. The Bad Boy is the roughest by far.
The Radius S has commercial grade transmissions. The Radius E and Cub Cadet has heavy-duty transmissions that will last. The Bad Boy has cheap residential trannys.
Quality of cut: Radius S will cut well even at 8-9 mph. The Radius E at 7-8. The Cub Cadet at 6-7 and the Bad Boy is dead last at 5-6 mph.
So, the Radius S is worth every penny if you want to spend that much. It will give you the best ride, mows great, mows the fastest and with proper maintenance will be the last mower you need to buy. The Radius E is a close second but does not have the suspension platform so it’s ride is rougher than the Radius S.
The Cub Cadet Z-Force L is a good mower on paper but it doesn’t have the durability and quality of the ExMarks. In fact, if you only have $3900 to spend have the ExMark dealer show you the ExMark Quest 50 inch. The Quest cuts better than the Z-Force and will last just as long as the Z-Force on your yard.
The Bad Boy MZ does not compare to the others mentioned. But if you have to have orange paint look at the Bad Boy ZT Elite ($4700) It compares to the Radius E.
Hi! I’ve really enjoyed reading your articles, but I’m still stumped on which mower to get! We have about 3.5 acres some obstacles and a few small inclines. We want a bagger system as well. What would you recommend? We were looking at the Bad boy brand and I was wondering what you’ve heard about them. The main reason is we have two locations near us who sell them and recommend them highly, but I haven’t been able to find much on them.
Also with that much property, trees and kids I won’t have time to pick up every stick, so would you recommend soemthing else because of that too? Thank you for your help!
Hi Bernadette, The reason you don’t hear much about Bad Boy and about 40 other brands is they are dealer-only products. No one rates all these mowers online. Bad Boy is a relatively new company but has a good line of mowers.
For 3.5 acres please stay away from the lower priced MZ and MZ magnum series. The ZT Elite (around $4700) is a much better choice for durability, mowing quality and long life.
Here is a Bad Mower for your size property: Bad Boy ZT Elite
Looking at a Gravely ZTR X 42. I have a 47” gate to get through. I like it because of the fabricated deck, and the added power of the 24 hp Kohler engine. I can get one on sale right now for $2900. Is there a better option for me at that price? Do you have a better suggestion at that price point. I only have half acre to mow, but I’m just getting sick of pushing it. I’ve never owned a zero turn, but I do have a lot of trees and a swingset, and a fire pit. I thought a zero turn might be easier to maneuver than a rider. I had a 30 inch rear rider that didn’t last long, poor quality.
Hi Matt, The Gravely is a good choice. You’ll have to lift the discharge chute to go through the gate. It’s rubber so you won’t hurt it when it catches a little. You’ll be happy with it!
Thank you! This is a great article Paul, After owning ZTRs Big and small for a couple of years, I can relate to your content. I wish someone would have laid it all out for me a few years back. You’re a very good writer.
Hi JakeD, I never recommend buying used unless you are an experienced mechanic, you want an antique or you are getting the deal of the decade. I don’t know about your experience but there are now “classics” or deals in the bunch you list.
If you have someone repair used stuff for you – the repairs can easily add up to $1000 or more.
I’ll go through the list;
2013 Cub LTX 1050 KW (320 hrs / $1,000): Not Cub Cadet’s best tractor. Has a history of deck issues and doesn’t cut as well as the new ones.
2018 Husq GT52XLSi (new / $2,900): I like the tractor but the too many owners complain about the cut quality.
2017 JD X350 (70 hrs / $2,900): Good mower but you can get a brand new one with a 4-year warranty for a few hundred more.
2015 JD X360 (260 hrs / $3,350): That’s a lot of hours for a 2-year-old machine – I wonder if someone tried t use it commercially. It’s not made for commercial use.
2016 Cub Cabet SX54 (50 hrs / $3,600): Of your list, this is the model I’d recommend.But not this particular mower because you can get a brand new one with a 3-year warranty for $99 more…..This is a good choice because it drives like your car, has a good cutting deck, has a great reputation and will handle your walkout basement better than any of the lawn tractors.
The steering wheel ZTR’s are unique because they turn like a zero-turn, but since both rear wheels drive all the time they have great traction. That in combination with the front steering and they won’t lose traction on a hill like a lawn tractor can and are much safer on slopes than a zero turn.
Buy new at the Home Depot: Cub Cadet RZT-SX 54 in. Fabricated Deck 21.5 HP Kawasaki Engine Gas Dual-Hydrostatic Zero Turn Lawn Mower
Thanks again Paul. Here is another option, 2013 Cub Cadet RZTS 42″ for $1,150. Thoughts? Do you think a 42″ deck will be enough to cut 1.8 acres of open grass, (very few things to mow around.
I understand that buying used might bite me, but I have a farming background and am used to working on machinery.
Hi JakeD, Take a close look at the ZTR from the front or the rear. The mower is wider than the deck. This forces you to mow in only one direction. If you mow back and forth the way a ZTR really saves you the time you will knocking down uncut grass with each pass. Will that work for you?
Hello Paul. Thanks for the great write-up. We are moving outside of the town and for the first time I will have more than 0.3 acres to mow. So, I am gonna need to upgrade from my walk behind.
New house sits on 2 acres. House is a walkout so front yard is generally flat both sides and back are daily slope. Generally just an open grass lot, not too much to mow around.
I would like to buy something that is user friendly so my wife and kids can learn to mow.
Perusing the local used selection, I see the following options:
2016 Cub Cabet SX54 (50 hrs / $3,600)
2015 JD X360 (260 hrs / $3,350)
2017 JD X350 (70 hrs / $2,900)
2018 Husq GT52XLSi (new / $2,900)
2013 Cub LTX 1050 KW (320 hrs / $1,000)
Thanks so much for the information!
I currently am cutting grass every 5 days, but will move to once a week in the next month or two. I cut from early April through November and always bag the clippings due to dogs and foot traffic in my house. I am not really interested in the attachments that come with the mowers with the exception of the bagger (and an automated one would be ideal!).
I understand that the Toro My Ride would be the best option for comfort and price, but I think it is a deal breaker that it’s wider than 48″ with the bagger on and my grass is thick, so my husband does not feel that the mulching attachment would keep enough of the clippings off of the yard for my liking. This leaves the Walker and the 8000, sounds as if the only reason not to get the Walker is due to price? If the 8000 is more difficult to work on and maintain, that does drop it down a notch. We will be buying new and from a dealer. Any last words of wisdom?
Hi Farmgirl, Thank you for the summary. You can’t go wrong with the Walker. I suggest a Model C 19 or Model C 19i.
Use their Dealer Locator to find a dealer near you Dealer Locator
Hi Paul, I would like to know if you have any opinions or info on a 48″ zero turn with a rear discharge and bagger capability. We have a farm and mow around 3 acres/week with several tight spots due to landscaping, etc. I have found a walker (which is not to be good on hills) and a Toro 8000. We are wanting 24 HP with a welded deck. Any thoughts are much appreciated!
Hi farmgirl, I’ll give you an alternative first – then discuss the Walker and Toro 8000.
Do you have to bag every week? Do you mow every week? If you don’t have to bag and you plan on mowing basically every week the best mower for you is the Toro TimeCutter HD with MyRIDE 48 in. Fab 22.5 HP V-Twin Gas Zero-Turn Riding Mower with Smart Speed. It has the best ride available right now. I gave you a link to Home Depot but I suggest buying it from a dealer and have them install a mulch kit. With the mulch kit installed so you can remove the discharge cover. With the cover off it’s the same width as the Toro 8000. This mower is built as well as the Toro 8000 and will last many years. The best feature for you is it’s new and comes with a good warranty.
One more thing. I don’t recommend that you buy used unless you are mechanically inclined and know how to work on commercial mowers. If you have anything go wrong with a used machine – it’s out of your pocket and they can be VERY expensive to repair – and even worse if you have to have a dealer repair it. That said,
Both the Toro 8000 and the Walkers ride differently than a conventional zero-turn. You sit directly above the drive axle so the mower does not whip you around when it turns. Because you sit directly over the axle the bumps give you a vertical jolt instead of the neck-slamming back and forth jolt a conventional ZTR has. I like the ride better than a ZTR but it is still rougher than the Timecutter HD with MyRide I mentioned above.
I’ve owned both the Toro 8000 and Walker mowers and they are both excellent mowers. But, the Toro 8000 is a dedicated bagger and there are no other accessories or options to do anything else with it. In addition, most of the used Toro 8000’s have a lot of hours on them and they are a real pain to work on. Everything is crammed into the machine and even doing tune-ups, changing the belts or other minor tasks are very labor intensive.
Walker mowers are my all time favorite zero turns. They mow the best of anything on the market and are the most agile. They are actually very good on hills (depending on the model) because of their very low center of gravity. In fact, unless you have a full bag of green grass they will hold a hill better than almost all other lap-bar ZTRs. Like the Toro 8000 they are built very compact but are easier to work on. If I could afford one I would own one for even my little one-acre yard!
A big advantage is Walker makes many different decks and attachments that you can install. For example, if the model you bought is a dedicated bagger you can purchase an additional mulching deck and use it that way most of the year. Or if you change your landscaping and you can install a larger or smaller deck. You can even get additional decks to side discharge.
Finally, if you decide to go with the Toro 8000 or a Walker understand it drives differently than a conventional ZTR. You steer the mower with your left hand and control the speed with your right. It’s very intuitive and makes the mower very agile but if you have never driven one make sure you get a little training on how to drive it before you take it home.
Hi Paul, have read many of your reviews and articles. I recently bought a Hustler Raptor 42 but am now having buyer’s remorse. The machine is fine but I found that sometimes my hands start to numb, I have tried to loosen my grip and have now lowered the bars and also hold the bars lower while it seems better it’s still somewhat uncomfortable. Another aspect of my regret is first I feel I have thrown good money out on a machine I purchased mainly due to the fabricated deck not available on lawn tractors for the most part. I feel I should have just bought a spare deck shell for my 2 year old Cub cadet XT2 for about $350 instead.
I’ve called the dealer I bought the ZTR from and was told it was not reurnable (2 weeks since purchase and 2 hours of use) but they offered to sell it on consignment for me at a considerable loss.
I’d like to point out that even though I only mow on a 1/2 acre lot I found that on my tractor I can actually relax while mowing with one hand, it’s automatic whereas on the ZTR I’m always thinking about maneuvering the bars (I’ve used the mower 4 times so far) doing turns and lining up on the next pass. i may end up mowing in laps like with a tractor and doing the 180’s at the center.
Thank you and keep up the great write-ups
Hi Wayne, The more practice you get the more confident you’ll be driving your ZTR. It takes many people more than 10 hours to get used to it.
It’s actually pretty common for people’s hands to go numb on a ZTR. You are not used to holding your arms out and having the weight of your arms resting on your fingers. That’s why many come standard with armrests. Try wearing wrist braces and do some strength exercises for your wrists and fingers. You can buy medical wrist braces at your pharmacy or sports braces at the sporting goods store. They both will work for you. Squeeze a tennis ball for a few weeks.
Paul, I have 2.5 acres that has a lot of trees (and therefore a lot of sticks, pinecones, leaves, etc.) with a couple of minor slopes. I’m trying to determine whether a zero turn is right for me, and if so, whether I need a high end residential or need to step up to a commercial grade.
Hi Mark, I don’t think you need a commercial grade unless you plan on mowing over everything that falls. In other words, a 2-inch branch can bend a deck or break a spindle if you try to chop it up with the mower.
The only thing I suggest is that you get a mower with 4 ply tires. Most of the cheaper mowers are sold with 2 ply tires and you’ll have a lot of problems with punctures and flats if you don’t get the heavier tires.
In fact, even with the 4 ply I suggest putting slime in the tires right away: Slime Tubeless Tire Sealant. One quart for each rear tire to start and split a quart between the fronts.
Figure out what brands are sold in your area and then take a look at the mowers in the $4500 range.
Hi Rob, For 1.5 acres both are really over-kill. They are made to mow hours a day, every day, all year long. Both will mow over 10 mph so it will take you no more than 20 minutes to mow your yard.
I actually suggest taking a look at the John Deere Z525E 54 in. 24 HP. It’s thousands less and will last you a long time on your yard.
Paul, your responses to the comments below are the most informative on the web regarding ZTR specifically (thanks for that!). Your suggestion – Husqy Z554 or JD Z915E? Both dealers are local and price is similar. Or is there another machine that you would recommend for maybe a lower price? Will be mowing 1.5 acres, all flat with a few trees. Residential so every other week.
Hi Tim, That statement is taken out of context. All zero-turns under $4000 ride rough. A lot rougher than your lawn tractor. In fact, most ZTRs ride so rough that women need to wear a sports bra. What you read was in reference to someone complaining about how rough riding their ZTR is. The respondent suggested letting some air out of the tires to see if will ride a little smoother.
Right now there is one that does ride better than your lawn tractor and better than most of the other ZTR’s. It’s the Toro 50″ MyRIDE® TimeCutter® MX5075 (74768 / 74778) (Home Depot Link)
Hi Paul, I have a neck injury and my small JD lawn tractor rides rough enough to hurt me. I have read that zero turns ride better if you lower the tire pressure. Can you provide some guidance?
Hi Paul, Great article thank you. I’m a mowing contractor with clients who have varied requirements in terms of quality and quantity and as such I have a few different mowers etc. I’m looking at a ztr and am interested in the Dixons from what you have said/implied. Is the following scenario realistic at all given they are close in price: A brand new JD ZTrak Z335 42 vs a 2008 Dixon Ram 44 wth 1900 hrs, 25hp B&S twin. I know the JD is a residential machine but it may only get used for 5 – 8 hrs per week on better quality properties. The links are:
So they are both around $5kNZ (USD3.5) once I add freight to the Dixon. Interested in your thoughts. We have most of the US brands here in NZ. cheers, Andy
Hi Andy, the choice is easy. Dixon is no longer being made. The name is owned by Husqvarna but most Husqvarna dealers don’t stock parts for it. As a contractor, I’m sure you want something you can get parts for.
Hi Paul. Great article. I have recetly purchase a large acreagehorse stud. I have access to a tractor and rotary cutter for the most difficult pastures. Around the home there is about 4- 5 acres of lawn that has some steep swails and hills (mostly gentle flats however) looking at a cub with 4w steer. What is the deal with wheel motors as opposed to standard hydros. Can these zero turn riders be used to tow more like a leaf vac? Cant cut the area around the house with the tractor as it is quite sandy and the tractor ag tyres with leave impressions and the leader of the opposition party wont have that!
Hi Mick, I don’t know the specific model you are looking at but pump and wheel motor systems are still used on the heavy-duty commercial units. The wheel motors are usually cast iron so they can handle the extreme loads of all-day-every-day use and don’t overheat when mowing side-hills. I’m going to assume Cub Cadet is using Parker pump-wheel units and they are the best. The all-in-one aluminum hydros are used on residential equipment though some manufacturers are now making cast iron commercial all-in-one units.
I do recommend a 60-inch deck. That size deck cuts well and the extra width of the unit gives you better stability on hills.
Leaf Vacs have really gone out of favor. Current lawn tractors just are not heavy enough to handle them. They are long, cumbersome and will tip over on slopes. Plus you have that extra engine to deal with. Unless you already have one that you want to use I strongly suggest going with a mulch kit or a power assist bagger. Three things.
1. If you are picking up green clippings I suggest installing a mulch kit instead and raising your deck up to 4 inches. On sand that will really help your lawn. You will see a noticeable improvement in your lawn after a year or so.
2. If you need debris and leaf removal go with the power bagger system. It goes on and off easily when you don’t need it and it doesn’t mess with the hydros.
3. If you do have a yard vac I strongly suggest only filling it up half-way with green clippings. The will keep the weight down. A yard vac full of grass can weigh over 1000 lbs.
I really understand the tractor tire issue. Growing up on the farm I once drove over a city lawn to drop off a date at the “front door.” I didn’t know any better at the time but her Dad still brought that up 20 years later! 🙂
Not sure if this thread is still active but I started a little lawn service and recently bid some big commercial contracts at where I thought I could be competitive and low and behold I was just awarded my first big contract worth 54,000 a year for the next 2 years. I know I need bigger equipment for the job. I see a ton of guys hate on residential ZTR’s… I know I want a ZTR. This contract will eventually take my business to the next level and at some point I’ll be buying 20,000 mowers that will run 10 hours a day every day. In the meantime I have 5,000 to spend on a ZTR with at least a 48 inch preferably 54 or 60 inch deck. It’s a huge lawn and speed it a factor as I want to do the 7 acres in 4 hours if possible…there is a ton of trimming and other planting, etc to be done on this job weekly. So heres the real question… Residential ZTRs or low end commercial…. whats the best bang for the buck in the 4-6k range. Im not looking for a mower thats going to last my business 5 years… Im looking for the best bang for my buck hopefully 18 to 24 months running 5 days a week 2 to 4 hours a day. Please let me know what you think. I’m leaning towards the Hustler Fastrack but at 6,000 its really the absolute top of my budget and i even need to negotiate a bit with the dealer. I need to buy before the contract starts on Jan 1.
Hi Justin, ExMark, Toro and Gravely also have ZTR’s in that $5000 price range that cut /stripe well. If the lawn is fairly smooth a60 inch deck is the best option. Take a hard look at the Exmark Radius first, then you can compare the other brands to see if they offer the same quality for the same price. ExMark Radius
I just purchased a home with 7.5 acres, all flat, nice lawn. I will be mowing weekly. Want the best ZTR for the job without breaking the bank. There are so many choices, I would like to keep the price around $5k. Can you help?
Many thanks for your time Paul.
Hi Tony, where do you live? What dealers do you have in a 20 miles radius around you. There is no need for me to suggest a mower you have to drive 50 miles or more to get parts and service.
I would love your advise. I just bought a house on 6 acres of lawn. I am torn between a compact tractor like the BX series in Kubota vs a zero turn. I dont want to spend all weekend cutting it… it is mostly flat. what do you think?
HI Ray, What do you really want to do? Just mow your lawn as quickly as possible or do you need a power unit to do more than that? A tractor can mow the lawn, haul hay and feed for the livestock, clean up after the livestock, clear snow, level a gravel driveway, set fence posts, carry chainsaws and other equipment for brush clearing, move dirt, level dirt, move firewood, haul rocks for landscape beds and yard ornaments. And so on.
A tractor with a 60-inch deck will mow about 2.5 acres an hour at 5 MPH. If you don’t want a perfect cut you can speed up and mow at 7 mph and mow 3.5 acres an hour.
If you want to cut fast and well a $6-8000 ZTR with a 60-inch deck will cut about 4 acres an hour at 8 MPH.
If the lawn is rough the tractor will give you slower but much better ride.
Kubota is the name you are familiar with but Mahindra is the tractor you’ll probably buy. It’s almost impossible to beat for features, price, and reliability.
I recently replaced my 19-year-old John Deere LX176 with a new Toro 48″ MyRide Time Cutter ZT for my 1 acre property and I absolutely HATE my new Toro. With nearly 10 hours of run time I still can not trim around any obstacle without tearing up turf nor can I cut as close to the obstacle as I could with my JD resulting in more time spent with the string trimmer. Furthermore any 90 or 180 degree turn results in massive divots in my yard as I have found no way to keep the inside tire turning. This has been one of the worst purchases of my life. The local retailer has been little to no help in resolving these issues ….. any suggestions would be appreciated.
Hi Mike, it takes practice and asking for help from someone local to watch you and help you with the details. Go slow. Use your armrests to brace your arms so you can take small, smooth movements. Move your hands down to the angled area if you need to to keep your arms on the armrests.
Learn to mow at 3-4 mph, about the speed or your old tractor first, then you can speed up as you learn. I wish your machine had the three-speed switch like the HD series – I’d tell you to put in low and leave it there until you get used to the machine.
If you don’t know anyone who also owns a ZTR ask one of the local mowing contractors – the guys with three or fours ZTRS on a trailer behind the truck. You’ll be surprised how willing they are to help.
Here is a video that may help. Youtube has a lot of videos like this one.
Thanks for the reply … I had already watched that very video earlier today. Also my unit is the HD series it is the 75211 model…… I have tried both the low speed and high speed with no success …. lots of divots and lots of burning of the turf.
@Mike, leave it in low. Please follow my suggestions and get someone who knows how to use a ZTR t watch you and help you out. It really does take practice.
Hi Paul, Thank you for writing this article. I wish I had read it before I bought my z-turn. I have perhaps done a few things wrong, and would appreciate your comment. I have a 2016 52″ Gravely ZT HD with the 23.5 HP Kawasaki FR691V engine and the Hydro-Gear 3100 transmission. I did not know you shouldn’t use them to pull much of anything. I put the correct hitch on my machine, and used it many times to pull this little 42″ Brinly dethatcher. That $79.00 dethatcher did a great job on wire grass in my pasture. This was not extremely tall grass, but some of it was probably 8″. I move very slowly while dethatching, and clear the tines as needed. Twice I also used a small dump cart to haul 7-8 large rocks at a time. It may have been 200 lb; I don’t know. I don’t have any more need to do those activities. Do you think I could have damaged my transmission, and be unaware of it. Also, my mower now has 90 hours on it. It was supposed to have the Hydro serviced at 80 hours. I have to mow several acres every 4 days, and basically must mow a good 6-7 acres a week. My dealer has not had time to pick up my mower, and other dealers won’t service a mower that was not purchased from them. Any suggestions about how many more hours I can put on that Hydro before it is a problem?I am not like this. I have seen YouTube videos on servicing the Hydro, and am willing to buy the filters and oil, and do it myself. But I don’t want to mess up my warranty.
Hi Chris, I doubt you have done any damage to your Tranny’s. It’s the cheaper, ZT2200 that you have be careful about. Just keep your loads under 500 lbs and you’ll be fine. You may also use that dethatcher with weights and not worry.
The “recommended” first time service is 50-80 hours but you would be surprised how many owners never change the oil in the better trannys like the 3100 and they last thousands of hours. In particular if Gravely is using synthetic oil I’d suggest that waiting until the end of the season is not a problem at all.
I am so very grateful for your time and effort and replying to my question. I did not even use a weight on my little dethatcher, and I doubt that I ever exceeded 200 lbs towing other than the weight of the small dump cart. As I recall, the Gravely operator manual specifies synthetic oil for the tranny. Whether my dealer used synthetic or not is something I will find out Monday. Again; thank you so much! You relieved some of the pressure on me.
Thank you so much for writing this very informative article. As comprehensive as the article is I am now undecided on what I should purchase and would like your advise and product/make/model suggestions. I currently own a 1996 38″ cut murray tractor with a 12.5 hp briggs and stratton engine. My property is about 60 ft wide x 340 ft long that is relatively flat with one mound where a tree was removed(20ft diameter) and the grass is mixed sometimes kicking up dust. I have 8 trees, 1 snowball bush, a neighbors metal fence, a driveway of about 10 x 120 and two 12 x 20 sheds(no house). Property is in Md on a creek. So now that you have an idea of the obstacles and lay of the property what mower would you recommend? I rather not spend a lot but realize you get what you pay for and would much rather spend more on a well built good residential (if they even make one) or semi pro/ commercial. I was thinking of something that has a 33-36″ cut that is either a tractor, ZTR or rear engine –something that is a rider but I am eager to hear your suggestion. Thanks in advance, Chris
Hi Chris, Unfortunately, no one makes a 33-36 inch riding mower at this time. Only Ryobi has the 38 inch electric but that’s $2600. So please go to this article and you will find a good selection of riders to pick from: Seven Best Riding Mowers Under $1500 for 2017
Thanks for the excellent writeup. WE are buying 7.5 acres that has mostly been used as pasture. About 20% is under trees with no grass. It has a 25% grade and in a couple swales it is steeper.
My wife wants to have some “wild meadow” areas with natural area plants that will probably get to several feet high.
The rest will probably never get above the 6-12 inch height you mention.
I have been looking at a Kubota ZD326 60″ diesel ZTR, used, and wondered your thoughts on how that might do?
Hi Dean, I’m not familiar with the higher priced Kubota’s. But I did run a search and there are a lot of the Kubota ZD326 for sale. You didn’t say the year but they range from $4500 to $12,500. Most of them have very low hours so I’m wondering if there is something about the machine people don’t like or if most of these are just leased machines.
Be very careful buying used. I strongly suggest staying away from anything with more than 1500 hours unless you are able to repair it yourself. One transmission on these can easily cost over $2500 and the engine over $4000. In addition many used mowers need belts, blades, bearing and so on so you can end up with $1000 worth of repairs before you have it a year.
Dean, I am also looking at the ZD326 60″ and have a very similar property that I’m looking to maintain much like you described. Did you decide to buy this Kubota, and are you happy with what you bought?
Hi. Was looking into using a zero turn for something other than grass. Removing the deck and running the mower to haul a tank of and supports close to 1000 lbs of liquid with a spray bar designed off the hitch. If I place the tank over the engine and add weight supports to the front, do you think there is a zero turn out there ready for my needs? The ability to turn on the dime is the most important factor really, any other suggestions are welcome. Thanks
Hi Josh, Google “zero-turn sprayer” and then click on the images button. A bunch of ideas will pop up. Lesco and Cub Cadet have done this in the past but they didn’t sell too many.
If you remove the deck and put the tank in the back you will have to add 200-400 lbs up front to counter the weight.
Jrco has a system already built that you just bolt onto the rear. They make high quality units.
I have a Troy-Bilt 42″ Zero Turn mower I got at Lowes 5 years ago. For the most part it has worked fine. Lawn is mostly flat with a few trees and one slight incline in the front yard. One day after a cut the yard I noticed it was running rough. When I looked at the engine, I noticed the bed was cracked and two of the bolts were gone. I replaced the bolts with ones from Lowes and put a flat metal bar across the engine bed where it was cracked and bolted in in. It worked great until a few cuts later when I noticed the engine broke of at one of the bolts (the one not missing). It still works, but it is a ticking time bomb. I’m waiting for the engine to go flying past me as I cut. I want to try to get through the summer without the purchase and maybe get an end of year sale. I was looking at the Hustler Raptor Zero Turn and my neighbor said to get a tractor because they last longer. Do tractors last longer than zero-turns? Would a zero turn in the $3000 range last longer than 5 years? It is garage kept and only 3/4 an acre. Thanks!
Hi Gary, In the $2000 and less price range tractors do not last any longer than ZTR’s. But, in the $3000 and less zero-turns the build quality is about the same as the $2000 tractors. Also, I’ll bet the problem with your mower was the bolts that hold the engine were not torqued properly at the factory. When they came loose the engine started to vibrate. That vibration caused the frame cracks. By they way, I see this problem happen on all snow blowers, tractors and ZTr’s but it’s not common and it only happens in one out every 20,000 units or so. I do recommend if you know how check those bolts (and transmission mounting bolts on tractors) after the first 50 hours on new equipment. That said,
The Hustler will last. So will a Toro Timecutter, Ariens Ikon X, and John Deere Z345.
Sorry, I’m confused. So you are saying that in the $2000 range the tractor and Zturn are about the same longevity wise. Are you saying that In the $3000 range the tractor longevity is better?
Of the four models that you mention, which would be your best to least in order of preference?
Hi Gary, Yes, The under $3000 ZTR’s use two transmissions but everything else (like decks, bearings metal thickness, etc) is basically the same quality. The manufactures feel they can charge more for the the ZTR’s because of the extra transmission and demand.
Yes, a $3000 garden tractor will last longer than a $$1500 lawn tractor – but they don’t make one with a small 42-46 inch deck.
Of the four ZTR’s I mentioned I have no preference. All four of them will last you more than 5 years. In fact, with the recommended preventative maintenance they will easily last 10 years on your 3/4 acre. I suggest buying one of the brands from the retailer or dealer you trust.
Thanks for your help. I ended up getting an Ariens ZOOM 50. I wanted the Ikon 52, but it was backordered until mid September and I couldn’t get by that long without a mower. The ZOOM was also a little less expensive. I thought about the Toro Timecutter, but read too many people having problems with the brake assembly and a few other issues. Two cuts in and I love it. It is smooth and fast. I only hope it lasts. I just thought I’d let you know.
Hi Gary, Congratulations! I wanted to clarify for other people reading this comment. The automatic electric brake sticking issue was found immediately the first year of production and only a few actually got into the hands of owners. Once the issue was identified all units were repaired before they were sold. I own the ExMark version and I love the auto parking brake.
One thing though, I made a mistake last year waiting for end of season sales and they truthfully weren’t that good. I found the spring sales were much better!
Hi Jay, Yes the best deals on mowers is in the spring and the best deals on snow blowers in the fall. The best deals may be a sale price but many brands will offer longer warranties or accessories in place of a cash discount.
Because the lawn & garden industry does not use model years only the discontinued models may be a good price at the end of season.
wondered what your thoughts are between a Gravely ZTHD 60 and the ferris is700z for 3-5 acres of regular mowing, (not a typical residential lawn) and some occasional field / path mowing or brush hog entire area and then mainten the height with the ztr….? Not sure I am justified in stepping up is all?
Hi Jeff, I have to assume you are going to rent/hire someone to do the field and brush hog work. Then keep it mowed with a ZTR. ZTR’s are NOT designed for that type of work and you will quickly destroy the decks. They are designed for mowing lawns and grass no more than 6-12 inches tall.
The Gravely will give you the least problems over the years.
I am looking for a zero turn that will hopefully have the capability of adding a plow or bin to pull behind for <6-8" of snow and to move logs from one spot to another for splitting. I have looked at Toro but not sure what the best models would be. I am open to other models within a normal man's budget for a 1 acre property. Hope you can give some advice.
Looking for a recommendation on a 60″ ZTR. I have a 1971 Yazoo 14 hp Commercial mower (front deck, tricycle) that was a forerunner of the ZTR currently it is on life support in the shop. I have been borrowing my buddy’s 60″ XMark or his Gravely 60″. They are great mowers but they are very expensive commercial units that I don’t feel like investing that much money into for a sometimes weekly chore. I have looked at 60″ models of Toro, Country Clipper, Bad Boy, & Hustler – All seem reasonable for what I want to do and have their own unique spin on what is important or better about their particular model. Looking to stay out of trouble from a repair and upkeep standpoint and for a mower that I can use for many years with the proper maintenance and storage etc.. Any suggestions or direction that you can point me in would be greatly appreciated.
Hi Dan, Wow. I’m impressed! I owned one of those “Tilt-A-Whirls” myself 40 years a go so I know what they are.
First, find a local dealer you like. Then explain to them how big your yard is and they will help you find the right machine. Generally, all the brands have good ZTR’s that will last in the $4000-$5000 range.
If you liked the ExMark you will like the ExMark Radius-E and the Toro Timecutter HD. Both fall into that 4-5K price range.
Oh, The Country Clipper is the easiest to work on.
I live near Winnipeg in Canada on 2 acres of land (all flat except the ditch). There’s quite a few trees around the front, sides and especially very back of the yard, with a few trees dispersed throughout the middle of the yard. It takes me about 4 hours+ to mow the yard because I’m always going back and forth around the trees. I have a Craftsman LTX 1000 riding mower which is ok, but am looking to get a ZTR or something that can cut some of that time out of mowing. I’ve looked and rode the cub cadets (both riding and zero turn) but I hear so many people saying bad things about them. I’ve read up some of your reviews on mowers as well as lots of peoples comments on other mowers. One person says one thing about this brand and another person says another. Getting very confused about what’s good out there. What I’d really like is just a good ZTR and later on replace the Craftsman with another machine that I can attach a snowblower and tiller on to. Any help you can give would be appreciated. Thanks,
Hi Lee, I’d like to start out with two comments. 1. With the amount of lawn tractors and ZTR’s sold for every person who complains there will be a thousand others who are happy with their mower. The happy people just don’t write reviews like the owners who are upset. It’s surprising how many people have a brand preference with mowers. So, any person who likes Craftsman or John Deere will always complain about the brands they don’t like. 2. Yes, Cub Cadet did have more problems with small things on their lawn tractors like belts, bearings and other deck related stuff. So Cub Cadet/Columbia went back to the drawing board and introduced ALL new lawn tractors in 2015 and they are now one of the best, if not the best for dependable tractors and mid-priced ZTR’s.
I’m not that familiar with what brands and models you have available in the Winnipeg area. If you could write back with the brands some of your local dealers carry I can help you better.
So true about commenting online. Sometimes I just start forgetting that most people that like what they have almost never post about it.
I did forget to mention that there is a slight slope up towards the house on the front and side, but it’s not that steep.
The brands we have up in Canada are, 95% of the time, identical to the ones you have in the US. Most of the versions you’ve spoken of are the same thing that is sold here. I have access to Toro, Cub Cadet, John Deere, Kubota, ExMark, Husqvarna, etc… We have the MTD versions in stores like Home Depot as well as resellers that have the more extensive versions of each brand.
A really useful/informative article. I`m looking at a zero turn instead of a domestic tractor mower since I have less time to maintain a big tricky lawn. It needs a bit of grunt for when the grass has been neglected for a couple of weeks and to get around a lot of trees etc.
I was offered a used 2003 Ariens 994301 stand up.
It has a 19hp kawasaki engine, and either a 30″ or 34″ deck.
I`m in the UK and can find no information on this machine even to confirm the cutting width.
Talking 2-3 acres with no serious slopes.
I would really appreciate any thoughts or links to manufacturer (made by husquavarna?).
Hi David, The cutting width is 34 inches.
That mower is pretty rare and is very easy to tip over. If you have any slopes at all stay away from it. Because it’s so rare you will have problems finding frame and drive-train parts.
34 inches is very small for 3 acres. It will take you all day to mow.
History-wise that mower was NOT made by Husqvarna. The original company was called Great Dane and was owned by Dane Scag – the person who started Scag mowers. The mower was made in a no-name factory in southern Indiana, U.S.A. Dane was a great business starter but got bored easily so if I remember correctly sold the company to his son who changed the name to Ever-Ride. His son had cash flow problems and sold the company to Ariens.
Greatly appreciate the swift reply.
I realised it was going to add some cuts and had been looking at 48″ mowers (including Great Dane) but it was local.
I’ll take your advice given the stability issues and parts availability and look elsewhere.
Paul I have one more question. I have been reading a lot about ZTR’s and came across an article that claimed Hustler Turf sells a ‘lesser’ product to Lowes and Home Depot. I want to purchase the Hustler SDx 54′ with a Kawasaki 23 hp, unless it is inferior to the one I purchase at the Hustler Dealer.
Hi Kevin, Sorry, there is a lot of fake news out on the web. Here is the original article that interviews Hustler and squelches all the nay-sayers.
Thanks! that give me a little comfort knowing I may purchase a product identical to the one the dealer offers.
I think this is the last question. Would the John Deere Z525 be comparable or better than the Hustler SDX? Will the motor on the John Deere, a 22hp Briggs ELS last as long for the homeowner who mows 4-5 acres per week (during the southern grass cutting season). By the way, I am using the Hustler SDX right now. It just plows through my grass way better than my 2009 Dixie Chopper Iron Eagle 2350 with a Kohler Courage – no I have never had any issues with that machine.
Hi Kevin, I have a feeling if you had the chance to mow 3-4 times with each machine you would pick the Hustler. Also mowing 4-5 acres the Hustler SDX will hold up better and require less maintenance.
In your situation the Kawasaki or the Kohler 7000 is a better choice than the Briggs ELS.
I have a question regarding ZTR’s. I have 5 acres and I mow about 4 of it. I am thinking of buying the Hustler SDx 54 with the Kawi and ZT 2800. I like it over all. I read a little about the Husqvarna MZ54s which you recommend. I like fact that the husq has a 5 gallon tank and ZT3100. I don’t like the stamped deck and the BS engine. Every site recommends the Kawi over the BS. What do you recommend or advise? I am a homeowner not a commercial landscaper.
Hi Kevin, Quality-wise both machines are about equal but the Hustler has a heavier deck and will take more abuse over the years. There is not enough difference in the transmissions to buy the Husqvarna – both trannys will hold up well. The deck on the Husqvarna is so much lighter and slower than the Hustler deck. Plain and simple – Kawasaki residential is not better than the Briggs or Kohler. Asking the Internet which motor is the best is like asking an owner of a Chevy pickup which truck is the best.
I have 3/4 acre. My husband is 70 and I am 65. He has incurable blood disease that takes his strength and Im just a bag of arthritis. He fights me every second trying to help, but I have managed to cut the grass a few times and now we cut it together. I desperately want to buy a rider that will reduce our load, but Hubby refuses to help me because he wants to be the strong man he always was and hates me having to do things that he feels is his job. We have a lot of trees to ride around and its hard for me to pull the rope to start it. I thought maybe an electric start and a zero turn would help and maybe a seat that is not so hard on the back. I read your articles which are very good, but Im not sure what is best and I have to buy it without Hubby’s help. Can you help with advice? Thanks Much
Hi Paula, If you have no experience with riding lawn mowers I suggest a lawn tractor instead of a zero turn. Zero turns can be hard to learn to drive. A lawn tractor is more forgiving and won’t tear up your yard.
I suggest starting with this article: Seven Best Riding Mowers Under $1500 for 2017
A great article and the first I have seen that was obviously written by someone who truly understands mowers and who has used them. I am a retired facilities director 30+ years for school districts so have had huge acreage to mow every day and because I was always short handed I helped the guys mow many days. If buyers pay attention to your article they should have a great mower and mowing experience. I first used zero turn mowers in the early 90’s and used many sizes from 42″ up to 12′ and many manufacturers and can say for most applications they can’t be beat. The only place I would ding them is slopes. I am so glad you mentioned that many times and in bold print, these things will buck you off and kill you. For anyone reading my response to you I will say the following as a quick rule of thumb, which will point out many of the things you have said.
1. For big acreages bigger is always better if time is an issue.
2. The sub 3000.00 zero turn mowers are only for residential use. Don’t expect professional long term results if intending to use on large acreage or everyday use. I have used them for some of my smaller areas commercially and they always required more maintenance/parts to keep them running.
3. NEVER EVER MOW ON STEEP SLOPES, (especially with drop-offs, water features or busy highways below) these zero turn mowers will loose traction fast and soon spin out of control. They will hurt or kill you.
4. Like Paul says, get some practice mowing on open areas before getting into the actual mowing. I had many brand new zero turn mowers with decks knocked off, all the covers knocked off and front suspensions bent out of shape the first couple minutes of use because new zero turn operators didn’t listen or follow my directions. Zero turn mowers will buck and snort and try to get you off if you don’t truly understand how quick and fast they are. These are amazingly quick machines. When learning how to operate them “do not” engage the blades
5. Probably the biggest thing I can push is safety. ALWAYS WEAR EAR PROTECTION, safety glasses, proper fitting not open toe shoes/boots, SUN SCREEN, and keep hydrated (not the alcohol types, these mowers have no place for alcohol or drugs)
Thanks for your articles Paul, these are the best out there
Appreciate you sharing some knowledge here. I am building a house on 3 acres. Not flat but nothing crazy as far as hills go. Not a tree on the land at all. I really like the 50″ toro with the steering wheel that you recommended to someone else. Curious though if it can handle pushing some snow. Would I tear it up doing that? I’d prefer a wheel over the levers. Trying to stay under $3,000 but I can go up a bit if I need to. May go look at a Simplicity built, Massey Ferguson 2924D this weekend. Has a 54″ mowing deck, 3 point hitch, and front PTO. I love the idea of being able to do more with my mowing machine. Basically I want a nice cut and to not be out there all day. Bonus for being able to push snow in the winter if need be. I’m in Missouri so we don’t get a ton. 5 inches or so at a time is normal. Seen 12+ on occasion but it is rare. appreciate any suggestions of what to look for, new or used.
I would buy a zero turn with the levers if there is one that stands out to you in my price range. It just isn’t my first choice. More difficult to hold a beer and mow. And again I like the versatility of something like that little Massey tractor. Right now I lean toward that toro though just because it would be new. $3,000-4,000 range. Appreciate any help.
That’s a quick response! Thank you. I found a used Massey for about $3800. It has about 1140 hours on it. Here is a link if interested.https://stlouis.craigslist.org/grd/6149967877.html
Any opinion on which I’d be better off with? The Massey is probably about a 1999 model I guess. And will the toro sw5000 model. Also, if I get the toro I think I want the 50″. Which specific model would have a strong enough transmission and hold up well enough to move some snow with a plow? any chance I could pull a few hundred pound trailer with any of the toro’s?
Thanks again so much for the insight.
Hi Brad, I had forgotten they even had that model – I was thinking it was a sub-compact. The only real issue with the Massey is there is no warranty so it’s as is – where is. That engine should run 2500 hours without an overhaul and the rest of the machine is a Simplicity so you can get parts. It mows a lot slower than a ZTR but they always had a decent cut.
The Toro will handle what you want to do so either one is a good choice.
Hi Paul. For the past three years I’ve been mowing our yard with a 30″ push mower (Yard Machines). After dropping comments here and there for quite a while, I finally have the green light to get a riding mower. I am on a tight budget though, so it’ll have to be used. I found a Cub Cadet Z-Force 44 for sale that doesn’t start. I’m confident it’s the solenoid. Even if it’s not, I believe in my abilities to get it running. I have negotiated the price down to $500 as is.
My yard is modest in size at just over 1 acre. There are only 3 trees, a patio, fire pit, and some landscaping around the house. I do have a ditch on both sides of the drive way and they aren’t the steepest I’ve seen, but they are still sloped enough to make me think twice about using a rider sideways on them. Also, the lawn is not very smooth. It’s quite bumpy.
In your experienced opinion: 1) Am I crazy to pay $500 for that mower when it doesn’t run (otherwise looks pretty decent, a little dirty). 2) Would you even recommend a zero turn for my situation? 3) Do you have any other comments for me or words of wisdom in my pursuit of a riding mower?
I appreciate your time
Hi Jason, I’m always very nervous about buying a ZTR that doesn’t run because I can’t test the transmissions. I’ve bought ZTR’s on auctions and about 1/2 the time there was a major issue they didn’t mention.
Personally, If you think it’s just the solenoid I would jump the solenoid and get it running temporarily before I bought it. $500 is not a lot of money and the average price for a used one is $2000. But bad rings in the engine or a bad transmission can quickly eat up the savings of buying it cheap.
I have been pouring over articles about zero-turn mowers. I have always had riding mowers and am looking into getting a another mower. I’m altogether not sure whether I should get another riding mower or if I should go with a zero-turn mower. Let’s pretend I am your wife (so that “caring” will be a factor in your help) and I am the one who will be cutting the grass. What mower and type would you suggest I look into purchasing?
Here are some details on my property:
I have about 1 acre of ground. It is smooth to slighty bumpy. I’ve been told I live on “marsh land” so my grounds in some areas can be rather soft to wet. I have no obstructions to get in between. I do have a large septic mound system, not sure on the degree of the angle, although I believe it is standard. The hill looks a little higher on one side than the other though.
Things I am concerned about:
Getting stuck. Because my ground can be soft majority of the time, I tend to get stuck in certain spots using my riding mower. Not sure if getting a mower with a certain type of wheel or wheel base would help prevent this or not. I alone, am able to lift my riding mower enough to get whatever wheel is stuck in the “mud” unstuck. If I go towards a zero-turn mower I have to consider its weight and whether I would be able to handle getting it unstuck by myself.
Septic Mound System. I would like to have a mower that I can ride up and down my septic mound to cut it. I don’t wall to tilt over or fall backwards (my worst fears).
Ground conditions: When I moved onto the property in 2007 the previous owners did their final cut using a large farm tractor with a pull behind, which left the property very rutted. 10 years later the property is a lot smoother in areas although there are still areas that have small ruts, depressions, and is slightly bumpy. Over the years the mowers that I have had, have all pretty much fallen apart due to wear. I had a brand new Ariens mower that after one year looked liked it had been worked over for 10 yrs! I need a mower that is “Built Ford Tough” as they say. . .if your a fan of Fords that is.
So, with all these things in mind. . . .what do you think your wife should look at buying.
Thank you for your quick response Paul! I do like the 50″ version! The only thing that makes me a little nervous is my Septic Mound! Is the transmission durable in this machine? Is it heavy enough that I won’t flip over? What is the difference between a stamped deck and a fabricated one? Although, I do get 10% off at Home Depot. . .the deck on my Ariens was the first thing to fall apart. . .and I bought it from Home Depot. . .so buying another mower brand that Home Depot carries makes me a little nervous. . .especially since they flaked out on the warranty and wouldn’t cover any repairs, so I’m also leary of buying a the HD extended warranty as well. So I really need a mower that’s durable.. .and has minimal maintenance. I can add oil, gas, and air. Is Toro a better brand than the Ariens?
I don’t own a trailer so getting my mower to repair facilities is difficult. And there are no mobile lawnmower repair people in my area. . .at least not that i have been able to find. Getting my mower to a facility for the yearly maintenance is about all i can manage without stress. Please don’t consider my location when factoring in what I need lol (by the way I am located in Smyrna, Delaware near Woodland Beach). I am willing to travel a reasonable distance for a mower that is right for me! Also, I am open to all types of mowers!! Free your mind!!
Hi Nikki, I used the toro dealer locator and you have repairing dealer in Clayton and Dover. Your local dealer usually has a reduced rate on picking up your mower for service if you bought it from them.
This mower is considerably heavier and better built than your old Ariens. The Ariens lawn tractors at Home Depot were a “price point” item and everyone is happy that Home Depot/Ariens have stopped selling them. In a way, this experience is a positive towards Home Depot. They realized that maintaining trust is a lot more important than making a sale.
If you are uncomfortable buying from Home Depot – don’t. A local dealer will give you better service and will help you learn how to use the machine. You can call a local dealer and get a knowledgeable person on the phone. Personally, I’d start by talking to PUGH’S SERVICE, 728 LEIPSIC ROAD, DOVER, DE 19901 US, Phone: (302) 734-4231 , Email: email@example.com. Tell them, I suggested the Toro 50″ TimeCutter® SW5000 (Model 74790) They can show you all the features and why it will work well on you property. By the way, I have the 42 inch Exmark version of the SWX4250 and I really like it. My wife even likes it!
The SW5000 will handle your septic mound going up and down or across and it won’t take long before you are comfortable using it. It has great traction – a lot better than the Ariens Tractor. It’s wheelbase is also wider than the lawn tractor so it won’t tip over. The transmissions will last because this steering wheel version doesn’t have the load on the rear transmissions that the lap-bar ZTR’s have.
Stamped decks generally cut better and fabricated decks generally are stronger but I want to talk about the Toro decks specifically. The Toro stamped deck is a lot heavier built than the Ariens deck you owned. It’s stronger and it actually cuts a lot better. On one acre the 50 inch deck should last you 20 years. In fact the entire machine will last until you get tired of it.
No, I don’t believe in extended warranties from Home Depot and Lowes. Feel free to keep asking all the questions you need to feel comfortable with this purchase.
First, thank you for all of the effort you put into this site. It’s proven extremely helpful and very informative!
I’ve narrowed my search down to the Hustler Raptor Limited 52″ deck because Hustler states the Raptor is good for slopes up to 15deg. (I have a septic mound that slopes from 12-15deg.) However, my only concern is the EZT transmissions. I know Hustler says it’s safe on 15deg slopes but would I wear out the transmissions prematurely? The Huster SD has the ZT2800 transmissions but costs an extra $600 ($3,799). It has the Kohler 7000 engine and I preferred the Kawaski but if the transmissions fail on me, the engine really wouldn’t matter anyway. Thank you again for the advice!
Hi Trent, Just a septic mound is no problem for the EZT drives on a 52 inch deck. The SD is worth the extra $600 because it’s heavier duty all around – if you want to spend the money. Don’t be afraid of the Kohler 7000. It’s proving to be a great engine to the point I would not pay extra for a Kawasaki anymore. Remember, Kawasaki got the good name recognition from the commercial engines and the water cooled versions.
I have the rz4623 Husqvarna mower and it has under 500 hours and he was beginning to pull to the left so I play with the linkage and it began to get worse and I couldn’t push both sticks forward and took it to a shop had the belt changed and got worse adjusted it more and now you can only hit the sweet spot to go wherever Direction you want. They say the pumps are bad. My Cub Cadet has around 550 hours with the same Hydro Gear transmission and it whines like the power steering fluid is out in your car and gets worse as you drive the opposite of the Husqvarna that gets a little better as you drive
Hi David, Residential mowers like the RZ4623 are spec’d and priced for about 10 years of use for the average homeowner. Most homeowners use their mowers about 1.5 to 2 hours a week so that works out to 40-50 hours a year. Simply put then 500 hours is about right for those drives. If you put more hours per year on your equipment it pays to move up to more durable/expensive drives like the ZT2800, ZT3100 or higher. Along with the heavier transmissions you also get stronger frames, heavier duty decks and longer engine life.
So, spend $3000 up front and get 500 hours – spend $10,000 and get 2500 to 4000 hours of use.
I had been looking into Husqvarna ZTRs (specifically the Z246 or Z254) but have been reading that Husqvarna may not be the most reliable brand. What are your thoughts on this? I don’t want to spend $2.5-$3.5k to have the mower in the shop all the time.
I see you’ve been recommending the Toro SWX5000. Would I be getting a highly quality machine going with this mower instead? Is the model 74795 worth the extra $400 over the 74790? My property has a small slope of about 12-15deg before it turns to my neighbor’s property if that matters.
Thank you so much for all of your help!
Thanks for taking the time to run this site.
I’m trying to figure out what kind of mower to buy. I have about 3 acres near Eugene Oregon with some small slope. The grass gets long as I can’t keep up with my push mower. There are some pot holes, lots of small trees, paths, fencing and edging. No ponds of walls. I was thinking a standing mower like the Hustler Super S 48″ would allow for the hills, close quarters and still be fast on the open areas. It more expensive than my fallback, the Hustler Raptor or Raptor SD. I don’t know the dealers in Eugene. I’m not sure how to service the standing mowers with a jack. I’m not sure I’m asking all the right questions yet, but the grass keeps growing and I am falling behind. I should have researched this sooner. What else should I consider before buying? Thanks
Hi David, Just about any of the stand-on mowers from any of the brands would be a good choice. They are all commercial machines and built to take a beating. They would last you years. A ZTR will cut your mowing time in half over a lawn tractor, but a stand-on will cut your mowing time in half over a ZTR again. In the mid 90’s I replaced 7 person crews using “conventional” landscaping equipment with 2 person crews using one ZTR and one Stand-on. I actually increased the productivity by 30% while reducing labor costs by 5 persons per crew!
They will handle any hill or ditch (mowing sideways) and if the hill does get to steep you just step off the machine. Toro, Scag, Hustler, ExMark, Gravely, Bob Cat and Wright Stander. Wright is one of the original standons. The Gravely standon is the grandchild of the other original standon manufacture.
I really like the Wright Sport
I’m not a big fan of the Ferris, Bad Boy and Jacobson stand-ons but everything else will make best mower you’ve ever owned.
You can service under the deck with a jack on the front of the deck, a lift under the front casters, a chain hoist lifting the front and even in a pinch setting it half-on the ramp of a landscape trailer.
I see you recommending steering wheel ZTMs for slopes. I’ve been considering a stander as I already mentioned because of the small footprint but I also have some slopes. I have not seen a stander with a steering wheel. I’ve never operated a ZTM before, so the steering wheel seems attractive on my mild slopes and potholes.
Can you please provide any considerations that will help me decide between a stander and a steering wheel ZTM.
If you end up recommending a steering wheel ZTM, is there one with a fabricated deck you can recommend? Before I looked into the standers, I was considering a Hustler Raptor. Anything like a Raptor with a steering wheel?
As to size, I believe you don’t recommend a 36″. We have lots of bushes that a 3′ to 4′ apart that might be serviced by a small mower, but we have lots of land that will take longer. Should I get the size above 36″ to get into more small areas knowing it will take longer to do the larger areas or get a 48″ and trim the small areas?
Ok, I have a 1 acre yard. About half of it is a gentle slope (approximately 15 degrees). For 13 years I have used a John Deere GX345 and felt very secure sideways, at an angle, or up and down. It now has transmission issues (250 hours) and I am not sure if it is worth putting a bunch of money into. Since mine broke, my friend has been mowing it with his Ferris 600 or Gravely stand on, both up and down or sideways. Everywhere I go, they are trying to sell me a zero turn. They, as well as my buddy says an estate or low end commercial mower will be plenty safe for me or my teenager son. I hate to spend $5000+ and get it home and not feel safe. Should I pull the trigger or stick with a comparable tractor? Your thoughts?
My riding mower recently died after almost 20 years and I was looking to purchase a Husqvarna Z254 with the Kawasaki engine for my acre lot (was hoping to keep it under $3,500 w/the bagger.) My only concern is our septic mound which was added about 5 yrs ago and has a slope ranging from 10-14deg. The rest of the lawn is relatively flat with a very gradual slope in the back. Do you think this mower would be a good choice? I’ve read about transmission issues on steep slopes but I’m not sure if this would be considered “steep.” Any of recommendations would also be appreciated. Thanks for the advice!
HI Trent, The ZTR should handle the slope especially if you mow at a diagonal but if you are not comfortable mowing it I suggest buying a rear wheel drive self-propelled walk behind to mow the mound.
Remember, never mow straight up the slope with a ZTR. Only mow straight down if there is nothing to hit or fall into at the bottom.
Thanks for all the advice!
I have a new home and about 2.5 access of a lot that sat for 4 years and is all weeds.
I’m on a budget and just looking to make things easy on me for years time, as I’d rather be in the garden than mowing.
Would you recommend a riding tractor meet or a ztr for non commercial use and which models still available for your recommendation attempting to keep at $2k and below.
Hi Russel, There are no ZTR’s that will really work for you under $2700. So, I suggest a 46-50 inch lawn tractor. John Deere D100 Series Lawn Tractors, 2017 Cub Cadet XT1 – XT2, and Craftsman Yard tractors are all good choices.
I have a bad right leg (from ms) so I need something that I won’t need to use it on. I have had an stx-38 and now an L100, but it’s slowing down, time to go!
I have about a 300×100 yard. I have some large trees, with a lot of leaves that I mulch up. I have been considering the Deere z335 as I love the idea of a switch to go from mulch to blowing. But I would like a 36″.
I am thinking of a 36″ or 42″ deck (I have a small 48″ garage door in the back for a mower).
Any recommendations on units too look at?
Hi dan, I got both of your comments. Just so you know, I’m so busy it usually takes me a day or more to answer.
Do not buy a zero-turn smaller than 42 inches if your lawn is not perfectly flat. The small ZTR’s lose traction quickly and tear up your yard. They also tip over on 10 degree slopes.
Either the Ariens 34 or Toro 32 are the only choices for a quality mower in that size. I prefer the Toro because of the big single blade. It cuts and mulches really well.
Check it out here: 32″ (81 cm) TimeCutter® SS3225 (74710)
Either way, I strongly suggest buying from a local dealer. They can give you the hands-on experience you need to drive these little bugs correctly.
Interesting and candid article. What are your thoughts about a used commercial “out front mower” such as a John Deere 1445 for residential use? I’ve run a couple of zeros (limited use on commercial and high end residential types) and personally prefer the stability and familiarity of a tractor type. I use a JD 455 60″ tractor type now but will be building our new home on a larger property with more trees to mow under/around and slight slopes, nothing over 5%. About 3 acres worth of lawn with some old field terraces I do plan to level at some point. Overkill, probably, but I think I’d like the front mower for maneuverability, speed, and ride quality compared to the 455 or a high end residential zero turn. I’ve seen some used diesel front mount mowers around $5000 with 60″ 7 Iron deck and 4WD (3000+ engine hours). I do prefer diesel mowers as a general rule for longevity and fuel economy. Thanks!
Hi Matthew, I think out-front mowers are the best answer for mowing lawns but the U.S. market long ago chose to go with zero-turns instead. So yes, I’d love to recommend the 1445 except: Be very aware that a mower like this is usually used by a city, college or other government entity. so, 1. They let the work-study kids use them so they tend to be beat a little more than commercial mowers. 2. Large area John Deere mowers are priced less than the Toro and Jacobson equivalents (for the accountants) but they don’t last as long. 3. Also understand, a $20,000 mower (new) can be very expensive to repair. For example, I once bought a Kut-Kwik Super SlopeMaster for $4000 on an auction ($35,000 new) I used it for 20 hours or so and I had a transmission go bad. While it was apart we also found a cracked frame.
$6500 later I had it running again.
Paul, thanks for the speedy reply and caveats on JD front mounts–they do seem to depreciate fairly quickly but would hopefully work OK for my residential use. Those Kut Kwiks are amazing machines, too. I do like the fact the the fount mounts can accept other attachments such as blade, flail mower, snow blower, etc. for more uses. Thanks for your input!
Hi Matthew, If you do find trade-in’s from municipalities a lot of time there is more than one. And if you keep an open mind there is usually one “parts” machine that they will throw in with a good one just to get it off the lot. Bad motor, bad transmission, cracked frame – but there are thousands of dollars of parts left.
I’m building a new home on two acres. It is wide open now but I will plant some trees. I want to buy a mower that will last a long time. I’m looking at the Hustler Fastrak (54″ or 60″), the Gravely Pro Turn (52″ or 60″). Are these comparable machines? Would you prefer one over the other? What is the comparable ExMark mower to these two.
Hi Jim, The comparable ExMark is the Lazer.
At this price level it really boils down to the dealer. Buy from the dealer you like. ExMark/Toro sells half the commercial mowers in the U.S. Hustler makes a comparable machine and the new Gravely’s are light-years better than they were 5 years ago.
Actually, before you spend that much money for 2 acres take a look at the new Toro Titan HD.
Any advice appreciated: I currently own a 2013 Craftsman GT6000 garden tractor, I mow about 2.5 acres of mostly open grass (though I am planting more trees). I love everything about the tractor except it’s steering is horrible, very loose and tows the wheels in and out. I acquired a 2008 Toro Z5000 Timecutter zero turn with a blown motor. I probably can’t afford to keep both, so I am debating selling the Craftsman and converting the Toro to an electric motor. If I knew that the Toro was going to be better for mowing (timewise) I would have no issues with this decision. I also currently use the Craftsman with a 46 inch snowblower, I would likely get a smaller snowblower attachment to rig up to the zero turn, even though I know they are not really designed for this. I don’t have a huge driveway, so it only takes me about 25 minutes to clean up with that big of a blower. The other item that gives me a little pause is I have a small section of yard with about an 18 degree slope, I currently run weights on my tractor to make it up and down. I figure a bank of batteries on the zero turn will give me enough weight to make the couple of passes I need to do. Any advice?
Hi Jonas, you are way out of my comfort zone on the changes you want to make. I can say that I strongly suggest staying off that hill with a zero-turn. If you are using wheel weights it’s too steep for any zero-turn.
Thanks, I appreciate it.
I’m a small landscaper, mostly gated areas but wanted to get a zero turn for my yard and a couple others. was looking at the 48 in toro commercial. either Kawasaki engine or v-twin?
Hi Mike, I don’t suggest commercial mowers. There are too many. For example, there are at least 8 different Toro/ExMark models that offer a 48-50 inch deck. I suggest talking to your local dealers and pick a model from a dealer that you like.
I am building my landscape company on the side. I work for a bigger company monday-thursday and do work for myself on fridays and saturdays. I am in the market for a used ZTR mower and found one in my budget. it is a 2014 craftsman 54″ ZTR model Z6600. it has 80 hrs on it. they are asking $2200. I’m thinking I can get it for $2000. I live in Asheville, NC and deal with a lot of hills and slopes in yards as we are in the Appalachian mtns. I only have 7 full time yards now but am getting insured next spring and will be on several property management lists and really trying to work for myself full time. I run toro zmasters with my other job so I am familiar operating ZTR mowers. Is this a decent mower? Will it handle okay on hills? Is this a fair deal? Should I start with something on this level or keep saving money for a commercial grade? I want a mower that will allow me to take on bigger jobs and reduce my mowing time, but I just don’t think I need to spend $4000+ quite yet. Any suggestions would be much appreciated. Thanks for your time, Bert Ramsey.
Hi Bert, If you are not ready to spend $7000 or more you are not ready to get into the landscape mowing business.
The Craftsman is a good residential mower and if you used it on your own property 40-50 hours a year it will last a long time. But you are going to put that much time on the mower every week. As soon as you go out on other properties you know all the stuff you can find on the lawns that will kill that Craftsman in a very short time. The blades, deck, deck suspension and on and on can’t handle the banging it’s going to get mowing other properties.
In addition, the Craftsman may cut well from a Consumer Reports perspective but you and I both know that it doesn’t even compare to the cut quality you get with a ZMaster or ExMark. And you also know that the commercial decks can cut in just about any weather. The residential decks only cut well in dry conditions. Especially since you are limited to specific days your mowing equipment has to be able to mow in varied conditions.
Finally, No, the Craftsman uses ZT-2200 drives on a large 54 inch deck. It will not last long on hills.
I’m looking for my first ZTR. Narrowed it down to the Husqvarna MZ52 Kawasaki or the Toro Titan ZX5400 Kohler Confidant. Price within $300 of each other. Both have the ZT3100 which may be overkill for my lawn but I fear hydro problem and would rather upgrade to reduce the risk. I mow about 2 acres with many trees and obstacles with a slight slope. Currently using a 42 inch lawn tractor mower. Would appreciate any input to sway me either way on these. Thanks
Hi Chris, They are both good mowers. If you like one dealer over the other I would pick that mower.
As far a features the Kawasaki FR in the Husqvarna is just a residential engine. The Confidant in the Toro is a commercial model and has three times the life.
The Toro Titan is also know for a great cut. Again unless you had a golf course perfect lawn you would not really notice the difference in the cut.
Toro also has the better reputation for mulching kits and baggers for these larger ZTR’s.
Any thoughts on the Toro ZX 4800 with the Kohler Confident 21hp engine?
Hi Scott, the Titan is a high end residential/low-end commercial grade mower. The Kohler Confidant engine is commercial grade so it will last 2-3 times longer than the Kaw FR, Kohler 7000 or Briggs Pro engines. Mowing 5 acres you would never wear it out.
What is your opinion of the Scag Liberty Z (48). Is it worth the extra $1500 over the Gravely ZT 42 as it pertains to reliability and cut quality?
Hi Scott, I really don’t get into the midpriced ZTR’s. I do prefer the Gravely ZT X over the two you mentioned though.
Paul, great article and it certainly helps me think about a few more things as I’m searching for a mower. You mentioned one thing that I’m having difficulty finding information online about and wanted to pick your brain.
That item: Articulating Mowers.
I know that Husqvarna has a couple models in the <$4,000 range- not sure who else does. They appear to be more of a european design not yet caught on in the US.
Would you rank a $3-4k Articulating above a similarly priced Zero Turn?
For a 180 degree turn, Do the articulating actually turn on a dime as well or would you still need to do a 3-point turn like with a riding mower?
And are there any concerns about certain parts wearing out or repair issues with an articulating design vs a Zero Turn?
Thanks so much
Hi Josh, The Husqvarna 2-wheel drive will turn back onto the next row. The 4WD version has about a 12 inch turning radius.
The articulated’s have a center, idler pulley that the ZTR’s don’t have. I’ve had to replace the bearings in that once in my 1999 machine. The recycler decks have a frame around the entire deck and that actually helps the decks last a lot longer.
The biggest advantage with articulated’s is trimming. The deck is out front and it is so easy to trim around a tree, bush, fence post, etc. compared to a zero-turn. The articulated’s also trim inside curves a lot better than a ZTR or tractor.
I have a new 42 inch ZTR and it takes me about 30 minutes to string trim after I’ve mowed. I have an old green Craftsman 42 inch tractor and it takes me about 20 minutes to trim after I mow with that. The front and rear wheels are closer to the deck so I can get into corners and trim around trees better. I have a Husqvarna Articulated with the 41 inch recycler deck and it takes me about 10 minutes to trim after that. I can stick the deck under bushes, do inside curves and trim around any size post or tree.
The Husqvarna units are really the only articulated in the U.S. right now. Husqvarna and other companies have been trying to sell articulated’s here for 40 years but they just have never caught on. Husqvarna actually has a full line of articulated mowers available in other parts of the world that rival any ZTR we build here. Some of their ZTR’s can cost well over $20,000.
But, We like our tractors. We also have this crazy need for speed so we have adopted a zero-turn mower that fits on a trailer well and goes in a straight line really, really fast.
Hi Paul, I live in ky have two properties with grass, small slope in back yard of one, the rest is just a lawn. Getting older, have a slight hip problem walk behind mower is getting rough, what is your opinion on a cub cadet 420cc ohv 6 speed rear engine zero radius rider 30 inch cut? Some in and out things to mow, ac unit in yard, not much to zero around, just looking for something easier than a push mower. Had a rider, to much back and forth and too many 3 point turns. Thank you!
I have found that very informative. Springfield MO area = rocks not matter how good a job of picking, 40 acre farm – 1/2 acre yard mow kinda weekly – 1/4 acre cemetery I trim after grazing with sheep 2/3x a year (mostly open straight mowing). I use a mower hard. Gravel driveway so some small gravel.
On the farm I have about 8-10 miles of electric fence, I have mowed once or twice a year for many years using a old tractor style Cub Cadet, sometimes after cutting hay or using 70HP tractor / brush hog to within a foot or so of the fence. Will occasionally mow a 1/2 acre pasture AFTER grazing (usually only the one or 2 closest to the house) All but the yard is FLAT. Yard is 1/3 flat semi-wooded, 1/3 almost flat open, and 1/3 quite steep mix of open and trees that I mow up and down the slope. The 20 year cub was end of life, I replaced with a Kubota Kommander 42″ (told them all of the above). It does great for all of the above but keeps throwing the deck belt (about every hour to 1.5 hours of mowing) and has thrown the hydraulic belt twice (BIG JOB to put back on!!!). Dealer tells me NOW that this mower can not mow any sticks (Hickory trees in the yard, little sticks frequently, big one’s I pick up). For 3 weeks after THEY put the hyd. belt back on I mowed ONLY dry grass, ONLY the yard, and ONLY AFTER picking up any twig I could see… and keeping the mower deck just about spotless. It has thrown the deck belt 3 times, twice when I started it, 3rd time after mowing a minute or two. About 14 months old, has 43 hours on it.
1. I obviously need a heavier built mower. (Best friend has a Gravely, has never picked up a stick/branch; son-in-law has an old used high end commercial, uses in mud,rock and 6′ tall weeds for a couple years and never any problems).
2. I plan to wash/wax and sell the Kubota (42″), but now am worried that it will throw belts even for a small yard… it has been to the dealer 4 times (first, keep the deck cleaner, 2nd lost hydraulic pump, 3rd no idea, 4th you can’t mow anything but a small yard with this mower), any suggestions
3. I found a dealer I feel GOOD ABOUT, his suggestions were Gravely ZT HD vs Hustler Fastrack either would do MY job. He suggests Fastrack, heavier deck, rides better over rough stuff. Says he has a number of clients using commercially… and in the largest up to 60″ size I can get on trailer / through gates (I was leaning to 48, or at most 54 (60 will not fit). Your thoughts ? Thank you very much in advance, Robert
Hi Robert, I’ll say the same thing as the Kubota Dealer. These mowers are designed to mow lawns. Even the ones that cost $15,000 are designed to mow lawns – of course the expensive ones are designed to mow lawns faster and longer than the Kommander. That Said, Let’s talk about what you can expect with a little more expensive mower than the Kommander.
I suggest getting away from a 42 and going to a 48 or 60. Cost – at least $6000. Although I would most likely recommend a $4000 mower in your case if you want a mower you never have to worry about spend at least $6000. This gets you into the low end commercial mowers.
Low end commercial mowers have decks, transmissions, etc are heavy-duty enough to handle banging into fence posts, clipping pasture grass mounds and taking down the occasional sapling.
I also suggest the Fastrak/Fastrak HD to many people but I’ve very excited about the Gravely Pro-Turn. It’s a new mower and the next mower up in the Gravely line from the ZT HD. It has a lot of improvements in how easy it is to use, how well it rides. It’s one tough mower. https://www.gravely.com/en-us/zero-turn-mowers/pro-turn
Can you get a 60 around in the cemetery?
Before you put the Kubota up for sale put a new deck belt on it.
By the way, there are only two reasons that Kubota is throwing belts. 1. Your fault – You have a rock, stick, etc wedged in a pulley. 2. The dealers fault for not finding the problem – Something is bent, broke or missing. If you were overworking the mower by mowing too thick of grass you would be burning belts, not popping them off.
Hi Paul, We are looking to buy a zero turn and would like to know what you recommend. We are in Marshall MI with 3.5 acres some rough spots and a few slight slopes.
Hi Julie, With 3.5 acres and some rough spots I suggest looking at a zero-turn with larger rear tires, a heavy duty residential deck and ZT2800/ZT3100 transmissions. Basically we are looking at zero-turn mowers in the $4500-$6500 range.
I don’t know any of the local dealers in your area but there is a Tractor Supply close by. Tactor Supply has two brands that have a good reputation and products that will work very well for you. These ZTR’s will give you an Idea of what will work for you and last a long time.
I list my suggestions here:
Cub Cadet Z-FORCE L60 60 in. 25HP Zero-Tur…
in stock [More]
Bad Boy 60 in. 747cc ZT Elite Zero-Turn Mo…
in stock [More]
OK. That makes sense. And I again appreciate your help with my questions. I knew you were the only one I could ask without getting a sales pitch from a dealer on why their machines are better than Brand x.
You are awesome!
Paul, thank you for taking time providing such a great info and invaluable advice. I am planning to buy my first zero turn mower and currently considering the following:
1). Toro SWX5050 that has steering wheel mower with ZT-2800 and Toro engine and 50″ fabricated deck. Price is $4,600 out the door with 4 yr warranty . From your posts, looks like the steering wheel would handle the slope better but I do concern about the quality of Toro (since this is consumer mower and saw mixed review on Home Depot about its quality at low hours. In addition the engine built by Toro is still new, not sure if it would last long compared to Kawa or Kohler engines).
(2) Cub Cadet Pro S154Z with steering wheel (Kohler EFI Command engine and ZT-3400). Price is ~$6,700 otd with 4 yr warranty. This one looks well built. Saw some videos of the Cub cadet Z force with steering wheel on slope and was very impressed. However I read some reviews online complaining about belt damage at less than 20 hours due to some design flaw in their deck. Also my conversations with some dealers in my area did not leave me with good impression about their services. Since I have not seen any commercial guys use CC, would that imply something about the quality of the machine?
(3) Ferris F160Z lap bar with Kawasaki FX730 and ZT-4400) – $6,800 otd. This is the best built of the three, and can be considered entry commercial level. In addition, the dealer is just 15′ away and has great reputation in my area. I think the ZT-4400 would handle the 15-20 deg slope well and would last a very long time. I can do basic maintenance like oil change, blade sharpening, etc.
But want to hear your opinion. Is the Ferris overkilled for my needs or the Toro SWX5050 would serve me well. Only a few comments from HD websites were related to this steering wheel zero turn, and quite a few of them complained about the steering wheel not in sync, machine could not start after a few hours or belt damaged, etc.
Thank you for your time
Hi Nam, Home Depot does one thing with reviews that makes no sense at all. The combine all the reviews for a brand and then put all of them on every product. So, for the Toro SWX5050 it shows over 219 reviews but not one of the reviews is for the mower. All the reviews are for other Toro machines. Home Depot is doing a dis-service to themselves and the products they sell.
I have heard of no issues with the 50 inch so I went through all the reviews. ExMark steering wheel models come off the same assembly line so I also went through those reviews. There are problems but they are all with different model ZTR’s.
Now, I really can’t give you my opinion because I can’t find where you told me how big your yard is, how rough it is, what type of grass, where you live, etc. I did notice you have a slope but how big is it? Write back and I’ll give you an opinion.
Thank you for your prompt response. I did went through most of the reviews on HD website and looks for those related to Toro mower with steering wheel mower. There was no review for this specific mower SWX5050, but I just picked up the complaints about other Toro mowers that have Toro engines or an issues with the steering wheel system, which I think could be applicable to this machine. I just don’t want to get a new belt every 10 hours or have the mower in the shop when I need it.
I live in NJ. My yard is less than 1/2 acres with a mix of grass (whatever Scott uses in their grass seed sold in HD).
Hi Nam, It’s very easy to get confused with all this stuff. In the case of the Toro there are three different quality levels all wrapped up in those reviews. The SS series is not as heavy duty as the SWX series. The reviews with problems were all for the cheaper machines.
For 1/2 acre of grass any of the mowers Toro sells is a good pick. The SWX 5050 is actually overkill but will last you years and years and years.
Thank you, Paul. Very much appreciate your honest and unbiased advice. HD offer their protection plan for $350 which extend manufacturer warranty by additional 3 years with free pick up and delivery from day one. That makes total warranty of 7 years (Toro is currently offering additional 1 year warranty). So looks like the SWX5050 is the winner here. I am gonna go for it.
Again, thank you so much Paul.
Can you explain what you mean by the more advanced technique “reverse zero turn”? Do you have a video or demonstration of this? Maybe you can just explain it in detail. I have just purchased a Toro MX5050 and find I am leaving some divots from time to time.
Hi Matt, Experience and getting to know your lawn really helps. There will be certain areas of your lawn where the ZTR has more weight on one rear tire than the other and it will scuff the lawn when you turn. If it does it in the same spot every time – don’t turn there. Change you mowing pattern so you are turning somewhere else.
1. I usually mow around the entire area twice with the discharge pointing in. This is the area where we will make the turns.
2. I’ll use the example, you are mowing in a straight line (the row) with the uncut lawn to your left.
3. Come up to the end of the row and as you get into that end area (the already cut) move to your left but still keep the ZTR pointing to the end of the row.
Do the next steps slowly at first. With practice you can do it very quickly
4. Pull both lap bars straight back. As you begin to move backwards in one smooth motion push the left lap bar forward. The ZTR will change from backing up to a full zero turn (one wheel going forward and one going backward)
5. As soon as the ZTR swings 180 degrees and is pointing back to mow the next row move the right hand lap bar into the forward position. (I’m right handed. If you are left handed going the other way may be better for you)
Starting the turn with the ZTR moving backwards changes the momentum and allows you to move it quickly without tearing up the turf. With practice this will become one fluid motion. With practice you will be able to do this at full reverse speed. With practice you will be able to make your mower “dance” without hurting a blade of grass. When you get really good – it will be as much fun as riding a tilt-a-whirl.
Thank you for your article and all the comments on here, some very useful info. I am looking for some advice, I currently have an old, engine on her last leg Dixie Chopper XW2202 Quad Loop 60″, that I am debating on either replacing the engine on or purchasing a new zero-turn, if I can find one that can safely handle the work. I’m currently mowing approx. 3 acres around the farm house/buildings with an additional occasional 3-4 acre pasture mowing just as clean-up purposes after cattle run through. The land is all heavily slopped, deep short ditches in some areas around 40 degree or better on some ditches. That old dixie walks up and down these without a problem, when I have power, but like I said my engine is on her last leg, she was a freebie by the way, so I really don’t mind putting some money in it. I have looked at quite a few 60″ commercial mowers, but get the feeling that the center of gravity along with the fact they have you sitting pretty high up in the air, that safely trying to accomplish what I need to is debatable. Closest Dixie dealer is well over 2 hours away, local mechanics don’t really want to touch a Dixie even though she is a pretty stripped down version now. Any suggestions on a new zero-turn that may be able to handle the ditches/slopes or is my best bet to just throw a new engine in the one I have??? Thank you for any advice and taking your time.
Hi Laura, I think that mower has a horizontal shaft engine so a replacement will run you about $100 a horse. The repair guys don’t want to mess with it because there is always something else that needs to be replaced so a 24 hp engine can easily cost $3000 installed. If you get the new engine on and the drives go bad you are looking at another $2500-3000. You might as well put that $5000 or more towards a new mower.
I’ve always liked the ExMark Lazer Z, Hustler Fastrak HD or Scag as good hill climbers.
Great website and advice. I’ve got a JD F930 mower/72 inch deck with 1,200 hours and mow about 4 acres weekly. That includes a few trees and other obstacles to navigate. Mow time is about 90 minutes or so. I love the mower, but it’s starting to nickel and dime me. What is the min. ZTR price range that will equal cut and time to mow? I think that I may be in the upper range and might be just fine with the nickel and dimes versus a new mower. However, I’d like your advice.
Hi Mike, The old 930’s were good mowers. Most of the time the engines went long before the mower did. I suggest you start with the John Deere Z535M. The 54 inch deck will cut faster than your F930 and you will really like the cut of the new decks. It will ride a little rougher and you will have to relearn how to trim. (Front mounted decks are so nice for detail work.) The price is reasonable and comparatively a good deal compared to what the F930’s used to cost.
Hello! Thank you for taking the time to give me the details on each type of transmission. Since I made my first inquiry to you – I did some research on the Exmark and Walker mowers. Both of these brands are sold in my hometown. I’m thinking that these mowers will have the same 2800 to 3100 transmissions depending on model? Is there a top pick of models to compare? I know he carries the Gravely because that is where my brother bought it. And I have a feeling he carries some of the models that you talk about in your forum.
Also sounds like I need to spend the money up front to tackle all of the terrain I will have for it and to get something that lasts for a long time. Will something with a 48″ deck ride as smooth as this Gravely did with a 60″ deck? I couldn’t believe how nice it rode. Felt like a cadillac and I wasn’t jostled around like on my current mower.
Hi Amy, You are correct with the transmissions. On a $5000 Gravely or ExMark a 48 inch deck and a 60 inch will ride about the same. A $4000 – 48 inch won’t ride as well as a $5000 48 inch though. In other words the more expensive the mower the heavier it is. In addition, more expensive mowers usually have better seating. Some even have suspension under the seats.
The Walker mowers are a completely different animal. At this point lets drop that brand from the discussion.
It really is worth spending money up front for a Gravely or Exmark. The more you spend, they more heavy-duty they are and the longer they will last.
Hello Paul. I would estimate that last fall I had asked you about a mower for my hobby farm. I wasn’t quite ready to purchase a mower at that time and the suggestion you had for me was lost. Can I trouble you again to offer a suggestion? I tried out my brothers Gravely with a 60″ deck this weekend. It mowed like a dream on my bumpy, sloping ditches, uneven terrain, numerous trees. But, this was a $6,000 mower. Not sure if I need something that fancy for my yard. In the fall, I have used it to mow some areas in the pasture where the horses didn’t eat it down to nubbins. I know you are not supposed to do that, but I do mow through it very slowly and take about two feet at a time. Then go back and mow it over again. At any rate, I think I would be OK with something that is in the $4k range, but would spend more if it means having a mower that I will have for a long time. I don’t know the difference between the deck styles (rigid) or if a front deck or middle deck would be better. I would think minimum maintenance/moving parts would be best for me. I have someone to help me sharpen blades, grease mower and change oil. Major items I would take it to a repair place.
Hi Amy, A dealer will argue with me all day long but I use the following price/reliability/longevity for farm yard type mowing.
Lawn/Garden Tractors: If you just mow the lawn around the house and nobody drives on it a $2000-$3000 one will last 10-15 years. If you mow around the farm buildings, ditches and fence rows they will last less than 10.
Zero-turns under $3500: ZT-2200 Transmissions. In general they will last about the same as the lawn tractors.
Zero-Turns $3500 to $5000: ZT-2800 Transmissions. If you mow around the farm buildings, ditches and fence rows they will last less than 15. If you go out in the pasture they will only last 10 or so.
Zero-Turns above $5000: ZT-3100 Transmissions. When you get into this price range you get heavy duty blades and decks. They will take a lot more abuse like hitting fence posts, tree roots, farm yard ruts and heavy growth out in the pastures. They will also have heavy duty transmissions that won’t overheat and burn out when using them in tall grass, on ditches or slopes. If you just doing light dragging you should be able to use this grade to loosen you horse arena. (It will have about the same pulling power as a 2-wheel ATV but won’t be able to work in 4 inch loose sand.)
I like Gravely’s so let’s talk the Gravely ZT XL and Gravely ZT HD specifically: The Gravely ZT XL starts about $4000 and has the ZT-2800 drives. If you just wanted to mow around the house and out buildings this would work. The Gravely ZT HD though I would have no problems going out to the pasture and cutting down the longer stuff and saplings under 1 inch. The ZT-3100 drives are heavy enough to take all the abuse you could give them. Then deck is heavy enough to take all the pounding you can give it.
If you wanted to save money I would suggest going with a 48 inch deck instead of the larger 60. There is only a 15% difference in mowing time between the two sizes. I would also go with the Kohler engine instead of paying a premium for the Kawasaki.
Hi Paul, This is a great site. I am considering a ZTR to use at my farm. I have approximately 8 acres on the property that I try to maintain using a JD D130 around the house (less than an acre) and my Kubota MX5100 with 6ft Bushhog for the rest. I try to mow each week but sometimes I dont make it up there but every two weeks. Most of the land is sloping towards the lake with lots of trees, blueberry bushes, fruit trees, & flower beds. This place is my families get away and we all love it but I spent 8 hours this weekend getting everything maintained. I’m thinking about a commercial grade 72″ to hopefully get back some time with my family. There is a Scag & Husqvarna dealer in the nearest town and a Kubota & Exmark dealer in the next closest town. I’ve never considered a front mount deck over the mid mount deck. What are your thoughts / recommendations?
Hi Jason, Please stay away from the 72 inch decks. A 60/61 inch can actually be faster for the type of mowing you want to do. Why? A 72 inch uses a lot of power, quite a bit more than a 60 in tall grass. They really don’t make larger engines specifically for the 72 so I’ve found that the units tend to bog down and you have to go a lot slower than you would with a 60. With a good 60 you will be able to cut your mowing time in half or more.
ExMark Lazer Z and Scag Tiger Cat are the most popular with the commercial operators. Their mowers are built for reliability and performance in mind. Those machines will take a beating trimming around all your stuff and never have an issue.
Husqvarna will be a little less initial cost and it has good equipment but the maintenance costs are a little higher.
Kubota will be the highest initial cost but if you want to trade in the tractor and bush hog that may be the best choice for trade-in value.
Start with the ExMark Dealer. Get to know that machine well and then compare the others to it. That will give you the best machine for the price.
Thank you for the information. I will be looking at both the SCAG Tiger Cat and Exmark Laser Z this week.
We’ll see. I’m waiting for a quote on a Walker comparable to the Grasshopper. 17G, but that is with a hydraulic deck lift, powerful, and the collection system. Still expensive.
Wonder why Craftsman discontinued their “Easy Blade Replacement” system on their Pro Series tractors? Seems like a really great idea, as the video shows. My 2016 Craftsman Pro Series 8200 bought last month has the typical “bolt-on” blades.
@David, That is a Husqvarna exclusive technology. The 2016 tractors are made by MTD. Personally, I think they are going to be a problem. The plastic caps will break and the spring clips will get bent on stuff. I want something simple spinning at 200 MPH!
Great article. I appreciate the info. I am considering a zero turn and would like your advice. I have about an acre of flat to lightly sloped centipede lawn I cut at 1.5 inches every 7 to 10 days with a 42″ JD D130 (irregular shape and a couple dozen trees and other obstacles to cut around), 2.5 acres of sloped (~10 deg) pond dam and 4-5 acres of flat field I cut with a finish mower every 2 or weeks or so, depending on conditions. The top of my list is the Grasshopper 725DT, in part because I can add a vac/hopper system, which is a necessity in the fall and spring, and I think I will like a front mount better than mid mount. My assumption is it will be easier to cut around trees and irregular obstacles, as well as be more balanced on hills. Please correct me if I’m wrong, and give me your informed recommendation. I live in Dunn, NC.
HI David, The Grasshopper front deck is an excellent all around unit. I will say that it will have a little more regular maintenance than a mid-deck ZTR. It has more belts and bearings. Once you get a price, also take a look at the Walker Mowers. The Walkers have a very low center of gravity, have great cutting decks, have one of the best grass handling systems and are as nimble as a mountain goat. One advantage of the Walker is it’s very easy to change decks so you can have one for normal mowing and another when you need to collect .
I discovered the additional maintenance required for the front mount while doing research to narrow down my choices, and I’m OK with that. I did look into the Walker mowers, but I am having trouble finding a dealer in my area that knows they are a Walker dealer. I called a couple places listed on the Walker web site, and they said they didn’t sell Walkers. I would like to look at one though, because I know that Walker and Grasshopper were connected at some point, and many of the design elements are very similar. Can I expect the same center of gravity and nimble handling characteristics from a Grasshopper that you said I would get with a the Walker? I looked at the Grasshopper and really liked it, but they are very expensive. The demo will have to go really well for me to pull the trigger on a Grasshopper. Thanks again.
Hi David, I suggest going through Request a Demo page and let them find you a good dealer.
A good dealer goes a long way to liking a product. Walker, Country Clipper, Hustler and Grasshopper have been doing zero-turns since the beginning and are still making quality products.
The Grasshopper is nimble – a lot more nimble than a mid-mount. Is it as nimble as the Walker? It’s a little larger and the ground clearance is higher so not quite as nimble.
Request submitted. I hope the Walker is as good as the Gasshopper, but cheaper. Almost $17,000 before tax is alot to pay for a mower, even if it will last 20 years. Thanks for the reply.
Hi David, What!!! That’s insane! Yes, by half. By the way, nice pun with the spelling.
I got a demo from the BBC Walker folks a couple months ago. Their mower is almost as overpriced as the Grasshopper (both were gas motors). I would have to buy 2 decks with the Walker because the collection deck serves no other purpose – I don’t always want to collect so I would also need a side discharge deck. Almost $15000 for the mower and collection deck, then another $2700 for a side discharge. At those prices, I guess I will keep my JD D130 and 3 pt finish mower.
Time cutter is nice but have garage space issues. What do you think of the gravely zt42 Joel
Hi Joel, A 42 inch ZTR will take up the same amount of space no matter who makes it. That said, The I like the 2016 Gravely ZT X 42 a lot. UI don’t talk about it much because it’s a dealer only ZTR. I don’t care for the 2014 and old older Gravely’s though.
Live in canton oh suburb was told not to walk now anymore due to medial meniscus tear. Looking at a small rider. Currently trying a Troy Bilt 30 inch rear engine but feels top heavy going around trees or turning. Will not cut in reverse. Probably will return to box store. Also considering Gravely zt34 or 42 but not much garage space leaning toward 34. Not a large yard and slight slope but not dramatic. Is it worth buying a zero turn?