Do you really need a zero-turn mower? 17 reasons why you may not want one.

 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.

By Paul Sikkema. Join the conversation on Facebook!

Do you need a zero-turn mower?

Update 2018: Over 500,000 people have read this article over the last 3 years and it’s time to update it. There have been some significant changes including new zero-turns with steering wheels! Feel free to tell all your friends.

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!

The “Landscape” has changed in the last three years and there are now new zero-turns on the market that eliminate most of the problems with residential zero-turns.  The Toro Zero-Turn Timecutter, Craftsman Steering Wheel Zero Turns and Cub Cadet Four-Wheel Steer Zero-Turn Riders use a steering wheel instead of lap-bars to steer the mower.  This allows the ZTR to turn better, follow slopes better and reduces the load on the EZT transmissions. In addition, they are very easy to use and don’t have the learning curve associated with lap-bar zero-turn mowers. In fact, they are as easy to drive as your car or SUV. You may read my review of the Toro Zero-Turn Tractor here.  

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 $1500 lawn tractor is $2300 or more.  A good estate (landowner) zero-turn that will actually cut your mowing time in half is anywhere from $3000 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. They are 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.  Most are not balanced properly for baggers 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 90’s.  By 1994 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.)

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’ve 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 Wisconsin 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 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 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 Poulan Pro or John Deere, this can save you a lot of time. Compared to a Craftsman Yard Tractor with the Turn Tight steering this is not a big time saver.

Front Mount Zero-Turn

Mid Mount Zero Turn

-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. 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 than mid-mount ZTR’s.

-Residential zero-turn mowers 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. Many landowner and commercial zero turn mowers (over $4000) are designed to cut grass faster than traditional lawn tractors so your straight line mowing speed is improved. You have to move up to these higher priced units to see any 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 5-8 mph. NOTE: Just because a mower is advertised to go a certain speed it does not mean it will mow well at that speed. For example, a Craftsman GT6000 Garden Tractor will go 8 mph but it will only mow well about 4 mph. A general rule of thumb: If the zero-turn has a stamped deck it will only mow well at 3-5 mph. If the zero-turn costs over $4500 it will mow well at 5-8 mph. These mid-priced zero-turns usually have 48 to 60 inches decks. The larger decks and higher ground speeds get the job done faster. (Brands are welcome to comment on their actual mowing speed at the end of this article)

Zero turn attachments

– 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.

Three point turn

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, Residential mid-mount zero-turns do not cut better than lawn tractors.  Mid-mount zero-turns do not trim better than lawn tractors. The main reason you see commercial lawn service companies using mid-mount zero turn mowers is they can fit more mid-mount ZTR’s on a trailer than you can the front-mount types. Landowner and commercial mid-mount zero-turns cut faster than lawn tractors and that is where the real time savings happens.


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 38 inch Husqvarna Articulated Front Deck Rider I can mow the lawn in 1 hour. About 5 minutes for 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!

Time Savings – Commercial Example:

Front Deck Mower

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.  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?


Husqvarna 30 inch

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. There are thousands of you who will read this and decide a small zero-turn is best for you, but you may also decide a small zero-turn is not the best choice.  For example, an entry level Craftsman Zero Turn is a good dependable Zero-Turn 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 the $2400 Craftsman against zero-turn mowers costing $6000 to $17,000 and then rated it poorly without explaining the differences. (They did not rate any other small residential zero-turns)

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.

A Lawn or Yard Tractor with a tight turning radius will maneuver almost as well for most of us. For homeowners with slopes, a Craftsman Pro Series Yard Tractor is a better choice.

The Limitations:

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, 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-turn’s 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.

There are now zero-turns that do not have the learning curve associated with lap bars. The Toro Zero-Turn Timecutter, Craftsman Steering Wheel Zero Turns, Troy-Bilt and Cub Cadet Four-Wheel Steer Zero-Turn Riders use a steering wheel instead of lap-bars to steer the mower and are much easier to learn and to use. These mowers are similar to residential zero turns but use a steering wheel and steerable front wheels instead of lap-bars.  They have been around long enough now that I can give them a resounding thumb’s up if you want a zero-turn but are afraid you won’t like the lap-bar steering.

Small residential zero-turns are built with the same parts and engineering design (durability) as your lawn tractor. They will last you years if taken care of but they will only take as much abuse as your old lawn tractor. What that means is while you are learning to drive one it is very easy to damage a small zero-turn. They are designed to go quickly and easily around things but they are not designed to bang into trees, foundations, birdbaths, curbs, rocks, tree roots, etc. Landowner zero-turns are tougher, but not bulletproof. Commercial zero-turns on the other hand are designed for multiple operators and can take a lot more abuse. Some landowner and all commercial decks have rub bars on the edges, heavy, heavy lift linkages and heavy duty frames. Commercial mowers can take a hit against a foundation but your new residential zero-turn can’t.  

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 (the Craftsman 20424 is 900 lbs.) Even then, many of the higher weight, higher cost zero-turns also mow faster so the ride gets rougher again. I was so happy when my landscape company was successful enough that I could buy ExMark Zero Turns with a suspension seat. The air ride seat was a $600 option and I gladly paid it! More and more brands are now offering suspension seats and suspension platforms that smooth out the ride. The Toro MyRide is one of the best.

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.

4. 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. If you can lift the front end of your zero-turn by yourself don’t try mowing up a hill with it.

5. 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 when you slide into the pond and very deadly when 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. 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. In other words they don’t use a differential.

6. Small zero-turns may tip over backwards going uphill. 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 lbs or so.

8. Small zero-turns push hard when the engine is not running. The transmission release lever 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. 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 economy small 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 time. 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. 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 they don’t 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. I will always suggest a rough cut mower like the Acrease rough cut or a “Bush Hog” brush mower.

Note. This is critical information when deciding on what type of lawn mower to buy: All zero-turn mowers are designed to mow lawns. They are designed to mow weekly or bi-weekly growth. They are NOT designed to mow pastures, timber, fields, and paddocks. They are NOT designed to mow grass/weeds 12 inches to 6 feet tall. Mowing grass over 12 inches can/will damage deck spindles, belts, tires and bearings on even the most expensive ZTR’s.

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.

17. 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 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 continue 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:

How exactly does a zero turn mower save you time compared to a lawn tractor?

Here is a newer 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? Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below.

Paul :About Paul Sikkema Paul Sikkema has been writing about snow blowers, riding mowers and other lawn and garden equipment for over 10 years. Paul does most his writing out in his workshop where he feeds the wildlife and birds in the yard. His goal is to have a red squirrel eating out of his hand. He spends as much time with his granddaughter as he can.

View Comments (841)

  • Paul,
    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!

    • 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.

    • 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.

          • Paul,
            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.

  • 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.

  • Hello Paul,

    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?

    • 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 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.

  • Paul
    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 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

      • Paul,
        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.

  • 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! :)

  • 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.