Zero Turn Mower Buying Guide

A zero turn mower allows you to move faster and navigate impossibly tight turns. If you've got a demanding yard, it might be the mower for you.

If you demand serious power, mobility and speed when mowing your lawn, then you need to consider a zero turn mower. Here’s the rundown on what zero turns bring to the table, how to know if one is right for you, and what you can expect to spend on a new model.

What Is a Zero Turn Mower?

With their distinctive lap bar controls, zero turn radius (ZTR) riding lawnmowers combine precision steering and separate wheel controls to allow the rider to turn 360 degrees. This creates crisp cut patterns (the direction the grass bends after being mowed) and eliminates time-wasting turns and redirections. This mobility, combined with the speed gained by their wider cutting decks, means that ZTRs can finish most jobs much faster than traditional lawnmowers.

With most ZTR mowers, you turn them by manipulating the individual lap-bar levers. The levers control the speed of the wheel on that side of the mower. When you push both levers forward simultaneously, both wheels turn at the same rate, propelling the mower in a straight line. To turn left, you push the right lever forward and pull back on the left lever. Do the opposite to turn right. The front tires swivel and are not connected to any steering input. Individual speed control on the powered rear wheels gives these mowers their unique capabilities. It also makes driving one a learned skill, especially on side hills where, lacking front-end control, a ZTR mower can be difficult to handle.

Top Zero Turn Mower Brands

The top zero turn mower brands include names familiar to most homeowners, as well as some specialized manufacturers. Widely-known names include John Deere, Ryobi, Husqvarna, Cub Cadet and Troy Built. More specialized manufacturers include Ariens, Swisher, Exmark and EGO.

Zero Turn Mower Features

Zero turn mowers are complex machines with multiple options and features. The most important of all: Safety features. The higher speed of ZTR mowers emboldens many users to tackle rough terrain or inclines more aggressively than they should. A rollover on a ZTR mower is no laughing matter, especially when you consider several hundred pounds of steel and multiple sets of whirling blades might be landing on top of you! A rollover protection system often includes stabilizers, tip-warning systems, a rollbar and a seat belt. They often fold easily for trailering and storage.

If you plan on towing, look for models with a receiver hitch. Towing is a nice feature for larger plots of land where you wish to bring a trailer full of tools and other items to farther ends of the property. You can also hook up things like aerators and leaf collection systems. Similarly, look for models that have bagging attachments or even vacuums for leaves and other debris.

Look closely at a ZTR mower’s cutting deck. Some decks are made from 10-gauge seam-welded steel. Other residential mowers use cutting decks made of thinner steel stamped from a single sheet. If you’re mowing a few acres once a week, a mower with a stamped-steel deck will most likely be durable enough. But if you mow many acres or several properties, a fabricated steel deck might be worth the extra cost and weight.

If you want to be more environmentally friendly (or just don’t want to keep gasoline on hand), consider a battery-powered zero turn mower. These models cost a little more, but they can be perfect for homeowners with properties of four acres or fewer. Ryobi recently expanded its outdoor tool offering with a line of battery-powered ZTR mowers. The company offers different battery platforms and cutting deck sizes, depending on the amount of work you need to do. You can also find electric ZTR mowers made by Greenworks, EGO and Cub Cadet.

Another time-saving feature is an integrated washing system. These hook up to a hose and are essentially a miniature power washer, especially for the underside of the deck where grass clippings can form a hard crust.

Zero Turn Mower Buying Considerations

The biggest consideration when buying a mower is the nature of your lawn. Zero turn mowers excel on larger lawns or properties with moderate obstructions, such as bushes or a swimming pool. Large stretches of lawn showcase the enhanced speed of ZTRs, and the tight turns around obstructions are exactly where the maneuverability of a zero turn mower can shine.

Conversely, properties with small or hard-to-reach areas will benefit from mowers with smaller deck sizes, perhaps even push mowers or string trimmers. A particular consideration for zero turn mowers is the width of any gate access. There’s no point in buying a mower with a 52-in. deck when your backyard gate is 35-in. wide! Look for more compact ZTR designs to access standard gates.

Lastly, properties with extreme slopes (more than 10 degrees) are usually better off with a lawn or garden tractor, or a ZTR built specifically for sloped mowing.

Zero Turn Mower Accessories and Attachments

Most zero turn mowers come with accessory and attachment options similar to traditional lawn tractors. These include tow-behind accessories such as baggers, aerators and lawn sweepers, and overhead options such as sun canopies. Most dealerships and supply stores carry a range of accessories for all major ZTR brands.

Zero Turn Mower Costs and Financing

Zero turn mowers cost more than most other riding lawn mowers, ranging between $2,000 and $5,000 plus accessories. The highest ticket ZTRs are geared toward professionals mowing dozens of properties a day. For most homeowners, the sweet spot between features and price will be closer to $2,500 to $3,000.

Of course, since these mowers might cost more than you spent on your first car, it’s a good idea to look into financing options from the manufacturer or retailer.

Zero Turn Mower Maintenance and Repair Considerations

Maintenance on zero turn mowers generally involves cleaning, engine tuneups, and blade sharpening and replacement. If you buy a zero turn mower, you’ll need to invest in a trailer, find a repair service that does pickups and delivery, or go the DIY maintenance and repair route.

Dan Stout
Ohio-based freelance writer and author Dan Stout is a former residential remodeler, commercial site supervisor and maintenance manager. He’s worked on nearly all aspects of building and DIY including project planning and permitting, plumbing, basic electric, drywall, carpentry, tiling, painting and more. He also publishes noir fantasy thrillers, including The Carter Series, from Penguin imprint DAW Books.