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WHAT IS A ZERO TURN MOWER?
A zero turn mower is a riding lawn mower that has a turning radius of zero degrees. There are many different makes and models in both entry level, residential zero turn mowers and commercial style machines. When searching for the longest lasting zero turn mower many things come into play that we will fully cover in this article. Shopping for the best mower can be quite pricey and also stressful, this guide will ease some of that pain. This may be one of the largest purchases you make under a car and home, so choosing a long lasting zero turn lawnmower is key.
Most newer style machines have 4 wheels and accomplish the zero degree turning ratio by using hydraulic speed control separately for each side of the unit. Varying sizes of cutting decks can be gasoline or diesel along with many other options.
TYPES OF STEERING CONTROLS
The most commonly seen, but not necessarily the best is the lap lever operated machine.
Two other types of zero degree machines are steering wheel and joystick controlled, but with a much different design. More recently steering wheel machines have become increasingly popular with some of the best residential zero turn mowers. They’re great because there’s no learning curve, and they only go up a couple hundred dollars in cost. These machines are a great option as most people already have experience with a steering wheel and it may also be good if you have no experience with lap bars. At the midpoint on the body an axle is mounted and connected to the rear wheels for steering control.
Lever or Lap Bars
Two separate motors control lever style or lap bar machines, one for each side of the machine. The separate motors allow for each side to rotate independently. Two levers forward at the same time to move straight and pulling back on both levers equally to move backwards. When the operator needs to turn to the right or left, the lever on the that side needs to be pushed further A forward and backward rotation of opposite tires is what give that machine it’s zero turn capability.
ARE THEY HARD TO DRIVE?
Z-turn machines are not for everyone, if after reading this guide your still unsure if they’re right for you than take a look at this article on ride on mowers specifically, it will surely shed some more light on your different options.
They take a little getting use to, but I wouldn’t say it is harder to operate. As a result more and more homeowners are purchasing these machines as they have been made more homeowner friendly and affordable. If you decide to go opt out of the steering wheel lap bars may take some getting use to but after that it’s a breeze. The difference in the two is simply a preference.
WHY ARE THEY BETTER?
One of the biggest benefits is there ability to get the job done quicker. These machines are designed first of all to cut at a straight away speed that is typically 2-5 mph faster than other types of ride-ons. Next is it’s maneuverability, which is also a major time saver. When cutting around trees, rocks, flower beds and other obstacles is what makes mowing a breeze. If you have several obstacles in your yard like the ones just mentioned, it be quite strenuous work with a walk behind. Maneuvering in and out, back and forth can now be almost effortless.
Lastly when cutting with a traditional steering wheel type machine, after you get to the end of a pass you usually have a choice to turn around one of 3 ways. Make a 3 point turn, make a wide U-type turn or to make a sharp turn which will usually leave you with a scalped and damaged lawn. If you’re lucky enough to own one of these top rated machines you will be able to easily make a 180 degree turn at the end of each pass. No more having to go back and forth to cut all the spots you missed when making your turn around loop. These patches of grass that are missed are sometimes referred to as holidays.
3 REASONS NOT TO PURCHASE
#1 The main reason or answer to this question that I see time and time again has to do with cutting area. It it totally unnecessary to purchase an oversized walk-behind or any ride on for that matter if you don’t have a large enough lawn to make it worthwhile. There are some people out there that go out and purchase the biggest and best residential mower on the market just because they can.
There’s a saying, “ Those who die with the most toys wins!” I can say that I’m not one of them. I had an uncle that had a riding lawn mower for a little patch of grass, I think it was more work and took longer for him to try to turn and maneuver the machine and turn it around than it would have been to just buzz around with a push or walk behind mower.
#2 Another good reason NOT to purchase one of these machines is that you may have other needs that may not be fit for it. It’s important to realize that these machines have come a long way since they first hit the market. Still home tractors have many more add-ons, so you just need to make sure that your lawnmower can do everything you want.
#3 Lastly, you may not want to get one of these mean green turning machines is if your cutting areas with steep slopes. If you’re cutting on angles greater than 10-15 degrees, then a Z-turn is not a safe choice. I have personally seen them flip, roll, slide and almost kill the operator. If you only have a couple slopes,you can always leave those areas out of your mowing with your zero turn machine and cut them separately with something safer & more appropriate. I’m not kidding, check out this picture!
WHAT SIZE ZERO TURN MOWER DO I NEED?
There are several factors you need to look at when choosing what size machine will fit you best. The size of your property is probably first. Like we mentioned in the last answer, it is pointless and a waste of money to purchase a z-turn that is too big for your needs. It may cause you more work,take longer to finish the job and cost you unnecessary money.
Buyers need to be mindful of areas on your property where you either need to fit the machine in between two objects like a tree and a flower bed or in a gated area. You will be adding an extra step to you lawn care routine if your machine can’t fit in these places and you wind up having to use additional equipment to cut these places. It’s a good idea to measure these areas in your yard, than take note of the machine widths before purchasing.
Obviously the larger the deck the more acreage you can cover and ultimately get your job done quicker. Cutting decks can range in sizes, starting at 30” and going up to 72” and are made of either a fabricated or stamped metal. Fabricated decks are more durable than stamped decks and will take a bigger beating. The drawback to this is you will pay a higher price upfront, but may save you in the long run if you will be putting your machine to hard work. In most cases I have seen a stamped deck is more than sufficient for a homeowner. Commercial zero turn mowers are where you will usually see a more heavy duty fabricated deck as they take way more abuse.
To help you understand the difference, commercial machines are sometimes operated for 6-8 hours a day – 6 days a week, compared to a residential zero-turn or entry-level mower that generally operates for 1-2 hours – once a week. Another thing to keep in mind is that generally smaller mowers are less stable on slopes and can have some traction issues. They are better for mostly flat areas that are less than an acre. The last thing you want to do is purchase to small of a machine with a less than adequate transmission. An overworked and abused machine will not get the operating hours that are intended, resulting in unnecessary repairs that could have been avoided.
WHAT IS HYDROSTATIC?
Under the hood of almost all zero turn mowers you can find a hydro-static transmission. Hydro-static transmissions have a solid reputation in quality equipment due to their simplicity to operate along with there durability. They are the choice transmission for most Z-turn manufacturers. The beauty of a hydrostatic transmission is its ability to slow down or stop without having to step on a pedal. As you release or lessen up the pressure on the gas pedal the mower slows down or stops accordingly. When you remove your foot totally the mower stands still, as if you had your foot on the brake. Each rear wheel has it’s own independent transmission allowing the ability to perform a zero degree turn.
There are several different level or models of hydrostatic transmissions. The less expensive known as the EZT series are for entry level/ homeowner mowers which send the power through a gear with a single 1” axle. These transmissions are maintenance free sealed units that do not need oil and filter replacements. The drawback to this is the sealed units are non-repairable and a replacement will be needed if failure occurs. It’s not recommended to pull over 250 lbs with the EZT series, you can cause serious damage by pulling an unintended attachment.
The next step up is an integrated trans-axle with a 10 cc variable displacement seven piston pump that has a 16 cc seven piston motor. This series transmission also known as the EZT 2800 series. Things to note are less leaks, more reliability and they require less maintenance with external replaceable filters. If you’ll be mowing uneven terrain or will be pulling more than 250 lbs than don’t think twice about purchasing a mower without this type of transmission.
Lastly,the top of the line is the 3100 series, which is very similar to the mid grade transmission except made with stronger commercial parts. If you maintain your unit correctly this could very well be the last machine you purchase. The 3100 series hydro-static transmission is the most costly unit and mostly seen in commercial and high grade equipment. Furthermore, a little more money upfront can save you big bucks in the long run.
HOW COULD I DAMAGE MY MACHINE?
These machines are intended to cut lawns that are less than 12” tall. Z- Turns are NOT designed to cut pastures, fields and brush. Also weeds and grass that is taller than a foot you should stay clear of also. Some machines can get the job done, but you’re only asking for problems down the road. I can assure you that if you operate your machine outside of manufacturer’s recommendations than you will surely be paying for high priced repairs and parts. You will not only put extra strain on your transmission but spindles and other pricey parts will wear and break down over time.
Most of the time when your machine is being repeatedly over worked, like cutting up too steep of hills or trying to mow long grass or strong thick weeds you will know it. The first indication of straining your machine will be the change in it’s sound, it will wine moan to you for mercy. As a result the machine will begin to slow or bog down. This is a sure sign that you are putting too much stress on your machine especially the transmission. Operating your machine this way over time, will end up costing you a steep price in unnecessary repairs.
This answer will vary between units and depend on how many hours a week you operate it. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule closely and monitor the hours on your machine. Ride ons keep track of hours operated unlike a vehicle that keeps track of the miles it is driven.
Important tasks that every owner should be familiar with:
Here are a few important tasks to keep in mind, but you should always follow ALL manufacturer’s recommendations. Doing this will keep your Zero Turn Mower running the longest and help prevent ensure warranty coverage. Even the best zero turn will eventually need repairs.
Greasing your machine– you should be familiar with the location of every grease fitting on your machine. Greasing machines regularly is a must. Ignoring this simple task can cost you easily avoided repairs.
Keeping Sharp blades– Sharpening your own blades can be a simple task once you learn how. If it’s something you would rather not do than you can have a local repair shop sharpen them for $10-$20 a blade. This simple task gets neglected, resulting in a poor cut. Dull blades leave a lawn susceptible to bigger problems. Ripped-torn grass will leave your lawn susceptible to diseases unlike a smooth clean cut, and also an overworked machine. If for no other reason, as a result of sharp blades your lawn will look better.
Proper cleaning– The buildup of dead wet grass will rust your machine quicker. Grease fittings will corrode and clog making nuts and bolts harder to remove. A simple good rinse after each use can prevent many of these issues.
Oil Changes– like any machine that requires oil – filter and fluids need replacement per manufacturer recommendations. If your handy this can be a simple task that will save you cash, or you can have it done at a repair shop that will pick it up usually for an extra fee.
Five Of The Best Zero Turn Mowers On Sale
HUSQVARNA Z246 23HP
The Husqvarna 967323903 voted best zero turn mower under $5,000, is designed with the operator in mind. This 23 HP beauty is a small step up from its sister mower, the 21HP Z246. This V-twin 724cc machine raises the bar on compact size, without compromising any other benefits. Starting with the rugged steel frame, maintenance free drive system and top of the line cutting deck, to the simplified controls, this unit offers outstanding value and performance. The easy 12-volt electric start, 1-1/2-inch to 4-inch cutting height, 3-gallon gas tank will keep you cutting like the pros for hours on end.
What’s so hot about the Husqvarna Z246 23HP ?
- Dual Hydro-Gear transmission
- 3 Anti scalp rollers
- 23 hp V-Twin 724cc Briggs & Stratton engine
- Electric clutch for smooth operation
HUSQVARNA Z246 21HP
Performance and style are #1 with the all new Z246 series zero turn. Cutting edge design, and new innovative features make maintaining your lawn an event instead of yard work. Powered by Kawasaki. A reinforced cutting deck with heavy steel for added strength and long lasting durability. Top of the line performance with maintenance free, integrated zero-turn transmissions. The deck lift system is spring assisted for ease of use and located within easy reach. The control panel places everything conveniently at your fingertips. Other new features include: anti-slip foot area, refinement, automatic park brake system and rear engine guard.
What riders are raving about the Husqvarna Z246 :
- 46″ Reinforced Stamped Deck
- Hydrostatic Transmission
- Long lasting and dependable with a 3 Year Consumer Warranty
- 21.5HP Kawasaki 726cc V-Twin Engine
POULAN PRO 967331001 P54ZX
Under Amazons Outdoor Power tool category (riding lawn mowers and tractors), this is the best rated. It is a new release model and so far, it is looking great. Like many riding lawn mowers, it has a Briggs and Stratton, 2-cylinder and solid 24 hp engine.
Why is the Poulan Pro 967331001 P54ZX worthy of attention?
- Its fuel tank can accommodate up to 3.5 gallons of fuel.
- It can move forward up to 6 mph and in reverse about 3 mph. Transmission is hydrostatic from Hydro-Gear EZT model.
- The deck is 13-gauge thick with 54 inches of cutting width on all 3 blades. Cuts up to 4 inches of grass.
- Will effectively mow 2.8 acres of land in an hour.
- It has a limited warranty of 3 years, non-commercial use.
HUSQVARNA MZ61 23HP
The MZ61 from Husqvarna is a league of its own. The state of the art operator interface, heavy-duty steel frame and commercial rated hydraulic system give the ultimate mowing experience. With a hard core steel deck that is mulch and collection capable, the MZ is ideal for all of your property maintenance needs. The high back seat with armrest will ease operators fatigue. Adjustable steering levers provide a comfortable ride time after time.
Amazing features of the Husqvarna MZ61:
- Cutting width of 61 inches
- Cutting height of up to 4.5 inches
- 2 acres of lawn covered in an hour
- Fuel tank of 5 gallons
- 2 cylinder Kawasaki FR series, 23HP, 724cc engine
Swisher a name backed with over 60 years of mowing know how came out with an amazing piece of cutting equipment. Not only does this mower have the ability to smoothly turn 360 degrees but its low center of gravity makes for an exceptional cutting experience. The Hydro gear 2800 transmission puts this machine in the class with the best commercial mowers. The 3 mulching blades and 24 hp Briggs engine will give you a life time of solid cutting.
Why owners love the Swisher ZTR2454BS:
- It can mow at a speed of 8 mph, forward and backward; no need to shift gears.
- Rapid Response Control System – mowing at ease.
- It has Gator Mulcher™ blades.
- The backrest is 18 inches with an adapter plug and cup holder for added benefits.
All 5 of the z-turn machines are top notch and live up to their reputation on this list of best zero turn mowers on sale. All of these are solid, quality machines. Choosing the one that best fits all your needs is the key. In conclusion, only you know which of the best residential or commercial lawnmowers will be a good fit.
Hopefully all your questions were answered while comparing different mowers. It’s always better to make an educated decision when purchasing a mower of this caliber. Lastly, choose the right zero turn mower for your budget while keeping in mind the deciding factors we outlined above. For more awesome reviews on top lawnmowers of 2016-2017 take a look at this.