Over the last few years residential zero turns have become affordable and popular. With that has come the first true zero turn that is controlled by a steering wheel and not with the traditional lap bar. Though many operator's still stand by the traditional zero turn. For entry level consumers mowing just a couple acres the steering wheel controlled zero turns maybe a better option. If you can drive a car or traditional lawn tractor, then you shouldn't have a problem with a steering wheel controlled zero turn. The steering wheel instead of lap bars is no new concept.
Previous Steering Wheel Zero Turn Concepts
In the 1970s some companies (Swisher, Cub Cadet, Jacobson, Toro, GizMow, John Deere and Heckendorn) had lawn mowers that used a steering wheel and operated to give as tight as a turn as possible. But these were not true zero turn mowers. These mowers used a single transaxle and pivoted around usually with a wheel in the back. Some companies even went as far as trying to retrofit traditional lawn tractors with front caster wheels like a zero turn. Just like the John Deere SST Spinsteer seen below. They did not work well on slopes much like a traditional zero turn does not because the front caster wheels are not under any kind of control. They're at the mercy of wherever the rear drive wheels take them.
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Who Makes Steering Wheel Controlled Zero Turns?
Cub Cadet came to the market first with their RZT-S models about 5 years ago and have had an ever growing success with sales increasing yearly. They're available in 42, 46 and 50-inch cutting widths ranging from about $2,700.00 to $3,200.00.
Read our Cub Cadet RZT-S Review; Click Here.
Soon after Cub Cadet brought out the RZT-S, Troy-Bilt came out with the Mustang Pivot. Both Cub Cadet and Troy-Bilt contract through outdoor power equipment manufacturer MTD. The Mustang Pivot comes with a 46 or 54-inch cutting deck ranging from about $2,900.00 to $3,500.00.
Click here to visit Troy-Bilt's Mustang Pivot website.
Recently Toro extended their successful residential TimeCutter line with the TimeCutter SW. One of their unique features is a tilting steering wheel which helps making getting on and off the mower much easier. This will also improve comfort for shorter or taller operators with this adjustment feature. TimeCutter SW's come in 32, 42 and 50-inch cutting widths ranging from about $2,900.00 to $4,000.00.
Read our Toro TimeCutter SW Review; Click Here.
Exmark as also extended it's residential line of Quest's; They're owned by Toro. The Exmark Quest S-Series Front Steer features a standard reinforced fabricated mowing deck, adjustable tilt steering like the TimeCutter along with thicker more comfortable seats. Quest S-Series Front Steer is available with 42 or 50 inch cutting decks ranging from $4,300.00 to $5,000.00.
Facts To Consider About Steering Wheel Controlled Zero Turn Mowers
Is it a true zero radius?
Steering wheel controlled zero turn mowers give you a true zero radius turn but while using conventional foot pedals and steering wheel controls. However the way it works on a zero turn is different than on a traditional lawn tractor.
Is there a learning curve?
Since you're using a familiar steering wheel and foot pedals such as those found in a car or on a traditional lawn tractor there isn't as long of a learning curve as there would be with a traditional lap bar zero turn. Really the only difference is that you just need to remember to slow down before making a zero radius turn.
How does it work?
Traditional lap bar zero turns have front caster wheels that spin around wherever the rear drive wheels go. In a steering wheel controlled zero turn the front wheels have a mechanism built onto them that are attached to the steering wheel. Along with the rear drive wheels still rotating as they would on a traditional zero turn. Essentially it is now a 4 wheel steering.
How long will it last?
Steering wheel controlled zero turns are built and engineered with materials basically like any residential mower. They'll last year and years if properly cared for. It's very easy to damage one while your learning to use it; so just slow down a little bit and when your comfortable with controls then run it wide open if you'd like. The easiest way to bang up a zero turn just like with any is rub up against trees, hit foundations, hit yard debris, hit curbs, run over stumps, etc.
How is ride quality?
Steering wheel controlled zero turns do not ride as rough or bouncy as a traditional lap bar unit. Because of the front steer, foot pedals and mechanisms in the front wheels they're is more weight on the front end.
Are they comfortable?
Well that all depends on any factors; everyone is a different size and build. Residential zero turns do sit a bit lower than traditional lawn tractors. This could over time cause some back aches over long periods of use. Before buying one try to sit on it and see what you think. Some models are bigger than others and some even have better seats and more adjustability then others. It's really just trial and error on your part. So yes they're comfortable if you choice the right one for you.
Should I check the tire pressure?
Yes check the tire pressure, because dealers usually unintentionally over inflate tires. The average tire pressure for zero turn mowers is about 12lbs. Make sure you read the owners manual and adjust when necessary.
Why is it hard to push?
Zero turn mowers have dual hydrostatic transaxles which are very hard to push. There really is not a neutral and this is why. However there are transmission release levers that essentially put the mower into neutral. They're usually located in front of or behind each transaxle. Look under the front of the seat or underneath the mower towards the back. Check your owners manual if you cannot locate them.
Will it tear up my lawn?
Yes you can easily tear up your lawn if your not slowing down for turns. With a traditional zero turn the lap bar acts as the steering wheel and the gas pedal; which means when you goto move the levers to turn the mower is automatically slowing down. You can still tear up your lawn either way, but it's more likely with a steering wheel zero turn because you need to remember to let of the gas pedal. Slow and steady while learning and eventually you'll be able to go faster without tearing up your lawn. Also be aware of your mowers rear end. It's easy to smack stuff while turning. Try to get a zero turn that has a engine guard or one where the frame sticks out past the engine. Also don't forget about the hitch if so equipped. It's very easy to put holes in fences.
Can I pull attachments?
Residential zero turns are really just made for mowing grass. Most models come with Hydro-Gear EZT transmissions which are not designed to pull much weight. It is not recommended to pull more then 2-250lbs. A small yard cut or leaf sweeper will be just fine. If you decide to pull anything be very aware of the weight and for odd transmission sounds. You could burn out a transaxle very quickly: which could easily be a $400-$600 replacement cost.
Will it cut my large fields?
Zero turn mowers are not designed to cut fields, pastures or really anything much taller than 6 inches. Sure you can do it but leaving the deck raised up, slowing down and making several passes. But they're designed as more of a finish cut mower that'll get around obstacles and tight spaces quickly. If you ever smell a burning rubber smell immediately stop and shut off your mower. It is likely you have large amounts of grass building up inside your mowers deck getting stuck in the spindles.
How does it perform on slopes?
Yes you can mow on hills, slopes and uneven terrain. However it is still not recommended to do so on grades more than 15 degrees. Front steering does assist in making the control and stability better than traditional lap bar zero turns. You should not expect to be mowing on hillsides. TIP: Try backing up the hill. If the rear wheels lose traction then the slope is too steep to mow up. Sometimes mowing slopes downhill diagonally while using the foot brake is safest. Yes it'll take more time but it's much safer. Traditional zero turns with front caster wheels have much less control. Often times while mowing on a slope the mower will want to dive downwards. Gravity is trying to take over; what happens then is you'll have to compensate with steering upward which will cause possible sliding and ruts in the grass. Steering wheel controlled front steering is better, but still keep it under 15 degrees. Click here to read about slope safety and OSHA recommendations.
Important Considerations Before Buying
-If you are doing a lot of yard work and continuously pulling random heavy loads then you might want to consider just buying a traditional lawn tractor or maybe one along with your zero turn. You might not think it's an issue now, but in 3 ½ years when the warranty runs out and you have to repair the transaxles you'll wish you hadn't done it. Protect your investment and it could last a lifetime.
-If your mowing a flat yard and can drive a traditional zero turn, then you should take the extra money that steering wheel zero turn cost on just buying a better quality one.
-If you are mowing slopes less than 15 degrees then a steering wheel zero turn is right for you. You will not burn up the Hydro-Gear EZT's because the front wheels help hold the mower which significantly reduces the load on the transmissions. You could mow on slopes for extended periods of time and not overheat the EZT's.
-If you really cannot get a hang of a traditional lap bar zero turn then a steering wheel controlled one is right for you.
Please feel free to comment below with any questions you may have!