First Time Buyer GuideThings to consider before Buying a Zero Turn Mower!

What To Consider Before Buying A Zero Turn Mower

Buying a new mower can be a thrilling, confusing and daunting task. Let's face it, Zero Turn Mowers can be expensive but know that you can find the right one for your lawn mowing needs. Do not make the mistake of buying based on price. Sometimes the cheapest mower could actually turn into a more expensive mower or it may not meet your needs or expectations. You may need to spend more on repairs and maintenance. Now sometimes buying the more expensive mower isn't the best choice either. Often you will end up buying too big of a deck, have more horse power than needed, or have unneeded features that just drive up the price. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but it's important for you to choose the best mower for you to get the best value and usefulness. With all of the zero turn mowers available on the market today you'll be sure to find the best one to fit your needs.

Types of Zero Turns

 

To start below you will find four different types of zero turn mowers. Do you want to just cut the grass? Are you going to be using attachments such as a bagger? Do you want to haul things such as yard carts, aerators, rollers, etc. How often are you mowing and how many acres do you need to cut?

 

Residential/Entry Level Zero Turn($2000-$4000): These zero turns are optimal for use on relatively flat lawns with no ditches, slopes or uneven/rocky terrain with about 1-2 acres to cut. These are usually just as useful as a lawn tractors however are more maneuverable and cut lawn about 30% faster with an average mowing speed of 4-5 mph and a average deck sizes ranging from 30 to 46-inches. Most consumer reports give these entry level zero turns negative reviews mainly due to their lack of use with slopes or lower quality mowing decks. Their are some attachments available for these, but usually only bagging or a light duty yard cart is recommended due to the lighter duty nature of the transmissions available for an entry level residential zero turn mower. Engines power range about 16-21 horse power.
 

Heavy Duty Residential/Light Commercial Zero Turn($4000-$6000): These zero turns are optimal for use on flat to hilly terrain with slight slopes up to about 10-15 degrees. The mowing speed is about 5-8 mph and best for about 2-6 acres to cut with deck sizes ranging from 42 to 60-inches. On average mowing speed is about 50% faster than a lawn tractor. These machines have bigger tires for a smoother ride, bigger front casters for added maneuverability and strength, welded fabricated decks for added strength and engines with about 22-27 horse power. Usually these mowers offer exactly what most consumers are looking for.

 

Commercial Zero Turn($6000-$16,000): These zero turn mowers are what most professional landscapers choose along with stand on mowers. They perform well in most situations with most terrains and slopes with high cutting speeds ranging from about 8-13mph. Commercial machines are optimal for yards over 6 acres and feature heavy duty fabricated decks from about 60-inches to over 100-inches. It is safe to say that more hours are put on these in a week than what most homeowners with cut all year. These zero turn mowers are very durable with comfortable seats that have suspension built-in, cast iron hydro transmissions and high powered engines ranging from about 27-38 horsepower.

 

Stand On Zero Turn($6000-$10,000): These are among the most productive mowers available on the market. Along with traditional commercial zero turns these are a common choice of professional landscapers. These mow well at speeds of about 8-13mph and range from about 42 to 60-inches with horsepower ranging from 21 to 35 horsepower. These maneuver extremely well, handle steep slopes and cut mowing time considerably. These are not designed to use attachments, but just to simply mow and they mow well.

 

 

Ease of Use

 

There is a bit of a learning curve for first time users of zero turn mowers. Driving a zero turn is much different than a traditional lawn tractor. Sit on one if you can at one your local retailers and see how the seat feels, how easy it is to get on and the proximity of controls to you. Not all zero turns are the same nor will they be designed for everyone. Some of the companies like Cub Cadet, Toro and Exmark to name a few are coming out with steering wheel controlled front steer mowers now. These operate just like a traditional lawn mower would which essentially eliminates the learning curve. Some people say that that once you learn how to use a traditional lap bar control zero turn that you'll like it better. It's really just a matter of preference or if you just can't figure out how to operate a traditional zero turn. Click here to see if a Steering Wheel Controlled Zero Turn is Right for You.

 

 

Durability

 

One of the most commons problems owners have with residential zero turn mowers is with the transmissions. It's easy to over work your transmission. The transmission should last the life of the mower when used just on flat services and maintained properly. But when using a zero turn on slopes or pulling stuff the life of the transmission can be shorten drastically if not done so properly.

 

Before using your zero turn on slopes get used to how to operate it on flat services and get comfortable with the mowing speed. Remember just because your zero turn can do 8mph doesn't mean it efficiently mows at that speed. Most residential zero turn mowers shouldn't go more than about 5mph while mowing. Look at the manufacturers slopes ratings and see what other owners are saying about using theirs on slopes. If you have steep slopes and/or intend to do some heavy pulling you may want to look into some heavier duty residential/commercial models.

 

 

 

What Attachments are Available?

 

Brinly Hardy Zero Turn Mower AttachmentsConsider what other jobs you may want to use your Zero Turn for other than mowing the lawn. There are several attachments available for zero turns but not all the zero turns on the market have those options available. Attachments may include but are not limited to a Trailer, Dump Cart, Leaf Vacuum, Aerator, Spreader, Bagger, Mulcher, Sweeper, Dethatcher, Roller, Sprayer, Brush, Snow Blower and Snow Plow. Keep in mind most smaller zero turns in the $3000 and under range shouldn't be used to pull more than 200lbs. Check manufacturers ratings.

 

 

 

What Type of Deck Do I Need?

 

Understand that finding the right deck size is a important practical and personal choice. The factors to consider for the best deck are: Will it fit through gates, around trees, in between flower beds, how many acres to be cut, how is the deck made, how are the spindles made, how many anti-scalping wheels or do I have a lot of obstacles or open fields to mow? Keep in mind that the deck size is usually no the actual width of the mower. Be sure to check the mowers specifications of the machines length, width and height.

 

Fabricated Decks vs Stamped Decks:

welded fabricated zero turn mower deck
Fabricated Deck


Stamped zero turn mower deck
Stamped Deck
 

 

Fabricated decks are stronger than stamped and will take more abuse. If you have a lot of obstacles such as trees, stumps, buildings, rocks, etc then a welded deck is the way to go. It'll take the abuse. However stamped decks are known to cut better overall. So if your mowing fields or properties that don't have all these obstacles or yard debris than a stamped deck is just fine. Fabricated decks are usually more expensive and make require battle kits to work well with mulching kits. On a 42-inch deck a fabricated one averages about $700-$900 more than a Stamped deck. Stamped decks usually have better air flow then fabricated decks which means you will not need a blower for a Bagger which could save you around $500. Pay close attention because these are just the industry average and not always the case. Some companies have come up with ways to change deck and cutting blade design to improve strength and cut quality.

 

 

Spindles and Anti-Scalping Wheels:

 

Many consumers often complain about spindles breaking multiple times. This isn't usually isolated to any one brand or deck type. But it is due to improper maintenance and/or operator abuse. Weather using a stamped or fabricated deck zero turn mowers are not designed to mow tall brush, run over rock or tree stumps, hit water shut-off valves and other debris. You get the picture here. Honestly be glad that a spindle broke off, because it's a cheaper $50 fix compared to bending the deck housing which cost several hundred dollars. Spindles can also break if blades are not balanced. Blades usually become unbalanced after being resharpened. Usually this caused a vibration that will eventually cause the spindle to fail. To avoid this you can also just buy new blades or have a professional sharpen the blades at an authorized dealer. So basically spindles usually only fail due to abuse and/or improper maintenance.

 

Anti-scalping wheels are beneficial for yards with uneven terrains like random pot holes. These wheels will stop the decks from bottoming out, uneven cutting, divots or scalping of the grass. Most decks have 2-4 of these wheels.

 

How Do I Choose the Right Deck Size?

 

Useing all of the factors above and factoring in your ideal conditions and cutting time below is a mower productivity chart to help you determine what is the best deck width for your yard.

 

*Example: If you have a 60 inch deck with a 6 mph cutting speed you'll cut 3 acres per hour.

*Acres per hour is calculated on 80% operator accuracy and mowing conditions.

Chart to Help Choose Deck Size

 Size

30”

42”

48”

54”

60”

72”

MPH
4

1

1.4

1.6

1.8

2

2.4

5

1.3

1.75

2

2.3

2.5

3

6

1.5

2.1

2.4

2.6

3

3.6

7

1.8

2.45

2.8

3.2

3.5

4.2

8

2

2.8

3.2

3.5

4

4.8

9

 

 

 

 

4.5

5.4

10

 

 

 

 

5

6

11

 

 

 

 

5.5

6.6

12

 

 

 

 

6

7.2

13

 

 

 

 

6.5

7.8

 

 

Engines

 

Hustler Turf Kawasaki FR Engine Zero Turn MowerNot all engines are built the same. There are different quality engines for different applications. Some brands use cheaper motors to keep the cost down. You have engines that are built for economy, homeowner, professional, and commercial applications. The most common engines used on zero turn mowers today are Briggs and Stratton, Kohler and Kawasaki. The average horsepower ranges from 19-24. This range is usually enough for for any residential mowing environment. The best engines usually are V-Twin vertical shaft with cast-iron cylinder walls, crankshafts, over head valve, connecting rods, pistons and in the range of 700cc. Be sure that maintenance points are easily accessible. Many of the engines used today are specifically designed for use on zero turn mowers. If you would like to learn about how to diagnose and repair lawn mower engines, Click Here and read our review on the Lawn Mowers Made Easy Guide.

 

 

 

Transmissions

 

Hydro Gear ZT 2800 zero turn mower transmissionThe most common transmissions found in zero turn mowers are the hydrostatic Hyrdo-Gear EZT 2200,2800 and 3100 series. These have a proven reputation for maneuverability, ease of use and durability. Each rear wheel has it's own independent transmission. This is what allows for the zero turning radius.

 

 

Hydro-Gear EZT 2200

 

The 2200 series is the most popular among the residential consumer market. These units are integrated transaxle that are directly linked to each drive wheel. The EZT 2200 features a 10cc variable displacement seven piston axial pump and a 10cc fixed displacement five piston motor. Power is routed through a mechanical gear reduction with a single 1 inch axle to support heavier loads. Hydro-Gear EZT's are maintenance free sealed units that do not require oil or filter changes. Unfortunately this means when it breaks, it's not fixable. You'll have to replace the whole unit. Extend the life of your ezt by making sure you are not overworking it.

 

These transmissions are optimal for lighter weight entry level zero turns. They will do good with mowing a relatively flat lawn and can be used to to pull a lightweight cart, lawn sweeper or with a mounted bagger. If you are planning to mow a lawn with slopes, uneven terrain or pull heavy loads do not use a zero turn mower with a EZT 2200. They do not do well hauling over about 200lbs and will burn up fast. Spend a little more to get one with a 2800 or 3100 that will last longer for this type of use.

 

Hydro-Gear ZT-2800

 

The 2800 series has proven reliability and will do well in most residential environments. The ZT-2800 is an integrated transaxle featuring Hydro-Gear’s popular 10cc variable displacement seven piston pump and a 16cc fixed displacement seven piston motor. Designed for residential applications, power is routed through a mechanical gear reduction with a single one inch shaft output. Over the 2200 these units will have fever potential of leaks with increased reliability, easier maintenance with an external oil filter. If your planning on mowing in harder conditions such as with uneven terrain, slopes or hauling heavy attachments or pull behinds over 250lbs then be sure to purchase a zero turn mower with the 2800 series.

 

Hydro-Gear ZT-3100

 

The 3100 series has the same specs of the 2800 but is made with some heavier duty parts that makes it optimal for commercial environments. Over the 2800 these units have a relief valve for added protection, a charge pump which increase speed and durability and a precision cut steel pinion for added strength an durability. With these added features the 3100 will last along time and can be used for several thousand hours with proper maintenance.
 

Overworking the Transmissions

 

First make sure that the zero turn mower has the proper transmissions for what your mowing environment will be like. Now get used to controlling your zero turn on flat terrain so you can get used to the throttle response and optimize mowing speed. You should not hear any transmission noise or whining. If so you need to back off the throttle a bit.

 

Once you are used to controlling your zero turn and comfortable try going up a slope. If you have to push the control levers forward to maintain speed or you hear the transmission start to growl then you will know that the slope is too steep. If you continue operation in these conditions you will wear out the transmissions and cut it's lifespan. Basically the same is said for use when hauling stuff. If while hauling something and you hear noise or have to push forward on the control levers to maintain speed that means the load is too heavy and you will burn out the transmissions sooner. Making sure you have the proper transmissions for your cutting environment means it will last for the life of the mower. But abusing it as described above will cut the lifespan down considerably to only last about 150-200 hours.

 

 

Comfort

 

One of the first things you should notice when looking at zero turn mowers is how much leg room there is and ease of getting on and off the mower is. Some mowers have optional step bars and hand rails. Control levers should be adjustable and swing out when parked. In fact most of the zero turns now have parking brakes that are integrated. Which means the brake is on when the control levers are swung out. Adjustable seats are featured on most zero turns and slid back and forth approximately 3-6 inches. Beware that even with these features, sometimes not all operator sizes can be accommodated. Come mowers are simply built with smaller frames.

 

Zero Turn Mower Seat and ComfortNow with the seat, envision yourself sitting there for a few hours. Do you feel it is comfortable? Is the seat adjustable? Are the armrests in a good position? Is the back of the seat high enough to give you good back and lumbar support? Does the seat have built in suspension, springs or shock absorbers? Make sure the controls are easy to reach. Most of the the zero turns have all of the controls in one easy to reach location. But beware some require you to twist back a little to reach them depending on your seat position.

 

 

Controls

 

Most zero turns are equipped with lap bars. They should be adjustable to accommodate different sized operators. To improve comfort they come with rubber grips and will often feature shock absorbers built into the bars. This improves comfort and will soften vibrations from uneven terrain which allows for smoother controlability. First time users may have a bit of a learning curve at first. If you have not used a zero turn before check out our top ten frequently asked questions about zero turns review for some information. As with any traditional zero turn mower there is a bit of a learning curve for any first time operators. Check out the video section to view some how-to's and safety videos.

 

Some zero turns feature steering wheel controlled front steer wheels that operate just like a traditional tractor would. These options are usually just a couple hundred dollars more but require virtually no learning curve. Click here to see if a Steering Wheel Controlled Zero Turn is Right for You.

 

Find a Reliable Dealer and Service Center

 

A Zero Turn Mower is a significant long-term investment for both homeowners and professional landscapers. Choosing a qualified dealer and service center can ensure you get the most mileage out of your mower. With regular maintenance from skilled mechanics zero turn mowers can last for well into the 15-20 plus year range. One of the most important things to consider before buying any kind of equipment is what kind of service you will get from the dealer. Do I feel comfortable dealing with the dealer? Will the dealer be able to service my mower when needed? Do they stock the parts I need so I don't have to wait for shipping?

 

Most of the brands available are relatively equal in price, quality and features. But, there could be fairly large differences in the dealers service after the sale. Find a dealer that is as committed to long term service and relationships with it's customers as it is with making the initial sale. Finding a reliable dealer and/or service center is not as straightforward as you may think. Sure when you are at the dealer as a potential customer they will promise you stellar service. But, can they deliver? Follow the guidelines below to help distinguish the big talkers vs the ones who deliver.

 

Seven Characteristics of a Reliable Dealer/Service Center

 

1. Dealers that Understand: Beware of salesmen pushing for the sale. You want a dealer who is taking the time to understand the buyers unique lawn care needs. These types of dealers are more likely to serve as a reliable and responsive service center. Simply stay attuned to the initial sales pitch and you can gain a valuable insight into your potential relationship with the dealer.


2. Facilities: Take the time to visit the facilities of your prospective dealer/service center. Ask for a tour of the facility to see how clean and organized it is. This can reveal alot about the quality of service you might expect.


3. Trained Technicians: Zero Turn Mowers can be complicated machines for some. Make sure that the dealer/service center employs a team of experienced trained technicians that specialize in the care and repair of the mowers your are looking to buy. Don't be afraid to ask questions.


4. Reputation: Research the dealers track record. How long have they been in business? Well-established dealers can point to a track record of reliable service they have built over the years. Recently opened dealers/service centers present an unknown reputation and quality. While new dealers may offer enticing deals, there is still no indication how they will stand by their products down the road. It pays to go with the established tried-and-true dealers/service centers. Consider consulting with current and past customers to help determine whether service will meet your level of expectation. Believe it or not some dealers will supply customer references upon request. Don't forget you can ask local peers or consult community websites for advice and recommendations.


5. Scheduled Service Intervals: Making your mower last through it's full lifespan can be as simple as ensuring to follow a regular maintenance schedule. Such as changing oil, greasing bushings, replacing filters, clearing debris from yard before mowing, cleaning the mower regularly, practice proper storage techniques and the list goes on. The good reliable dealers will typically offer a scheduled maintenance program to help ensure that maintenance is completed on time and when it's needed.


6. Service Policies: Read the fine print to cover details that can go a long way. Ensure that the dealer and customer are on the same page. Service plans can vary widely and potential owners need to examine these policies carefully before signing on the dotted line. A few things to look for could be; Does the dealer offer guaranteed response time? On/Off-site repairs? Pick-up/Drop-off services? Loaners in case of extensive repairs? These such features can help reduce the impact of downtime to repair or maintenance.


7. Parts Warehouse Inventory: A well established dealer/service center will maintain an adequate level of inventory of standard parts to ensure efficient service. Even if you are a do-it-yourselfer you can source parts through the dealer. When being covered under service plans you should expect a quicker turnaround when the necessary parts are on hand.

 

Zero Turn Mower Maintenance

 

To optimize the lifespan and reliability of your zero turn mower, it’s important to service it regularly. Please refer to your owners manual for individual manufacturers recommendations for periodic maintenance and service intervals.. But here are a few popular suggested tips to keep your machine running like new. Most zero turns have deck washout ports that help clean debris from underneath the mower in hard to reach places. Simply attach a garden hose and run water while the cutting blades are engaged. Some manufacturers even offer flip up deck options were the deck with manually or automatically flip up in front of the zero turn for easy access. This eliminates the needs to unbolt the deck or take off belts. Also check for grease-able fittings and bushings. Check the engine design for ease of air filter and oil filter change.

 

Check out our "MoJack Lift For Tractors and Zero Turn Mowers article" to see how using a mower lift could make maintaining your mower easier.

 

Keep Blades Sharp

 

A properly maintained mower with sharpened blades can achieve the healthy looking, beautiful lawn you're looking for. Dull blades tend to rip off the tops of grass which leaves the grass susceptible to disease and looks bad. Sharp blades will evenly cut each blade without pulling on it which leaves the grass looking clean.

Dull mowing blades vs sharp mowing blades
Dull Blades vs Sharp Blades
Damaged grass from dull mowing blades
Dull Blades Damaged Grass

Keep the Mower Clean
 

After you are done using the mower for the day, simply take your leaf blower and blow off the entire machine. Keep the engine clean. Doing this reduces heat buildup, corrosion and premature wear.

 

Inspect your Work Visually
 

Periodically walk the area you have just mowed and look at it from all directions. This will give you a good idea of potential problems that could cause poor cut quality. Look for ridges on the edge of the mowing lines, is there grass being skipped between blades. After doing this a few times it will be second nature and could help you spot problems early on which could help with downtime while improving the cut quality.

 

Maintenance Schedule and Tips Guideline Chart

 

Before Each Use

Every 10 Hours

Every 25 Hours

Every 50 Hours

Every 100 Hours

Prior to Storing

Check Engine Intake Screen/Cover

X

 

 

 

 

 

Check Engine Oil Level

X

 

 

 

 

 

Check Air Filter for Dirty, Loose, or Damaged Parts

X

 

 

 

 

 

Clean and Re-Oil Pre-Cleaner (if applicable)

 

 

X

 

 

 

Replace Air Filter Element

 

 

 

 

X

 

Change Engine Oil and Replace Oil Filter

 

 

 

X

 

 

Clean Battery Terminals

 

X

 

 

 

X

Lube Front Pivot Axle and Caster Axles

 

X

 

 

 

X

Clean Engine Cooling Fins

 

 

X

 

 

X

Lube Deck Wheels

 

 

 

X

 

X

Check Spark Plug Condition and Gap

 

 

 

 

X

X

Replace Fuel Filter

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

Click here to read what professional landscapers recommend.

 

Warranty and Return Policies

 

Most retailers have 30 day return policies. So you do have a very short window to decide if a particular Zero Turn Mower was the right choice for you. Some do not allow returns at all. Some do not allow returns after fluids are put into the machine. Please do check retailers and dealers return policies before buying as they are not all alike.

 

The Average warranty runs for 3 years at about 300 hours of operation. However you can find some as short as 1 year with only 120 hour limits or some as long as 5 years or more. Some companies even offer unlimited hours of operation warranties within a certain period. They usually cover basics like premature engine, transmission or belt failure within 90 days up to a year. Be sure to check with the retailer or dealer and ask them questions about warranties.

 

Be sure to look through our What to Consider before Buying section for some more in depth information. Also feel free to comment or contact us with any questions you may have.



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