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  • Writer's pictureJack Cummings

Zero Turn Mowers Vs Riding Mowers: How To Pick

Updated: Jun 14


Scag zero turn lawn mower and john deere lawn tractor showing the difference between ZTR mowers and tractors

Introduction

So you’ve made the decision - you’re going to tackle your lawn care needs yourself, but now you’re wondering where to start with getting the right equipment. Well, if picking out the right mower is the first thing that came to mind, you’re on the right track. Now you just need to figure out which type of mower would be best for you. A zero turn mower or a riding mower (a.k.a. lawn tractor)?


Choosing the right type of lawn mower should come with some careful considerations as these machines often cost a couple thousand dollars. These two different types of lawn mowers are great for different things, but picking the right one for your property can affect the amount of time you spend cutting, and the quality of cut you can achieve. 


In this article, we’ll be going over the pros and cons of each type of mower, factors to consider, FAQs, and more.


Stick to the end, by the time this article is over, you’ll be able to make an informed decision on whether  you should purchase a zero turn lawn mower or a riding lawn mower.




Zero Turn Mowers Vs Riding Lawn Mowers


What Are Zero Turn Mowers?

Zero turn lawn mowers, commonly known as ZTR (Zero Turn Radius) mowers, or swivel mowers, are types of lawn mowers that offer homeowners and professional landscapers unmatched efficiency and maneuverability. On this machine, the engine is located in the rear, behind the operator seat.


Zero turn lawn mowers rely on a steering wheel or levers(known as lap bars) for directional control. They pivot on their own axis utilizing independently controlled rear wheels and caster style front tires that rotate 360 degrees, allowing for tight turns and precision cuts. The most common type of zero turn lawn mower has levers instead of a steering wheel, but we wanted to provide examples of the different kinds.

Cub Cadet professional series zero turn lawn mower with a traditional steering wheel controls tyle
Cub Cadet Traditional Steering Wheel Zero Turn Lawn Mower
Hustler lawn mower with lap bar (lever) steering technology
Hustler Lap Bar Steering Zero Turn Lawn Mower



What Are Riding Lawn Mowers?

John Deere traditional style riding lawn mower
John Deere Traditional Style Riding Lawn Mower

Riding lawn mowers, commonly known as traditional riding mowers, or lawn tractors, use a steering wheel function and an engine located in front of the operator seat. The traditional riding mowers do not have as much advanced technology and are less expensive than the zero turn mowers.


Unlike the caster wheels found on zero turn mowers, the lawn tractor uses a single steering mechanism which controls the front wheels, similar to the steering in a car or other wheeled vehicle. This also means it has a much larger turning radius.



Pros and Cons of Zero Turn Mowers


Pros


Increased maneuverability

Zero turn lawn mowers are typically equipped with a dual hydrostatic drive system that allows for the ability to turn a full 180 degrees in no time with their independently controlled rear wheels. 


This enables operators to cut around obstacles such as trees, flower beds, and other landscape features with ease, thus minimizing the need for trimming with a weed eater later. 



Faster mowing speeds

Nobody, well… not many people, want to spend their whole day out mowing their lawn. We’re often looking for the fastest way to get the task done without sacrificing quality. This is where these mowers shine. 


The increased maneuverability and cutting deck size is where you’ll see the biggest time saving aspects. The independently controlled rear wheels cut back on time repositioning the mower, and the ability to have wide cutting decks allow for a greater section of the lawn to be mowed on each pass.



Ergonomics 

User comfort is important - if you’re not comfortable on the mower, every time you mow the lawn, it is going to be a pain. Most modern, good quality zero turn mowers come with vibration-reducing systems, adjustable seats, and ergonomic controls allowing users to mow for extended periods of time without experiencing fatigue or discomfort. 



Cons

While the zero turn lawn mowers have some great advantages, they also have some disadvantages that you may need to consider. These disadvantages include: higher initial cost, limited traction on slopes, and a learning curve for new users.


Higher initial cost

These types of mowers contain advanced technology and features that enable versatility and comfort. It only makes sense that with these additional features, they would cost a bit more than a traditional riding lawn mower. 


For those who are looking for a more budget friendly option, the higher upfront cost of a zero turn mower may be less appealing. 



Limited traction on slopes

Another drawback of zero degree turn radius mowers is their limited traction on slopes or uneven terrain. Where you start running into problems is when you start looking at its weight distribution and drivetrain.


Weight distribution - All of the weight is located in the back of the mower. When going straight up a hill, there’s more of a risk of the front wheels coming off of the ground and tipping backwards. When going down a hill, the weight is more evenly spread out, though the problem is that the front wheels are on casters and have very little tread (if any) allowing it to slip and turn easily. 


Traction/drivetrain - Zero turn mowers send power to both of the rear wheels and the front wheels are free spinning on casters. If one rear wheel loses traction, and the other one is still spinning, you’ll pretty quickly find yourself sliding down the hill/slope.



Learning curve for new users

Zero turn mowers have a little bit of a learning curve for new users. It’s not like driving a car or a traditional lawn tractor. I’ve personally made the switch from a lawn tractor to a zero turn and though I like the zero turn so much better, it took me a few hours of driving it to get used to it.



Pros and Cons of Riding Lawn Mowers


Pros


More Budget Friendly

Traditional lawn tractors are more budget friendly when compared to their zero turn mower counterparts. These types of mowers are less costly mainly due to less advanced technology, lower manufacturing costs since they have fewer components, and market demand/competition since the design has been around for so long.


For those with limited budgets, a lawn tractor offers a cost-effective solution for maintaining your lawn.



Versatile For Various Tasks

Of course, lawn tractors are primarily made for mowing your grass, however, they’re also great for other tasks. Things like towing, spreading fertilizer, aerating soil, and plowing snow are all some examples of what lawn tractors can be used for. 


Before starting On The Block Lawn Care and switching to zero turn mowers, I used an old Craftsman lawn tractor for moving my small trailers around the yard in addition to cutting the grass. It worked great!



Better Traction On Slopes

As previously stated in the cons section of the zero turn mowers, lawn tractors are typically better on slopes and uneven terrain due to the fact that the engine is mounted in the front, and the front wheels are on somewhat of a fixed path and not casters.



Cons


Slower mowing speeds

A big advantage we see on the zero turn lawn mowers is that we can obtain much faster overall mowing times. Lawn tractors move at a slower pace, which leads to more time required especially for larger lawns. This can be seen as a disadvantage for some.



Less maneuverable

The traditional lawn tractor style mowers are generally less maneuverable, particularly when it comes to navigating tight spaces or obstacles. They’re less agile since they have a large turning radius, unlike the zero turn mowers which can turn 180 degrees on the spot. 


One thing to remember is, if you miss a spot with the lawn mower, you’ll have to come back to hit it with the string trimmer later.



Requires more storage space

Although both the zero turn lawn mower and lawn tractor are both large pieces of equipment, the lawn tractor is pretty bulky. You’ll need to make sure you have enough space to store your lawn tractor, whether it be in a garage, shed, or another storage area.



Factors to Consider When Choosing


Size and Terrain of Your Lawn

The size and terrain of your lawn are very important things to keep in mind. If you’re looking to get a zero turn lawn mower or a traditional riding mower, then you probably have 1+ acre of grass to cut, you just need to determine whether or not your property has a lot of obstacles to mow around and if you’re alright with taking more time with a traditional style mower or if you’d like to speed up the process with a zero turn mower.


Generally, both lawn tractors and zero turn lawn mowers are suitable, you’ll just need to determine the best cutting deck size that’s right for your property.


Terrain is also another factor to consider when picking out your new mower. We touched on it while talking about the disadvantages of the zero turn mower, and the advantages of the riding mower. If you have very uneven terrain and it looks like it might be a little sketchy, you might just want to opt-in for the riding mower, otherwise, if you don’t have very steep hills or uneven terrain, you’ll be good with a zero turn.


Questions To Ask Yourself:

  • Size: How large is my lawn in terms of acreage or square footage?

  • Terrain: What is the terrain on my property? Is it mostly flat, or does it include slopes, hillsides, or uneven ground? 

  • Obstacles: Are there any obstacles such as trees, flower beds, or any other landscaping features that may affect maneuverability? Will you need to make a lot of turns? If yes, a zero turn is a good option.



Budget Considerations

Factoring in your budget when choosing a lawn mower is key. You don’t want to be shopping for something that doesn’t make sense for you to buy. The zero turn mowers generally have a greater upfront cost compared to lawn tractors, however, it’s essential to weigh the initial cost vs long-term expenses, such as maintenance, fuel, time savings, and ergonomics. 


Questions To Ask Yourself:

  • Initial Cost: What is my budget for purchasing a lawn mower? Am I willing to invest more upfront for additional features or capabilities?

  • Long-term Expenses: Have I considered the ongoing expenses associated with maintenance, fuel, and potential repairs?

  • Value for Money: Am I looking for the most affordable option, or am I willing to pay more for added durability, performance, or features?

  • Does it make sense for me to buy a lawn mower? Would it be better to just have a professional service provider come out to mow my lawn for me?

  • How valuable is my time? Do I want to go for the option that’ll allow for a shorter mowing time or am I okay with spending a little more time on the mower?



Desired Features and Attachments

Plan ahead for what you want to do with your mower. If you’re just looking to cut grass, then either will be fine. Now, if you plan on using it for other tasks like towing, aerating, etc. then you might want to look into purchasing a traditional tractor style riding mower.


Questions To Ask Yourself:

  • Attachments: What specific tasks do I need the mower to perform beyond basic grass cutting? Do I want the option to add attachments such as baggers, carts, or snow plow blades?

  • Versatility: How important is versatility to me in terms of being able to use the mower for multi-seasonal tasks or other utility work?



Maintenance Requirements

The different types of mowers require different types of maintenance. Both styles of mowers require basic service like oil changes, blade sharpening, and belt adjustments, but the zero turn lawn mowers add a little more complexity with the hydrostatic drive system, and control lever adjustments depending on the year/make/model of the machine.


Questions To Ask Yourself:

  • Maintenance Skills: Am I capable of performing routine maintenance tasks such as oil changes, blade sharpening, and belt adjustments?

  • Time Commitment: How much time am I willing to dedicate to regular maintenance and upkeep of the mower?

  • Longevity: Am I willing to invest in a mower that may require more maintenance but offers better longevity and durability in the long run?




FAQs

  • What is better, a zero-turn or a riding mower?

    • Zero turn mowers are great for maneuverability, quick mowing times, and comfort/ergonomics. Riding lawn mowers are great for better traction on slopes, other utility tasks besides mowing, and cost effectiveness. 

  • Why do zero turn mowers cut better?

    • The fact that there are no two point turns or weird turning patterns like on a traditional riding mower allows the zero turn mowers to make nice stripes and cut efficiently. 

  • Is a zero turn worth the extra money?

    • If you have it, yes. A zero turn mower allows for quick movement around obstacles, zero turn radius which eliminates having to make two point turns or wide turn angles, and a large cutting deck. 

  • What is the life expectancy of the two types of mowers?

    • It all depends on how you use your mower and how you take care of it. If you only use it to cut your own lawn and maintain it well, you may see many years of use. If you use it a lot and don't maintain it, it won’t last as long.

  • I don’t have too many obstacles in my yard, am I okay with getting a lawn tractor?

    • Yes, if there aren’t too many obstacles in your yard, you should be fine with opting for a lawn tractor since there aren't as many turns or spots to work around.

  • Which type of mower is more versatile?

    • For just mowing, the zero turn is much more versatile. If you’re looking at more of a holistic approach to the “do all” mower, it would be the traditional lawn tractor.



Conclusion

After going over zero turn mowers vs riding lawn mowers, the pros and cons of each, factors to consider, and addressing other key points, I hope you’re now able to make an informed decision on which lawn mower style to pick.


I’ve personally owned and operated zero turn lawn mowers and traditional style riding mowers so I’ve been able to put together my opinions and share them with you. Throughout my experiences, I’ve found the zero turn lawn mowers to be much better for both mowing my own yard and customer’s yards. But if you’re looking to use a mower for other utility tasks, then the lawn tractor works great and I would actually prefer it. Not to say you can’t tow with a zero turn mower, it’s just not as easy. 


Thank you for taking the time to read through our article, if you're still looking for more information on all things lawn care, check out our other posts here!





 
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About On The Block Lawn Care


Here at On The Block Lawn Care, we aim to offer top-quality lawn care services to the Wake Forest, Rolesville, North Raleigh, Knightdale, and Zebulon areas. We take pride in our customer service and the work we provide. 

We strive to foster long-term, meaningful relationships -- this means we do what we say we will do. When you choose us, you choose solid communication, no games, and great quality service. 

If you're in search of a great lawn care service in the Wake Forest area that not only provides great services at an affordable price but treats you like part of the family, you've come to the right spot!



 










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