10 questions to ask before you buy a Zero-Turn mower
Fast, efficient and easy to use, we believe you can’t beat a zero-turn mower. Before you buy, be sure you know it’s right. Here are 10 quick questions you should get the answers to before settling on the right model for you.
Is it a true zero radius?
Zero-turn means the turning radius is zero inches or zero degrees. Basically, the mower can turn right around on the spot. Make sure you tee up a demo on your property to see just how tight a turn the mower is capable of.
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Should I go for a steering wheel or lever operation?
There are two schools of thought on this one. In recent years, smaller versions of the zero-turn mower have been developed for residential mowing; these often come with a steering wheel. Some will argue this makes them more stable and capable of tackling slopes (because of the larger front wheels and extra weight in the front from pedal mechanisms) and that they offer a smoother ride.
However, the steering wheel takes away from the very benefit of a zero turn being easy to drive and maneuver, and is more fatiguing than lever operation. Typically, the steering wheel zero turn brands available in New Zealand are of inferior durability to some of the more popular standard zero turn brands.
The original two lever or lap bar operation is very fast and efficient, and really not that hard to get the hang of. Using differential steering to change the speed of each individual back wheels:
- push both levers forward to go straight
- pull both levers backwards to reverse or slow down
- push the left handle forward to curve right
- push the right handle forward to curve left
- move one lever forward and the other back with equal force to pivot in place
- push the appropriate handle forward while keeping the other in neutral to swing around
Is the deck made of pressed or fabricated steel?
Fabricated steel is thicker, stronger and more durable but pressed steel is lighter and much more prone to buckling, bending and rusting out. Pressed steel deck machines also devalue much more rapidly than fabricated decks.
It is important to remember that even with fabricated decks, there are varying thicknesses in the gauge of the steel used – so make sure you go for 10 gauge or lower (10 gauge steel is thicker than 11 gauge steel).
Some models with 11 gauge steel decks require a reinforcing bar across the outlet chute which can greatly hinder grass discharge and make the machine much more prone to blockage. This is commonly seen in entry level zero turns below $8,500 inc GST.
What is it like to maintain and/or repair?
Make sure you look for a mower that’s self-serviceable with an open frame design. Being able to easily access the engine, filters, belts, battery, etc means routine maintenance isn’t a hassle. Not all mowers will be built this way.
Something else to ask about is how easy it is to get replacement parts. Some brands will share a common design that makes parts more readily available and affordable.
Does it matter what kind of transmission it has?
Zero-turn mowers use transaxle transmission. It’s important to compare the transaxle model, as some (e.g. HydroGear EZT) are non-serviceable sealed units, compared to HydroGear’s ZT-2800/3100/3400 models, which are serviceable and will provide a smoother drive and longer life.
What comfort features does it have?
Because zero-turn mowers are designed for large stretches of mowing (albeit fast mowing) the manufacturers put a lot of thought into how it feels to ride. For example, BOB-CAT uses special materials in the seats and around the engine to minimise vibration. Think of the things you’d look for in a car that might come in handy on a mower – adjustable seat and control bars? cup holder?
What are my options to deal with clippings?
Side discharge is the fastest, most common and most versatile method used by --turn mowers.
Catching comes with restrictions around deck size, grass conditions (it must be dry) and it slows down mowing time all round. But it does give the cleanest finish cut. If this is important to you, BOB-CAT offers a unique and very handy side bag catcher which allows you to easily collect grass in particular areas of your lawn where side discharge would be unsuitable.
Mulching is great for grass health and gives a nice cut quality…if you have perfect conditions and the right type of mower. Generally though, our grass in NZ is so thick and lush most mulching kits never perform as well as they should. But it is an option and most zero-turns will come with a mulching kit or the option to purchase one as an add-on.
Can I pull attachments?
Yes, zero-turn mowers are capable of pulling attachments such as trailers, garden blower/vacs, dozer blades, dethatchers, sprayers, etc. but these are generally intended for the larger commercial grade zero-turn mowers.
Will it cut my large fields?
Most Zero-turn mowers are not designed to cut fields, pastures or anything much taller than 15cm. They are intended to be more of a finish cut mower that will nip around obstacles and tight spaces quickly. However, some can easily do grass higher than this. BOB-CAT has removable bolt-on baffles on most of their mowing decks which greatly improves cutting in longer grass or for paddock topping. BOB-CAT also has an adjustable deck lip to avoid pressing the grass down prior to cutting.
What kind of terrain is it good for?
You’ll get peak performance from a zero-turn mower on large, open, flat areas. You can use zero-turn mowers on small slopes and uneven terrain but we’d recommend talking to an expert first beforehand to make sure you get the right mower to handle it. The problem with zero-turns on slopes (when they’re not right for it) is the front caster wheels have almost no control. What you may find happens is the mower will want to head downwards so you’ll steer upwards to compensate, which causes sliding and ruts in your turf.