Tips for Buying a Zero-Turn Mower
In 1963, John Regier was working at Hesston Corporation when the company developed the swather. The counter-rotation of the belts and pulleys on the device, used to cut forage and form windrows, inspired Regier to try out the technology in a lawn mower. By doing so, he invented the first zero-turn radius (ZTR) mower, eventually selling the technology to Hustler Turf.
In the last 50 years, zero-turn mowers have grown to dominate the commercial market and eventually trickled down into acreages and homes. This buyers’ guide focuses on popular sizes and features for acreage owners. For more tips on buying ZTRs, read the early spring issue of Living the Country Life magazine.
When it comes to deck size, take a look at how much land you are going to mow and what obstacles you need to drive around. “Most acreages have 60- or 72-inch decks,” says Nick Minas, John Deere. “The only time you start getting down into the 54-inch decks is if you have a lot of obstacles or a heavily wooded area.” If you have gates, you will want to make sure your mower deck will fit through.
The other thing to consider is collection systems. “A 54-inch deck will fill a hopper a lot less frequently than a 60-inch mower deck will,” adds Minas.
Depending on the mower brand and size, you can choose between a front- or mid-mount mower. For the most part, front-mount mowers are used by professionals to mow grounds like golf courses. However, they can have advantages in residential spaces. “If you are going around a lot of obstacles, then front mount may be best because it provides better visibility,” says Ray Garvey, Grasshopper. Because front-mount mowers have longer wheelbases, they also tend to be more comfortable over rough ground and have better reach under fences or tree limbs.
The length becomes a disadvantage when you need to move the mower on a trailer, although this can be overcome with front-mount decks that raise upright 90°.
Because they are shorter, mid-mount mowers also tend to be more nimble, says Minas.
The most important thing for maintenance is ease of service. Can you easily access the main compartments? Tilt-open body and tilt-up decks, like those found on Walker mowers, allow you to easily service the engine and under the deck.
Manufacturers are focused on making maintenance even easier. Exmark recently announced a new twin-cylinder engine for ZTRs that features a tools-free oil change. “A hose is attached to the side of the engine,” explains Matt Gersib, Exmark. “You just unclip it, put it in the pan, and the oil drains out.”
Mowers are becoming more high-tech, thanks in part to the increase in EFI engines. “Once you have an EFI engine, you also have on-board controllers,” explains John Cloutier, Exmark. “That enables us to do some really cool things with the machine.”
The on-board controllers allow different systems on the machine to communicate, increasing fuel savings and performance. For example, Exmark mowers with RED technology have warning lights to keep machines in good working condition and operation modes to match fuel use and RPMs with mowing conditions. Select Toro Z Master Professional models have a similar system called Horizon Technology.
New features make mulching and bagging easier than ever before. John Deere offers a Mulch On Demand deck that allows you to switch from mulching to side discharging and back again without leaving your seat. At this time, the deck is only available on John Deere mowers and is around $800.
Quick attach vacuum collection systems, like Exmark’s UltraVac and Grasshopper’s Quik-D-Tatch PowerVac system, allow you to switch from bagging to side discharge in minutes without tools. Collection systems range from $700 to $3,500, depending on the mower and if they are powered or not.
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