Mow like a Pro
Look, I enjoy mowing my lawn as much as the next guy. What could be more satisfying than spending a glorious summer morning traversing the lengths of your own little kingdom, the smell of fresh cut grass and engine oil a lovely bouquet on your nose. But as much as I love it, it doesn’t mean that I have any interest in doing more work than I have to.
The best zero turn mowers provide the fun and accurate riding mowers with the ability to turn on a zero degree radius, meaning that you can get more grass cut in less time and with less passes, saving valuable gas, time, & frustration. Because let’s face it, mowing the lawn isn’t likely the only chore that you’re looking to get done this weekend.
Shopping for a zero turn mower isn’t as easy as it might seem. With established brands like John Deere and Troy-Bilt going up against relative newcomers like Ariens, it can be next to impossible to determine which mower is going to provide you with the ability to get your job done fast, correctly, and without the hassle of frequent maintenance and repair.
What follows is our careful examination of 10 of the greatest zero turn lawn mowers of 2019, in which we are going to compare the hottest mowers by horsepower, cut width, & fuel capacity. Afterwards we are going to take a dive into the world of zero turn mowers, answering your burning questions like how to drive a zero turn mower and how to change the blade on a zero turn mower.
But first, we’ll answer everybody’s real question, which is,
What is a Zero Turn Mower?
If you spend any significant amount of time working in the yard, then you are going to want to know what a zero-turn mower is. This latest evolution in mowing technology not only cuts down on mowing time but has a whole host of other benefits that more than make up for the increased cost of these burly machines.
When we say “Zero-Turn Mower”, what we are really referring to is “Zero Turn Radius” (ZTR or ZTM for short) which references the mower’s ability to make rapid changes in direction without having to turn around the old fashioned way.
So what are the advantages of zero-turn mowers? Let’s take a look.
1.) Increased Maneuverability
The “zero turn” in “zero-turn mowers” refers to the ability of these mowers to move their wheels independently. This means that instead of taking wide turns and looping back to hit those missed areas, you can simply turn on a time and mow in the other direction, shaving off considerable time with each pass.
2.) Decreased Mowing Time
It has been estimated that a good Zero Turn Mower can cut you mowing time in half, even on the largest and longest growing lawns. This is what happens when you don’t have to drive in endless circles to make sure that you are hitting every single spot of grass.
3.) Longer Lasting Equipment
One of the unseen benefits of a decreased mowing time is that the engine isn’t working as hard. With fewer operation hours on the engine, the components don’t break down as fast, and the result is a mower that will last for years and years, as opposed to a few seasons.
4.) Saves Money on Gas & Oil
Less running time means less gasoline and engine oil, two things that can bleed a homeowner dry if their mower is not in tip-top shape.
So … What is the Best Zero-Turn Mower?
Ariens ZOOM 50 KOHLER 6000 Series
ENGINE DETAILS: 21 HP, 660 CC Kohler
BLADE CUTTING WIDTH: 50″
TOTAL FUEL CAPACITY: 2.8 Gallons
Because I have spend a bit of time with the 60″ version of this particular mower, I may have been a bit biased way before I even planted myself down in the seat. That’s because I had already come to know ARIENS as a manufacturer of zero turn lawn mowers that were as comfortable as they are convenient.
While the 60″ model was an absolute delight on the gold course, it was perhaps a bit big for many residential purposes, in which case the 50″ is going to do just fine. In fact, it is still on the larger side of cutting width for residential mowers, so you would have that going for you.
The construction here is 12 gauge steel, so you can be confident that this mower is just as strong as she looks, if not stronger. A friggin’ tree could fall on this thing without making much of a dent.
There are a couple of things that make ARIENS one of my more preferred brands. Firstly, their deck mounting design is no more complicated than it needs to be. A simple four point connection keeps things nice and simple, which is something that you won’t appreciate until it comes time to take the entire deck off for maintenance.
The foot operated deck lift works great, perhaps better than it does when other manufacturers try to pull off the concept.
BEST FEATURE: Well-designed deck mounting & foot-control
Husqvarna Z254 ZTM
ENGINE DETAILS: 21.5 HP
BLADE CUTTING WIDTH: 54″
TOTAL WEIGHT: 660LBS
Anyone looking to seriously beef up their lawn care game would do well to invest in one of these puppies. The Husqvarna Z254 is one of the smaller models available from the manufacturer, featuring a slightly smaller engine, but in no way is that going to stop the intrepid homeowner from getting absolutely perfect and effort-free cuts from one of the most user-friendly zero turn mowers on the market.
One of the best features about the Z254 is its slim profile. The whole body is quite compact compared to some of its closest competitors, which gives it an agile, nimble kind of feel when you’re driving it. While there’s no doubt that this size mower is designed for medium to large sized lawns, the reduced size and improved maneuverability actually lend themselves quite well to smaller patches of grass.
While one of the common problems we see with newer mowers is the tendency to overheat relatively quickly, the Husqvarna Z254 has one of the most well-designed fan-mounted cooling systems that we have ever ad the pleasure of looking at. Even a full day of mowing isn’t going to shut the engine down due to overheating.
We have some qualms about the deck material. It certainly doesn’t seem as strong as it is on a 12 gauge deck, like on the ARIENS ZOOM 50. While the slight reduction in sturdiness might knock a few years off the overall shelf life of this mower, it really isn’t anything to be too concerned about. What you’re getting here is a compact mower that is an absolute delight to operate.
BEST FEATURE: Great maneuverability and drive performance
Husqvarna MZ 61 ZTM
ENGINE DETAILS: 27 HP
BLADE CUTTING WIDTH: 61″
TOTAL WEIGHT: 1,024 LBS
The MZ 61 mower from the engineers over at Husqvarna is a big step up from the Z254 which we just looked at, both in terms of engine size and cutting width. With a 27 horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine and a generous 61″ cutting deck, there is little doubt that this mower was designed with big jobs in mind. Thanks to the smooth running performance and absolutely dialed engineering, it is possible to turn an entire day’s worth of mowing into a few pleasurable hours.
One of the problems that you run into when you are operating a zero-turn mower of this size is that steep inclines and declines have the ability to throw the drive off balance. If it is too steep, such as on a grass pitch, the wheels can slip slightly causing a bit of a drift, and there is not a very easy way to regain control. It seems to have something to do with the way the weight is distributed, but the best advice we can give is to just take it easy with hills and avoid overly steep areas.
The steering response on the MZ61 is pretty solid when compared to other brands, however, it is not the best that Husqvarna has put out. It is slightly less snappy than the Z254, but that’s probably to be expected considering the additional weight and width of the burly MZ61.
What we can’t stress enough is how reliable the Briggs engine is here. As long as you keep it nice and oiled up it is going to give you some of the longest-lasting performance out there. That’s probably why this is one of the most popular choices for lawn-care businesses.
Here’s one idea for Husqvarna … how about some kind of brake pedal for riding mowers of this size?
BEST FEATURE: Great long-lasting engine performance courtesy Briggs & Stratton.
Ariens 25HP 60″ ZTM
ENGINE DETAILS: 25 HP
BLADE CUTTING WIDTH: 60″
FUEL CAPACITY: 6 Gallons
Property owners & commercial contractors alike are going to appreciate the high-powered performance and sleek design of the Ariens ZTR, which features both a bigger cutting blade and more engine power than some of Ariens’ other mower selections. All the most recent advances in mower technology is collected in this neat little device, including the ability to turn on a time so that you’re not wasting time driving over the same patch of grass over and over again.
Some of the other nifty little additions that you can look forward to is one of the highest feet-per-minute blade tip speed (18,000 fpm) and an extra deep (5.5″) commercial deck allowing the user to cut on all sorts of terrain and in all sorts of conditions.
You might hear some people complaining about their aluminum spindles, no matter what kind of Ariens zero turn mower they might have. But in our opinion the spindle material doesn’t matter nearly as much as the spindle housing, and on the ZTR 60″ we’re looking at solid steel housing shafts. These are going to keep your spindles in place for longer, and it makes maintenance and repair an absolute breeze.
One of the simplest pleasures that comes with this model is the adjustable high-back seat. It’s truly remarkable to us that more manufacturers don’t offer this easy but worthwhile upgrade. Proper back support is what makes mowing truly comfortable, and for anyone with a serious mowing job in front of them, comfort is going to be as big of a consideration as the cutting blades themselves.
BEST FEATURE:Adjustable high-back seat with armrests makes this one of the most comfortable rides on our list
Ariens IKON-X 52″ 23HP ZTM
ENGINE DETAILS: 23 HP
BLADE CUTTING WIDTH: 52”
FUEL CAPACITY: 2.8 Gallons
While she might look like the runt of the litter when stood next to all her big brothers and sisters, the IKON-X 52″ is actually one of the best values that you can find on zero turn mowers anywhere. Sure, she’s a bit small, but a 52″ cut width and a 4″ deck depth make this mower perfect for everything but the very largest cutting jobs, like a golf course for instance. Getting one of these for your personal yard is a surefire way to save time and energy while keeping your grass looking great and the neighbors feeling jealous.
Speaking of jealousy, there are a lot of people out there who which that they has a Kawasaki engine in their mower. Not only does Kawasaki really know what they’re doing when it comes to making powerful but compact engines, but they are also one of the most reputable engine companies out there, and that doesn’t just happen by accident. It happens by providing top quality products and service over a period of decades, so you know you’re getting something you can count on.
The drive system is pretty much the same on any mower in the IKON-X series. Here, Ariens takes advantage of a dual hydro-gear ZT-2200 hydro-static drive system. This is an automatic transmission where no shifting is needed. In addition to the operational simplicity, the whole drive system is just remarkably smooth. I haven’t personally driven any other mower in the IXON-X series, but I can only assume that they would all drive just about as well as this one.
11-gauge steel for the deck is burly alright. Not 12-gauge burly, but it is just a touch lighter, which might have been what the manufacturers had in mind when they designed this compact, efficient, and fun little mower with zero turn capability.
BEST FEATURE: A remarkably smooth & comfortable drive
Poulan PRO P46ZX Briggs V-Twin
ENGINE DETAILS: 22 HP
BLADE CUTTING WIDTH: 46″
FUEL CAPACITY: 3.5 Gallons
As someone who has spent a lot of time on John Deere zero turn mowers, I can say honestly that it has been a real pleasure to explore some of the lesser known brands that are available these days. One such company is POULAN, a relatively new full-service lawn equipment manufacturer that makes everything from battery operated yard trimmers to gas powered lawn mowers. The P46ZX is the flagship model of their gas-powered division, offering some of the best riding mower performance than a person could ask for.
With the P46ZX you aren’t just getting a smooth ride, but a functional one that is sure to cut down on mowing times while ensuring a clean and even cut all the way around. Hydro-gear EZT automatic transmission makes driving this thing feel more like a gold cart than a lawn mower, which is to say, that it’s a smooth ride and also fairly quiet when compared to some mowers on the market.
We were a bit confused to find out that there doesn’t seem to be a bagging attachment for this model, which does seem strange. We have however heard of some users having success with Husqvarna part # 966004101 fitting on the P46ZX, though we have been as of yet unable to confirm this for ourselves.
Overall this is a great little mower at a price that isn’t going to break the bank. Whether you’re a lawn contractor or simply a grass enthusiast looking to up their mowing game, the Poulan P46ZX might just be the best option for you.
BEST FEATURE: Briggs & Stratton V-Twin high-performance engine
SNAPPER 360Z ZTR
ENGINE DETAILS: 21.5 HP
BLADE CUTTING WIDTH: 42″
FUEL CAPACITY: 3.2 Gallons
While the SNAPPER series of zero turn mowers offers a number of different options in terms or horsepower and cutting width, we think that the 2.15HP / 42″ model (2691402) is a good representation of what the brand has to offer in terms of performance and reliability.
This is a smaller zero turn mower, one of the smallest in fact on our list. There is some expected maneuverability bonuses to the smaller size, but for the most part this drives similarly to most riding lawn mowers.
SNAPPER has made a name for themselves by making all of their products highly customizable, allowing the user to add and remove valuable pieces such as grass baggers, dozer blades, mulching attachments, and dump carts. This would turn your every-day riding mower into one of the most valuable lawn tools you will every own. And with SNAPPER’s limited lifetime warranty you know you are covered for certain kinds of damage and defects that threaten so many other inferior lawn care machines that are for sale.
You might not see it advertised in the product details, but in case you are interested, SNAPPER utilizes Briggs & Stratton for their engines almost 100% of the time. It seems to be a match made in heaven as the powerful, reliable Briggs engine serves as the heart to a Snapper frame that is sturdy, streamlined, and very stylish in classic cherry red.
We’re particularly enthused about the price on this model. It’s significantly lower than a lot of mowers we have looked at, but from what we can tell the quality is just as good here as it is on many more expensive machines.
BEST FEATURE: Great balance of price & quality … the perfect “entry-level” zero turn mower for sale
SWISHER ZTR2454BS-CA 24HP 54″ ZTM
ENGINE DETAILS: 24 HP
BLADE CUTTING WIDTH: 54″
FUEL CAPACITY: 8 Gallons
The world of lawn mowers seems to be colored in either cherry red or Jon Deere green, so it’s somewhat refreshing to see a brand like SWISHER release a mower with a jet-black paint job. Seriously, this is one of the most stylish mowers that we have ever ridden on. But style is certainly not the name of the game if you’ve got multiple acres of grass to cut. For that job, performance is the most important thing, and the SWISHER ZTR25454BS has got that in spades.
A massive 8 gallon fuel tank pretty much takes the cake for fuel capacity, even when compared next to the rest of the mowers on this page. With a full 8 gallon of fuel at your disposal, it is unlikely that you will have to head back into the shop for a refill before the job is done.
This is truly a ZTR mower designed for large jobs. An entire day of mowing in the sun can be cut to less than half by investing in a machine as serious as this one.
The engine is Briggs & Stratton, and if you’ve been paying attention then you will know how highly we regard that manufacturer around here. The thing about a good Briggs engine is that it only needs two things to survive … gas and oil. If you keep it topped up on both, it isn’t likely to give out on you anytime soon.
BEST FEATURE: Stylish jet-black color scheme
TROY-BILT Mustang 25HP 54-Inch Zero-Turn Mower
ENGINE DETAILS: 25 HP
BLADE CUTTING WIDTH: 54″
FUEL CAPACITY: 4.2 Gallons
It was over 75 years ago when the folks over at TROY-BILT started changing the way that American farmers looked at their machinery. Over the decades that followed the company began to adapt their innovative technology to products for the home & small business. The result is a line of zero turn mowers that work just as well for a lap around the house as they do for tidying up the local soccer field.
Today, one of the best things about going with TROY-BILT mower over a John Deere is that the former company has an impressive 3 year limited warranty with a limited lifetime warranty on the frame. That’s a pretty good deal, considering that Troy-Bilt tends to use a higher gauge steel for their frames and decks.
The deck adjustment feature offers 8 different positions, which is quite impressive, yet we would still prefer to be able to control the deck with a foot pedal, which is the case on some other manufacturers like Ariens.
Still, if you’re looking for a zero turn mower for sale and you come across the 25hp Troy-Bilt, slap that cash down, friend. You aren’t going to regret it.
BEST FEATURE: Electric take-off (ETO) for fast & easy blade engagement
Craftsman Z560 24HP Briggs & Stratton Platinum 54″ ZTM
ENGINE DETAILS: 24 HP
BLADE CUTTING WIDTH: 54″
FUEL CAPACITY: 3.8 Gallons
You might be asking yourself the same question that we did when we first saw the product information for the CRAFTSMAN Z560, which is “what the heck is ReadyStart, and why is Craftsman making such a big deal about it?” Well, basically it is a feature on the Briggs engine that assists the mower start, meaning that you get a clean and fast start every time. No more endless cranking in the chilly early morning … just turn the key and go.
But the deck wash has to be our favorite feature on the Z560. All Craftsman did was add some water jets to the underside of the deck, allowing the user to blast away the sticky grass remnants at the end of a job, or even as you’re working. It’s one of those small innovations that is big-time appreciated, and we wouldn’t be surprised if we started to see this feature on more mowers in the years to come.
Reverse mowing is another neat offering of the Z560 … something that most mowers in this class are unable to offer. Between zero turn steering and reverse mowing, there is no greater way to make sure that your yard or property is looking perfect all summer long.
BEST FEATURE: Electric take-off (ETO) for fast & easy blade engagement
Conclusion: What is the Best Zero Turn Lawn Mower?
Although we would love to try, there is not enough uncut grass in the entire city to allow for a complete test of all the mowers on our list. That’s because the real test of a ZTM is how long it will keep working hard for you before giving up or breaking down. If you’re tired of reading zero turn mower reviews, then sit back and enjoy a few easy recommendations.
If durability and longevity is what you’re looking for, we would recommend the Husqvarna Z254, whose 12-guage construction and Briggs & Stratton engine are sure to keep your lawn looking great for many years to come.
But when it comes to an undeniable good deal, look no further than the Snapper 360Z. It has perhaps the best balance of quality to affordability of all the turn mowers on our list, and drives pretty well to boot.
The Different Grades of Zero-Turn Lawn Mowers
Though there doesn’t seem to be any sort of governing body that regulates the size classification of riding lawn mowers (though I would apply for a position) but nonetheless it is helpful to examine these mowers through a simple classification system that helps us all understand the basic differences in size, power, and utility.
The first of four size classifications, entry-level mowers are both the smallest and lightest of the bunch with more narrow cut widths and reduced fuel capacity. They are also available in single cylinder engines, which is not usually the case with mid-range mowers and up.
Entry level riding lawn mowers are perfect for the lawn enthusiast who looks forward to Sunday morning with child-like anticipation, but would be too small for anyone running a lawn business.
If you haven’t figured out the thought process behind our classification system yet, we’ll say that mid-range mowers are a step up from entry level mowers in all aspects.
There is a wide degree of variance in what can be classified as a mid-range zero turn mower. For instance, cutting widths can range from 30″ to 60″, horsepower from 15HP – 25HP, and fuel capaicty from 2 to 6 gallons.
Also known as the “prosumer” category, these zero-turn mowers offer some of the more advanced features that come with a commercial lawn mower, but are not quite that expensive. Semi-pro mowers have bigger engines, more power, can hold more gas, and best of all, will have your neighbors thinking that you brought in the professionals to do the lawn.
They also have some of the more comfort-oriented features that you only get in a premium mower, such as high back seats with suspension, adjustable arm rests, and in many some cases, cruise control.
The term “commercial zero turn lawn mowers” is not as easy to pin down as the other categories, because there is a wide overlap with semi-pro mowers in terms of technical details. For instance, commercial quality lawn mowers are available with a cutting width as low as 32″ (more of an entry-level number) or as high as 72″.
Commercial grade mowers are designed to make you more productive, and they do just that. With their wide decks, bigger fuel tanks, and more powerful engines, you can mow as much as 3 acres per hour, sometimes even more. For the mowing enthusiast who is looking top break into the big times, this is the direction that you’ll want to take.
Buyer’s Guide: What to Look for in a Zero Turn Mower
Buying a new zero turn mower is the easiest way to shave valuable hours off your lawn maintenance game. While this can free you up to spend more time sipping lemonade, getting the wrong ZTM for your needs is a surefire way to miss out on all of the advantages that these machines have to offer.
When we were putting this guide together, we decided to review each mower according to three primary aspects: horsepower, cut-width, & fuel capacity.
The size of your lawn, yard, or property is the best way to estimate how much horsepower you are going to need, whether you’re a passionate homeowner or a lawn care business owner looking to buy a commercial zero turn mower.
- 1 Acre & Under: At this size, there is little need for a turn mower with a horsepower greater than 14HP or 15HP. Of course, if you’re already dreaming about your next, bigger lawn, then there is certainly no harm in buying big.
- 1 – 2.5 Acres: This is a pretty decent sized lawn, so a HP of anywhere between 15-18 is ideal. You don’t want to go smaller, but again, a larger mower wouldn’t be inappropriate.
- 2.5 Acres & Up: Look at you, Mr. big-shot. You’ve got a sizeable chunk of grass on your hands, and you’ll be needing a sizeable turn mower to go along with it.
The term “cut-width” is pretty self explanatory, as it refers to the width of the rotating cutting blade. This is how much grass you will be cutting with each new pass.
Just like horsepower, a ZTM’s cut-width can be roughly estimated by the size of your lawn.
- 1 Acre & Under: At this size, you will likely be looking at a smaller riding lawn mower with less horsepower, so the cut-width would naturally be at the lower end, around 40″-42″.
- 1 – 2.5 Acres: The mid-range of cut widths runs from about 42″ to 48″, though there is actually a decent amount of variance from machine to machine.
- 2.5 Acres & Up: Commercial zero turn mowers feature some of the largest cutting blades that you can find, and can be from 54″ on Semi-pro mowers to a whopping 72″ on commercial zero turn mowers.
The larger your lawn, the longer it is going to take to get the job done. Make sure you don’t have to go in for a top up before the job is done, or you risk ruining your perfect lines.
- 1 Acre & Under: Fuel tanks for smaller lawns and properties are usually in the range of 2 to 3 gallons.
- 1 – 2.5 Acres: Fuel capacity for both mid-grade and semi-pro ZTMs hovers between 3 and 4.5 gallons.
- 2.5 Acres & Up: Commercial zero turn mowers have some pretty impressive fuel tanks, sometimes as high as 14 or 15 gallons.
Zero Turn Lawn Mowers Operating Tips
If you’re like most people, then you’ve done most of your mowing with a standard push mower, or perhaps a traditional riding lawn mower. Some people wonder whether a zero turn mower is harder to operate, but the truth is that you can pick it up in no time and that it really isn’t all that difficult.
How To Drive a Zero Turn Mower
Generally speaking, almost all ZTMs feature two hand levers, one on each side. These levers control the rear drive wheels. Because the drive wheels are built to operate independently, it is possible to engage only one wheel at a time. This is the key to zero turn technology. One wheel pushes forward while the other remains stationary, kind of like a pivot.
This pivoting action is what lets the blade cover 100% of the ground without tedious U-turns and loops.
Not only are zero-turn mowers easy to drive, but they’re also a heck of a lot of fun.
How to Manually Push a Zero Turn Mower
One of the most common questions that is asked about lawn mowers is how to manually push a zero turn mower when it wont start. We can tel you right off the bat that a lot of people have experienced this problem and have been literally stuck trying to figure it out. Fortunately, we’re here to help.
All driving mowers, for that matter utilize hydraulic pressure to turn the wheels. This pressure exists within the hardware even if the mower is non-running. What this means is that it is always possible to access this pressure when the machine is off.
While individual models may vary, every riding mower has had a pressure release mechanism installed somewhere around the wheels. It will come in either the form of a bolt on the hydraulic pump that needs to be turned, or a pair of pins behind the drive wheels.
When you make the leap and buy a new lawn mower, take the time to find out where the pressure release mechanism is so you wont be left in the lurch if you ever run out of gas.
How to Change Hydraulic Fluid in a Zero Turn Mower
If you read the last paragraph then you are probably already wanting to know a little more about your mower’s hydraulic system. Here is a bit of information for anyone wondering how to change the hydraulic fluid in a riding lawn mower.
Now we should mention first off that the hydraulic system is a closed system in most of these mowers, so changing the hydraulic fluid really doesn’t need to be done, at least not as often as regular engine oil.
If you do think its time to swap out the hydraulic fluid, start by putting a drain pan beneath the reservoir. The fluid will drain once the filter is removed. When its fully drained, take your new filter and add some new oil to it. Then, replace the filter (or filters, some units have 2) then replace the drain plug. You should now be able to fill the reservoir from the fill cap.
It is VERY IMPORTANT that you purge the air from the hydraulic lines before operation. To do this, jack up the mower so that the tires are off the ground, then turn them back and forth.