What are Zero Turn Lawn Mowers?

Murray Anderson

Want to have a great looking and well-trimmed yard, but hate the idea of doing all that edging and cutting manually? The answer to your problem may in the world of zero turn lawn mowers.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Zero turn lawn mowers are riding mowers that can literally turn right around, 180 degrees, within in its own body length. It can actually go right around in a complete 360-degree circle, but why would you want to do that? Originally designed for industrial applications, zero turn lawn mowers with their great maneuverability, allowed landscape contractors and golf course maintenance folks to cut right up against and around obstacles without ever having to get off the mower and do some trimming.

These mowers operate much like a bulldozer or tank in the way they can turn right back on themselves. Although bulldozers and tanks use treads to control their movement, and a zero turn lawn mower uses its rear wheels, the principle is the same. By varying the amount and direction of drive power applied to each wheel, you control the movement of the machine.

For example, if both rear drive wheels on the mower are moving forward at the same speed, the lawn mower will move forward in a straight line. If one wheel is moving slower than the other, the machine will turn in the direction of the slower moving wheel. And if you want to turn around 180 degrees, simply have one wheel turn backward while the other moves forward.

Typically zero turn lawn mowers have two rear drive wheels linked to "hydrostatic transmission", which is what transforms the engine's power into hydraulic pressure that in turn moves the mower and controls its direction. The mower's engine powers a pump that exerts pressure on hydraulic fluid, and the pressurized fluid drives the wheels. In early versions of zero turn lawn mowers, the operator controlled the speed and the direction of the mower by moving a pair of levers (again like a bulldozer). Newer mowers now use a joystick, handlebars similar to a motorcycle, or even a steering wheel to provide control.

Zero turn lawn mowers were initially made for industrial applications where reliability and up time are valuable characteristics. Mower manufacturers claim that very rarely do they have any service related problems with the hydraulic pumps and when you think about it, hydraulic drive systems are not a new idea so why should they cause problems. Just like an ordinary lawn mower, properly maintaining the engine and keeping the mower deck clean should ensure that a zero turn mower provide many years of service.

Not unexpectedly the convenience of a zero turn lawn mower comes at a price. While a typical riding mowers or lawn tractors cost in the area of $2000, zero turn lawn mowers costs appreciably more. Prices range from around $3500 all the way up to $7500 and perhaps more if you go for all the accessories.

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