Standard, high quality zero turn mowers are built with a deck that has been cast, or cut, from a single piece of steel. These solid built mowers are designed to work best with flat terrains, and for most owners, they work perfectly well. When considering a new zero turn mower, look for models that have been cast from heavy gauge steel. The weight of the mower is not always indicative of the deck’s quality, so be sure to read the specifications and look for keywords, such as fabricated (assembled from other pieces) and pressed (press cut from a single sheet).
For zero turn mowers, traction and maneuverability are extremely crucial to performance. At the heart of these aspects is the tire. Precision turning requires the right kind of tire, and for zero turn mowers wide tires in both front (with smoother surfaces) and back (with deeply grooved treads) provide the best results. The width (and to a degree height) of the tires is also important in distributing the weight of the machine and rider. Look for models that have at least four wheels (some professional models have two extra side wheels) in two sizes, with shorter wheels in front, and taller wheels in back.
A zero turn mower is always going to be a significant investment, especially compared to other styles of mowers, which means you want to be sure you will get your money’s worth. The durability of a mower can be gauged, not just by the warranty or guarantee from the company, but also by its overall construction. Look for these key features to determine the potential durability of the mower; The deck should be thickly gauged steel (keep in mind gauge works by the smaller the number the thicker the gauge, so 29 gauge is thicker than 30 gauge), wheels should be at least 4 ply rated, the engine should be two cylinder in design, and the seating should be made from quality materials (or easily replaced).
Single cylinder engines used to be the standard for riding mowers (zero turn is a style of riding), however in modern times, the single has given way to the double. The reason for this is that two cylinders provide more powerful performance and a smoother ride. While there are several models available with a single cylinder engine (typically budget models), higher quality models utilize the newer technology. Both types of engine will perform the same role, but if you prefer a less jostling and potentially shorter ride, opt for a model that uses a twin cylinder engine.
Easily Adjustable Cutting Height
While just about every model of quality mower has the option to adjust the cutting height of the blades, something that should be considered a standard feature, is the ability to easily shift between these settings. This can be done with either an easy to reach lever or a foot pedal. It is important to look for models that allow you to adjust the height of the deck from the ground while operating it. If you have to stop, get off the mower, and manually raise/lower the deck, you may find it tedious and counterproductive. For people with very flat and unchanging areas to mow, it may be a moot point, but if you have less than perfectly flat terrain (especially if you have trees), then look for models with easy to adjust mechanics.
For most people, investment into a riding mower is prompted by a sizable enough yard to justify the expense. Even with a dual cylinder engine, you can plan to spend at least 30 minutes or more cutting the lawn. It may seem trivial, but if you don’t pay attention to how cushioned or supportive the seat is, you may find yourself having buyer’s remorse. It is important to look for a model that has at the very least a supportive seat, with extra cushion being optional.
Ease of Use
In addition to functional features, a standard to look for is something that is user friendly. For both novice and veteran mower consumers alike, models that are overly complicated to operate, or that have counter intuitive controller setup, can make the job of keeping the lawn trimmed harder than it needs to be. Models that somewhat mimic automobile setups (easy to reach foot pedals and shifting control stick to the side for different modes) tend to be among the easiest to use. It is important to keep in mind that most zero turn mowers will not have a steering wheel because the defining point of a zero turn model is ability to independently control the left and right wheels (allowing it to turn inside its footprint).
Well established as a leader among outdoor tractor suppliers, Husqvarna offers a large selection of mowers (both zero turn and tractor style). Their trademark bright orange paint job and crown insignia have become synonymous with quality machinery. They offer several models of zero turn mowers, including the “starter” Husqvarna 967277601 and commercial quality Husqvarna PZ 72 models. They utilize both single and double cylinder engines from Kawasaki, along with several other features that fit into both standard and commercial quality level machines, such as both cast and welded decks and ergonomic seats.
A common competitor for Husqvarna, they offer a series of zero turn mowers that use either Briggs & Stratton or Kohler engines. The key distinction between Poulan Pro and Husqvarana (aside from the outward appearances) is that Poulan Pro only makes a few high quality standard zero turn mowers. While they are packed with quality engines, solid deck construction, and easy to use controls, they lack the aspects desired by most professional or large scale landscapers. If you have a regular size yard that is not too varied in terrain extremes, then a Poulan Pro would likely do just fine, especially if you are on a tight budget.
Black and gold are the standard colors for Cub Cadet zero turn mowers, and they are known for more than just a buzzing color scheme. Cub Cadet is one of the few companies of note that make a zero turn mower that utilizes a traditional steering wheel guidance system in about half of their zero turn series (most use lever-like bars on either side). Similar to Poulan Pro, Cub Cadet zero turn mowers on average tend to cost less than brands like Husqvarna, however, unlike Poulan Pro, they make commercial level series as well. They make use of mainly Kohler engines and have a reputation for being very easy to use and comfortable to ride.
Built to last and perform like pros, Simplicity rates themselves as the meeting ground for commercial quality and residential needs. Their seven models of zero turn mowers are each competitively priced and come in a variety of deck, wheel, and engine options to suit preference and budgeting limits. Key elements for Simplicity are their use of time-tested Briggs and Stratton engines and ultra cushioned seating. They are also only officially sold through select dealers, which according to the company, ensures that only quality and genuine (new) models are available.
There are many other brands of zero turn mowers, such as Swisher, Airens, John Deere, and Troy Built. Each has their selling points and flaws, but all of them offer the same concepts in design; a riding mower that has the sharpest turning radius possible. Some vary in the length of warranty, while others offer larger seating. The big difference between the brands can often boil down to personal preference. Some people have brand loyalties, and may prefer to use machines that use only Briggs and Stratton engines, while other people may simply prefer to use only John Deere products. The biggest point to look for is the ability to turn within the footprint, which is what fully separates tractors and regular mowers from zero turn models.
A point discussed briefly before, the deck of the mower is a key feature that can make a lot of difference in not just the weight and pricing of a particular model, but also its level of quality and durability. Welded decks – that are assembled from different parts that have been put together, tend to have greater durability and are seen in almost all commercial grade models. They are particularly known to be more resistant to wearing down when used on hilly and uneven terrain. If you plan to use your mower quite a bit, or if you have a very diverse yard (in terms of hills, potholes, and trees), consider looking for models that have welded decks (as opposed to “cut” which have been form cut from a single piece of metal).
OHV (overhead valve) Engines
In addition to the superiority of dual cylinders over single cylinder engines, commercial and professional quality models should have engines that make use of OHV setups. In an OHV engine, the valves are placed over the cylinder head, as opposed to the side. Extensive testing, both in field and lab, has shown this to be an optimal setup in terms of power produced. Not only do OHV engines tend to perform better in mowers, they are also more compact than older engine styles, which means you don’t have to sacrifice performance for compactness. Be sure to look for models that list the engine as not only dual cylinder, but also OHV (overhead valve), to be sure you are getting the best performance possible in a zero turn mower.
The greater majority of mowers come as they are without extra accessories (like mulching blades). However, one element that can really distinguish standard from professional grade machines is either the accessories they come with, or that can be added to them. One such example is a back rail for storing other pieces of landscaping equipment (which is designed to appeal to professional landscapers), or additional seating options (such as covers or added cushioning). For most homeowners, the basic machine itself is more than sufficient for their yard care needs. Consider what sort of extras you’d like to be able to have (a bag for clippings, etc.) and be sure that if they are not included with the purchase of the mower, that they are at least available for later purchase.