What Is a Zero Turn Riding Lawn Mower?


If Americans are known for anything, it's their inherent desire for speed and efficiency. A task as mundane as mowing the lawn is no exception. Thus, the arrival of the zero turn riding mowers. For those who aren't satisfied with a standard--albeit slow and cumbersome--traditional riding mower, lawn cutting innovators developed a fast, clean-cutting, turn-on-a-dime mowing machine.

The Difference

A traditional riding mower consists of a standard steering wheel and front-wheel steering. The operator sits in a seat behind the wheel and over the mower deck. The zero turn mower, however, typically has no steering wheel. It uses two control levers, each regulating the speed and direction of a single wheel. The operator sits more-or-less behind the mower deck, allowing better visibility of the mowing area.


A zero turn riding mower has two control levers for steering the back wheels of the mower. Each lever controls the speed and direction of its respective wheel. Power is transmitted to the wheels hydrostatically, or with fluid power. This allows for quick wheel response relative to the control lever position. The operator pulls the corresponding wheel lever back for reverse, and pushes it forward to achieve forward movement. The further the control lever moves in either direction, the faster the respective wheel turns as a result of more available fluid flow. A traditional riding mower uses the front wheels to steer the direction of the mower while the rear wheels power the machine. This configuration requires more room to turn the mower, and limits turning radius.


A traditional riding mower delivers power to the rear wheels via a belt driven transmission. The transfer through the mower's transmission to the wheel axle is purely mechanical. Although this arrangement is functional, it is inefficient when compared to the hydrostatic operation of a zero turn mower. The hydrostatic transmission on a zero turn mower directs each rear wheel independently. This allows for each wheel to turn at full speed in opposite directions. With this ability, the mower is able to turn 180 degrees within its own tracks.


The technology that goes into a zero turn mower reflects on the price tag. Because the mowers are more costly to build, and because demand is quite high for these mowers, expect to pay almost double the price for one of the zero turn mowers versus a traditional riding mower.


If there is a downside to the zero turn riding mowers other than their cost, it is the lack of accessories available for this type of mower. Traditional riding mowers are versatile in that aerators, seeder/spreaders, trailers and many other add-ons are available from various manufacturers. Zero turn mowers perform one primary task: mowing grass and mowing it fast.

Keywords: zero turn mowers, zero-turn lawn mowers, compare riding mowers

About this Author

Damon Hildebrand is a retired U.S. Navy veteran. He has more than 15 years within the oil and gas industry in both technical and managerial positions. Hildebrand has been a technical writer and communicator for the last four years. He is a certified specialists in lubrication and tribology, as well as a certified maintenance and reliability professional.