Zero-turn lawnmowers are among the most highly maneuverable mowers available. Most riding mowers are steered using the front wheels, but zero-turn mowers steer with the rear wheels. The front wheels provide little function except some stability, according to Consumer Reports. With steering from the rear wheels, zero-turn mowers out-steer other riding mowers, allowing trimming of grass in tight places, such as around trees. The mowers can turn 180 degrees and not leave any grass uncut during the turn. That makes zero-turn mowers more efficient than some riding lawnmowers. The tradeoff is that the mowers are difficult to control on hills.
You should not purchase a zero-turn lawnmower if you will be cutting lots of grass on hills. Consumer Reports found zero-turn mowers difficult to control during hard turns downhill. During tests, riders lost control of the machines and skidded into simulated hazards. The rear wheel steering simply made it more difficult for the riders to control steering on some downhill slopes.
Zero-turn mowers have effective brakes, but the operator must manipulate two levers that also control steering from the rear wheels. That isn’t as intuitive as simply stepping on a brake pedal. A person inexperienced with zero-turn mowers could have a difficult time braking effectively going downhill.
The rear wheel steering and more complex braking system could also increase the risk of a rollover. However, all riding lawnmowers are susceptible to rollovers. In 2007, more than 15,000 injuries and 61 deaths were attributed to rollovers on all riding lawnmowers, according to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Some commercial zero-turn mowers may feature roll bars, which help in a rollover if the operator is wearing a seat belt.
Choose a front-steering mower instead of a zero-turn model if you will mow slopes of 10 to 15 degrees or greater. A 10-degree slope rises about 20 inches each 10 feet. Study the safety features and controls on zero-turn mowers if you have already purchased one. Use commonsense, such as mowing slowly on hills and only on dry grass. That increases traction and reduces the need for making sudden stops or turns. Spend time on level ground getting used to the controls, especially levers for speed, steering and braking. Avoid quicker turns than are necessary, and mow straight up and down slopes.