When looking to purchase your first riding lawn mower you might come across a few different options, the main two being a riding lawn tractor and the second being a zero turn mower.
Firstly, it needs to be mentioned that these products are available for both commercial and residential use and purchasing them will usually come out of necessity rather than a luxury. A small lawn can easily be covered by a regular lawnmower however, for those with larger lawns an upgrade to a riding mower is almost essential.
A riding mower is an investment and therefore it’s important to ensure you are getting the most suitable product for your needs, below we will run through the key difference between these two products and also look into the benefits of each in order to help you decide which option is best for you.
Zero Turn Mowers vs. Lawn Tractors
Zero turn mowers and lawn tractors are quite similar products that are both designed for residential lawn care and maintenance.
A lawn tractor is a smaller, residential version of a full size tractor and they are used by homeowners that need to mow on acreage (if that’s you – make sure you read our article on the best riding lawn mowers for 2 acres). As soon as a homeowner upgrades to a house that has a significant amount of grass, a regular lawn mower will no longer be a viable option as it could take some users hours to manually mow their lawn.
Riding mowers are therefore an upgraded purchase that almost becomes a necessity when it comes to larger lawns.
A zero turn mower is not too different from a riding lawn tractor, the key difference as the name suggests is that a zero turn mower has enhanced turning capabilities offering quite literally, zero turn functionality.
These mowers are usually more expensive than a standard lawn tractor as a result of the enhanced handling and you’ll find that these tend to be favored by professional lawn care contractors who require enhanced handling and turning capability for more productive and faster work.
The similarities between these products are that they both offer large cutting capacities ranging from 34” – 72”, use similar engines that are relatively powerful from 18HP – 26HP motors and both have built-in suspension systems for comfort during use.
Despite the fact that you will find some similarities and differences between the two types of mowers, each one has some distinct benefits that will appeal to different users and below we are going to cover some of these benefits in more detail.
Benefits of a Zero Turn Mower
The clear benefit to a zero turn mower is the enhanced handling that you will get as a result. These mowers have independent handles in place of a steering wheel and this allows zero turn functionality for unmatched handling and maneuverability.
A zero turn mower has the capability to turn over an incredibly small radius meaning that you can quickly and accurately create perfect lines in your lawn without needing to make extra passes like you would with a lawn tractor.
These mowers also have a mow in reverse functionality to complement the zero turn handling and this means that you can easily navigate around trees, flower beds, pools, and tight areas often without the need to even take out the weed whacker for those hard to mow spots!
The majority of zero turn mowers have very high specs and are usually made to a commercial grade quality making them ideal for professional use.
Steel fabricated decks, a large cutting capacity, greasable fixtures, ergonomic control panels in one central location, and durable steel construction throughout most models allow for these high end products to be durable, long lasting, and well suited for heavy-duty use.
Heavy-duty use in this example means repeated cuts more than every one or two weeks like you’d see in residential use and this means that a lot of zero turn mowers have commercial grade capability for professional lawn care use.
The productivity of a zero turn mower is almost unmatched and you’ll find that in general, these mowers can often cut a lawn in half the time it would take a more traditional lawn tractor.
This will of course depend on the lawn in question as everyone will have different requirements but in general, superior handling and a typically larger deck allows for more productive work and means that zero turn mowers are the product of choice for those that need fast work.
Benefits of a Lawn Tractor
The key benefit of a lawn tractor is that they are usually much cheaper than a zero turn mower and in general, you will find that a high end lawn tractor will usually come in at a similar price to a budget zero turn mower.
If you are a homeowner with a relatively open yard that covers a few acres and also has very few obstacles in terms of trees or landscaping work, then a lawn tractor is an inexpensive and better suited product overall when compared against a zero turn mower.
You’ll typically find that you are going to get fewer features and most lawn tractors will have an inferior motor as these are made for residential use whereas some zero turn mowers have commercial grade components (including the motor).
That’s not to say, however, that a lawn tractor is of poor quality, it’s quite the opposite and a lawn tractor from a reputable brand will provide exceptional value for money.
We’ve previously covered the best riding mowers for hills on this site and lawn tractors tend to come out on top in terms of being better suited to steeper gradients and use on multiple hills and slopes (despite having a lower turning radius and control). We’ve also rated them well for our review of the best riding lawn mowers for rough terrain for a similar reason.
The key reason for this being that lawn tractors typically come with larger rear and front tires for superior traction and the handling is usually more secure on hills.
Zero turn mowers have dual handling levers and this axle separation gives greater handling on flat ground but it can be significantly more difficult to control on a hill and in particular when going downhills.
** We have also looked into the best zero turn mowers for hills and there are certainly some excellent models that are well suited for use on hills. We’ve just found that lawn tractors, in general, are better for hills but this in no way means that you can’t find zero turn mowers that are well suited and we did in fact find quite a few great options!
Due to a relatively lower price, you can often customize your lawn tractor with more accessories and still keep the overall cost of the product low in comparison to a zero turn mower giving greater flexibility/versatility of use.
Common accessories include multifunctional use to tackle weather conditions from a snowplow attachment to clear snow to a towable dump cart for clearing debris and obstacles around a yard (see our review of the best dump carts for lawn tractors for more).
You’ll also find that models can also be customized with LED lights for use at night, a canopy for protection from the sun, and a collection bag to catch the cut grass as you go.
Whilst none of these items are essential, the additional accessories do allow you to customize your lawn tractor at a fraction of the cost compared with a zero turn mower.
As you can see, a lawn tractor and a zero turn mower provide a very similar function but each will appeal to a different customer depending on individual requirements and preferences.
If you need a budget option mower to cut your lawn quicker, then a standard lawn tractor is going to be the best option, especially if you have plenty of hills. If however, you have a lawn with plenty of trees and obstacles or you are a professional that needs to work at optimal speeds then a zero turn mower is almost essential.
As there are benefits to both, you should weigh up your individual requirements and use this to help you choose the most suitable model for your needs.