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Zero Turn vs. Lawn Tractor: Which is Better?

Zero Turn vs. Lawn Tractor: Which is Better?

Are you looking for an efficient way to mow your large lawn? A good mower can save you time and take the fuss out of keeping your lawn in tip-top condition. Walk-behind push mowers will usually get the job done on a standard-sized lawn but for large lawns, you will be looking at a different breed of mowers—riding mowers.

The two types of riding mowers are zero turn and lawn tractor mowers. Both are major investments and it is worth the effort to do some research before deciding which one to purchase. In this article, we will lay bare the pros and cons of each machine, and hopefully, in the end, you will make a smart choice between a zero turn vs tractor. Keep reading to find out more!

Zero Turn Mowers

Zero Turn Mowers

If your lawn is larger than half an acre, a zero-turn radius mower (ZTR) is an excellent choice for helping you complete lawn maintenance work in the shortest time possible and with the least amount of effort.

These machines are referred to as zero turn because they turn on their own footprint and therefore leave a zero radius measurement. They have a wide out-front deck and are powered by hydrostatic transmission. Instead of a steering wheel, a zero turn mower has two levers, which help with navigating the mower.

Each of the two rear wheels on a ZTR has its own motor that is controlled by the two levers. Due to the lack of a traditional steering wheel and brake pad, a zero turn may seem a bit intimidating. But, operating the mower is a complete breeze once you get the hang of it.

A huge advantage of a zero turn is its ability to spin on its footprint. The zero radius mechanism means that the mower can easily maneuver around corners, shrubbery, trees, ponds, and other ornamental obstacles in your yard. You can learn more about how zero-turn mowers can navigate around obstacles in a yard.

We will look at some of the pros and cons of zero turn mowers later in the article. For now, let us find out more about lawn tractors.

Lawn Tractors

Lawn Tractors

If tractors are the beasts of farms and construction sites, lawn tractors reign over the lawn care niche. These mini-tractors are small enough to fit effortlessly in your garage or a small outdoor shed but large enough to mow a big lawn in a considerably short time.

A lawn tractor operates more or less like a car. It has a steering wheel, which you use to navigate the machine, and a gas pedal, which when pressed accelerates the tractor. Compared to a zero turn mower, this one has a shorter learning curve if you already know how to drive a car.

Unlike zero turn lawn mowers, lawn tractors turn at a larger radius. The problem with this is that by turning this way, they leave a patch of untrimmed grass in the middle, requiring you to take several passes to trim those missed spots. This will certainly increase the amount of time you spend out in your lawn.

Now, let’s take an in-depth look at the differences between zero turn vs tractor lawn mowers.

Zero Turn vs. Lawn Tractor

1. Ease of Use

One of the biggest differences between a zero turn and tractor mower is in the way each is driven. A lawn tractor uses a steering wheel and gas mechanism, which is quite straightforward for most people. Just jump in, press the gas pedal, and steer the tractor around the yard.

On the other hand, controlling the levers on a ZTR takes a bit of time. To accelerate, you need to push the levers forward while keeping them balanced. To turn at the end of a row or trim grass around a tree or wall, you’d have to push one lever forward while pulling the other backward.

There is indeed a bit of a learning curve with zero turn mowers but after a few mows, you should be able to work the machine without ripping the grass or driving into trees. That said, if this is your first time using a lawn mower, you might find that the tractor scores more points when it comes to ease of use. The good news is that you can easily learn how to drive a zero turn mower.

2. Maneuverability

Tractors might be easier to operate but if you have quite a bit of shrubbery, trees, and potted flowers scattered all over your yard, you might want to consider a zero turn mower instead. When riding on a zero turn mower, you can see the ground ahead, allowing you to dodge obstacles faster.

Not only that, the ZTR’s zero radius mechanism and its wider cutting deck allows you to mow around trees, flowers, and other obstacles with so much ease. With a lawn tractor, you might find yourself reversing and making several passes just to get to the grass around flowerbeds or tight curves in your lawn.

For a flat lawn with few obstacles, a lawn tractor is your best bet. But, if you have to maneuver many tiny curves, you are better off going with a zero turn mower.

3. Speed

No one wants to spend their entire Saturday mowing the lawn. It is important to invest in a mower that is appropriate for the size of your lawn so you can get the job done as efficiently as possible.

Both the zero turn riding mower and the lawn tractor are designed to mow large lawns fast. However, a zero turn works at a slightly higher speed. Because it spins on its own footprint, the mower turns faster and makes a quick 180-degree spin when it gets to the end of the mowing row.

A typical ZTR moves at a speed of 5 to 8 mph compared to a lawn tractor, which mows at an average speed of 3 mph. This, combined with the fact that it mows in a single pass and doesn’t require follow-up trimming makes the zero turn a better option where speed is concerned.

4. Price

When you are in the market for a big-ticket item such as a riding lawn mower, price is an important consideration. We will say upfront that zero turn mowers have a significantly higher price tag. If you are on a budget, you might want to go with a lawn tractor.

That said, a zero turn greatly makes up for the higher price point with its time-saving features. Not only does it move faster; it also turns faster, and cuts grass in a single pass.

It is good to note that smaller or so-called entry-level zero turn mowers might be less costly but they have some considerable downsides that might have an impact on your lawn care efforts. For example, their rounded tires easily dig into the ground, leaving shallow dings in your lawn. Larger mowers with wide, flat tires do a better job but cost slightly more.

Another disadvantage of smaller, cheaper zero turn lawn mowers is that their traction is focused on the rear wheel, which can make it difficult to turn the mower on wet or dry grass. In the same vein, many budget ZTRs cannot be reversed. If you want to pass over or re-mow a certain patch, you would have to do a complete 180-degree turn, which can be cumbersome unless you do not mind spending time on your riding mower caring for your lawn.

Zero Turn vs Tractor: Which One is Better?

Both zero turn mowers and lawn tractors are excellent machines for mowing large lawns fast. But, each has its own advantages and disadvantages, which you have to compare to determine the mower that will best meet your needs.

If budget is not an issue, you might want to look at a good mid-range zero turn. These come with a wider deck, larger and stronger wheels, and greater horsepower for mowing fairly large yards with ease.

Zero turns are also ideal if your lawn has lots of tight curves and obstacles. With their zero radius spinning mechanism and wide decks, these mowers are easy to navigate in such uneven terrain.

On the other hand, lawn tractors are a cost-effective option. They are jack-of-all-trades as most can tow all kinds of attachments such as sprayers, carts, spreaders, and snow dredgers.

If your lawn is hilly or has some slopes, it is important to select an appropriate lawn mower. Lawn tractors have front-wheel drive, making them easier to control when you are mowing up or down a sloppy lawn. On the other hand, zero turn mowers have rear-wheel drive and can easily lose control on steep slopes.

That said, if you are looking to mow a very sloppy area, consider using other safer machines such as a push mower, slope mower, or a robotic lawn mower. Although some lawn tractors and zero turn mowers come with safety belts and roll bars, riding mowers can easily tip over on slopes that are more than 15 degrees steep and this may result in a serious accident.


Riding mowers are a popular option if you want to upgrade from a basic push mower. They can shorten the time spent caring for your yard but as we have explained, it is best to take extra precaution when mowing extreme slopes. We hope that this comparison between zero turn vs tractor lawn mowers will help you choose a mower that will deliver bang for the buck.

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