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Mower vs. ZTR – How to Choose

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A lawn mower is one of the most popular pieces of lawn and garden equipment. The standard push mower has been around nearly 200 years, with the design evolving throughout the years to become more sophisticated. Today, riding lawn mowers and ZTR (zero turn mower) styles are also common.

For larger property owners and many residential homeowners, the choice of moving from a push mower to a riding lawn mower is one that comes with questions – especially when looking at those two primary options available, riders and ZTRs.

Because riding lawn mowers and ZTRs are both dependable machines that get the job done, here are the primary ways to determine which is right for you.

Maneuverability
The most obvious difference between a standard riding mower and ZTR is maneuverability.

Offered in both two-wheel and four-wheel steering configurations, riding lawn mowers have a turn radius that’s wider than a ZTR – and, in this case, wider isn’t better, as the operator may have to back up, driver over already-cut grass, and generally do a bit more work to cover an entire area.

The concept of a zero-turn radius means a ZTR mower is capable of maneuvering in its own footprint. It turns fast, sharply, and easily, and can make smooth 180-degree turns at the end of a row.

Location
Where the mower will be used plays a major role in choosing between a rider and ZTR because each is designed to perform at its best in certain conditions.

Because of their wider turn radius, riding lawn mowers are best suited for open land that doesn’t have many obstacles, or tight corners or property lines. An advantage of these mowers is they work well on slopes, a good choice for properties with ditches or rolling hills.

The tight turn radius offered by ZTRs makes it an ideal choice for properties with corners or obstacles that need to be carefully maneuvered around, like trees, flower beds, fences, and even buildings. Unlike riders, ZTRs aren’t ideal for hilly properties; they work best on flat land.

Speed
Both riding lawn mowers and ZTRs are designed to be quick and efficient mowing machines. When looking at the total mowing time to expect, it comes down to a combination of factors; unique ones that each buyer must consider.  

Offered in varying speeds, riders are typically designed to go around 4 mph, but some are capable of faster speeds. Even John Deere’s most entry-level riding mower is designed to go up to 5.5 mph, with other models able to operate in the 6-7 mph range. However, when looking at the total time it takes to mow, riders’ turn radius can slow them down a bit if needing to maneuver around a property’s natural or man-made obstacles.

ZTRs are faster than riders in a few different aspects. First, ZTRs are designed to operate at base speeds greater than riders. For example, John Deere’s residential ZTR mowers are capable of going from 7 up to 9 mph. Those with yards that include lot of landscapes and hardscapes, or tight corners, gates, or structures close together, may find total mowing time greatly decreased compared to a rider because of the ZTRs combination of greater speed and better maneuverability.

Multi-Functional
While mowing is the biggest task when maintaining a property, there are often other jobs that go into the bigger land management picture. Those who want to accomplish more with a mower such as gardening, seeding, spraying, or hauling material need to consider the capability of pairing the machine with attachments.

With the ability to be used with numerous attachments, riding lawn mowers are versatile and able to accomplish several tasks in addition to mowing. Buyers who want the added functionality of a hole digger, material handler, or even a snow remover can likely find an attachment for most yard chores and property ownership tasks.

Designed to do one thing, do it well, and do it efficiently, ZTRs aren’t meant to do much more than mow. They’re not intended for use with attachments, making them unable to be a multipurpose workhorse in the yard.

Cost of Ownership
With engine checks, air filter and oil changes, and other general tasks, routine maintenance requirements are fairly equal on riders and ZTRs. However, there are additional factors to consider when looking at overall cost of ownership for a mower.

For customers who like to upgrade machines frequently, riding lawn mowers tend to hold their value better than ZTRs; a better option for future resale or trade-in. Because there are more attachment options with a rider vs. ZTR, be prepared to invest more in that area – but also, get back greater ROI from squeezing out so much productivity from a single machine.

While it might be assumed that all ZTRs come at a higher price tag than riders, that’s not true. There are several entry-level models of ZTRs, offered at prices competitive to standard riders. So those looking for the capabilities of a ZTR do have options to keep costs down. And with ZTRs designed to be a mower and nothing more, the cost of attachments won’t add to the overall cost of ownership.

Because of all the areas to consider, it’s easy to see why the choice of a riding lawn mower vs. ZTR doesn’t come with one clear winner for everyone. When key features are considered against each buyer’s unique needs, the right decision of riding lawn mower or ZTR can be made.

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About The Author
Marcus Braswell is an Account Manager – Government Sales & Leasing for RDO Equipment Co. in Pasco, WA.

Learn more about the full selection of John Deere riding mowers and ZTRs now, or visit your local RDO Equipment Co. store.

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