My lawn tractor died a couple of weeks ago. Engine ran out of oil and seized up. No, I didn’t forget to add oil. A seal broke while I was mowing, oil leaked out, and … no more engine. The thing lasted almost 17 years, so I’m not terribly upset. I certainly got my money’s worth from that piece of equipment.
I considered buying a new engine for the old mower, but it just doesn’t make sense. For what it would cost to replace the engine and make a few other repairs that I’ve been putting off, I could buy a new mower with a larger engine and wider deck. The old mower is definitely being retired.
I’ve been looking at those zero-turn mowers for a few years, but there was no way I was going to buy one while I still had a perfectly good mower. But when the old mower died, I started looking again. The cost, though, is a big hurdle. The cost of a ZTR is approximately double that of a traditional lawn tractor with comparable features. For example, a lawn tractor comparable to mine is about $1,100 brand new. A ZTR with the same deck width will go for about $2300. Ouch.
Our neighbors offered to let me borrow the ZTR they bought a few years ago. Yesterday I walked over and got it.
Understand, our lot is about 1.75 acres. Most of that is grass, and there are many obstacles to mow around. With my old Craftsman mower, it would take me a minimum of three hours just to mow. Four hours if I skipped a week and the grass was long. That didn’t include trimming with the weed whacker or the little push mower. Doing a good job on our lawn is a five hour time commitment. At least, that’s what I thought.
It took me about five minutes to get accustomed to operating the ZTR. It took another ten minutes or so to realize that I didn’t want to use the ZTR the same way I used the old lawn tractor. The ZTR is so much more maneuverable that I can get into places I couldn’t with the old tractor. And I don’t have to do those silly 270 degree turns when mowing an irregular patch. With the ZTR, I can just … turn. In addition, it’s easy to adjust the speed of the ZTR: just push harder on the handles. With my old tractor, I had to change gears.
The combination of more maneuverability, adjustable speed, and a much stronger engine completely changed the way I mowed the lawn. Navigating around obstacles is almost a non-issue. I can trim closer to trees without continually shifting gears or making wide turn-arounds. The result is that there’s no need for trimming with the push mower. I’ll still need the weed whacker for a few places, but now near as much as before. Oh, and the increased cutting width (50″ as opposed to 42″) means fewer trips around the yard.
I mowed the entire lawn, which hadn’t been mowed in three weeks, in an hour and a half. The ZTR’s more powerful engine had no trouble with the longer grass. In all, I was able to do a better job in literally half the time it would have taken me with the lawn tractor. I’m sold.
There are a few drawbacks to the ZTR. First, you can’t get as many attachments. Many lawn and garden tractors have available attachments like grass catchers, tillers, and even front-end loaders. With the exception of a grass catcher on a few models, those attachments just aren’t available for the ZTRs. The ZTR is a mower, and it’s exceptionally good at that task. It is not a general-purpose lawn tractor.
Another drawback is pulling a trailer. The ZTR can easily pull my little trailer, but I’ll have to be careful not to turn too sharply. And backing up with a ZTR is rather difficult. It’s easy enough to back in a straight line, but turning while backing will require a lot of practice. Backing with an attached trailer would be a big mistake.
Finally, operating a ZTR requires a bit more concentration than operating a traditional lawn tractor. At least, I thought so. For sure, you can’t take one hand off the controls to scratch your nose like you would if you had a steering wheel. Removing one hand means that you start going in circles.
The ZTR is expensive, no doubt. But with it I can do a better job in less time. And considering how long I expect to keep the machine, the difference in price just isn’t a big issue. Not if my weekly five hour ordeal becomes a two hour job.