Zero Turn Vs Riding Mower Vs Lawn Tractor – Which is Best?

A well-mowed lawn makes a world of difference. 

As the owner of a large property myself, nothing quite says, “this is my land over which I have dominion,” like sitting atop my riding mower. My mower isn’t just a mower. It’s a tow truck, a mulcher, and a good incentive for my teenagers to get out there and turn our overgrown wilderness into a neatly trimmed masterpiece. 

For someone who takes pride in their yard, the decision of Zero Turn Vs Riding Mower Vs Lawn Tractor is a big one. Let me share some information based on my experience to help you choose.

What Is The Difference?

Behind every well-maintained lawn exist a landowner and their mower – a powerful team. 

Whether you own a large property, a farm, or a landscaping business, a mower is a handy vehicle to have and makes a world of difference when it comes to maintaining the overall beauty of your lawn.

With so many available options, it can be intimidating to choose what kind of mower works best for your landscaping. However, the three primary types to consider for spacious properties are the zero-turn mower, riding mower, and lawn tractor.

Every yard is different, and every landowner has distinct expectations when it comes to their machines. Since these mowers cost a hefty sum, it is essential to do your research and buy the product that meets all your requirements so that you can have the lawn you dreamed of.

No matter which of the three mower types you choose, the machine will be powerful, efficient, and adaptable to many tasks on the property. 

There are upsides to all of them; you just need to know what you want to use it for.

By the way, our site is supported by visitors like you. Some links on this page may be affiliate links which means if you choose to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support! You can find out more here.

Zero-Turn Mower

Husqvarna MZ61 Hydrostatic Zero-Turn Riding Mower

Both gasoline and electric zero-turn mowers feature incredible maneuverability. The zero-turn is designed for tight corners and sharp turns, and it is perfect for yards with many obstacles. 

This mower has a lever-based steering mechanism that allows it to spin on a dime.

Steering Control

The zero-turn gets its name from its turn radius of zero inches, which means that it can turn 180 degrees on the spot. The mower is four-wheeled, with two wheels in the front on swivels and two in the back for the drive. Each drive wheel has a steering handle, which contributes to the mower’s maneuverability.

For many landscaping or maintenance jobs related to the outdoors, employees must have training in the operation of zero-turn mowers. You will need to practice if you want to be proficient at operating a zero-turn.

How to Drive a Zero-Turn Mower

The zero-turn mower has a different steering mechanism than most people are used to. Instead of a steering wheel, the mower uses two steering handles or levers. Each of the rear wheels has a handle so that you can operate them individually. To turn quickly, you put the brakes on one wheel and engage the other, causing the turn radius to go down to zero.

Because it moves so quickly and turns like a top, it can be a tricky beast. The mower has four wheels, but they don’t all move in the direction. The two in the front are on swivels for executing a quick change in direction. The two back wheels are standing fixed drive wheels.

Riding Mower

ride on mower
Ryobi Riding Mower

With a mowing deck of up to 38 inches, a riding mower is smaller than a zero-turn mower or a lawn tractor. As such, it is more suitable for use in the suburbs and areas of lawn that require a riding mower for 1 acre or less. It’s easy to drive, and it’s an ideal choice for someone who is just upgrading from a push mower.

Other mowing vehicles can perform additional functions on your property, but the riding mower was made for mowing…and only mowing. Its towing capability is quite limited, but the riding mower often comes with an attachment for bagging clippings. If you need a mower without all the bells and whistles, this is it.

At the top end of the manufacturer’s ranges, there are larger models that will be the best riding mower for 2 acres up to a maximum of 3 acres. Anything larger than this and you will need to consider the other options such as Zero-Turn or Lawn Tractors.

Lawn Tractor

Garden Tractor
John Deere Lawn Tractor

You can recognize the lawn tractor by its front engine. It is ideal for more extensive properties that total more than an acre since it has a larger mowing deck than a riding mower.

The mowing deck of a lawn tractor can measure between 32 and 52 inches. It cuts a wider swath than a riding mower, greatly shortening the time it will take you to mow.

Like the riding mower, a lawn tractor’s primary function is cutting grass, but it can tow light trailers or pull-behind lawn sweepers if needed. The lawn tractor is easy to maneuver since it has a familiar steering setup: wheel, brake pedal, and accelerator pedal.

If you ever took a driver’s education class, you should not have difficulty adjusting to a lawn tractor.

Zero Turn Vs Riding Mower Vs Lawn Tractor

Let me give you an overview of the best performance for each of these common questions.

Which Cuts the Fastest?

Husqvarna MZ61 Hydrostatic Zero-Turn Riding Mower

Winner: 61” Zero-Turn Mower

On average, riding mowers max out at four mph, and the zero-turn mower can get up to a speed of eight mph. When it comes to how fast these mowers cut grass, though, the size of your cutting deck is another determining factor. For example, the above Husqvarna MZ61 Hydrostatic Zero-Turn Riding Mower has a 61-inch cutting deck.

Lawn care experts recommend mowing at a relaxed pace to avoid tearing up the ground, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be efficient with that relaxed pace. The correct size cutting deck will make sure of that.

Lawn tractors and zero turns both tend to have more spacious decks than riding mowers. Of course, a bigger deck means you can cut a larger swath at one time and get the job done quicker. Lawn tractors max out around 52 inches, whereas zero-turn mowers go up to 72-inch cutting decks.

Acres Per Hour Based on Deck Size and Mower Speed

Deck Size

Which Cuts Best?

Husqvarna Z254

Winner: Zero-Turn Mower

Zero-turn mowers cut better than other mowers in most situations. If you’ve done your research on the different models available, and you know the kind of job you’re tackling, you should be able to use the zero-turn mower to your advantage and get an excellent cut with tremendous efficiency. 

You can see on the above Husqvarna Z254 the mowing deck is out at the front, making it easier for the mower to get into hard-to-reach spaces. This design also helps with cutting close around trees, ponds, and the edges of fences. This makes zero-turn mowers are incredibly fast and save a lot of time if you’re mowing a difficult-to-navigate area with a lot of obstacles.

I see this as a real advantage since it saves you downtime you would otherwise spend dragging lawn furniture around.

Which Is the Most Maneuverable?

Troy-Bilt Super Mustang XP

Winner: Zero-Turn Mower

Hands down, the zero-turn mower is the most maneuverable kind of mower and the above Troy-Bilt Super Mustang XP is a great example with its ability to turn 180 degrees on the spot. The zero-turn can navigate trees, retaining walls, ponds, fences, and other obstacles without leaving awkward-looking patches of long grass behind. 

The learning curve is steeper for a zero-turn mower, but that will ultimately save you many headaches if your property has numerous hard-to-reach corners and edges. You’ll be zipping around those obstacles like you’re playing MarioKart.

Hills and Uneven Surfaces

Zero-turn machines can be hazardous while mowing uneven surfaces or steep inclines since there is a possibility of turning over. Remember that you’re sitting high up on the mower, and you don’t want the mower to end up on top of you.

Avoid using zero-turn machinery on wet grass since the tires spin more easily on damp ground. In rainy conditions, you risk skidding on those sharp turns.

You are sometimes better off with a lawn tractor in these extreme circumstances or purchase one of the zero-turn mowers designed for hills or slopy terrain.

What Is the Advantage of a Zero-Turn Mower?

To put it simply, speed and mobility. Because of its quick turns, the zero-turn mower is faster than other models. This makes it ideal for mowing large areas with lots of obstructions, like orchards or alongside a fence

How Easy Are These Mowers to Drive?

The driving difficulty varies depending on which mowing machine you select. If you want something with a more traditional steering system, look into lawn tractors or riding mowers. A zero-turn mower is a little more complicated and requires some practice to operate competently.

Standard Steering Wheel

Both lawn tractors and riding mowers have steering wheels and are intuitive to drive for anyone who knows how to drive a car. They also have acceleration and a brake pedal, just like automatic vehicles. 

Lever Control

On the other hand, a zero-turn mower has a different set of controls that may require time and dedication, and even training to master.

Max Speed

It takes the average person about two hours to mow an acre of lawn with a push mower. A riding mower of any kind can cut that time at least in half, meaning less time working and more time to enjoy your beautiful yard.

The average riding mower can move between five and eight mph. This speed may seem slow, but compared to trudging along with a push mower, that speed makes an incredible difference. Lawn care experts advise mowing at a relaxed pace for the sharpest cut. If you go figuratively tearing over your property on your tractor, you’ll be tearing up your lawn literally, too. 

The speed at which a riding mower cuts an acre of grass depends mainly on the size of the cutting deck. A push mower typically takes two hours to mow an acre. However, with a 36-inch deck, you can cut that time down to only one hour. Plus, even larger decks will mow an acre in less than an hour.

Trailer Towing

When it comes to farming or yard work, you want your pricey vehicles to do as many different jobs as possible. If you buy a mower, you may want it to be able to double as another costly machine when needed. 

While some mowers work as a towing machines, not all have the same capabilities or strength. 

Can You Tow with a Zero-Turn Mower?

Not all zero-turn mowers are created equal in the towing department, but with the right mower and a compatible hitch, you should be able to pull it off. Some zero-turn mowers are not built for towing, and the manufacturers will mention this in the owner’s manual. 

If you can get your hands on a zero-turn that is equipped for towing, there are a few factors to consider. There are also some safety precautions to follow as you begin to mow.

Make sure you know what the weight capacity of your mower is. You should be able to find the information in the user’s manual. Some zero-turn mowers already have a hitch for towing, but the manufacturer should also offer a hitch kit if yours doesn’t. Make sure the hitch on your mower is sturdy and made of metal.

Even if your zero-turn mower is equipped to tow, you should be very cautious. Make wide turns while towing. If you make too sharp a turn with the mower, the trailer won’t have enough room to turn itself and might swing around and hit you…this is called jack-knifing.

Drive slowly. As we’ve already learned, a zero-turn is capable of moving quickly, but take your time while towing. Because of the added weight and momentum of the trailer, the mower may be more challenging to stop, especially if it’s going too fast, to begin with. Don’t tow on an incline or a decline because the weight of the trailer might cause your mower to slide down the slope.

Price Comparison

If you are looking for a budget-friendly mower option, a simple riding mower tends to be the least expensive choice. It can cost as little as $800, but some models are a little more costly at $1,900. The best zero-turn mowers and lawn tractors can get a lot more expensive. The best time to buy a mower will be towards the end of the season when clearance prices hit the market.

Typically, a lawn tractor will cost you between $1,500 and $2,000. If you have a larger property to mow and need the extra cutting deck width, the lawn tractor is worth the investment in the long term. It will save you time overall and give you more opportunities to relax in your yard rather than doing yard work.

The zero-turn mower is the most expensive of the three, with an average price of $3,000 or more. If you need to mow large swaths of lawn quickly and maneuver around plenty of obstacles, the extra you spend on a zero-turn will pay for itself many times over during its working lifetime.

If you want to buy any add-ons for your mower, that will probably set you back another $500 or so. These add-ons include mulchers and a bag for clippings.

Which Is the Most Cost-Efficient?

If you are looking to upgrade from a push mower but don’t want to break the bank, a riding mower is a prudent choice. You get the advantages of the riding mower without having to contend with a large machine or an unfamiliar steering mechanism. Riding mowers can cost as little as $800, which is perfectly reasonable if all you want to do with it is mow your lawn.

If you have a large property that required nimble control, tight spaces, or obstacles to cut around then a zero-turn will prove its worth in time saved, making the user experience more enjoyable.

Conclusion: Zero Turn Vs. Riding Mower Vs. Lawn Tractor

I can’t deny that a riding mower of any kind cuts down on the time and effort required to mow a property of an acre or more. Depending on your preferences and the terrain you will be mowing, your choice will significantly impact your future lawn care projects.

If you’re looking for a mower with maneuverability, your best choice is a zero-turn mower, something like the Husqvarna MZ61 Hydrostatic Zero-Turn Riding Mower. This mower can change directions on a dime and is ideal for mowing large flat expanses of lawn. Don’t use a zero turn on wet turf or inclines, though. 

A zero-turn mower’s steering mechanism also takes some getting used to, but once you know how to operate the levers, it’s great fun to drive.

A zero-turn mower is also the best choice when looking for a machine with a larger deck size. Zero turns have a deck size of 36-72 inches, while a lawn tractor’s deck measures between 32 and 52 inches. A riding mower’s deck is even smaller than both of these, but it can still get the job done if you’re mowing an acre or less.

If you have a yard larger than an acre but don’t feel comfortable operating a zero-turn mower, a lawn tractor is an excellent decision. The lawn tractor has a more extensive mowing deck than a riding mower, which will cut down on time spent outdoors.