The Drawbacks of Zero-turn Mowers

Despite the many advantages of zero-turn mowers, there are some downsides to consider. For starters, if your yard has areas that slope at angles greater than 10 to 15 degrees, a zero-turn riding mower isn’t a safe bet in those spots because it could roll over. But if you only have limited areas that slope steeply, you can compromise by using a push mower or hand trimmer to take care of just those vicinities. Mowing on wet terrain can also increase the chances of sliding and losing control, or lead to lawn damage because of the weight of the mower, so only mow when the lawn is sufficiently dry. Whatever you do, if you are taking your zero-turn mower along a gentle slope or across a patch of damp grass, take it easy, stay alert for trouble spots, never rush and adhere closely to the manufacturer’s safety guidelines.

It can take a couple of turns around the yard to feel comfortable at the helm of a zero-turn mower. Since a few different variations on the basic steering system configuration exist, it’s a good idea to take any mowers under serious consideration for a test drive before you slap down the couple of thousand dollars one will typically set you back.

There’s also the matter of pollution. Lawn mowers and other gas-powered garden equipment might not leap to mind when you consider sources of air pollution, but they’re actually significant contributors for their size, especially older models that lack catalytic converters. Running a typical gas-powered lawn mower for an hour produces the same amount of smog-generating hydrocarbons as driving an average car for close to 200 miles (321 kilometers) [source: EPA]. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has instituted stricter regulations to go into effect across 2010 and 2011, which include measures such as required catalytic converters in small engines aimed to both decrease emissions and cut fuel waste.

In their defense, gas-powered zero-turn mowers do generally get the job done significantly faster and with more fuel efficiency than other types of riding lawn mowers. While this helps ease some of the pollution and fuel concerns, they’re both still factors you might want to take into consideration.

When it comes to sparing the environment — and neighborhood lungs — from air pollution, some manufacturers are taking matters into their own hands. Although currently available only in more industrial models, some companies are starting to offer zero-turn mowers that run on compressed natural gas (CNG). CNG is still a fossil fuel that produces greenhouse gases, but it burns cleaner than gasoline, diesel or propane. In comparison to gasoline, CNG emits an average of 80 percent less ozone-forming emissions [source: Consumer Energy Center]. Electric zero-turn mowers are also beginning to hit the market, although they’re still perhaps a bit cost-prohibitive for average consumers.

Walter Brown