Which Engine Should I Choose for my Zero Turn Mower

In riding products, the three major engine companies are Briggs & Stratton, Kawasaki and Kohler. Below, we will also discuss the Toro brand engines.

Each of these companies make a number of different engines at varying price points. Kind of like Chevrolet has made the Corvette and the Chevette and many in between. If someone asked you: “Is Chevrolet a good car for me to buy?” To answer the question you need to know which Chevrolet they are talking about and perhaps something about their budget and priorities. It is much the same for lawn mower engines.


Top of the Line:

Briggs & Stratton Vanguard
Kawasaki FX
Kohler Command

Any of these three engines are excellent commercial engines and are almost certain not to disappoint you. However, because of their cost, you are not likely to see these engine models except on mowers in the $6000+ price point neighborhood. From a quality and performance standpoint, the only big edge I would give to one over the other is that if you are looking toward an EFI Engine then Kohler is well ahead of the pack and without a doubt the one I would recommend. Toro uses the Kawasaki FX, Kohler Command and Kohler Command EFI primarily on Titan HD 2500, Z-Master, GrandStand & 8000 series grooming mowers.


EFI

(Electronic Fuel Injection)

The advantages of EFI are primarily fuel savings of around 25% which means the more you use it the more it will save you, hence full time landscapers tend to purchase EFI. Running more efficiently means running cleaner and at optimum settings which may lead to longer engine life. From 2009 forward Kohler has used an EFI system from Delphi, the same manufacturer used by BMW & GM for their electronic fuel injection system. Just like a modern automobile, there is no choke lever to be fiddled with, all you need to do is turn the key and it starts. Because wider mowers tend to be used for bigger areas and smaller mowers for smaller yards and trimming, the smaller mowers tend to spend more hours on the trailer and the the larger ones more hours in the grass, hence we tend to sell more EFI engines on the larger machines as there is more opportunity for payback in fuel savings.


Mid-Grade:

So, what about engines for lesser expensive mowers. The next step down is to a mid-grade commercial engine. Not the very top of the line, but still designed for the rigors of commercial use. In the Kohler this would be the ZT. In the Kawasaki would be the FS & FT. Toro has their own Commercial engine at this level as well which is the ZX. Many people are not aware Toro is an engine manufacturer. In fact, at Toro’s beginning in 1914, engine building was the core of their business and only later did they begin to make whole riding products as they are best known for today. I’m going to forgo discussing the varying Briggs & Stratton models at this point since virtually none of the riding products we offer use this brand. Toro uses these engines primarily in the Titan HD 2000, Titan HD 1500 & TimeCutter HD.


High End Consumer:

The next step is to what you might call a prosumer engine. Designed for a budget but but still providing strong quality for the high end consumer. Kohler takes the core components of the commercial ZT and waters it down a bit with a smaller air filtration system and other small modifications to make the Kohler 7000. Kawasaki likewise takes their FS engine and waters it down with a different starter, carburetor and other modifications to make the Kawasaki FR. Even though the ZX engine is a commercial engine, Toro is able to cost effectively use it on high end consumer mowers. The Kohler 7000, Kawasaki FR and TORO ZX are frequently used in the TimeCutter MX Zero Turns.


Standard Consumer:

We don’t carry many products at this level, but the few that we do are likely to have the Kohler Courage Twin Cylinder or Toro SX.


What about Honda?

Honda is a major player in the single cylinder engine market for products such as walk behind mowers and other small power equipment. But for whatever reason, their larger twin cylinder engines, which are a size more suitable for riding products, have just never caught on and are not prevalent to our industry.


Measures of an Engine Manufacturer:

A. Engine Life:

On average the engines listed as “Top of the Line” should have the longest life followed by each following segment in the order listed. But remember that part of an engine’s life is maintenance. In particular changing the oil, changing the air filter, and cleaning debris from the engine as needed to allow it to properly cool. Also very important is using the correct engine oil, as most automotive oils manufactured after 2009 do not meet the specifications for air cooled engines resulting in higher operating temperatures and reduced engine life.

B. Likelihood of manufacturing or design defect.

Every manufacturer has an occasional problematic model or defective unit. Kohler for example had issues with its early models of the Courage engine, the single cylinder model in particular. Kawasaki has had inexplicable problems with some of the water cooled FD series. Toro, while I don’t recall a problematic engine from them, their 300 Series Z-Master was a problematic mower. The point being, even the best of the best companies are not prefect. All three of these manufacturers make solid products that are very reliable for the overwhelming majority of their customers. At B T South we are very selective about the products and manufacturers we choose to carry because in the event there is a problem, the customer comes to us for a solution. We are not like the big box store where they just hand you an 800 # to get rid of you. It is a rare and unusual situation that we would have to send someone out the door for a solution somewhere else. Our business model is to sell quality products that work and to be able to provide any needed parts, service and warranty in our store.

C. In the event of a defect, how will the manufacturer stand behind the product.

When it comes to warranties you can count on most manufacturers to step up and take care of the problem when there is a clear “black and white” defect. Unfortunately there is a lot of potential for gray area in warranty coverage. One of the things I admire about Toro and Kohler is their traditional American customer service attitude. They believe the customer paid good money for their product and are almost always willing to step up and do what it takes to make things right. When they have a defect they admit it, and in such case often help the customer even beyond the expiration of the warranty. Of course if there is evidence a failure was caused by abuse or lack of maintenance then we need not expect the manufacturer to be responsible. Many of the other manufacturers of engines and of lawn mowers don’t tend to be so generous. Japanese companies in particular tend to be resistant to admitting problems and hence taking responsibility for failures. Several years ago when when Honda lengthened their warranty by an additional year, there was a spoof document faxed around among dealers as a practical joke that said “Good News! your Honda warranty claims will now be denied for an additional year” That of course is not true. Honda certainly does approve some warranty claims, but there is a grain of truth in most jokes including this one. And the grain of truth is that with some companies it feels like the customer is guilty until proven innocent and that we have to fight tooth and nail to get the manufacturer to step up.


Summary:

If you buy an appropriate engine for your use (eg. commercial engine for commercial use or consumer engine for consumer use) and you maintain it properly then the odds are strong that it will serve you well with a long life. If you overbuy (eg. commercial engine for consumer use) and maintain it properly then it may well last you for decades.

While the engine is a very important part of a lawnmower, it takes more than just a good engine to make a good lawnmower. Like quality hydraulic components for smooth operation and long life. A rigid mowing deck built heavy enough to stand years of rust and impacts. A mower frame strong enough not to break or warp. And there are qualities that can’t easily be measured by numbers, like weight distribution balance to optimize traction, maneuverability and hillside stability. Deck aerodynamics to maximize cut quality and clean cutting speed. Expensive quality components alone don’t assure performance. Some manufacturers try to employ one or two quality components or brand names that are popular on shopper’s check lists and then skimp on quality in other areas compromising overall performance and longevity.

In general, a better mower can be built with more money, but to get the most bang for your buck means to balance the expensive components to meet a budget and combine those components with sophisticated engineering to maximize performance. The reason we’ve chosen Toro as the core brand of our business even after being offered more than twenty-two competing brands is because Toro brings the most bang for the buck in a wide array of different budget levels.

Maximizing performance per dollar along with industry leading support after the sale and long term parts availability is how Toro has become the most trusted brand in the industry.





Toro’s success counts on strong relationships and the ability to distinctively meet the needs of customers. Each and every one of us at Toro is, responsible for, and committed to building on this legacy. That’s how we will keep our customer’s trust and earn their business. 

Mike Hoffman - TORO President 2005-2016