How much faster is a Zero Turn Mower compared to a Riding Tractor?

Customer testimony. When I speak with new Z owners about how much time they are saving compared to their previous riding tractor of similar width, I usually hear them say it has cut their time by half or two thirds. That is, what took 3 hours with the tractor is now taking somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes How is this possible? It’s not that the Z is travelling three times as fast, but rather a combination of factors that result in finishing the job sooner.

Zero Turn mower

The cut pattern. With a tractor, most people cut in circles which is inherently inefficient, as is all the backing up and turnarounds required to do a line pattern with a typical tractor. A Zero is naturally efficient to cut a line pattern as turnarounds are quick. By mowing in straight lines the deck is cutting cleaner and more efficient allowing faster clean cutting speeds. You may have noticed when cutting with a tractor in a circle pattern, it is in the turns that sprigs and cut quality are at their worst. Cutting a line pattern makes it easy to keep the deck over uncut grass more of the time. With a tractor the operator is constantly having to look for the edge between cut and uncut grass, constantly making adjustments and often finding the tractor will not turn tight enough to follow the edge, resulting in wasted time mowing over grass that has already been cut. In a line pattern it takes very little concentration to keep the mower on its straight line course. Even in the summer when the grass is thin and it’s hard to see the edge of the cut grass except form a distance, no problem, you can site the straight line from a distance and know exactly where you are supposed to be even though you can’t see the line immediately in front of the mower. This allows the operator to not have to be constantly focusing on the cut line and where the mower needs to be. All these factors combined drastically reduce your cut time as well as your fatigue.

There is more to mower performance than just cut width and horsepower. At the time of this writing Toro offers a 24.5 HP 50” cut mower for under $3,000 and also offers a 20.5HP 48” cut for over $8,000. Most of what you pay for in a mower comes down to performance, operator comfort, and durability. The needed durability for a mower that is going to be used once a week to cut one yard is completely different from a mower that is going to be used all day every day. A $500 seat for operator comfort may seem ridiculous to some people for a mower that is going to be used a half hour every Saturday. But for a contractor that spends 30, 40 or 50 hours a week in that seat, it makes every bit as much sense as the $500 recliner in his living room that will get used less than the lawnmower seat does. The $500 seat might seem like a small price to someone with back trouble who buys it for their orthopedic health. Spending a couple extra thousand dollars to tweak out 30% more performance probably isn’t worth it for the home owner that would be looking at reducing a 30 minute cut to a 20 minute cut. But for the contractor that can take on another 15 yards because of the time saved, or can take an extra day off because of the time saved, well now that’s worth a couple of thousand extra dollars.

What features matter most? There are many crucial parts to a mower’s function. But perhaps the most important variance from one mower to the next is the cutting deck, as this is where the job is done, where tall grass becomes short, where clippings are mulched, where grass clogs and clumps, or does not clog and clump, where sprigs are left standing or not. Many companies build frames with engines and wheels that travel. Few companies specialize in the science and technology of cutting blades of grass cleanly and efficiently. At Toro this is exactly their game. They don’t build farm tractors, they don’t build bull dozers, their focus is turf grass.

Miles per hour. Some companies brag about how fast a particular model will go. One of Toro’s competitors claims 16mph on their top performing Z. In what started as a side by side test in our parking lot and across the connecting parking lots of our next three neighbors, The Z that was rated at 16mph was never able to catch the Toro Z-Master rated at just 11.5mph. In other words, don’t rely too much on spec sheets alone. The truth is, these kinds of speeds while really cool when you are headed back to the barn, are not usually that useful in typical mowing conditions. Sure, if you were mowing perfectly smooth turf without obstacles, taking off a quarter inch of grass with perfectly sharp blades, you could gain some benefit from higher ground speeds. But unless you are mowing football fields you are probably not going to see a lot of these perfect conditions. In real life you are probably going to be mowing in the 4-8mph range most of the time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have the extra speed in the moments that you can use it, but just realize that 20% more speed won’t produce 20% more productivity.

One of the advantages of dealing with a company like Toro that offers so many models of zero turns and a dealer like us that stocks the 45+ most popular models is that it allows you to see the differences for yourself to help figure out what features matter to you. We can point out the differences from one mower to the next and answer your questions to help you make a well educated purchase, which we hope will be from us, but either way it will be our pleasure to have a helpful and respectful conversation with you.