How to drive a Zero Turn Lawn Mower?

So you finally bought a zero turn lawn mower and now you’re confused how to drive it. Or maybe you are planning on buying one and are somewhat intimidated by the machine. Either way, this article will help you understand how a zero turn lawn mower works and how to get started with one.

The speciality of zero turn lawn mowers is their ability to turn in any direction without having to move anywhere. This means they can turn on the spot without needing additional space for maneuvering. This makes the mower an excellent equipment for lawns with constricted spaces. 

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Now, a mower is a very  different piece of machinery than a tractor as when you consider tractors, you sit behind the engine whereas, in mowers the mechanism is very different. The engine is behind you and right in front of you is a spinning blade. Keeping in mind the functionality the mower is meant for, naturally it can be expected that controlling the mower will be a bit different.

Luckily, the zero turn lawn mower only seems intimidating but in reality, it is very easy to maneuver and steer. A mower can be maneuvered just the way you would maneuver a shopping cart or a stroller.  

Parts of a Zero Turn Lawn Mower Explained

Before we move on to how to actually use a zero turn lawn mower, let’s first try to understand  what are the parts we’re dealing with. 

Driving Mechanism

The most iconic part of the zero turn lawn mower is probably the driving mechanism. In cars and other tractors, we have seen that there are two wheels that cannot be steered and are powered by the engine to go forward and backward. There are separate wheels that are responsible for steering. In ZTR lawn mowers, the moving and the steering are taken care of by the same wheels, whose direction can be controlled to achieve the zero turn radius.

Still confused? Well, picture this You have a set of wheels on a common line. You can spin the wheels in the same direction to make the vehicle go in the opposite direction. If you spin the wheels in opposite directions, the vehicle would not go anywhere and start spinning in its position.

That is exactly how zero turn lawn mowers move. Both the wheels can be controlled independently. The speeds can be controlled too to achieve a steering effect.

The mower has two handlebars that individually control  the wheels and control the speed. The motors can be entirely controlled using the two handlebars but there are also other safety elements. 

The handlebars can be pushed out towards the sides in which case the motors remain off. Bringing the handlebars together brings the motor into a neutral position. Moving a handlebar forward will move the wheel forward and vice versa.

To move forward, you must push both the handlebars forward and to move the mower in reverse, you must push the handlebars back. Pushing the handlebars in opposite directions will make the mower turn. You get the idea.

The important thing to remember is that the speed of the mower is controlled by the amount you push the handlebars. If you want your mower to go slow and steady, push the handlebars just a little bit. If you want speed, push them all the way in. 

There is one tricky thing however and that is to find the neutral point where you want your motors to come to a halt. It can take a while to figure out the exact location of the neutral point but don’t worry, most mowers have a feature where letting off of the handlebar will automatically move the handlebars to neutral position. Easy, right? 

The mower can move forward, backward and turn left and right, all at adjustable speeds. This gives the rider extraordinary control and makes the experience fun.

Cutting Mechanism

The cutting mechanism of a zero turn lawn mower is pretty straightforward. The mowing element consists of the cutting deck, and the lever. Before you fire up your mower, the cutting deck should be lifted using the lever for safety. We’ll talk more about the safety elements soon in the next section. 

Most mowers have adjustable deck heights that can be adjusted according to the terrain or mowing preference. There is a button that you can use to easily toggle the mowing blade on and off as per your necessity.

Control Board

Almost all mowers have a basic control panel on the right hand side that consists of a key switch that lets you start your engine, a throttle to limit the speed of your mower and a button to control the cutting deck and in some cases a choke lever. All mowers have a recommended specification for all buttons and levers that must be followed to assure safety.

Safety Features

Although some features may vary from brand to brand, most mowers have a set of safety features to make sure the driver has a safe experience. The fast rotating blade can seem scary to some people but you can rest assured that proper safety guidelines and accessories are equipped with the mower to protect you at all costs from any unwanted accidents.

The first and the most prominent safety feature is the emergency brake. Now you may wonder that mowers aren’t even that fast and an emergency brake may not be useful at all but most mowers make the use of the emergency brakes a compulsion. You must engage the emergency brakes, (which in most cases is a lever on your left hand side) if you want to start the engine. The emergency brake helps you stop the mower immediately if you run into some obstacles. Additionally, you can directly turn off the key to kill the power to your motors immediately.

Other safety features include the handlebar specs. You must have the handlebars pushed out to start the engine. Some mowers have a sensor underneath the seat that kills the power to the motors as soon as you get up from the seat. 

Some additional safety precautions you can take are to wear protective goggles and earbuds as the engine can be loud.

Now that we almost understand how mowers work, let’s start the mower up, shall we?

How To Start and Stop A Zero Turn Lawn Mower

Let us first see how to start a ZTR mower.

This is a general instruction and we highly recommend consulting your mower’s manual or seeking help from a professional if you’re unsure about how to use it. Safety first!

  1. Make sure your emergency brakes are engaged and your handlebars are pushed out.
  2. Make sure the mower deck is lifted.
  3. Push the throttle up a little bit only. Do not push the throttle all the way up as it can be dangerous.
  4. Adjust your choke according to the condition of your engine. 
  5. Start the engine. 
  6. Lower the mower deck only if you are ready for mowing and press the button to start it.
  7. Slowly push the handlebars in the direction you want to move in. 

Maneuvering can take a while to master but ZTR mowers are easy to handle and you should not have any difficulties getting started.

Let us now see how to stop the mower. Stopping the mower is simpler but you must make sure you follow these steps before getting off for your own safety.

  1. If you want to stop moving, you can any or a combination of the following:
    1. Bring your handlebars to the neutral position. This will kill the power to the motors and bring your mower to a halt slowly.
    2. Push the emergency brakes. Do this if you need the mower to stop immediately. This will lock the wheels and stop motion.
    3. Kill the power using the key.
  2. Once you’ve stopped your mower, stop the cutting deck. Do not leave the blade running when you leave your mower. Lift the deck up.
  3. Push your handlebars out.
  4. Get off. If you do not intend to get back on your mower, make sure you’ve stopped the mower and removed the key.

Final Words:

Hopefully, this article helped you understand how a zero turn lawn mower works and how to drive one easily. However, make sure you follow the safety guidelines carefully and use the mower properly.

Author Profile

Gabriel Tackett
Double major in Engineering and Geology at the University of Minnesota. Experienced shooter & hunter for over 15 years. Certified NRA officer for over 10 years working as a writer at .

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