Richard L. Parish | 12/2/2005 1:22:16 AM
Zero-turn lawnmowers have taken over the commercial riding mower market, and now low-cost homeowner models are available from several companies, according to an engineer with the LSU AgCenter.
Dr. Dick Parish says zero-turning radius mowers have separate hydraulic pumps driving the left and right wheels, and each side is controlled independently. One wheel can turn forward while the other turns in reverse, so the mower can pivot around its own center.
"This feature allows amazing versatility in trimming while mowing," Parish says.
Commercial zero turning radius mowers are priced from around $5,000 on up to over $12,000, depending on size and features. And some homeowner models are now available for $2,000 to $3,000.
"This is still a significant cost," Parish says. "But it’s comparable to the price of many lawn tractors. And some smaller, semi-commercial models bridge the gap between strictly homeowner mowers and full-fledged commercial mowers."
Parish says the small homeowner mowers offer the same type of dual hydrostatic system used on commercial machines, but they typically lack some other features found on higher-priced machines. The small machines typically have lower-horsepower engines and smaller mowing decks.
"As is often the case, you get what you pay for," Parish says. "The small, low-cost homeowner machines are built with lighter, lower-quality components."
The engineer says the engines are smaller and are designed for a shorter lifespan. The dual hydraulic systems also are lower quality and have a shorter design life, and the frames are lighter and not as strong.
The control systems may not be as sophisticated, and may be more prone to going out of adjustment and having "slop" in the linkages. The decks will have only one or perhaps two blades instead of the three blades typical on commercial machines. The deck will be belt-driven rather than shaft-driven.
Parish says a good commercial zero turning radius mower should run 2,000 hours with minimal repair cost. The probable design life for the low-cost homeowner zero turning radius mowers is about 500 hours.
"This may be good enough for you," Parish says. "If you spend an hour a week mowing (remember, the zero-turn mower will reduce your mowing time compared to whatever you have used in the past), you will run the mower about 25 to 30 hours per year."
That equates to 17 to 20 years of life with a mower designed for a 500-hour lifespan.
"Most people won’t want to keep a mower any longer than that anyway," Parish says.
"The question you need to answer is this: Is a low-cost zero-turn mower ‘good enough’ for me?" Parish says. "For people with smooth lawns under an acre in size, the answer may well be yes. For larger lawns or rougher areas, the strength and durability of a small commercial machine might be justified.
"The choice is yours," he says. "But today, you do have a choice."