How to Drive a Zero Turn Mower? – 3 Simple Steps

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When looking at zero-turn lawn mowers for the first time, you’ll be confused about how they work and how you should operate them.

But it is just a matter of learning how they work and how you can drive lawn mower zero-turn with little to no effort.

To help you drive your first zero-turn mower, we’re going to explain everything you should know before putting it to work.

You’ll have no problem mowing away golf courses, parks, or your hundred-squared-feet yard. Take a look further to learn!

Why Use a Zero-Turn Mower?

If you haven’t bought the mower yet, you may be curious about why zero-turn models are such a good choice.

Well, here are a few reasons to consider:

  • They move accurately to provide precise cuts and achieve a leveled grass all around.
  • Allow maximum visibility when working so you can mow with utmost precision.
  • Move fast and cut effectively to reduce mowing time in large areas.
  • Smooth steering allows maximum versatility to go around trees and other obstacles.
  • You can attach all kinds of accessories to make mowing a lot easier and more pleasant.

Although a zero-turn mower is among the most expensive you can get, it’s completely worth considering getting one.

Differences Between a Driving Mower and a Zero-Turn Mower

how to drive a zero turn mower

When looking at a zero-turn mower, you’ll see it looks a lot different than a riding mower. Here we’re going over the differences so you can be more prepared before using it.

Riding Position

The first time you sit on a zero-turn model you’ll find the riding position to be different than a driving mower.

While a lawn tractor has the engine in front and a steering wheel, the zero-turn mower has the engine in the back, and two steering levers replace the steering wheel.

Wheels & Steering

In a typical driving mower, the machine can turn to the sides at a maximum of 60 degrees. But with a zero-turn mower, you can achieve a complete 180-degree turn without problems.

This happens because driving mowers have a rear-wheel-drive system with the steering system controlling all four wheels. In contrast, zero-turn mowers have the rear-wheel-drive engine, but the wheels are managed independently with each lever.

Throttle & Brakes

To accelerate a driving mower, you need to use the acceleration pedal. If you want to stop, you also use the braking pedal.

But for a zero-turn mower, you don’t use pedals at all. Instead, you use the steering levers. If you push both forward, the mower will accelerate. Pull them backward, and the mower will reverse. And if you push one forward and the other backward, then the machine will turn to the side you pushed.

Size & Speed

Most riding lawn mowers reach about 40 to 50 inches in deck size, so their cut area tends to be limited. Similarly, they can reach speeds of no more than 8 MPH – often staying between 3 and 6 MPH in most models.

But a zero-turn mower can be larger, reaching 60 inches of total deck size. And it can achieve speeds of 9 MPH – sometimes a little more. That means you can mow a lot faster with a zero-turn mower.

Step-by-Step Guide: How to Drive a Zero-Turn Mower

Now that you’re aware of the differences of zero-turn mowers with their driving cousins, then it’s time to learn how to use them like a pro.

Here’s a brief list of steps you can follow:

1. Turning the Mower On

The engine of a zero-turn mower requires the throttle and choke to be activated to turn on. Similarly, the emergency brake and the cutting deck should be located in the right position.

This is a system that prevents the mower from starting while it is idle. And it also prevents damage to the floor and grasses by unwanted starts.

To give you a better idea of how this works, follow these tips:

  • To turn the machine on, you need to place the steering levers to the sides, emergency brake lever down, and cutting deck up. Otherwise, the engine won’t start.
  • For throttling the engine, you need to place the choke and throttle halfway up. This will ensure the fuel starts flowing in the engine. Then you just need to turn the key.
  • Once the engine turns on, you can lower the cutting deck and deactivate the emergency brakes. This will give you full control of the machine to accelerate, brake, reverse, and do as you like.

Turning the machine on at first will feel a little complicated. But as long as you understand it’s all about safety, you won’t have any problem following the process and learning it to the letter.

2. Accelerating & Braking

driving a zero turn mower

While they look large and bulky, zero-turn mowers can actually achieve high speeds. Similarly, they are incredibly responsive to controls, so you can accelerate, stop, and reverse as necessary.

To push the throttle on the mower, you need to push both levers forward. This will activate both wheel sides and move the machine in a straight line.

If you want to stop the mower, you need to move the steering levers to a neutral position (they look straight or at a 90-degree angle).

In case you want to reverse the mower, you pull the levers back instead. This will reverse the engine throttle and move the wheels to turn backward.

Here are a few things to consider when accelerating, braking, and reversing in a zero-turn mower:

  • You won’t find brake or throttle pedals in a zero-turn mower. Everything is operated with the steering levers.
  • The farthest you pull or push the levers, the faster the machine will go. If you want to go forward at full throttle, then you need to push them as far as they go. Similarly, if you’re going to go reverse as fast as possible, then pull them as far as they reach.
  • It is not wise to take a zero-turn mower uphill or downhill. Anything with more than 15 degrees of slope angle is not a safe place for this type of machine. The low design of a zero-turn mower would get easily stuck on steep slopes.

Want to go uphill with your mower? Then check our list for best lawn mowers for hills.

It requires practice and coordination to learn how to accelerate and brake with this mower. But after a few days or weeks, it will feel like a piece of cake.

3. Steering & Turning

driving a zero turn mower

While the mower seems complicated, it is not. But you should learn how it turns to the sides and steers to get the most out of it.

In short, you can say that the engine accelerates either side independently. So if you push one of the levers forward, then that side will accelerate while the other stays still. As you can guess, this eases up the steering process.

You just need to push the lever side you want to veer to forward. Then the machine will accelerate the wheels on that side, making the mower take a turn.

If you want to steer to the other side, then you need to bring the lever back and push the other one forward. That will accelerate the other side and stop the ones that were moving before, steering the mower accordingly.

Here are a few things you may want to consider first:

  • While you can make 180-degree turns with a zero-turn mower, it is recommended not to do so as it could leave a gouge in the grass.
  • If you make sudden movements when steering, then the machine may fail to move or get unstable and tip to one side.
  • For the best results, when doing sharp turns, we recommend stopping the machine first. This will prevent the wheels from getting locked and tipping the mower or gouging the grass.
  • Before mowing the grass with a zero-turn model, we recommend testing the machine first on a driveway. Practice going straight, turning, steering, and so on before bringing it to grass.

The steering process of a zero-turn mower seems confusing at first, but after a few tries, it may be even easier than using a driving mower.

Want a brief explanation of how to drive a zero-turn mower? Then this video may help you out:


Anyone who wants to cut grass in a large field or lawn will find a zero-turn mower a perfect choice.

But for that, it is essential to learn how to drive lawnmower first. Otherwise, the zero-turn mower could turn into a disaster for the grass.

Luckily, you can follow this guide and start using your zero-turn mower like a pro. Remember to follow our tips for a better experience.

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