Wednesday, August 18, 2010

You Don't Need a Zero-Turn Mower.

Full disclosure, I used to work at Lowe's selling lawn mowers and tractors before I was married and started college. 

I loved it. 

I was good at it. 

If it paid five or ten times more, I'd do it for the rest of my life.

It was a whole lot of fun.

I was developoing my environmentalism back then.  During breaks, I would grab the latest issue of Mother Earth News and go out to the outdoor section where the outdoor furniture is and I'd take my red jersey uniform thing and hide it under a pillow and I'd sit on one of those cushy outdoor reclining deck chairs and I'd read for fifteen minutes.

I learned (as I still do quite regularly) what I wanted in a house, in a lawn mower, in a garden, in a car and in a whole bunch of other areas.

I also learned how to sell lawn mowers.

I learned to turn on a backwoods Arkansas accent and say "Yes ma'am!" when asked a question.  You see, you have to sell to the wife, you can sell the husband no problem, but if he tells you that he has to go ask his wife, you can just forget about it.  I only had one guy who did that actually come back and buy anything.

Anyway, zero-turn mowers.  So, I'm a huge believer in efficiency.  My family vehicles include nothing with more than four cylinders in its engine.  My primary vehicle for most of the year is a motorcycle that gets more than 40 miles per gallon.  My work truck is a 1985 Toyota Pickup that on many occassions gets overloaded and drags itself down the freeway at 50 miles an hour with a full bed and pulling a full trailer.  It's great.

I did sell my fair share of zero turn mowers, but the only time I ever saw that they were necessary was for commercial use.  I even worked for a company where one of my jobs was to mow the lawn of the office and the boss's house with a real legitimate commercial zero-turn mower, one that cost more than my truck and my motorcycle combined when I bought them.  And I did end up selling one of the Cub Cadet zero-turns to a commercial guy from Lowe's, and of course, that voids the warranty but he managed to break it before the thirty day return policy was up, so he got to return it anyway, but returns are a story for another day.

For homeowners, zero-turn mowers are completely unnecessary.  First, they cost a whole lot more than any lawn tractor, even those with much larger deck sizes.  They cost more because they have two hydrostatic transmissions where a lawn tractor would have only one and more transmissions means a larger engine is necessary to propel the machine.  That's a ding against the efficiency. 

At either Lowe's or Sears, you can get a 54 inch lawn tractor, capable of the same speed as a zero-turn, for more than thousand dollars less than a comparable consumer grade zero-turn.  But you'll be able to do stuff with the tractor that you can't do with the other like bag clippings, pull things, and get good fuel economy.

One of the big selling points is that zero-turn mowers can go around trees quicker.  This is pretty well bogus, since the mowers go the same speed, and if your trees are properly mulched with a three to five foot radius, any lawn tractor can mow around them with no problems at all.

Additionally, if you have that much lawn and you're just mowing it to make it look nice, you're wasting your time.  I have over an acre of lawn, but my primary use of the lawn is to collect grass clippings for mulch and compost.  If I didn't use so many clippings, I wouldn't have so much lawn. because there's no reason for it.  I would expand the garden, plant tons more fruit trees and grape vines (already in the works) and only use a push mower, probably electric.

Speaking of electric mowers, they are the best option if you can afford them, they produce no pollution at point of use, they cost far less to operate, and they are much quieter.

The only reason to buy a zero-turn mower is for commercial use where the mower needs to be maneuvered into strange spaces at high speeds, be loaded and unloaded from a trailer multiple times a day, and have no need for bagging.  A better option still is to have no unnecessary lawn, to have native plants that don't need to be watered or fertilized, or fruit trees with heavy mulch around them so that no grass grows but the soil still absorbs healthy amounts of rain water.

My prime goal in everything is utilitarianism, and my secondary goal is efficiency.  Utilitarian is a lawn tractor that can do all kinds of things and contributes to my other biological systems, and efficiency is doing that with the most fuel efficient, economic, and appropriate machine available.

Just some practical tips you can use, if you ever need to know what mower to buy, I'm always available, leave a comment.

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