How to Use a Zero-Turn Mower

Learning how to drive a zero-turn mower requires preparation, but with some practice you’ll be on your way to the lawn of your dreams. The tips below will go over the basics of how to operate a zero-turn mower, and your local STIHL Dealer will be happy to give you a few pointers as well.

Preparing to Mow

Before you start your zero-turn mower for the first time, make sure to read your operator’s instruction manual. The manual contains crucial information on how to use a zero-turn mower, including safety information as well the location and purpose of the controls on your new mower. Next, if you are driving your zero-turn mower for the first time, you’ll want to ensure you practice in an open area away from all obstacles. Remember to clear the area of objects, people, and animals before you begin mowing.

Mower Preparation Checklist

  • Check the mower’s fuel tank—if it’s low, fill with fuel.
  • Check the oil level on the crankcase using the dipstick. If the oil doesn’t reach the “full” mark on the dipstick, add oil to the crankcase.
  • Make sure all nuts, bolts, screws, and pins are secure.

How to Use a Zero-Turn Mower

  • First, gear up with the proper personal protective gear for mowing, eye protection and hearing protection.
  • Make sure the driving levers are locked in the start/park position and the parking brake is engaged before getting onto the mower.
  • Step up onto the floor plate and take your seat.
  • Adjust your seat so all controls are in comfortable reach.
  • Place your feet flat and in a comfortable position on the floor plate.

How to Drive a Zero-Turn Mower

Zero-turn mowers can turn on a dime because each wheel is operated by independent controls. For many, learning how to drive a zero-turn mower may be different from what they’re used to with other types of mowers and vehicles, but it quickly becomes intuitive. Here are a few zero-turn mower tricks and tips to keep in mind.

How to Start a Zero-Turn Mower

First, make sure you’re familiar with all the controls of your zero-turn mower. If you’re unsure about any controls, refer back to your operator’s manual before starting. Once you’re comfortable, complete the following steps:

  • While sitting in the operator’s seat, engage the parking brake, ensure the PTO switch is disengaged, and make sure the control levers are in the neutral position.
  • Set the engine throttle control to the FAST throttle position. Then fully close the choke by pulling the knob out all the way.
    • Note: A warm engine may not require choking.
  • Put the key in the ignition of your zero-turn mower and turn the key to the START position.
  • As the engine starts, gradually open the choke by pushing the knob down all the way.
  • Let the engine warm up for at least one minute before you engage the PTO switch or drive the unit.

How to Operate a Zero-Turn Mower

  • Once the engine is started, disengage the parking brake and ensure both control levers are in the neutral (central and vertical) position.
  • Place your hands firmly on the top center of each lever.
  • As you practice driving your zero-turn, go slowly forward and practice the stopping motion first.
  • Once you feel comfortable stopping, you can move on and begin practicing other movements.

Controlling Speed and Direction

  • To move forward: Slowly push the levers forward, away from your body.
  • To increase speed: Push both levers further toward the front of the mower.
  • To slow down: Pull both levers back towards you.
  • To stop: Bring both levers to the neutral position.
  • To reverse: From the neutral position, slowly pull both levers towards yourself.
  • To turn right: While both levers are in the forward position, pull the RIGHT lever towards you.
  • To turn left: With both levers in the forward position, pull the LEFT lever towards you.

Note: In the event of an emergency, you can stop the engine of your zero-turn mower by turning the ignition key to the “off” position.

How to Do a 3-point Turn on a Zero-Turn Mower

Zero-turn mowers provide a unique ability to turn around at the end of a cutting row. This three-point turn is also often called an end of row turn, and it helps you achieve a striped look to your lawn.

To execute a 3-point turn:
1. Slow down at the end of the row you are mowing.
2. Move the one lever forward slightly while moving the other lever backwards, and then slightly back from the neutral position.
3. If you want to turn left, you’ll move the left lever backwards. If you want to turn right, you’ll move the right lever backwards.
4. Then begin moving forward again.

This type of turn also slightly overlaps the grass of the row you just cut, so you don’t have to double-back to mow any missed spots.

How to Turn a Zero-Turn Mower Without Tearing up Grass

If one of your wheels is locked while operating your zero-turn mower, it’s possible to tear up grass during the turning motion. It’s important to move one lever in the forward position and one lever in the backward position simultaneously to avoid tears while turning. You’ll also need to slow down during turns while avoiding stopping.

If you practice speeding up and slowing down first before you begin to practice turning, this should help you get more comfortable with driving your zero-turn mower.

Transporting a Zero-Turn Mower

If you need to move your mower to another location, here are a few tips for smoothly transporting your mower in a trailer.

  • Measure your trailer, trailer ramp, and your mower to ensure your mower will fit. When using a ramp, use only a single ramp that is at least one foot wider than the width of the rear wheels of your mower. Don’t use a double ramp that’s designed to load cars or other vehicles.
  • Before loading, ensure the trailer and mower are on a level surface.
  • Slowly drive your mower forward up the ramp. Do not drive the mower backwards.
  • Once loaded, ensure the mower is properly secured in the trailer.

Check your operator's manual for more information on how to properly transport a zero-turn mower.

Upgrade Your Mowing with STIHL

If you’re still searching for the right zero-turn mower for your needs, check out the full lineup of STIHL zero-turn mowers. STIHL offers a wide range of gas-powered zero-turn mower models designed for homeowners and pros, as well as a battery-powered lineup for professionals.

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