Zero Turn vs Lawn Tractor

Zero Turn vs Lawn Tractor for Hills: Which is Better & Why?

Are you moving into a new house on a hillside and don’t want to deal with hauling your push lawn mower all the way up and down your property? If so you’re probably concerned about safety with a riding mower — wanting something that won’t tip while navigating the pitch of your lawn.

In this article we’ll compare two great riding mower options — zero turn vs lawn tractor to help you make the best choice for your property.

We’ll explain the key differences between zero turn mowers and lawn tractors, discuss the pros and cons of each type of mower, and make a recommendation based on these factors – specifically for using these mowers on properties with hills.

Let’s get started!

Trust and Accuracy Information

This article was last updated on by Lawn Chick Owner Sarah Jameson
Article content reviewed for accuracy by Horticulturist Arthur Davidson, A.S.

What is a Zero Turn Lawn Mower?

What is a Zero Turn Lawn Mower?

When considering which type of riding lawn mower is best for your property property, you may want to look at a zero turn mower.

A zero turn is just what it sounds like. It is a lawn mower tractor with a nearly zero turn radius.

It’s the preferred type of mower for landscaping and lawn care professionals. They are expensive, but they offer excellent performance, and if you own a large property it may be worth the investment.

Zero turn lawn mowers work through a series of hydraulic controls which are available on the handles you use to pilot the mower.

This allows you to spin around without losing your place on your lawn completely.

Zero turn lawn mowers generally make your lawn work go faster, but they can be more expensive than a lawn tractor.

Best Electric Zero Turn Mower

The Zero Turn Mower I Recommend

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  • Mows up to 2.5 acres in a single charge.
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  • Equivalent power to 24 HP gas engine.
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What is a Riding Lawn Tractor?

What is a Lawn Tractor?

A lawn tractor, like the zero turn lawn mower, is a riding mower that will help to cut your yard work time in half. Named after its appearance, a lawn tractor looks similar to a full-size tractor, but it’s the right size to fit easily in your garden shed or garage.

Unlike the zero turn lawn mower, the lawn tractor has a larger turning radius, similar to what you might be used to with your car. This means that you’ll have to circle back to ensure all of your lawn is cut.

A lawn tractor will typically be less efficient at mowing your property than a zero turn mower, as you may have to take extra passes and you can’t zip around trees and gardens with quite the same ease.

With that said, a lawn tractor offers some advantages for those living in northern climates, as it’s easy to swap out the mower for a snowblower during the snowy months.

Lawn tractors also tend to be less expensive than zero turn mowers.

Comparison: Lawn Tractor vs Zero Turn Mower

Lawn Tractor vs Zero Turn Mower

Now that you know a little bit about each type of riding mower, lets compare the two in a variety of different categories:


Because it has superior maneuvarability, the zero turn lawn mower comes out on top when it comes to speed. Zero turn mowers can make short work of any lawn … whether your yard is wide open without obstructions, or has many trees, gardens, and landscaping features.


While a lawn tractor is faster to maneuver than a push or walk-behind mower, its inferior turning radius makes it less precise than mowing with a zero turn mower.

Not only does the improved radius of the zero turn mower play a role here, but zero turn mowers also offer superior visibility. The engine is below your seat, which allows you a clear view of the terrain in front of your machine.


If you’re on a budget, you can usually get the best bang for your buck with a lawn tractor. Your local hardware store or big box store will likely have a number of lawn tractors to choose from in your price range, and you can also order these machines online with free shipping if you’re so inclined.

I recommend you consider the size of your yard and how much storage space you have available for your mower before making a purchase. The cheapest lawn tractor won’t last as long as a more expensive model with a superior engine.

Read some reviews online to choose the right model for your property.

Performance on Hillsides

Hills are an obstacle that poses a challenge to many types of lawn mowers, and if you have a hilly property to mow, then it’s important to consider several factors before you choose between a lawn tractor and zero turn mower.

  • Grade of the Hill – If the hills on your property are not steep and you have the budget for it, I definitely recommend the zero turn lawn mower. It is quick and effective, and you’ll look like a pro driving it. With that said, if you have steep grades on your property, I feel a lawn tractor will be safer, especially if you buy one with a roll bar (just in case).
  • Safety – Because of the lab bar on the zero turn mower, the lawn tractor is a lot safer to use on steep hills in my opinion, and safety can be one of the disadvantages of a zero turn mower.

According to Oklahoma State University Extension, unlike a push mower, “riding mowers should be driven up and down slopes. Driving a riding mower across a slope can result in the mower tipping over.” Adding that “if you are driving up a slope and the mower stops running, disengage the blades and slowly back the mower down the hill to level ground.”

OSU extension also recommends that you never leave a mower unattended on a hillside.

Special Considerations When Using a Riding Lawn Mower on Hillsides

If your property has hills where the drop is one foot or more every three feet of hillside then you probably should consider alternatives to a mower.

Tipping on a riding lawn mower when mowing on a hillside is a very real concern and even if you’ve mowed your hilly property a hundred times, all it takes is one tip to cause catastrophic injury.

It’s just not worth the risk on steep grades.

Alternatives to a Zero Turn or Lawn Tractor for Properties with Steep Hills

Alternatives to a Zero Turn Mower or Lawn Tractor for Properties with Steep Hills

There are many options that homeowners have when they live on a property with a steep hill.

  • Use a Push Mower – Steep hills are a pain to mow with a push mower, but if you get a powerful self-drive walk behind mower, you can do it without too much exertion, and it’s much safer than a riding mower.
  • Build a Terraced Garden – If you have a green thumb, consider building a terraced garden on your hillside. You’ll be able to grow beautiful flowers and edibles here, and offer more variety to bees and butterflies than a grassy yard ever could.
  • Use a String Trimmer – If your steep slope isn’t that big, you can use a string trimmer to keep your hillside neat and tidy.
  • Invest in a Slope Mower – If you have a large property with many steep hillsides and you’re determined to have those hillsides be maintained as lawn, there are several different varieties of piloted or remote-controlled slope mowers that are up to the challenge and which are safe to use on steep grades.
  • Buy a Robotic Lawn Mower – These innovative machines come with a docking station where they charge up and you can program them to mow your lawn or just your steep hillsides on a certain schedule. They work like a Roomba robotic vacuum would in your home, and they are surprisingly affordable. Here are the models I recommend.

Zero Turn vs Lawn Tractor: Which Should You Choose?

As long as your hillsides are of a modest pitch, either a zero turn mower or lawn tractor can work for your property.

My preference is a zero turn mower, which is fun to drive and a great investment if you have a large property as it will cut your mowing time significantly and make it easy to navigate around trees, garden beds, and other obstacles.

In northern climates, I typically recommend a lawn tractor because you can purchase a snow-blowing attachment to use with your lawn and garden tractor in the winter, making it a year-round piece of equipment for your property, and a better investment.

I hope this article has helped you when comparing zero turn vs lawn tractor. Let me know in the comments which type of riding mower you chose and why!

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Sarah Jameson’s blog, Lawn Chick, is read by over 2 million homeowners each year and she is regularly cited as an expert source of lawn care knowledge by major publications. Her goal is to meet you where you are, and help you achieve a yard you’ll be proud of. Ready to take the next step toward improving your lawn? Grab her free lawn care cheat-sheet: What to Do When - Take the Guesswork Out of Lawn Care, or upgrade your garage by browsing her favorite DIY lawn care products.

5 thoughts on “Zero Turn vs Lawn Tractor for Hills: Which is Better & Why?

  1. Jay Lopez

    This was really helpful. I just recently purchased a house with 6 acres and went back and forth. Do I purchase a riding lawn mower or a zero-turn? Your article helped me to decide on an Ariens 54″ zero-turn and I could not be happier. It’s fun, relaxing and does an incredible job around the turns. I have some steep hills on my acreage and it does considerably well especially during dry season.

    Thanks again for your advice!! It truly made a difference.


  2. Donald Ulin

    I really want to get a ZTR, but I’m concerned about the hills on my property. So if I want the safest ZTR, what are the features I should look for. I see lots of websites that recommend various ZTRs as being best for hilly terrain, but none of them explain what it is about those models that makes them good on hills. Bigger (or just wider?) tires maybe? But what else?

    • Hey, Donald – great questions. In my experience (I don’t own one, but my dad does and I’ve used his) I would prioritize a wider, heavier model and I’d also get one with a roll bar for safety. The truth about tires is that you can upgrade or change those out for a few hundred dollars if you wish once you have your mower, so I wouldn’t let that be a determining factor for you unless the two models you’re looking at are the same price and the same other than the tires. Super aggressive treads aren’t great for most lawns either (especially if you’re going to be spinning tight with a ZTR), so there’s a bit of a trade-off there that you’ll have to weigh. Your grass type will play a role there as well – some lawn grasses can take a beating and others can’t.

      I will also say that if you have steep hills neither type of riding lawn mower is as safe as a high-end self-propelled mower you walk behind, but if you do get a riding mower make sure you’re mowing up/down and never side to side. If you’re worried about the hills you could also see about renting or borrowing one some day this spring to try it out and see how it feels on your property before you take the plunge and drop a lot of money on a zero turn mower.

      Good luck!

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