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How to Start and Operate a Zero-Turn Mower | A Step-by-Step Guide

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Some people call Zero-Turn Radius lawnmowers ZTRs, but I call them zero-turns. I love mine, and it reformed my attitude about the repetitive lawn care chores I have here on our homestead.

We only have about 6 acres, but we use it wisely, and it provides all of our needs. The zero-turn made keeping the property tight fun. Now, I look forward to firing the engine and blasting down weeds, wet grass, and just about anything else in my path!

Anyways, this is a step-by-step guide on how to start and operate your zero-turn mower. It’s written for anyone who knows little about zero-turn mowers or how to start them up and drive safely.

So, are you ready?

OK – Start Your Engines!

How to Start and Operate a Zero-Turn Mower

Riding your zero-turn mower is tricky the first time you try.

The following 11-step tutorial will make things way more straightforward.

Good luck!

And drive safely.

Step 1. Understand the Drive Mechanics of a Zero-Turn Mower

How to Operate a Zero Turn Mower (For Beginners)

Before you start your zero-turn mower, it’s a good idea to have a general concept of how these machines operate. There are no steering wheels like on traditional riding mowers. Instead, each wheel gets equipped with a separate drive shaft where the motor and hydrostatic transmission work together to power. That is how zero-turns achieve their zero-degree turning radius because each wheel can spin independently of the other, like a military tank!

Step 2. Give the Owner’s Manual a Thorough Read

I know it can be a boring read. But it will pay off – big time. You’ll be surprised how much information is in your owner’s manual, and some user manuals even come with a quick start guide written to help you cut through all of the technical information you don’t want to know – and get your mower running. So, take 15 minutes and read it from cover to cover, and you’ll be glad you did.

Step 3. Get to Know Your Zero-Turn Mower’s Controls

Make sure that you understand the mechanisms that control your mower, including the ignition switch that will turn your mower on and off, the safety belt, air filter, parking brake, mowing clutch, mower blades, mower deck, spark plugs, fuel filter, cutting deck adjustment control, fuel tank, and, of course, the two separate steering levers that enable that tank-like operation!

Read More – Best Zero Turn Mower Under $3,000 – Qualified Mechanic’s Review 2023!

Step 4. Pre-start Guide for Every Time You Operate the Mower

It’s wise to develop a pre-start checklist that you will utilize every time before you start your zero-turn lawn mower. It should include:

  1. Checking the engine oil levels
  2. Checking the fuel (always use fresh fuel)
  3. Visually inspecting your belts, blades, and pulleys

And, very importantly, you should look at each of the tires to ensure that they are in good shape for operation. Because of the separate-wheel turning dynamics of a zero-turn mower, the tires take a great deal of punishment and should undergo frequent checking.

Step 5. Set Up a Driving Practice Area

It’s a wise idea to think about a location on your property that you can dedicate to practicing while you learn to maneuver your zero-turn mower efficiently. You’ll need to learn how to steer, accelerate, brake, engage the blades, lower and raise the cutting deck, reverse, and otherwise control this powerful machine. So having a lot of room to practice your skills is a good idea.

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Step 6. Adjust Your Seat and Steering Arms

With a cold engine, before starting it, sit down on your zero-turn mower and adjust the seat, control arms, backrest, mirrors, and anything else that you need to ensure efficient, safe operation.

Make sure that the control arms are very comfortable for you. Usually, they will tilt left and right, out and in, from a preset center line in the machine.

Many zero-turn mowers also allow you to adjust the neutral control arm position to help discover your comfort zone – no matter your height or how long your arms are.

Step 7. Experiment With the Control Levers

5 Quick Tips to Learning to Drive a Zero Turn Mower.  I'm learning on my new Toro TIMECUTTER.

Take hold of each control arm firmly in your hands. Push and pull each one backward and forward to get used to its movements. You’ll notice that the control arms automatically return to their neutral position if you release the pressure you have on them.

Without the engine running yet, experiment with the control arms. During live operation, when you push both control arms forward – the mower will also move forward. And you pull both back simultaneously to put the mower in reverse.

Read More – Best Tow Behind Sprayer for Your Yard Inc. Boom and Spot Sprayers [2023 Review]

Step 8. Get Ready and Fire Up the Engine!

Ensure that the parking brake is engaged and the mower clutch is disengaged. If your mower comes equipped with a choke lever, pull it out. Move the throttle lever to the start position, and then turn the ignition key to crank and start the motor. Holy Moly, you did it – you started the engine!

Yeah, You Rock! (Go You!)

Step 9. Get to Rolling. And Practice Your Turning!

When the engine is running, push your choke knob back in fully. And then reposition the throttle control to a fast idling speed. Then, when you’re ready to start rolling, disengage the parking brake out of the park position.

At this point, you can begin slowly pushing the control levers forward – try both levers simultaneously and in equal amounts. Doing so will set your mower into forward motion!

Now, in your practice area, start experimenting with turning. If you push one control arm forward while pulling the other backward, your mower will rotate in the direction of the hand that you’ve pulled backward.

So, if you push your right-hand control lever forward while pulling your left lever backward, your mower will turn to the left. Conversely, if you press your left-hand control lever frontward and pull your right-hand control lever backward, then your mower will turn to the right.

Experiment with it for a while and wait until you feel confident. Then, practice making turns while in reverse and using the forward gear.

It’s not that difficult, and you’ll get the hang of things faster than you think. But give yourself ample time to develop your steering abilities to the point where you’re confident enough to engage the mowing blades and begin working. There’s no need to rush at all.

Step 10. Get to Know Your Cutting Swath

Mower Deck Size- What should you buy!

When you feel ready, you’ll need to set your cutting deck height, which determines how close to the ground you will cut the grass and weeds. Typically, zero-turn mowers range between about 1.5 and 5 inches, but some adjust even further. The depth you set yours on will depend on the terrain you’re on and the density and height of the growth you’re cutting.

Engage the motor clutch and turn on the cutting blades. Slowly begin easing the machine forward, speeding up to a comfortable pace as you are ready and confident behind the wheel. Study the tractor’s mowing path, slowly learning its width relative to the position of your drive wheels.

Watch as cut grass and weeds discharge behind you, noting the angle sprayed away from the machine as you drive. Notice how this is affected when you turn sharper than when turning gently. When you turn too sharply in close quarters – you may notice the mower’s deck ramming up against an obstacle. So, you have to learn to feel what your mower is doing, and no worries, that’ll come with just a little practice.

Read More – What If Lawn Mower Starts, Then Dies? Why Won’t My Lawn Mower Stay Running?

Step 11 – Congratulations. You’re Mowing Now!

As you practice more and overcome more challenging mowing tasks, your confidence will grow, and you’ll be able to operate your machine far more efficiently than you can now.

Precise cutting will become easy, and your safe mowing time will progressively decrease. Just always be careful on steep slopes and other dangerous terrain. Move at a slow speed, and always practice proper operation protocols.

How to start and operate a zero-turn mower.


Operating a zero-turn mower is fun, but don’t forget it’s also dangerous. Any machine weighing about 1,000 pounds with spinning metal blades at high speeds deserves respect! And a good amount of caution anytime you use it.

So please, be careful, and enjoy the experience!

We hope our zero-turn mower tutorial helps you get the hang of things.

We also have a few questions for you!

  • Have you ever driven a zero-turn mower before?
  • Have you driven a regular ride-along mower?
  • What brand and model mower do you use?
  • Do you have any tips for gardeners riding a zero-turn for their first time?

Thanks again for reading.

And we hope you have a great day!

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