Are Zero-Turn Mowers Good on Hills? Possible Dangers and How To Avoid Them

If you buy something through our posts, we may get a small commission. Read more here.

If you have large lawns with rough terrain, using a zero-turn riding mower is a general rule you can’t ignore. However, no matter how useful these machines are for cutting grass on flat ground, the real question is—are zero-turn mowers good on hills? 

From my extensive experience in lawn care, let me share some essential tips to ensure both safety and efficiency when taking a zero-turn mower to the hills.

Can Zero-Turn Mowers Be Used Safely on Hills?

Yes, you can use a zero-turn mower on hilly terrain. However, if you plan to mow on a very steep slope, that’s when you’ll encounter some problems.

Although zero-turn mowers are known to have good tractions, this perk is only applicable on a flat surface. You may lose traction if your lawn mowers need to handle hills that’ll cause the unit to tilt at more than 15-degree angles. 

operating a troy bilt zero turn mower

But regardless of that, I assure you that it’s possible to use ride-on mowers on steep hills. The key lies in correct and judicious use. Let me walk you through how I’ve done it.

Conditions for Operating a Zero-Turn Mower on a Hill

Go Slowly

Regardless of mowing equipment, some newbie users tend to think that going uphill means you have to increase speed. In fact, zero-turn mowers are popular for their high-speed features. 

However, getting good traction is impossible if you’re driving at an all-out speed, especially when navigating steeper inclines. 

If you’re determined to mow at high speeds under such conditions, I’d wager that the rear brakes of your cutting deck might begin to skid, potentially tearing up the turf. Another risk you’d face is the mower tipping over, as maintaining control over the wheels becomes increasingly difficult.

Only Mow When it’s Dry

Whether you own a zero-turn mower or a traditional push mower, we all know that mowing wet grass could leave a mess on both the mower deck and tires. In addition to the hassle of cleaning it, these damp grass clipping could form a clump and leave damage to the mower if not cleaned properly. 

operating a riding mower to slopy ground

Moreover, it’s no secret that rubber wheels don’t perform well in wet conditions, especially on hills. Wet surfaces also don’t offer the best traction for your mower. And let’s not forget that dried grass fields are easier to cut evenly than wet ones.

Make Turns Cautiously

True to its name, making swift zero-turns are the main selling point of zero-turn mowers. However, you don’t need a rocket science degree to know things could go wrong with your mower when you carelessly do sharp turns on hills. 

Besides the possibility of your zero-turn mower losing traction, making a sharp turn could cause the tool to tip. If you ask me, it’s still best to make gradual turns before doing a second pass with your zero-turn mower. 

Use Good Quality Tires

The secret to handling zero-turn mowers effectively on hills lies largely in the tires. Given that most zero-turn mowers sport sizable rear wheels, it’s vital to ensure they’re in top shape. I’ve noticed over the years that mowers with wider tires tend to perform better when climbing hills.

Troy Bilt Zero-Turn Mower tire

You may not know, but your mower wheels need to be properly inflated [1] if you want them to power through complex terrain. Also, that’s one of the reasons why some zero-turn mowers aren’t working on one side

How to Operate Zero-Turn Mowers on Hills or Slopes

Mow Side to Side

Are you finding it hard to control your zero-turn mower when climbing up and down the hills? Then, the best you can do is do the side-by-side mowing. 

This method prevents the front wheels and mower deck from lifting due to heavy mass. Although you won’t be able to cut through all the passes, it’s still better than causing accidents. 

Maintain the Position of the Front End Slightly Uphill

If you’re looking to prevent your mower from skidding, it’s crucial to keep the front part of the unit slightly elevated compared to the rear. By holding this position, I’ve found that it’s easier to maintain force on the lower roll bar, especially when navigating slopes.

old man in a riding lawn mower

Start From the Bottom of the Hill

Control is the main issue when driving your mower through hills. Because of this, it would be wise if you begin cutting on a flat area before charging through the slope. Besides, creating horizontal paths is a lot easier when you’re coming from the end of the hill. 

Make an Uphill Turn at the End of Each Pass

Sliding and losing control can also be minimized by driving uphill at the bottom of every pass. It’s not uncommon not to be able to do tight turns in one go, so opting for three-point turns is better before the next slope. 

Don’t Stay in a Skid

Once the mower loses traction and slide, there’s no need to accelerate. If there’s an area at the hill’s bottom, I suggest riding it downhill. Keep in mind that resisting gravity will only cause more danger than productivity. 

person on a riding mower

Put Your Safety First

Above everything else, you must know how to keep yourself safe during the mowing operations. One of the most basic safety tips you can’t skip is putting on your seat belt. 

If you can, use a zero-turn mower with a roll-over protection system to ensure that harsh conditions wouldn’t put you at risk. A high-back seat also helps avoid user straining, which often leads to accidents. 

Do Not Exhaust the Hydraulics

Another rookie mistake most mowers make is pushing the two levers all the way to exhaust the hydraulics. You’ll need to bring the hydro’s speed down and let the engine pump to form pressure. 

Exhausting the hydraulics can lead to damage, and if you want to avoid costly repairs, consider getting your lawn mower insured

When Not to Use a Zero-Turn Mower on Hills

Very Steep Slopes

Although zero-turn mowers can handle slopes, it has limitations like any other tool. Personally, I’d advise against using them on inclines steeper than 15 degrees. It’s simply not their ideal terrain.

mowing a slopy ground

Wet Grass

As previously mentioned, cutting damp grass doesn’t produce accurate cuts. On top of that, it’s easy to lose mower control in these conditions. The possibility of losing traction is higher, so you should watch out for the dangers of zero turn mowers on hills, especially with wet or damp grass. 

Alternative For Mowing Steep Hills

You can always use walk-behind mowers as an alternative to zero-turns. 

In fact, some commercial push mowers are powerful enough to handle inclines without the complex driving. However, it’s best to check if its engine and transmission could fulfill the needs of your lawn task. 

Once you have made up your mind to buy walk-behind mowers rather than zero-turn mowers, you can check if your local stores have the units you’re eyeing for. Menards does not sell riding lawn mowers, just walk-behind models.

Conclusion

Understanding whether zero-turn mowers handle hills well isn’t a straightforward yes or no. It really boils down to where and how you employ these robust machines.

Mastering the controls is key if you want the mower to truly serve you. Remember, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all tool for every lawn and garden challenge.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles
Join our community on facebook and get 3 woodworking plans for free!