Have you ever driven past your local high school to see the groundskeeper clearly enjoying the thrill of driving a zero-turn lawnmower?

That’s not working – it’s playtime!

Joking aside, anyone who has a larger property to maintain could well benefit from one of these awesome machines.

The problem is – they’re nearly always very expensive.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a review of the best budget zero-turn mowers on the market – the cheapest models I could find that don’t sacrifice quality for the price.

Read on to find out if you can make some savings, and share in the school groundskeeper’s unadulterated joy.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you shop through the links on YardThyme, we may earn an affiliate's commission from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. For more information, read full disclosure here.

What is a Zero-Turn Lawnmower?

Simply put, a zero-turn lawn mower is a machine that you use to cut your lawn, all while offering a turning circle that is basically nothing – as the name suggests.

person using zero-turn lawnmower

Unlike other ride-on lawnmowers, like some of these models for rough terrain – zero-turn mowers can flip their direction on a dime, saving you a lot of time and effort in the process.

This is achieved by using a unique lever steering method, and most commonly a hydraulic speed control for each wheel.

The first commercially available zero-turn mower was on the market back in 1949, and these days you can find professional-grade machines, as well as more modest-sized versions for homeowner use.

Check out the video below for more information – as well as including some top driving tips if you’re new to the technology.

Zero-turn Lawnmowers – Do You Need One?

Before you rush out to purchase one of these awesome creations, perhaps you should first understand if you actually need one.

Experts recommend that you should be looking at a zero-turn mower or garden tractor/ride-on if you need to maintain anything over half an acre of land – particularly if you have a lot of obstacles to negotiate.

For anything less than that, a good walk-behind mower is sufficient. And remember – you also need somewhere to store it when it’s not in use. Zero-turn mowers tend to be on the large side.

Zero-turn mowers are not recommended if you have particularly hilly terrain – although there are exceptions. Check out this article on the best zero-turn mowers for hills to see some good examples.

It should also be noted that this particular type of mower shouldn’t really be used for haulage. While more expensive models do come with hitch capabilities, if it’s shifting stuff you’re after, you should be using a garden tractor.

Of course, this advice isn’t set in stone, and we all have our own set of circumstances that should be catered for. If you feel you will benefit from a zero-turn lawnmower – by all means purchase one.

Check out this article on different types of lawnmowers for more information, and you should read this piece on the best lawnmowers for small yards, if – like me – you’re only dreaming of driving a ride-on.

A more detailed buyer’s guide with a FAQ section will follow the reviews.

The 8 Best Zero-turn Lawnmowers on a Budget

Ariens Zoom Kohler V Twin Zero-Turn Riding Mower

Ariens Zoom Kohler V Twin Zero-Turn Riding Mower

Manufacturing some of the best snow blowers on the market, Wisconsin-based company Ariens turns their attention to lawn care come to the summertime.

And this zero-turn mower happens to be one of the most affordable options available. It offers a 42-inch cutting deck, backed with a 19 horsepower Kohler V twin gas engine with hydrostatic transmission.

It’s a compact machine that’s best suited for small to medium-sized yards, with a foot-operated deck lift that can vary the height of the cut with ease.

And the 12-gauge deck has been engineered for maximum durability and airflow, to ensure your lawn gets the best trim possible, all while you enjoy the comfort and control of the high-backed seat and elevated riding position.

Pros

  • The cheapest zero-turn mower in the review.
  • Four-point professional deck hanging system.
  • Easy to operate and drive.
  • Triple bladed.
  • Two-gallon gas tank.
  • Bag, mulch, and side discharge options.

Cons

  • The bagger attachment can get clogged easily.

Conclusion

For the price, this surely has to be the best cheap zero-turn mower on the market, backed by some glowing reviews, and from a top-quality brand to boot. And it’s also one of the few mowers in this review that has a three-bladed system for an efficient, improved cut.

Get one while you can.

John Deere Z345M Zero-Turn Riding Mower

John Deere Z345M Zero-Turn Riding Mower

The iconic yellow and green livery tells you right away you’re looking at a John Deere – one of the best brands in the business when it comes to outdoor power tools and equipment.

This machine provides a 42-inch cutting deck, with a 22 horsepower engine and dual hydrostatic transmission.

Designed especially for residential customers, it can offer side discharge and mulch capabilities, with the option of adding a bag to the rear to collect the clippings. The ReadyStart system gets you going in no time – like driving a car – and the large wheels and powerful engine allow you to achieve speeds of up to seven miles per hour.

And the generous three-gallon fuel tank ensures you can stay seated until the job is fully done.

Pros

  • Heavy-duty welded steel frame.
  • Easy maintenance access hatch.
  • Fully adjustable high-back seat.
  • Multiple position motion control levers.
  • Adjustable deck height.

Cons

  • Bagger is sold separately.

Conclusion

John Deere’s quality needs little introduction, and this is one of the best zero turn mowers under $3000 on the market. And you can check out this article on garden tractors to see how JD does against Cub Cadet and Husqvarna.

Toro TimeCutter Commercial Zero-Turn Riding Mower

Toro TimeCutter Commercial Zero-Turn Riding Mower

With a 22.5 HP engine, the Toro “Timecutter” zero-turn mower offers plenty of power under the hood. A 42-inch cutting deck is ideal for lawns up to two acres in size, and the Smartspeed technology gives you total control, with various options depending on the task.

A front-step design gets you up and down from the hot seat with ease to save time, and washing ports help you get cleaned up faster when you’re done. Tire fenders protect the engine and the driver from any potential muck that might be sprayed when mowing, and the tubular front axle and shock-absorbing dampeners make for a silky-smooth ride.

There’s even a built-in cup holder, so you can enjoy a chilled beverage while you’re moving in style. Honestly – anyone who thinks this is work is kidding themselves.

Pros

  • Great price point for what you get.
  • Padded high-backed seating.
  • Easy to maintain.
  • Adjustable cutting heights.
  • Built-in hitch for towing.
  • Three-gallon translucent fuel tank.

Cons

  • Reports of the fuel consumption being higher than other models in its class.

Conclusion

You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck with this Toro zero-turn, and I especially like the cab design and step for ease of access to the driver position. Timecutter by name and by nature.

Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1 Zero Turn Riding Lawn Mower

Cub Cadet Ultima ZT1 Zero Turn Riding Lawn Mower

When it comes to zero-turn mowers, it’s hard to look past Cub Cadet, and they have developed some truly excellent machines over the past few years. This is another outstanding example – especially considering the price and the fact that it’s an award-winning design.

The Ultima ZT1 has a 42-inch deck backed with a 22 HP V-Twin gas engine, all housed in a 2×2 continuous steel frame for unbeatable durability and strength.

Ideal for yards with slightly rolling hills, at 7.5 MPH it’s one of the faster mowers in this class, with hydrostatic, rear-wheel transmission for a super-smooth riding experience. A foot-operated deck height system provides 15 cutting options, ensuring you can get the perfect finish to your lawn every time.

Pros

  • Award-winning innovation.
  • Super comfortable seating position.
  • Smooth tread pivoting wheels to prevent damage.
  • Easy to maintain with removable hatches.
  • Vibration-dampening floor mat.
  • Electronic fingertip blade engagement.
  • Three-gallon fuel tank.
  • Built-in hitch.

Cons

  • None to speak of.

Conclusion

I honestly couldn’t find anything I didn’t like about this mower, and the reviews alone speak for themselves. Perhaps this is actually the best zero-turn mower under $3000 after all?

If you’re still looking for something a little bigger, check out this review on the best commercial zero-turn mowers instead.

Husqvarna Z142 Zero Turn Riding Mower

It wasn’t going to be long before we caught up with a Husqvarna – although they’re usually at the more expensive end of the scale. Offering a maximum speed of 6.5 MPH, this 17 HP zero-turn mower from the Swedes has a hydrostatic transmission and a 42-inch cutting deck.

With air-induction technology, the mower draws air into the cutting zone which improves the condition of the cut, while clippings can be side discharged, mulched, or bagged. Lifting the deck is easy with the convenient lever system, and the ergonomic control pad keeps things close to your fingertips.

And with a 3.5-gallon fuel tank, there’s always plenty of productivity with a Husqvarna.

Pros

  • Solid, durable construction.
  • Rubber bellow on gear system.
  • Easy to maintain and access.
  • Anti-slip foot plate.
  • Automatic park brake.
  • Rear engine guard.
  • Deck wash port.

Cons

  • Bagging kit sold separately.

Conclusion

It’s not the first Husqvarna in this review – and I bet it’s not going to be the last. This is a top-quality machine that’s going to give your lawn a professional finish time and time again.

And for more from the iconic Swedish company, check out this article when they go up against the Germans in the Stihl versus Husqvarna trimmers contest.

Ariens Edge Zero-Turn Lawn Tractor

Here we have another Ariens zero-turn lawnmower entry, this time offering a 52-inch cutting deck for larger yards and gardens. Made from 11- gauge steel, it’s tough and durable and should have no problems being employed on more commercial-sized jobs.

Under the hood, you have an impressive Kawasaki engine, which offers 21.5 HP, with a hydrostatic transmission for smooth control and speeds of up to seven miles per hour.

The foot-operated deck lift allows you to manage the heights of your cut with ease, and the huge tires offer excellent traction in more challenging terrain and conditions.

These Ariens machines are super reliable and will mow your lawn time and again for all the seasons to come.

Pros

  • Intuitive, easy-reach control panel.
  • Built-in hour meter.
  • Tough, rugged construction.
  • Easy and reliable to maintain.
  • Comfort, high-backed seating with springs.
  • Highly rated.

Cons

  • Smaller fuel tank than other machines in this class.

Conclusion

It’s another home run for Ariens, with an absolute tank of a zero-turn lawn mower offering commercial-grade power for the homeowner market. And anyone who has ever owned a product from this brand will tell you these things are built to last.

Husqvarna Z254 Zero Turn Riding Mower

Oh look, a Husqvarna again – what a surprise!

We’re moving up a gear now with this 54-inch zero-turn riding lawnmower from the Swedes, which features a super-powerful 26 HP Kohler engine with hydrostatic transmission.

Offering a maximum speed of 6.5 MPH, you can make short work of your lawn in no time, while the reinforced steel deck has been designed to keep coming back for more with extra durability.

Featuring Husqvarna’s air-induction technology, it draws air from both the top and bottom of the deck which lifts the grass and creates a cleaner, sharper cut.

And the maintenance-free transmission ensures this baby will run and run.

Pros

  • Heavy-duty construction.
  • Full pressure lubrication system.
  • Convenient deck lift.
  • Ergonomic control panel.
  • Three blade design.
  • Easy-access for maintenance.
  • Hour meter.
  • Cup holder.

Cons

  • Mulcher kit and hitch sold separately.

Conclusion

Quite possibly one of the best zero-turn mowers under $4000, Husqvarna continues to prove why they’re at the top of their game when it comes to outdoor power equipment for home and commercial use.

Ryobi Electric Riding Zero Turn Mower

Ryobi Electric Riding Zero Turn Mower

Battery-operated zero-turn mowers are just starting to improve their technology, but for the most part they largely remain on the more expensive side of the scale. That solidifies just how awesome this machine is from Ryobi, considering the price point.

It seems there’s no limit to what the cordless tool stalwarts can do, with a 75 Ah battery that can cut an astonishing 2.5 acres on a single charge. Considering there isn’t one gas-powered zero-turn mower that is fully carb compliant – I think it’s time we made the switch.

A wealth of features are included, with four brushless motors, a fully electronic onboard control panel, 12 position deck height lever, and all in a 12-gauge steel housing to withstand anything you throw at it. And with a maximum speed of seven miles per hour – it easily competes with the gas counterparts – and then some.

Pros

  • No fumes.
  • Quiet operation.
  • Rear access charging port.
  • Towing hitch.
  • LED headlights.
  • Side discharge, mulch and bagging options.
  • Very highly rated.

Cons

  • Bagging and mulching kit sold separately.

Conclusion

This is an outstanding zero-turn mower for more reasons than it’s just environmentally friendly. Take a bow, Ryobi – and there’s even a USB port, so you can listen to your tunes while you’re cutting the grass. Embrace the future, people – because it’s already here.

How to Choose the Best Budget-Friendly Zero-Turn Lawnmower

Below, you’ll find a handy guide to choosing the right budget-friendly zero-turn lawnmower for your needs.

Deck Size

One of the most important considerations when choosing any kind of lawnmower is the deck size. The larger the cutting width, the faster you can get the job done.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule to this, but there are some guidelines you can adhere to, so you can be in the right ballpark.

For property that’s less than half an acre, a 40-inch deck or less is preferable.

If your lawn is between half an acre to two acres, then a 40-50-inch deck is ideal.

yellow zero-turn lawnmower

And for anything over and above two acres, you should aim for a 50-inch cutting deck and above – the larger, the better.

However, it should be mentioned that most “cheap” or budget-friendly zero-turn mowers tend to be on the smaller side – as you

might expect. The vast majority will have a standard 42-inch cutting deck – although there are exceptions.

Transmission

Riding lawnmowers are usually available with three types of transmission – manual, automatic, and hydrostatic.

The latter is the best of these, and thankfully has started to become more common across the board – particularly in zero-turn mowers.

As such, you’ll find that all the mowers in this article come with hydrostatic transmission, so you should be getting a silky-smooth ride, with more power and maneuverability – no matter which machine you go for.

Power

And speaking of power, the mowers in this review certainly offer a nice selection of engines under the hoods.

And there’s even a battery-powered option thrown in for cutting down on maintenance, fuel emissions, and noise pollution.

For the most part, zero-turn mowers remain gas-guzzlers, and the higher the horsepower, the faster it will go.

You’re not going to the races though, and most machines here offer a perfectly respectable 6-7 MPH speed limit – which is more than adequate for mowing the lawn.

Fuel Capacity

Productivity is important to you – and manufacturers recognize that. The larger the fuel tank, the more area you can cut in one sitting.

Most zero-turn mowers offer a fuel tank capacity somewhere between 2-3 gallons.

But there’s more to it than that.

How much ground you can cover will depend on the machine’s fuel consumption, the horsepower, the condition and height of your grass, and even the weight of the driver.

It’s a good idea to check other reviews from customers who have already purchased the mower you’re interested in – to find out just what it’s capable of.

And if you’re considering a battery-powered model (which I highly recommend) be sure to check how much you can do on a single charge. It might be worth having a backup battery if you have a larger lawn.

man working on red zero-turn lawnmower

Controls and Seating Position

More emphasis has been put on driver comfort in recent riding mowers – in the past you might as well have been sitting on an old bone-shaking bike.

Much like productivity, manufacturers understand that a comfortable driver is a happy driver.

Look for lawnmowers with fully adjustable seating – that allows access to ergonomic control panels and levers for intuitive steering and use.

High-backed seats are also recommended – something that’s going to give you support throughout the job.

I’m a particular fan of zero-turn mowers that allow the driver access to the cockpit from the front – which will save you time and effort in the long run – and is also a nice safety feature.

Brand

Since zero-turn mowers started to become more popular, accessible, and coveted by the homeowner, every brand seems to be jumping on the bandwagon.

While this might offer a good selection, it can certainly give you a headache when it comes to which brand to choose.

And while you can’t go far wrong with all the brands in this review, I’ve got to say my personal choices would be for John Deere and

Husqvarna when it comes to heavy-duty outdoor equipment.

Ariens are also a sure-fire bet, consistently knocking it out of the park with top-drawer reliability in every machine they make – no matter the season.

The Toro model offers a lot considering the price point, and they’re always reliable machines.

Then there’s Cub Cadet, who seems to be enjoying a moment in the sun and is going from strength to strength in the zero-turn lawnmower department.

And let’s not forget Ryobi, offering affordable yet reliable battery-powered options with a truly outstanding gas-free option here.

Oh, I can’t decide! In the end, it will probably just come down to brand loyalty.

Cost

In an article about the best budget-friendly zero-turn lawnmowers, cost is a huge factor when it comes to making a choice.

Even if the machines I’ve chosen in this review are at the lower end of the price scale – they’re still not cheap. You can buy a decent second hand car for some of these prices.

So, I urge you to consider if you really need a zero-turn mower, and to make sure you’ll definitely get use out of it.

Buy the best you can afford and stick to your budget – there’s something out there for everyone.

man mowing grass with zero-turn lawnmower

FAQs

Do I need a zero-turn lawnmower?

If you have a lawn over half an acre, I would say a ride-on lawnmower could well be beneficial for your needs.

It doesn’t have to be a zero-turn model – but they are more suitable if you have a lot of obstacles to negotiate, and you want to save time mowing your lawn.

Check out this article for some professional advice for cutting the grass, or go visit this page to check out some cheaper lawnmowing options.

What is the best cheap zero-turn lawnmower?

Any mower in this review could lay claim to that title – it just depends on your needs. The best for you might be different compared with the best for your neighbor.

That said, as I have previously mentioned, my money would be on a John Deere or Husqvarna model.

But I do like the Toro machine, too, and the Ryobi is pretty awesome for being a battery-powered machine and one of the best zero-turn mowers under $5000.

Decisions, decisions…

Is a zero-turn worth the money?

Yes. Honestly, you’ve never felt joy like it until you’ve been at the controls of a zero-turn lawnmower and experienced what they can do.

If you have the yard for it – I would say they make a great investment. But don’t take my word for it – read consumer reviews and see what zero-turn owners are saying about the technology.

Zero-turn versus lawn tractor – which should I buy?

Good question – it depends on what you’re going to be using it for and what your yard is like.

Zero-turns are recommended if you have a lot of ground to cover and many obstacles to negotiate.

Lawn tractors are preferable if you need to haul anything – particularly if it’s on the heavy side. They tend to do better on hilly terrain, too.

Check out this article on the lawn-tractor versus zero-turn mower debate for a more detailed answer.

Summary

Spin on a dime to save money and time – the best budget zero-turn mowers make this technology more accessible than ever, so we can all join in the fun.

Let me know which model you prefer and why – or if you simply have any lawn-care comments you want to share with the community.

Happy lawnmowing!