Reality of buying a mower... First ZT...walk behind or ride? Budget is tight!

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by r00st, Jun 22, 2010.

  1. r00st

    r00st LawnSite Member
    Messages: 7

    *long boring story ahead*

    I have been mowing lawns small time since I was 16 (am now 24). I started with a push mower and my dads weed eater and by the time I was 18 I had ten personal (all small .15-.35 acre) residential accounts. I bought a john deere sabre 15hp rider in 2001 which just finally died on me (I think it needs rings/piston...blowing oil out the exhaust)

    I then went to work for my friends dad as they owned a few zero turn toros and we mowed his dads various properties around town with a few residential/commercial cash accounts mixed in.

    I went to college for a Criminal Justice Bachelors degree which turns out...was a REALLY bad time to get a degree! Needless to say I am working @ a retail joint making HALF of what i used to make in my own mowing venture or for my friends dad. They now have two diesel toro Z's which run about 11mph and cut beatifully! Of course this has totally spoiled me seeing as I cannot afford 10-15k dollar mowers!

    As of this moment I have taken on a few accounts and need a mower. I have three residential accounts and 5 commercial accounts that I JUST took on. I get 70 total for the 3 residentials and 180 total for the 5 commercials. Using my dads new JD 135 rider it takes me roughly 10 hours to mow everything!

    As of right now I want to buy a single piece of equipment to finish out the season. Next year I am hoping to add accounts if I have not found a "career" and might just take a stab at the lawn care industry.

    So far I am looking at the John Deere 425 with the 23 hp briggs (which I have read is not the best...) My dads 135 now has 25 hours on it with the briggs 22 and it seems like the power is not really there for a quote on quote being 22 hp. Our old sabre was a 15-16 hp unit and seemed to only be about 10% behind in power of the new one?

    Anyway...I was thinking the 54inch deck on the 425 which is 3999. I have a ten percent off coupon for Lowes which would essentially pay for tax, so I would be right at about 3950 out the door. They also have a 30 day money back on their mowers so I guess if it did not work out like I planned I could return and find something else.

    All of the accounts I do are open, so no deck size restraints. I only have a 5x8 trailer so I cannot go much above 54" deck due to the sides I built up on the trailer.

    One of the accounts has a 100 foot long ditch line I am responsible for mowing and parts of it are VERY steep...somewhere around 40-50 degrees. Right now i have been push mowing it with a self propelled toro recycler 22" which gets the job done but im tired of trying to be a billy goat and side hill it. I have not even tried it on my dads 135 as the only option would be straight up and down and due to the standing water in the bottom of the ditch im afraid the little JD would not make it back up the hill and I cant very well drive it through a foot of water/mud!

    I have very limited money as I just bought a foreclosed on house and it needs a LOT of rehabbing so most of my actual cash in my account is going toward that. I decided if I spend under 2k on something I will pay cash, otherwise (up to 4k, hopefully not over 5k) i will have to finance.

    What do you all reccomend for a mower? I am fairly confident a decent ZRT could mow up/down my steep ditch (probably side hill 50% of it and do the steepest stuff up and down). The JD 425 is rated at 8.5 mph which is what really peaked my interest. My dads 135 is rated at 5.5 which is deathly slow after being used to the 11-12 mph Toro Diesel's.

    I heard the cut quality was good on the JD's but I also know its NOT a commercial grade mower. I am not very hard on my equipment and do not go flying over ruts/obstacles at full speed. Do you think the JD 425 could handle say, 1000 hours? No hour meter on my old sabre but I bet I have 2000 hours on it EASY. I used to ride it around down (up to 3 miles to some accounts) just to mow for 15 minutes lol.

    If I dont go with a new JD I am considering a used commercial grade exmark/bobcat/toro ZRT or whatever I can find in a 48 inch walk behind.

    If I did walk behind...whats better, hydro or belt? I know belt is better for any wet conditions but hydro is easier/more comfortable.

    How fast do most average 15-17hp walk behinds go? I read 6-7mph but was not sure if I would need a sulky or if I could just walk fast enough (I am 6'2 with a reasonable stride).

    Anyway...I apologize for this BOOK of information... I just need some advaice and want to make sure my seed money is safely planted so im not left high and dry come time to mow every week!!!

    Thanks in advance!
  2. sdk1959

    sdk1959 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 909

    The John Deere 425 may not be classified as commercial but it is a garden tractor which means it is a rugged as most anything rated commercial. But a tractor is better suited for a homeowner who plans to do more than just cut grass.

    A tractor is ok to start out with if that's all you have but not after you have more funds and established yourself.

    If most of your lots are less than 1/2 acre a small ZTR is much better than a tractor or large ZTR. This one shown below will fit your buget and will speed up your cutting time and get into backyards with small gates when you get them. There are commercial rated 30-34" ZTR's but they cost more than 2X as much and good luck waiting for a used 30-34" commercial one to come up on Ebay or Craigslist. They are rare and sell FAST. Best of Luck in your decision. :)
  3. Lbilawncare

    Lbilawncare LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,116

    I would recommend buying a used walk-behind for now. When you acquire more accounts you can buy a larger ZTR and use the walk-behind for gates and backup purposes. If walking isn't your thing, a sulky can be added.
  4. lawns Etc

    lawns Etc LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,277

    You are going to get all kinds of answers but you absolutely can't beat a belt walk behind for the money. 3k gets a new one and about 1500 a decent used one and put a sulky on it and your good to go. I've had many belts and a couple of hydro wbs and will personally take a Exmark or Bobcat 48 belt all day long. If something breaks on a belt it can be fixed very cheaply but a hydro pump or wheel motor is very costly. But the ditch your talking about may be trouble no matter what mower you get.
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  5. r00st

    r00st LawnSite Member
    Messages: 7

    Thanks for the replies!

    Actually the john deere 425 I was talking about is the ZR, zero turn model.

    How fast do most walk behind's go at full speed? Can most with a reasonable mower cut 1-2 inches of grass at full speed without bogging down while pulling a 200+ lb person on a sulky?

    My dads 135 tractor I have been using temporarily on these accounts is a claimed 5.5mph with a 42 inch deck...but it just feels SO slow as some of the mowing areas are rather large where as I can whip out a small residential yard in 10-15 minutes (probably do it in 5 with a zero turn!).

    I just want to make sure im upgrading a bit over the speed I can mow now on the 135 tractor. Surely a 48 inch belt walk behind can at least match the speed with me on a sulky behind it? That would mean I would gain 6 inches per swath plus gain some time in the corners with a zero turn walk behind.
  6. r00st

    r00st LawnSite Member
    Messages: 7

    Also, if I were to try to use a walk behind on a pretty steep hill, would it first lose traction and slide down the slope or traction roll, and actually roll over?

    In my experience on slopes on the zero turn riders (granted since im sitting on it, its harder to just let go of it lol) I can just quickly steer DOWN hill and that way the mower will point down and roll down the hill rather than risk breaking traction and sliding or traction rolling sideways down the hill.
  7. Lbilawncare

    Lbilawncare LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,116

    Speed is irrelevent when you consider how much time you will save just turning around and being able to maneuver around obstacles easier.

    MS_SURVEYOR LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,002

    You know for just a few more dollars you could get a Deere EZtrak Z445 with a 25hp Kawasaki instead of a 26hp Briggs ELS on the EZtrak Z425 at the Deere dealership.

    26 Briggs ELS
    Displacement 724 cc
    Maximum Torque 33 ft. lbs. @ 2600 RPM
    Dry Weight 80.0 lbs

    25hp Kawasaki
    Displacement 675cc
    Maximum Torque 41.3 ft. lbs. @ 2400 rpm
    Dry Weight (without muffler) 90.2 lbs.

    same mower with a way better engine.
  9. Keith

    Keith LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,979

    I was in a similar situation many, many years ago. I had $3k to buy something with. I first tried to finance a new Walker. With a nearly 50% down payment, I was turned down by the finance company. So I took the money and bought a used 54" Bobcat walk behind, a new trailer, a new trimmer, edger and blower. I came in right under budget.

    It turned out to be the best move I could have possibly made. I did get that ZTR a couple years later, but I gained business and moved out of the 21" mower territory on the cheap when it mattered. The belt driven walk behind is a brutally simple piece of engineering. Nothing on it is going to send you to poor house if it breaks, and it can be fixed about as quickly as it broke.
  10. ZTR_Diesel

    ZTR_Diesel LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 371

    Go simple - and forget about buying new. Find a used ZTR (commercial) or a WB for under $2k (it can be done) and start from there. Find a unit that was used by a homeowner and service it well. Or a walk-behind that's 36 or 42" will save you money and keep you in good physical shape.

    For your undergrad degree and it's possible career opprotunities:

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