Belt vs Hydrostatic drive.

You’re looking to buy a walk behind mower.  Maybe it’s your first machine for home use or for business. Here’s a short article on buying a new machine.   My first real commercial mower was a 36″ belt drive Scag.  This was about twenty-five years ago.   I paid about $2,400 for it new.  A hydro unit would’ve been about a thousand more.  Back then hydro units where not very refined and just starting to gain popularity.  I found the controls to be a little jumpy and they would whine under a load if the engine was not big enough.   Considering I was just starting out I was lucky to afford the twenty-four hundred.  I still reaped a good return on that investment.  However, a hydro machine would have saved me time and muscle aches after a long day of mowing.

Moving forward.  I landed some nice contracts that allowed for the investment of a couple ZTR’s.  Most ZTR’s are hydrostatic with a select few that are cone drive. Most recently I moved to a new location and had to start over with establishing clientele.  I was lucky to pick up a few small residential lawns which required the use of a 48″ machine.  I picked up a cheap belt drive that got me by for while.  I moved to eastern TN which is a little hilly.  I soon realized why I got a good deal on a belt drive mower.

What’s a belt drive mower?  The engine powers a transmission which then divides that power over two drive wheels.  There’s a spring loaded pulley which the operator uses via hand lever as a clutch to engage or dis-engage power to the wheel via drive belt.  Most of the pistil grip units have little to no real reverse.  Toro had a T-bar which worked better.  Running a belt drive machine takes effort.  Mowing a lawn in a back and forth striped fashion requires the operator to input more force to maneuver the machine.  Because it’s a mechanical/gear drive you’re not able to productively operate each drive wheel when executing a 180° maneuver.  You can lock up/brake one wheel and spin around, however that will tear into a soft lawn. The pros and cons:  The only real pro is cost. With a belt drive machine you’ll save a good thousand. Which if you’re just starting out or using for home use it may prove to be a decent investment.  The cons, other then the additional investment, would be productivity.  Time and effort pertaining to maneuverability.  Mowing most lawns requires an agile machine.  If your in business time is money.  In addition to time, maintaining your energy is also imperative.  A belt drive mower taxes you physically.  Another issue is safety.  With the primitive belt drive system there are situations you can find yourself in that has the potential for injury.  E.g. loading a belt drive mower in wet conditions.  Slipping belts while loading a machine can create a scenario of liability/injury.

Exmark Turf Tracer hydrostatic drive

Exmark Turf Tracer hydrostatic drive

Whats hydrostatic drive?  The engine powers two hydraulic pumps which then powers two drive motors.  Each side is independently controlled utilizing a hydraulic valve assembly.  You can easily fluctuates your speed and reverse.  All with the hand lever on each side.  This allows for higher production because you’re driving the machine vs applying effort to maneuver a belt driven machine around corners.  Pros and cons.  You will pay more for a hydrostatic drive. In a short period of time this investment will be recouped if your in business.  You can also use the payments as a write off or depreciate it over given time if you’re in business.

In closing, if your just starting out perhaps you can only afford a belt drive.  Once you have acquire  a clientele base you’ll be in a better position to afford a hydro unit.  The increased productivity you get will be worth the investment