Bill Shea, vice president of sales and marketing – Commercial Products for the Briggs & Stratton Yard Power Products Group, says another important thing to look for is the location of both the drive wheels and caster wheels in relation to the deck. “As the wheels travel over uneven ground, they carry the deck with them,” Shea explains. “If there’s significant distance between the wheels and the deck, the chance of scalping increases. That’s why you want your wheels as close to the deck as possible.”
To further enhance the quality of cut its machines produce, Briggs & Stratton (Ferris and Snapper Pro) touts its patented IS independent suspension system, which allows each wheel to move up and down independently. The deck then works in conjunction with the suspension system to provide a consistent cut.
STRENGTH WHERE YOU NEED IT
Even if your mower is all decked out (pardon the pun) with the necessary bells and whistles to provide an immaculate cut, a deck that can’t withstand the rigors of daily use will not perform consistently. “Your mowing deck must be durable, and it must hold its shape so it continues to cut the same way it did when you first bought it,” Funk says.
But keep in mind that strength and weight must be a balance. “You want a deck that’s heavy enough to withstand abuse, but not so heavy that it impedes overall performance in terms of traction and maneuverability,” Weber points out.
Seven-gauge steel, which is 33% thicker than 10-gauge, has become more common in deck construction. But Shea says you should dig deeper than that. “A lot of manufacturers talk about 7-gauge these days,” Shea says. “But some just take a piece of sheet metal and fabricate a deck out of 7-gauge. They think they’ve done the operator a world of service because it’s heavier material, but all they’ve done is add a bunch of weight where it isn’t needed.”
It’s all about having added strength where you need it most, which is why many of today’s decks feature a reinforced top, front edge and side skirt. Shea says manufacturers can adequately reinforce the necessary areas of the deck with double-thick 10-gauge. Still, some use 7-gauge with additional reinforcements.
Toro simply uses 7-gauge high-strength steel throughout its Turbo Force deck shell. Funk says high-strength steel has a higher yield strength than ordinary commercial steel—but isn’t any heavier. “Yield strength is the lowest stress that gives permanent deformation,” Funk explains. “Thus, high-strength steel is 31.6% stronger based on material property alone. This in itself does not add weight. And that’s important to consider. While 7-gauge steel is heavier than 10-gauge, once you start adding reinforcements, the potential weight savings of a thinner material is lost.”
STRONG SPINDLES HOLD IT ALL TOGETHER
Shea says spindles are one of the biggest keys to both durability and cut quality. “If you hit something, and the spindle is small and lacks durability, the top of the deck could end up kinked, resulting in a poor cut,” Shea explains.
Cast-iron construction adds to spindle durability, and is especially beneficial on larger models of zero-turns. But Funk says you have to be careful. “Cast-iron is a strong conductor of heat, so it can begin to swell if there’s a lot of heat. Then, if there’s an impact, you’re more likely to end up with damage to the spindle shafts or bearings. Toro uses a cast-iron housing and very large mounting surface so impacts are absorbed across a larger area of the deck.”
Staying on the topic of spindles, many manufacturers offer “sealed and maintenance-free bearings and spindle assemblies”—a popular feature for lawn maintenance contractors who’d rather be working on growing their businesses than performing equipment maintenance. However, Funk says many veteran contractors who are operating larger mowers still prefer to grease the bearings and flush contaminants out of the system. If you’re one of those contractors, ask your dealer how accessible the grease points are.
Still searching for the best deck your hard-earned money can buy? Don’t forget to also ask your dealer about the following:
• Belt, idler and pulley design
• Ability to handle different grass types
• Blade tip speed and the speed at which you can effectively mow
• Mulching capabilities (especially if you’re in the Southeast)
• Deck serviceability and warranty