Let's get a perspective on this problem. Is it even a problem?
There will be thousands of you who will be looking to buy a new mower this year and it looks like most of you will at least consider the new Craftsman yard and garden tractors with Turn Tight Technology. You will read the reviews on mysears, craftsman.com, viewpoints, consumersearch, and the tractor forums. You will find helpful reviews and a few reviews from people who hate this new steering. I want to spend a little time explaining why you will read some of these negative reviews.
If you remember last year I wrote an article on the steering on the new Craftsman Professional tractors. I warned you that to go below a 14 inch turning radius the new lawn tractors had a "negative camber" that was very different from the steering you were used to on your old Craftsman. This new Turn Tight steering is also different from what you are used and it will take a few simple changes in the way you drive to make it work well for you.
This is the first time this tightening of turning radius (8 inches) has been offered on a residential mower, but extremely small radius turning has been available on commercial mowers since the 70's. This tight of steering is similar to the steering used on the old front mount commercial mowers. The Toro Groundsmaster, Jacobson Turfcat and John Deere F930 all used a radical steering to give those mowers a very tight turning radius. I have a lot of experience driving and owning these older units, so I want to give you a little heads-up with your new tractor.
I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I like this new Turn Tight Technology. I think it is the answer that most of you have been looking for that want the maneuverability of a zero-turn mower but do not want the hassles of a zero-turn. Zero-turns are expensive, notorious for teasing up your lawn, being hard to learn to drive and the residential zero-turns in particular, being terrible on hills. Beside … these new tractors will pull stuff!
Ok, So what problems will some owners have with the new Turn Tight Steering?
1. Speed. When the grass is very wet or very dry is becomes slippery. ESPecially when you are mowing downhill it can be slippery enough that your tractor will not want to turn well. Because you are inside the magical "14 inch" radius the
Turn Tight will be a little more sensitive to these types of turns and there will be times when you can not use the Turn Tight feature. So what do you do? Plain and simple – slow down to make your turns. When you come up to your turn slow down to a "walking speed" and then make your turn. Use common sense (your own experience mowing your lawn) to determine when you need to slow down and make a turn.
2. Camber and Radical Geometry. To help you turn Craftsman has put a small amount of negative camber into the steering. This causes the wheels to "tilt" towards the inside when you make a very sharp turn. This helps the tractor turn better, but …… if you mow in extremely sandy soil the front wheels may dig in and leaves scuff marks when you make the turn. So if you typically mow more sand burrs than grass you may find that you can not use the Turn Tight feature without teasing up your lawn. The solution, do not turn it as short as the actual mower will turn.
3. Wide Stance and Obstructions. Structurally this new front steering has been beefed up to handle the tighter turning radius but you need to realize it is now 2 inches wider than your old Craftsman riding mower. This means that you and your teenager need to watch out for the tree sticking out of the ground and the corner of the foundation the first few times you mow. If you smack a tree with the front steering going full speed you may just bend or break it.
4. Making sense of the negative reviews. Let's put the negative reviews you may read into perspective. There will be thousands of you who buy these new tractors. But how many will actually go back to the review sites and tell everyone else how you like your new yard tractor?
I have not asked Sears, Kmart and the review sites for specific data, but my educated guess is for every thousand mowers sold, 2 to 3 people write a review. And those reviews are skewed by owners who either really like their mower well enough to tell everyone else or by owners who have had problems with the mower (or the retailer) and need to vent. This skewing is further compounded by the fact if one person is really unhappy that they will go to ALL the review sites and vent.
If each of the 1000 Sears Full-Line stores sell only 20 yard tractors a year and each of the 1500 Sears Essentials, Sears Hardware and Sears Hometown stores sell only 10 a year that means at least 35,000 tractors sold. How many reviews do you usually see? Thousand? No, Go take a look on Sears.com. You will see 10 reviews, 26 reviews and in a few case maybe 60 or 70 reviews for a given tractor.
So when you read 5 negative reviews for a yard tractor on the review sites remember that there are at least another 5000 people out there who are satisfied enough with the tractor not to write.