Compact Tractors: What to Consider When Buying
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Since many makers offer several tractor chassis sizes in overlapping hp ranges, you will also want to consider the weight of implements and other devices you plan to push or pull with the tractor. In general, the more the machine weighs, the more traction you will have for moving and stopping. So if you’re like me and love the sound of a direct-injected, turbocharged diesel engine’s turbo spooling up – consider carefully whether you really need that extra power compared with the non-turbocharged engine. If you really don’t need it, save yourself some money and buy what you need, not what you want. Likewise, if you need more PTO power, but not a heavier platform, consider making the power upgrade in a smaller chassis machine.
Compact tractor makers have gone to great lengths to market new machines that “drive just like your car.” What that really means is that designers have taken the traditional operating steps out of the operator’s realm. There was a time when small tractors of all kinds had at least two and sometimes three gear selector levers – one controlled the speed range (high/low), one the speed (first through fourth gears), and many had a separate control lever for direction called a shuttle (forward/reverse).
For folks with plenty of tractor experience, this vintage-style setup makes complete sense, and the need to stop and clutch the tractor to change gears isn’t an issue. Many of the more-recent compact tractors have traded their traditional transmissions for a hydrostatic version that employs one or two pedals to control both speed and direction. An even newer variation on the pedal-controlled transmission theme is the continuously variable transmission (CVT), which uses mechanical speed modulation instead of hydraulic flow – in both cases, the “easy” transmission options added quite a bit to the tractor’s price tag.
Generally, if you plan to do a lot of direction and speed changes such as with intensive front-end loader work, the hydro or CVT will make that work easier and arguably more efficient. The next best option would be a tractor with a synchronized or automatic clutching shuttle shift transmission. That way you would only need to slow and clutch for the directional changes. If money is worth more than convenience or your time, then you can go for the traditional straight gear transmission. You will need to stop, clutch and make a transmission shift to change directions – but in other operations such as field mowing, the hydro, CVT or shuttle options don’t offer that much advantage under most conditions.