Buying your first tractor is a daunting experience if you have not grown up on a farm and been around these amazing machines all your life.  There are so many choices and decisions to make.

My strong advice to you in buying your first tractor is to talk to as many people as you can who own tractors and talk to them about what they are using and how they use it.  Then make up a list of jobs you want to do on your place and then work out what kind of features you need on a tractor.  Something like this:

Task you need to do What your tractor needs
Scooping up manure Front loader
Slashing down grass & weeds Bush hog – which means you need a PTO and a 3 pt hitch
Mowing lawns Underbelly mower or a rear pull finishing mower – which means you need a mid PTO or a rear PTO and 3 pt hitch
Fencing Post hole digger with auger – which needs a PTO and a 3 pt hitch
Snow clearing Snow blower – which needs a PTO and 3 pt hitch OR a a front snow plow OR just a loader
Tilling gardens Rear tiller – which needs a PTO and 3 pt hitch
Manure spreading Manure spreader – which needs a 3 pt hitch.  Some need a PTO

If you don’t know what types of equipment you need, then go ask at a tractor dealer, or ask a friendly farmer..let them know the sort of tasks you want to do and see how they respond.   Having the list will help you to make decisions later.

 

Buying your first tractor – a guide

There are so many options and decisions you need to make and so here is my laypersons guide to help you get a head start on what these things and choices are:

Size

There are two issues here you need to consider.  One is how much physical power you need to have in your tractor.  Most homesteaders with 10 or less acres who are slashing fields, moving objects with the leader etc can use a 24 horse power machine very effectively and get everything done.   If you have more acres than that that need to be cut for hay or tilled, you might need to look at a slightly larger machine – like a 30 or so horse power.  The larger the tractor the more power it will have in its PTO (see below)

The second consideration is where you need to use a tractor and the size limits that has.  If you need it to work inside a small barn area, then a larger tractor will make it difficult and a smaller machine will be ideal.

Diesel or Gasoline

Most tractors are diesel.   This is because they can get a lot more power from a smaller amount of fuel – and so its more economical.  However, some folks like to have a gasoline powered tractor so they use the same fuel in all your farm and family equipment.   The one downside of diesel is that it has a tendency to thicken in extremely cold temperatures (it turns to a jelly) requiring it to be warmed to get it flowing.   Engine block heaters may be needed if you live in places with extreme winter temperatures.  That said, modern diesel engines are designed to work in all these extremes.   Which fuel type is really a personal choice.

4 wheel or 2 wheel drive

Having a 4 wheel drive tractor can really help you on steeper slopes and in muddy/snowy conditions.  In some situations, like dragging out a buried rock, having 4 wheel drive makes a difference to the power that you can use.   However, 4 wheel drive means more moving parts to wear out or break.   Still, a wonderful compromise is a tractor that can engage 4 wheel drive when needed.   For my money, having a 4 wheel drive was worth it!

Buying your first tractor

 

Power Take-Off (PTO)

A PTO is a place to connect a shaft that is powered by the tractors engine to operate machinery.  Most modern tractors have one at the back of the tractor so you can attach mowers, post hole diggers (augers) and other equipment that has rotating parts.   Some tractors also have a PTO in the middle – underneath.  The mid body PTO powers lawn mowers that are under the tractor (called belly mount mowers) and sometimes can drive front powered device, such as a snow blower.

Early PTO’s were directly attached to the drive mechanisms of the tractor, and so the tractor had to be in gear for them to operate.   Later PTO’s were developed to run independently from the tractors gears, and these are called Live PTO’s.

Most small lawn tractors do not have a PTO.  Older tractors may not have one either…and so its always worth checking.

A tractor without a PTO (and that would mean a very old tractor) really will limit you to what you can do around your farm.

Buying your first tractor
Rear PTO

However, also know that some of the worse farm accidents happen because people get caught up in the spinning shafts coming of a PTO.   PTO connected equipment, like all farm equipment, need to be used following all the safety guidelines to ensure you and your family/friends are not injured.

3 pt hitch

This is a three-point hook up system on the back of the tractor that is attached to hydraulics that allows you to raise and lower equipment.  This is essential for things like mowers, counter weights and other devices.  Again, some very old tractors do not have these and they are not found on lawn tractors.

Buying your first tractor
3 pt hitch – connected to a weight box

These systems are broken down into a number of categories and so you need to know what system you have to match equipment to your tractor.

Category Tractor size(Horse power)
0 Up to 20
1 20 to 45
2 40 to 100

Having a 3 pt hitch along with a PTO means you are all set to attach almost any piece of equipment to make your farm work easier and faster.

Loader

For homestead work, the most essential piece of equipment attached to a tractor is a loader.  This bucket device can be raised lowered and tilted using hydraulics.  It can be used to scoop (its called a loader for a reason), scrape, dig and more.  It is a wonderful tool for just loading heaving objects on and moving them around the farm – like rocks, fence posts etc.

Buying your first tractor
A tractor without a loader is like a car without seats!

I think you should always looks for a tractor with a load included in the deal.  Getting a loader to fit older machines may prove to be difficult and expensive.

ROPS

ROPS are Roll Over Protection Structures that can be found on all modern tractors.   These have been developed to protect you if the tractor rolls on a steep slopes or other causes.   They are bars found behind the drivers seat that extend up into the air and many are also used to mount lights and reflectors.   Many older tractors do not have these…. and honestly, its worth having these retrofitted.  They will save your life!

You can get ROPS that fold down so you can store your tractor in a low headroom barn or garage.

Buying your first tractor Buying your first tractor

Tires

You seem to have two major choices in types of tires on tractors – turf or agricultural.  The choice you make will depend on the types of work you want to do.  If you want to mow lawns, then a turn tire will not cut up the grass by just driving over it as some agricultural tires will.  On the other hand, turf tires might not give the the same traction as an agricultural tires.

You may also find that snow chains may fit more easily on turn tires than agricultural tires doe to the clearance under the wheel rims.  Its worth asking!   Also tires can be ‘loaded’ – that is filled with a liquid to add weight to help with traction.

On second hand tractors, check the wear on the tires and side walls for cracks and rot.  Replacing a set of tires can be very expensive.

Other factors

When buying your first tractor you might also want to consider things like resale value, maintenance and service options available in your area.  For example, there is no doubt that a well established brand of tractor will mean you have a greater resale value over a rarer or newer tractor company.   Knowing how well or how to maintain your tractor will also be important.  I good rule of thump is that any second-hand tractor that is reaching or over 1000 hrs (tractor usage is measured in hours not miles) should have had or will need a major overhaul to ensure continued long use.


 

Buying your first tractor can be scary….i know…I just did it!   But talking to others and having a good idea on what you will want to use it for and using the information in guides like this, will help make more informed decisions.

 

I would also suggest watching the following video series from the University of Minnesota Extension

Buying your first tractor

6 thoughts on “Buying your first tractor

  • December 10, 2015 at 3:10 pm
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    I am going to buy a new small tractor but I am torn between a John Deere or a Kabota . Which do you like better.

    Reply
    • December 11, 2015 at 5:31 am
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      I looked at both…and for me it was a decision based on where the closest place was for me to get service and parts if I had an issue. And so I ended up with a used John Deere as my local town had a large and well respected dealer.

      A friend of mine used to say ‘only buy a car that you can buy the parts in 7/11s’ and in a way that is sort of true for tractors. You want it to be easy and convenient to get parts when you have a problem.

      Reply
  • September 11, 2016 at 12:23 pm
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    Good article. Thanks for the vid link at the end. Lots of info overall.

    Reply
    • September 11, 2016 at 12:28 pm
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      Thanks Ryan… I am glad it is helping others 🙂

      Reply
  • September 27, 2016 at 9:17 am
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    Thanks for this very informative article. I am planning on getting a tractor for my orchard to speed things up and this article gave me more ideas as to what I can do with my tractor aside from my ideal tasks for it.

    Reply
  • October 25, 2016 at 2:29 pm
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    I appreciate what you said about talking to as many people as you can who already own tractors before you even go to the dealer when you buy your first one. I wonder if salespeople at dealerships that sell tractors have experience being tractor owners? I’ll be asking around for people with experience if I ever need to purchase my own tractor.

    Reply

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