7 Options to Consider When Deciding What Compact Tractor to Buy
A compact tractor is a do-it-all workhorse for homeowners with acreage, farmers, landscapers and grounds maintenance crews. With many sizes and configurations on the market, there’s a compact tractor to match your work style. Plus, the learning curve is easy. Whether you’re new to the farm or a seasoned veteran, compact tractors are accessible to all operator levels. Here are 7 decisions to make when selecting a tractor for your work.
1. Tractor size
Tractors are usually grouped into four size categories:
- Garden: under 20 hp and generally used for mowing
- Sub-compact: under 25 hp and designed for light-duty work as well as tasks inside and outside of barns and sheds
- Compact: under 50 hp and ideal for a wide variety of applications on small- to medium-size properties
- Utility: 50-100 hp and designed for larger farms and maintaining livestock
When considering which tractor size is best for you, first determine the type of work you want to do – both now and in the future. Consider the size and layout of your property: the smaller the tractor, the more maneuverable the machine is, which could be important if you’ll be working close to buildings or inside barns or stables. If you want to pair your machine with tractor attachments and implements, make sure you select the tractor size and power needed to run them efficiently. Learn more about compact tractor sizing.
2. Compact tractor transmission options
There are four transmissions you can choose from when selecting a compact tractor, although not all are available with every model. Select a transmission based on your operator preference as well as the type of work you’ll be doing.
A manual tractor generally offers more PTO horsepower than a hydrostatic transmission, making it a smart choice for PTO-demanding implements. Beginner operators may feel more comfortable with a hydrostatic transmission, which works like the transmission in a small lawnmower and doesn’t require manual clutching and shifting.
- Non-Synchronized Gears: With a non-synchronized transmission, you must depress the clutch and stop the tractor to shift gears.
- Partially-Synchronized Transmission: This transmission is a more flexible system than non-synchronized and allows clutching and shifting between a limited number of gears without stopping the tractor. This non-synchronized transmission works great for jobs that require a constant speed, such as mowing.
- Fully-Synchronized Gears: This manual transmission provides the greatest ease of use, allowing you to clutch and shift between all speeds and ranges as you travel. Simple systems require clutching, more advanced systems are clutch-less. Some systems have a shuttle lever for forward and reverse operation.
- Hydrostatic Transmission (HST): A hydrostatic transmission is an ideal option if you need maximum ease of use or if you plan to operate your tractor mainly for front-end loader work. Independent foot pedals let you quickly and easily change direction from forward to reverse and back for superior maneuverability and ease of use.
- Electric Hydrostatic Transmission (E-HST): E-HST boasts all the same benefits of HST, however it also allows you to maintain your uphill speed without travel pedal adjustments.
3. Compact tractor implements and attachments
To get more versatility and value out of your tractor, you’ll want to outfit it with attachments and implements.
- Front-end loader: Ideal for light-duty grading, leveling and snow removal as well as material handling around your property.
- Mid-mount mower: Cuts grass in areas where maneuverability is tight.
- Backhoe: Transforms your compact tractor into a powerful excavator for working on landscape installations, septic systems and other digging applications
Implements, which are tools that connect to the rear of the tractor, include:
Angle blade: Great for leveling, backfilling, grading and removing snow around farms or acreages.
- Auger: Installs fence posts, plants trees or digs footings for a new deck.
- Box blade: Best for leveling, backfilling, grading and moving a variety of material.
- Rotary cutter: Quickly cuts overgrown grass, stalks and light brush to help you keep pastures and other areas of your acreage looking great.
- Tiller: Perfect for cultivating, aerating and stirring up soil for gardens, food plots and other tillage needs.
- Tine rake: Ideal for smoothing, raking or contouring soil surfaces in preparation for planting or seeding.
4. Compact tractor cab comfort options
Compact tractors are available with and without enclosed cabs. An enclosed cab tractor comes with a higher price tag, but the cost may be worth it since it allows you to stay warm and dry in snow and rain. You’ll also stay comfortable in extreme conditions thanks to air conditioning. An open cab tractor is a good choice if you’ll mostly be doing work that requires getting on and off of the tractor often.
Adding more options to your tractor, such as extra lights and mirrors, can help improve visibility, as well as comfort. Comfort features like suspension seats, ergonomic controls and cruise control allow you to stay out working comfortably as long as you want to.
5. Compact tractor PTO types
A tractor’s power take-off (PTO) is the power source for all powered implements, such as mowers and post hole diggers. A rear PTO is standard on all tractors, and some machines have a mid PTO as well. You can choose an independent PTO or a live PTO. An independent PTO’s speed is fully independent of the tractor’s ground speed and can be engaged or disengaged while the tractor is moving. A live PTO is also independent of tractor speed, but you must stop the tractor to engage or disengage the PTO.
When deciding the horsepower you will need in a tractor, first consider the power needed by any attachments or implements you’ll want to use. You always want the PTO horsepower of the tractor to be higher than the horsepower required by the attachment or implement.
6. Compact tractor hitch categories
All compact tractors use a 3-point hitch to attach rear-mounted implements. This style of hitch consists of an adjustable top link centered above two lower link arms, comprising the three points. An implement attaches to the hitch using connecting pins at each point. There are four industry-defined categories of 3-point hitch, and each is determined by the size of the connecting pins and the strength of the components.
- Category 0: Best for tractors under 20 hp. The top link pin is 5/8 inch and the lift arm pin is 5/8 inch.
- Category 1: Ideal for tractors with 20 to 50 hp. This size of hitch has a 3/4-inch top link pin and a 7/8-inch lift arm pin.
- Category 1 Limited: Commonly found on sub-compact tractors, this hitch uses the same pin size as a Category 1 but the capacity is restricted due to the size and lift height of the tractor.
- Category 2: Designed for tractors in the 50 to 100 hp range. The top link pin is 1 inch and the lift arm pin is 11/8 inches.
- Category 3: Great for tractors with over 100 hp. This hitch has a top link pin at 11/4 inches and a lift arm pin at 17/16 inches.
7. Compact tractor tire options
Choosing the right tire for your compact tractor is essential for traction, flotation, minimizing ground disturbance, wear and overall performance on your property. The three main tire choices are:
- Agricultural tires (R-1): Agricultural tires feature deep, directional lugs for optimal traction and self-cleaning in soft soil and mud. They deliver more power to the ground when towing heavy loads or pulling implements.
- Turf tires (R-3): Turf tires offer excellent traction while minimizing damage to lawns and finished surfaces. These tires work well when there is a need to be extra ground-conscious on established landscaping or sandy soil.
- Industrial tires (R-4): Industrial tires are designed for maximum traction and versatility in a wide range of applications. They provide long wear and outstanding protection against punctures. With a wider tread than agricultural tires and deeper lugs than turf tires, industrial tires keep operators moving in all ground conditions.
Ready to find your perfect compact tractor match? Learn more about each of our models.