Small Farm Tractors: Choose Wisely

When choosing among used small farm tractors, here are a the most important factors to consider.

| March/April 1981

  • 068 small farm tractors 02 leaky hydraulics
    Beware of a machine with a leaky hydraulic system.
  • 068 small farm tractors 01
    You can find a bargain in the pool of available small farm tractors, but be sure to put the vehicle through its paces before making a purchase.
  • 068 small farm tractors 03 hydraulic lift controls
    Give the hydraulic lift controls a try too.
  • 068 small farm tractors 04 splined shaft
    The splined shaft running from the back of the tractor's differential is the "business end" of the vehicle's power takeoff  (PTO) assembly.

  • 068 small farm tractors 02 leaky hydraulics
  • 068 small farm tractors 01
  • 068 small farm tractors 03 hydraulic lift controls
  • 068 small farm tractors 04 splined shaft

The best source of information about small farm tractors for the first-time buyer (a source which, for some reason or other, most such people ignore) are the very farmers in your area who are already raising the kind of crops you aim to grow. So, when you're faced with the need to purchase one of the expensive implements, begin the search by visiting your neighbors.

Note the make and size of the tractors they're using, and ask for evaluations of the machines. (A pleased owner will often be fiercely loyal to his or her "pet" brand, but someone who feels that he or she has been sold a "lemon" will likely fill your ear with all sorts of horror stories. Use a little common sense when weighing extreme opinions and you'll learn a lot.) Ask, too, about the attachments each farmer owns in order to learn which accessories were a waste of money and which he or she wishes had been bought but weren't.

Working farmers can tell you a lot about tractor dealerships, too. The quality of the dealer is every bit as important as is that of the machine itself! Try to determine which sales outlets have good stocks of parts and reputations for quick service. I once had a tractor broken down for two full days—at the height of my busy season — because the dealer didn't have a two-cent packing washer for the machine's hydraulic system.

In fact, it's a good idea to buy a brand of tractor that's supported by two dealerships within a few hours' drive of your home. Then, if the closer establishment can't supply a part you need, you may still be able to keep your machine up and running by going to the other dealer in search of the required part.

A Tractor Field Guide

You may well be surprised to know that it's possible to buy a small farm tractor that's specifically designed to handle just about any task you can imagine. However, the two most common tractor types — and those that'll most likely satisfy the needs of the new farmer — are the utility tractors and the general purpose (also called "row crop") tractors.

Utility tractors are typically low and squat-looking. (A common example, in the lower price ranges, would be one of the Ford 8-N's manufactured in the 1950's.) Utility tractors are designed for pulling and powering implements — such as hay mowers, balers, disk harrows, and trailers — that are attached to either a hitch or a lifting mechanism at the rear of the tractor.

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