How to buy - Tractors -- 20hp to 50hp

With a huge choice of specifications available, be clear about current and potential needs.

Tractors are prime movers. They come in an array of designs and sizes, with engine powers to suit all. And they are popular. But there are lots of options, and first-time purchasers in particular should be sure of their requirements.

If your work involves mainly tillage or mowing on steep banks, perhaps a two-wheel tractor would be suitable. However, if your main business is landscaping you might be better off buying a skid-steer vehicle. Those working on turf should check out the latest turf vehicles; and a huge variety of ride-on mowers exists for cutting grass. Tractors are more likely to be the right option where you need all-round versatility.

So what size of tractor do you need? In recent years, tractors have been getting smaller in dimensions but bigger in terms of horsepower. Instead of having compacts covering the range up to about 35hp, there are tractors of 50hp with measurements similar to traditional compacts. Now we have the choice of sub-compacts, compacts and compact utility tractors.

Choose a model based on your power requirements. And that depends on what you want to do with the tractor and the nature of the sites it will work on. Will you be mowing, loading, towing, grading, excavating or powering other equipment such as woodchippers? Is the land flat or hilly?

The harder the work and the more difficult the terrain, the greater the power requirement will be. The tractor’s ground clearance becomes a major consideration on hilly sites and rough ground. The site will also determine the choice of tyres and may limit the weight of machine.

Gearing and manoeuvrability should be appropriate to the tasks and the site. You should also consider the traction required, the acreage of work to be tackled, the frequency of work and the speed needed both for the operation of implements and for any inter-site travel. Top speed is important when driving on the road — larger tractors often travel faster than smaller ones. In slippery conditions, four-wheel drive will be beneficial.

It is important, however, not just to pick the biggest you can afford. Yes, look at the weight of the tractor in relation to the implements it will carry and the work it will do, but consider the physical size of the tractor in relation to the spaces in which it will be doing those jobs.

Range of duties

Lawn tractors and others designed for light duties will be less expensive to purchase and are likely to have lower maintenance requirements than larger models, but may not be so robust and often lack some of the useful features and comfort of their bigger brothers.

Heavier-duty tractors, on the other hand, cost more to buy and generally require more maintenance but they tend to be more "tradable" when you want to replace or upgrade.

Consider the features you need. What about power take off, power steering, hydrostatic transmission, four-wheel drive and limited slip differential? These are likely to influence the size of tractor available and most of these options also consume engine horsepower.

The versatility of the tractor must match the range of work expected. If you are looking for a replacement tractor or upgrading your machine, don’t forget to consider the implements you already have in the shed.

It is wise to consider the type of work you may do in the future so the new machine does not hold back the development of your business.

As rain doesn’t very often stop work, look for a model that is capable of working in all weathers, performing tough duties on demand and that can be quickly switched from one task to another when weather does dictate a change of job. A cab will put the price up but may be necessary if the tractor is to be used  in winter months or dusty conditions.

Comfort reduces operator fatigue so, whether or not you opt for a cab, test the seating and layout of controls. Ease of operation also has an effect on performance. Also consider the noise levels, emissions and vibration from the operator’s point of view.

Fuel consumption and the costs of running the tractor should be included in your financial calculations.

Always choose a robust machine that is up to the job but don’t forget to check out the maintenance and servicing requirements — there is quite a lot of difference between the various models on the market in the UK.

Finally, be sure to understand the terms of the warranty.

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