Equipment matters: Selecting a utility tractor

Updated Dec 6, 2019

These five areas merit special consideration before you purchase a tractor.


If you work on turf, get turf tires. Their flotation and non-aggressive tread pattern are gentle on sensitive surfaces. But opt for agriculture tires if you work on soil, mud or rocks, or if you’ll use your tractor for pulling or pushing. Turf tires lack the traction and the durability to perform well in these conditions. Industrial tread patterns split the difference. Their lugs are wider and shallower than those on ag tires, and they have rounded edges. Industrial-tread tires work well for general usage.

Two-wheel or four-wheel drive

For turf applications, two-wheel drive is adequate, although four-wheel drive can reduce the risk of wheel spin in conditions where traction is compromised. A locking differential helps make a two-wheel drive tractor suitable for fairly demanding tasks, such as tilling and grading. For really challenging chores in soft or loose underfoot conditions, four-wheel drive is the right choice. Keep in mind the higher acquisition and operating costs.

Power take-off

There are two locations for a power take-off, midpoint and at the rear. Midpoint PTOs are used almost exclusively with mid-mount (“belly”) mowers. Rear PTOs drive a wide variety of equipment. Keep two things in mind about PTO power ratings. First, they’re less than the power rating for the engine and reflect actual PTO output, which is affected by frictional and other losses between the engine and the PTO spline. Second, the industry standard for PTO power ratings is output at 540 rpm.

Attachment points

Three-point hitches are categorized according to tractor drawbar power. Specifications vary by category, and implements that fit one category of hitch may not fit another. While three-point hitches accommodate a wide range of implements, virtually all other mounting points are proprietary. Each fits a specific brand of tractor and probably just specific models within that brand. If you know you’ll want to use certain implements, make sure they’re available for the tractor you’re considering.


The appeal of a cab is obvious. Pressurization keeps dust infiltration to a minimum, and heat and air conditioning keep the operator comfortable. But, the downsides include higher purchase price and increased maintenance.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Richard Ries.

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