How to Choose the Right Utility Tractor

Utility Tractor Transmissions

Farmer Mel Babbert, age 75, climbs into his tractor on land he farms near Canal Winchester, Ohio.
Farmer Mel Babbert, age 75, climbs into his tractor on land he farms near Canal Winchester, Ohio.
AP Photo/Paul Vernon

If you've ever been stuck behind a belching, lurching tractor on a country road, you might think that operating one of these machines is hard work. And, to a degree, it is -- you definitely need to know what you're doing. Still, since most utility tractors are designed for consumer use, they can actually be quite a comfortable place to do your home and garden chores.

Some buyers may be concerned about having to deal with using a tractor with a manual transmission for lawn care. Since most Americans don't drive a car with a standard transmission, and driving a car with a manual transmission at slow speeds is more difficult than it is at high speeds, driving a tractor with a manual transmission slowly around your lawn and garden can be pretty intimidating.

Luckily, it doesn't have to be. While some utility tractors still have manual transmissions, most large tractors now have Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVTs). To the driver, CVTs operate like an automatic, though under the hood they use an infinite range of gear ratios, instead of a set number. However, odds are you won't be able tell the difference between the feel of an automatic and a CVT on a tractor.

A benefit of a utility tractor with a CVT is that a tractor's powertrain isn't just used to move the tractor from point A to point B. It's also used to power various attachments. In a tractor, a CVT always delivers the right amount of power to the attachment -- something that a human operator with a manual transmission may not always be able to do. While tractors with manual transmissions do fine, for less experienced buyers, one with a CVT may be easier to live with. A more reliable and flexible model has been introduced that performs above and beyond the CVT models. The Hydrostatic transmission feels like an automatic to the driver, while allowing for any possible transmission speed. This also allows for rapid change of direction as well.