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The Only Tractor Buying Guide You’ll Ever Need

February 28, 2024

Tractors are the king of all agricultural equipment. Quick, adaptable, and unimaginably easy to operate, these machines can boost efficiency and productivity on your farm. They can also minimize labor expenses, putting a dent in your farm operating costs. 

But, the sheer number of options makes deciding which tractor to buy challenging for most farmers. Selecting the right size can even be more daunting as different tasks require varying power levels. Besides, size also impacts upfront costs, fuel efficiency, operating expenses, soil compaction, and even resale value. 

This brings us to the big question: What is the best tractor to buy? Our exhaustive tractor buying guide can act as a compass, pointing you in the right direction. From type, size, transmissions, attachments, and budget, here are the top considerations when choosing a tractor tailored to your farm's unique requirements. 

Questions to Ask Yourself When Buying a Tractor 

When scouring the market for a tractor, ask yourself these questions before making your pick: 

What Kind of Tractor Do I Need?

Explore the different types of tractors available to find one that suits your specific needs. Your pool of options includes the following. 

Compact Tractors

Opt for a compact tractor if you are a homeowner or hobby farmer with about 10-50 acres. These machines, available in various sizes and shapes, are designed for small farms. Their horsepower typically ranges from 15 HP to 60 HP. This makes them versatile and suitable for performing various tasks, including heavy lifting, mowing, gardening, mining, snow removal, and landscaping. 

Some farmers prefer compact tractors to other options because they offer flexible operation. Beyond ease of use, they're pretty easy to maintain. Additionally, their small sizes enhance safety at the farm, plus they can do minimal damage in case of an accident. 

Sub-Compact Tractors 

With a lift capacity under 1,000 pounds, a sub-compact tractor is ideal if you plan to do light farm work on about 1-3 acres. Like a compact tractor, it can fit into small spaces. It is also effortless to operate, maintain, and store. 

The machinery's maneuverability makes it perfect for working around barns, trees, sheds, and other areas near your home. Moreover, you can use it for various tasks, ranging from garden preparation and snow removal to mowing and fence building. 

Most sub-compact tractor engines have a horsepower of 15-25. The machine's small size makes operating them comfortable, even on rough terrain. At the same time, these tractors are more affordable than many other models.

Utility Tractors 

A utility tractor is a powerful machine offering an amazing blend of power and versatility. This is the best tractor to buy when you need a multi-purpose tool for landscaping and heavy-duty agricultural activities like digging trenches, tiling, plowing, and mowing. They are also great for moving large heaps of dirt or sand. In fact, utility tractors are designed to handle just about any task on your farm.

Most utility tractor engines boast horsepower ranging from 40 HP to 100+ HP. In addition, they are compatible with a broad range of implements, depending on the task at hand. For instance, when clearing snow, pair it with an 8-foot snow blower attachment. You can get the job done quicker than when using a 4-foot model. These tractors have features like hydraulic systems and power take-off (PTO) to increase ease of use and attachment.

Although utility tractors are larger than their compact and subcompact counterparts, they are incredibly easy to maneuver and handle. Their fuel efficiency is also worthy of mention; it makes them ideal for farmers looking to save on fuel expenses. 

Agricultural Tractors 

Perfect for large-scale farming, agricultural tractors are powerful, versatile tools that you can use to execute light-duty tasks and heavy-duty fieldwork. These activities include plowing, tiling, mowing, and even the transportation of other equipment. The machines' horsepower ranges between 85 HP and 450 HP, guaranteeing excellent performance even on rough terrain. 

Similar to a utility tractor, an AG tractor can accommodate a host of implements. Again, these tools can weigh up to over 25,000 pounds. This could make handling them a bit challenging for first-timers. Thankfully, they are equipped with operator safety features like rollover protection structures (ROPS), lighting, and seat belts. 

How Much Horsepower Do I Need? 

Horsepower is another factor to mull over when buying a tractor. It influences the machine's speed and capability to perform different activities. Typically, a higher horsepower translates into more speed. This boosts efficiency by allowing you to quickly complete tasks like mowing and plowing. 

Various factors come into play when choosing the proper horsepower for your tractor. One of them is acreage or property size. Tractors with lower horsepower, ranging from 25 to 35 HP, are suitable for smaller plots of around five acres. On the other hand, tractors offering between 50 HP and 250 HP are suitable for about 20 acres. 

Field conditions are another important consideration when assessing the best horsepower for your needs. Use tractors with higher horsepower if you're working on tough terrain with heavy or compacted soils. They are powerful enough to overcome resistance while promising consistent performance. 

But before making your decision, keep in mind that there are two types of horsepower: 

  • Engine horsepower: This indicates the output of the tractor's engine, providing insight into its ability to perform various tasks. 
  • PTO (Power-take-off) horsepower Shows how much power the tractor can deliver to attached accessories or implements. As such, it impacts the attachments' performance. 


Ultimately, the ideal horsepower will depend on the activities you plan to complete and the attachments you'll use. For example, a PTO horsepower of about 50 to 75 is convenient for various bush hog models. 

What Kind of Transmission Do I Need? 

Transmission type is an aspect you can't afford to overlook when hunting for the best tractor for your farm. The system usually transmits engine power to the machine's wheels, determining its speed, the activities it's suited for, and its ease of operation. 

Here are the most common transmission systems for tractors: 

Manual transmission

These systems are typically found in older tractors. They require the operator to manually select and change gears using a clutch. 

Although manual transmission systems boast a simple design and give farmers more control over the machinery, they demand skill and experience. Otherwise, you might be unable to efficiently perform tasks requiring frequent speed changes. 

Gear-drive transmission

Gear-drive transmission systems lock tractors at a single speed. They are designed for rough terrain. Since they allow maximum PTO performance, they grant you the freedom to use an extended list of attachments based on your farm activities. 

Unfortunately, like manual transmissions, they are best suited for experienced users. Therefore, if you're a newbie, efficiently operating a tractor with a gear-drive transmission system could take many hours of practice. On the upside, these tools are more affordable than other options. 

There are four variations of gear-style transmissions: 

  • Power shift - Typically uses a clutch pack. There's a button that enables you to move the lever, shifting it up or down. 
  • Collar shift - Known for its reliability. Requires using a collar and fork between gear sets. 
  • Synchro shift - Works like a collar shift but comes with a synchronizer, which acts as a brake system. It enables you to "synchronize” speeds between gears to facilitate smoother shifts. 
  • Sliding gear - Leverages a shift fork for gear positioning. 


Hydrostatic transmission

These transmission systems transmit power using oil. As the operator, you can control the tractor's speed and direction with foot pedals. Some advantages of this transmission type include a long lifespan and seamless speed control. On the downside, it may experience performance issues in low and high-temperature environments. 

What Size Tractor Do I Need? 

A tractor's size is a crucial aspect to consider before making a purchase. This is because it influences the tool's horsepower, operating weight, loader lift capacity, and suitability for different tasks. 

Additionally, size affects field maneuverability. Smaller tractors, for example, are easier to move and steer. This renders them perfect for small fields or tight spaces. Conversely, large tractors are less maneuverable. They could cause damage to infrastructure and crops when used in confined areas. Therefore, consider your farm's size before putting your money into a tractor. 

Still, on the topic of size, think about operational efficiency based on the implements you want to use with the tractor and activities. A small option might not be an ideal match for large attachments. 

At the same time, a large tractor may be overkill for light tasks like mowing. It could result in a waste of fuel and resources. 

What's My Budget? 

At the end of the day, your budget determines the tractor you buy. Prices vary depending on the machinery's type, size, brand, and condition. 

Setting a budget shows you where to look and the features to expect. To avoid exceeding it, consider online auction sites like Purple Wave. You'll enjoy various benefits, including: 

  • A wide selection of tractors available for sale. 
  • A competitive bidding environment that results in fair pricing. 
  • Lower costs than other online sellers. 
  • Detailed information about the tractors up for sale, including specifications, condition, and inspection reports.  
  • A streamlined purchasing process that saves time for both buyers and sellers. 
  • Comprehensive tractor comparison to help you make an informed purchase decision.


Decoding Tractor Value: Guide to Evaluating a Tractor

Understanding how much a tractor is worth is essential before sinking your money into it. The best tractor value guide is to compare different pieces, assessing the features of each, including price. Here are the top things to look out for when evaluating a tractor's value: 

Attachments and Implements 

Tractors are built to work with various attachments and implements, such as stump grinders, post-hole diggers, rotary tillers, and seeders. Those that can accommodate a wide range of them are worth more as they're more useful on the farm. What's more, tractors with different accessories have heftier price tags as they offer more comprehensive solutions for farmers. 

The age, features, and brand of a tractor's attachments also help to determine its worth. For example, options equipped with state-of-the-art implements boast a higher market value. This is the same case with tractors whose attachments are in excellent condition and sourced from reputable companies. 

Comfort and Convenience 

The value of tractors with operator comfort features is higher than that of those without them. These include heating and air conditioning and protection from the elements. 

Some tractors may also have ergonomic advancements like color-coded controls that make operating easier for users. The visual aids not only boost productivity but also enhance the overall experience. 

How to Buy a Tractor on Purple Wave 

Ready to get your tractor off the market for field preparation, harvesting, crop maintenance, and other agricultural activities? Follow these steps to buy yours on Purple Wave:

Register Your Account

A registered account allows you to explore Purple Wave's large inventory of tractors. You can also review past selling processes and create a watchlist to keep track of the pieces on sale. 

Place Your Bid 

Once you find a tractor that interests you, place your bid. Purple Wave takes pride in being a no-reserve auction site, so items are sold to the highest bidder. With the highest bid, you'll likely walk home with the tractor that wins your heart.  

Complete the Sale 

If you're the winning bidder, pay for your tractor. It will be ready for pickup as soon as you make the payment. 

Find the Perfect Tractor with Purple Wave 

Hopefully, this tractor buying guide will help you bag a piece of equipment that suits your farm requirements. When ready to choose yours, make your first stop at Purple Wave. We are the premier choice for farmers needing high-quality, used tractors that deliver robust performance for diverse agricultural operations.

Our tractor auctions offer a diverse inventory with options ranging in size, horsepower, and capabilities. With our commitment to transparency and reliability, rest assured that you'll find the tractor that matches your needs. Browse our website to find the best tractor for your farm right now!