A tractor is a vehicle with large rear wheels, designed for lifting, pulling, and pushing heavy loads. It gets its name from the fact that it’s designed to deliver high traction at low speed. Its main characteristics include four-wheel drive, power steering, and a diesel engine.
Often thought of only as farm equipment, tractors can do far more than agricultural tasks. In fact, you may be surprised at how many different types of tractors are used not just as farm machinery but also for large industrial tasks and specialty jobs as well as for vast earthmoving projects and small residential ones. All of these tractors have unique features and uses.
In this article, we go over the nine main types of tractors, what they’re used for, and how to select the right one for your needs.
1. Industrial Tractors
Industrial tractors, also called tuggers, are tractors designed for use in industrial applications, like construction sites. They use a drawbar to attach implements, like crane booms, as opposed to the three-point hitch used in farm tractors. They also have four-wheel drive, making them suited for off-road use. They’re mostly designed for pulling functions, pulling heavy loads like logs or other materials.
Industrial tractors are heavy-duty equipment as compared to agricultural tractors, though they come in a variety of horsepowers and strengths.
The primary uses for industrial tractors include:
- Towing the heaviest loads: Industrial tractors are equipped to move heavy loads of materials, such as logs, through a construction site or help you accomplish land-clearing tasks.
- High capacity lifting: In addition to tremendous power, their movable arms and attachments make industrial tractors very effective for lifting projects.
- Industrial and construction work: From transporting material to demolishing debris, industrial tractors can perform a variety of functions on a construction site.
2. Row Crop Tractors
Row crop tractors are like hybrid vehicles—they combine the functions of both farm tractors and cultivators, like rotary tillers, in one machine. They’re used for many agricultural tasks, like plowing, leveling, harrowing, mowing, weed control, and pulling seed drills. They can also be fitted with attachments like threshers, water pumps, sprayers, and heavy-duty lifters to increase pulling capacity, all supported by power take-off (PTO).
These tractors are generally easy to operate, with easy steering and excellent row-spacing abilities.
The primary uses for row crop tractors include:
- Cultivating row crops: Row crop tractors can perform many of the functions of cultivating crops, from seeding, to watering, to weed control.
- Plowing: These tractors can be used to plow fields, or clear the land of things like snow.
- Hauling and towing: They pull heavy loads like farm equipment, crop supplies, and other materials you may need to transport.
3. Orchard Tractors
Orchard tractors are a special kind of tractor. As the name suggests, they’re designed for use exclusively in orchards. They’re tall, narrow, and uncovered, allowing the driver to navigate through the rows of trees in an orchard and even pick fruit while seated in the tractor. Their tires are also specially equipped for orchards, with more durable treads to prevent puncture from thorns or other fruit and flower related debris.
In addition to their special design for orchard applications, they still share the same basic function as other tractors, with the ability to push and pull, as well as the functions of farm tractors, like plowing and sowing.
The primary uses of orchard tractors include:
- Pushing and pulling machinery or trailers: Though they aren’t as heavy-duty as other types of tractors, orchard tractors are still equipped to transport farm equipment.
- Plowing fields or farmland: They’re useful in plowing, particularly in narrow areas around trees.
- Sowing seeds: These tractors are used in a variety of orchard cultivation tasks, including sowing seeds, caring for plants, and harvesting fruits.
- Discing or tilling: These tractors can be used to disc (till) soil for planting, preparing orchards for tree growth.
4. Compact Tractors
Compact tractors are small agricultural tractors, designed for homeowners or small farms. Their compact size makes them better suited for small acreages and are easier to maneuver in small and narrow spaces.
Generally, they’re equipped with a 540-rpm PTO to power attachments. Like other farm tractors, compact tractors use a three-point hitch, which, due to their size, falls into Category 1. Categories in farm tractors refer to the horsepower capacity of their three-point hitches. That means a Category 1 tractor, like the compact tractor, is under about 50 horsepower, and uses lighter-weight versions of attachments like blades, scrapers, and tillers.
The primary uses of compact tractors include:
- Landscaping: Compact tractors are designed to perform landscaping tasks, like mowing and tilling, even on somewhat uneven terrain.
- Snow removal: They’re also used in land-clearing, helping remove snowfall from your land.
- Hauling and pulling: These tractors are equipped to transport materials or other equipment involved in small land projects.
5. Sub-Compact Tractors
Sub-compact tractors are compact tractors in a smaller package. They perform many of the same functions of compact tractors, but with a smaller frame and at a more affordable cost. Easy to maneuver, they’re best suited for first-time tractor owners with small farms or acreages.
The primary uses of sub-compact tractors include:
- Hobby farming: Their lightweight frame and ease of use makes them ideal for first-time farmers or homeowners with landscaping projects.
- Mowing small areas: The small sizes of sub-compact tractors makes them well-equipped for navigating and caring for small areas of land.
- Smaller towing and hauling: While they aren’t as powerful as heavy-duty tractors, these tractors can still pull substantial loads.
6. Utility Tractors
Utility tractors are general purpose vehicles with multiple functions. They support a variety of agricultural tasks and landscaping activities, like mowing grass, digging trenches, and transporting piles of dirt or gravel, and support several power take-off attachments, like plows and tillers. Generally, utility tractors fall into the horsepower range of 40 to 100+. Though these vehicles are powerful and versatile, they’re also compact, making them easy to maneuver.
The primary uses of utility tractors include:
- Heavy-duty jobs: The versatility of utility allows them to perform both finer tasks as well as heavy-duty jobs, like hauling heavy equipment, livestock, and other materials.
- Livestock hauling: Utility tractors can be used to safely deliver livestock, like cattle, to another area of the farm or to a different location, like a processing plant.
- Agricultural field work: They’re useful in many agricultural tasks, like mowing, plowing, and tilling.
7. Garden Tractors
Garden tractors, or lawn tractors, are tractors designed for use by homeowners in their lawns or gardens. They’re small and low-power, generally ranging from 1 to 10 horsepower, an appropriate amount for tasks a homeowner might need to complete. Their tires are similar to a scooter’s, though with much thicker treads for better traction and durability. They’re used for things like cutting grass and creating new flower beds for planting.
The primary uses of garden tractors include:
- Mowing lawns: The primary function of garden tractors, they’re well-equipped to mow lawns, allowing the homeowner to navigate the mower from a seated position.
- Snow removal: They can be used to plow and remove snowfall over a small area, like a yard.
- Moving yard waste: They’re powerful enough to clear and transport yard waste from landscaping activities.
- Landscaping: They can be used in several landscaping tasks, like clearing land and creating new flower beds.
8. Specialty Tractors
Specialty tractors are tractors designed for unique operations. This kind of tractor encompasses many different actual types of tractors, each built for different applications. Specialty tractors are designed with challenging dimensions and difficult environments in mind, allowing them to perform functions outside of the typical tractor, or to perform a tractor’s functions in an area where a regular tractor couldn’t function, like tight corners or rough terrain.
Some types of specialty tractors include:
- Narrow tractors: Narrow tractors are designed to twist and turn in especially tight spaces, making it possible to move through and service extremely narrow areas of land.
- Crawler tractors: A crawler is a type of track tractor. Instead of wheels, crawler tractors have continuous roller belts, or tracks, to propel them, making them stable enough for work on rough ground conditions.
- Low-profile tractors: Low profile tractors are tractors with low ground clearance designs. While narrow tractors are typically smaller in terms of width, low-profile tractors are smaller in terms of height, allowing them to work in hard-to-reach spaces.
The primary uses of specialty tractors include:
- Narrow operations between rows and trees: The design of narrow tractors allows them to fit between rows of crops and trees more easily, navigating the natural twists and turns of growth patterns.
- Work on steep grades: The stabilizing tracks of crawler tractors allow them to safely function on steep grades and uneven terrain.
- Jobs in hard-to-reach areas: Whether the job area has low clearance, is ultra-narrow, or on mountainous, uneven terrain, each of these types of tractors is designed to accomplish tasks in hard-to-reach places.
9. Earthmoving Tractors
Earthmoving tractors are the most heavy-duty of all types of tractors. This kind of tractor is powerful and extremely heavy, best for work on construction sites. Whether it’s for digging a basement, leveling a surface, or helping construct a dam or quarry, they’re equipped to move all types of debris, including dirt, mud, rocks, and lumber.
The main types of earthmoving tractors include:
- Excavators: These earthmoving vehicles are generally used to excavate the ground, meaning they’re equipped to dig deep and move tons of dirt or soil. Their design features a bucket, arm, and movable tracks to excavate and haul away debris.
- Bulldozers: These earthmoving tractors are equipped with a large, upright blade at the front for clearing ground. Bulldozers are used to clear a variety of debris, like dirt, snow, rubble, and rock.
- Backhoes: Also known as a rear actor or a backactor, backhoe loaders perform a similar function to excavators. Though they’re smaller than excavators, they can perform double-duty, due to having two working implements: a blade in front, and a digger in back.
The primary uses of earthmoving tractors include:
- Trench digging: Earthmovers can remove earth rapidly at depth to shovel out trenches and other holes.
- Landscape grading: Earthmoving tractors can easily grade and flatten a surface to prepare it for work.
- Mining and drilling: Earthmoving tractors, especially excavators, have the ability to dig deep and move heavy amounts of earth, making it possible to excavate mines and prepare a site for drilling.
- Underground and underwater jobs: Amphibious earthmovers can be used to dig into and under bodies of water, like swamps, and can also be used in submarine cable or pipeline laying.
- Moving and transporting earth and debris: With their high load-bearing capacity, earthmovers can easily move earth from cavities they’ve created, or be used in clearing debris from the land.
- Job site cleanup: Their load-bearing capacity and incredible horsepower makes them efficient in clearing debris.
- Demolition: Earthmoving tractors, especially excavators, are powerful enough to demolish certain structures, like slabs, concrete footers, and other debris.
How to Choose the Right Tractor
With so many types of tractors to choose from, it can be difficult to determine which suits your needs best. Here are some questions to consider on your search for the right tractor.
- What job do you need to do? Every job has different needs. If you’re working on a construction site and need to move heavy loads, you might need an earthmoving tractor. If your job involves agricultural tasks, you’ll be better off with a farm tractor.
- How much space do you have? Smaller spaces typically require less in the way of strength and horsepower. In fact, using equipment that is too powerful for your job area may make the task harder than it has to be. If you’re dealing with a small farm or small acreage, a compact tractor or other lighter-weight vehicle is a better choice. Narrower spaces require narrower vehicles, while a larger area is more likely to need a row cropper or an earthmover, depending on the tasks involved.
- Are there any weather related factors to consider, such as soft soil? Some tractors function better on certain terrain. If you’re dealing with slippery or soft soil, a lighter weight tractor will be more effective as it’s less likely to sink.
- Do you need to use attachments? If so, what types of attachments do you need? While many tractors share similar attachments, they aren’t all the same. Also, for tractors with a three-point hitch, the category the vehicle falls into affects the power and capacity of its implements.
- How heavy are the materials you need to lift, tow, or transport? The heavier the materials you need to move, the more heavy-duty your tractor needs to be.
Why Rent a Tractor Vs. Buying?
While there are some advantages to owning your own vehicle, renting a tractor may be more economical than buying. Though tractors are rising in popularity, with the global market size for agricultural tractors projected to reach $81.4 billion by 2027, most people still can’t afford to purchase one outright.
As tractors become more common in industries outside of the typical agricultural and construction uses—such as at schools, hobby farms, by landscapers, and by homeowners renting makes them more accessible to more people, offloading costs like maintenance and allowing the user to try a variety of tractor types, depending on their needs.
We hope this article has helped on your search to find the right tractor for your job. Ready to take the next step? Check out the BigRentz equipment rental directory for all your heavy equipment needs.