How Many Hours Is A Lot For A Tractor?

Tractors. They need no introduction. They’re the workhorse of many modern businesses and farms.

There are few investments a farmer or landowner will make in their careers more significant than their tractor. If it breaks down or needs repairs, the whole operation all but shuts down to wait.

Of course, we know that it’s not just farmers who use tractors, but they are their most usual employers.

Without an operational tractor, the field can’t be prepared, the seeds can’t be sown, and the crop can’t be harvested… unless you have a stand-alone, self-propelled machine for all of these activities.

A farm without a tractor is like a hotdog without a bun. You want to get the right tractor weight for the job at a reasonable price. There are many factors to take into account to get the correct machine for your needs.

The first question is always “do I buy new or second-hand?”. New tractors give you peace of mind under warranty, but they are extremely expensive and only depreciate in value.

With many farmers operating on tight margins, it’s far likely you’re looking at a suitable used tractor for a fraction of the price.

When buying a used tractor, just like with a personal vehicle, you’ll need to give it a once over. When buying a used car, the first thing you’d check is the mileage.

Tractors use engine hours rather than mileage, as it’s a more accurate way of recording and communicating the demands that have been made of the machine over the years. A tractor may not move a great distance while performing a great deal of work. With that in mind, how many is “a lot” when it comes to engine hours and how many is too many?

Let’s find out.

The Hour Factor

As a rule, second-hand tractors are sold with the information about how many hours of work their engines have performed. This informs you, the prospective new owner of the machine, how light or hard it has been used so far in its life.

For example, a tractor may indicate that it has 400 hours on it. Sounds like a lot, but tractors are very resilient vehicles, and they are designed for hard work.

There are many factors that can affect the quality of the tractor, and most people put engine hours near the top of the list.

Its generally felt that four or five thousand hours is a great deal for a used tractor and you should be mindful of that if at or approaching these numbers.

Anything under that and you’ve probably found a moderately or gently used tractor which is ideal.

Example of why to check the drawbar on a used tractor.

The Year Factor

With all that said, engine hours aren’t the be-all and end-all of used tractors. Its age has an effect on the potential capabilities of the engine and it can help you understand how often the tractor has been used too.

For example, if you’re looking at a second-hand tractor that has 2000 engine miles on its clock, but is only a year old, that means that this tractor has been used on average for over 38 hours a week. And, if the tractor PTO has been used that whole time that should be put into consideration.

That’s about as much as most humans with full-time jobs work. That means that the tractor has been very well used, and you’ll need to balance that negative with the fact that it’s relatively new to make your decision.

Alternatively, you might see an advert for a second-hand tractor that has the same 2000 hours on its engine but is four years old.

You might think that a one-year-old tractor will beat a four-year-old every time, however, the engine hours suggest that this tractor has been less heavily used over that time, and it’s probably a little more affordable since it’s older. On balance the four year old tractor is probably the better choice in this instance.

To work out how many hours a week this tractor has been put through; take the number of weeks in a four-year period (it’s two hundred and eight), and then divide the engine hours (2000) by the number of months (208).

You’ll see that this second tractor has only been used for just over nine and a half hours a week. Part time job at best!

This is not a fool-proof method of deducing the condition of the tractor, obviously. It could be that the tractor was heavily used in its first year before it was essentially replaced by a larger one and the first has now barely been run for the last three years.

That suggests the tractor wasn’t cared for or may have been neglected for some time, so you’ll need to find out more.

The Pre-Loved Factor

The biggest factor that will affect the condition of the tractor is how well it has been maintained and cared for by its previous owners. If a tractor has been lightly used for hauling small loads from here to there and has been capably maintained by the farmer, then you should get plenty of engine hours out of it yet.

Then again, if a tractor has not been run consistently and had attention paid to its general care and maintenance then it’s likely to disappoint you.

Check the gauges and brakes on your tractor in the spring, before the heavy summer harvest begins, and try to run it here and there during the winter as well, just to keep it in good working order.

How Many Hours Is A Lot For A Tractor?
Tractor requiring draft control from less than ideal wheel bearings.

If you have a tractor, then it’s a good idea to record what maintenance you have performed on it, so if you ever need to sell it, you’ll be able to evidence that it has been regularly and competently cared for. As a seller you can win over the buyer following the same best practices above.

Make sure especially to note down things like tire changes, new batteries, and replacement parts so the new owners will be able to predict when they will next have to take care of those things in the future and factor in the costs.

If the owner of the tractor has taken it for a professional service by an official dealer, that is a big plus.

The Usage Factor

Tractors are designed to perform many different tasks and some are tougher than others.

If you’re buying from a hobby farmer or farmstead owner, the tractor is likely to have faced easier tasks on a smaller scale than if you are buying from a huge industrial farm.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to ask questions about what the tractor has been used for in a typical year. Is it used for hauling light loads around the farm, or even just as a method of transportation over the rural soil?

If so, it should have plenty of life left in it.

Then again if it has been the sole tractor on a multi-field farm and has cultivated, drilled, sown, and mown all the areas of the farm by itself, then you’re going to need to be realistic about the remaining life of the tractor in continuing to perform high intensity and high-output tasks like towing heavy loads and plowing fields.

The Takeaway

If you aren’t sure about how to go about finding a good quality second-hand tractor, then stick with these basic guidelines.

Remember that while anything under four thousand engine miles (or three thousand for compact tractors), is considered good for a used machine, this is not the only factor you should take into consideration.

Pay attention to the consistency and quality of maintenance to the vehicle, the age of the tractor, and the kind of work it usually did.

If in doubt, find a friendly farmer who is more knowledgeable about farm machinery than you and ask their advice.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, because if you aren’t a born and raised farmer, you’re unlikely to be an expert on quality second-hand farm machinery. 

If possible, get your farmer friend to accompany you to look at the tractor because they’ll know exactly what to ask.

Ryan Genkin
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