In nearly 35 years selling tractors, Alfred Keesee learned to ask potential customers a key two-part question: "How much acreage do you have and what do you plan to do with the tractor?"
Answers are often more complex than most folks expect, because tractors often become the rolling Swiss Army knives of farm gear. A landowner might buy a tractor sized just fine for one purpose and then discover a laundry list of new uses that can leave the machine straining.
"Some of the people get steered wrong and the majority of them end up wanting to try to trade for a bigger tractor in a year," says Keesee, an owner of Wanette (Okla.) Tractor & Supply.
Realistic answers to pre-purchase questions guarantee buying a workhorse of a tractor that can tackle necessary chores with efficiency and safety, but buying too big also brings potential hassles.
"Some of the bigger tractors, such as a 125-horsepower model, use 5 gallons of diesel an hour, but a 75 horsepower might only use 2.5 gallons. That could be as much as $6 an hour cheaper to operate," he says. "In a day's time, you could be throwing away a lot of money."
Anyone with between 5 and 20 acres might consider tractors with engines ranging in size from 25 horsepower to 40 horsepower, Keesee says. Someone with 50 acres and the need to tackle chores such as moving round bales of hay would need at least a 50-horsepower capacity.
Making the proper choice, though, does depend on more than just acreage and horsepower. Attachments such as land-clearing equipment also factor into the equation.
"Before buying, you really need to read the (sales) literature, because 99 percent of the time companies will not misrepresent the horsepower needed to run their equipment," he says. "You don't want to have a bush hog that your tractor might manage to pull to the field but won't run once it gets there."
First-time tractor buyers should also remember tractors can work hard for decades, which brings maintenance costs into consideration. Before buying a tractor with the latest options, such as a high-tech transmission, weigh the potential maintenance cost once the manufacturer's warranty ends, Keesee advises.
Consider buying, when possible, from a tractor dealer responsible for doing the warranty work in-house, and always ask other customers of the business about their experience.
Buying a used tractor can also often make sense, particularly if it's sold by a reputable dealer. Beware the temptation, however, of the weekend farmer who buys a cheap, used tractor intended for use just a couple of days a week.
"That guy actually needs a better tractor because he has a limited time to do the job and he doesn't want to spend hours doing repairs," Keesee says.
Making the perfect tractor choice does take thought, but a wrong decision may not hurt too much financially because tractors tend to hold their value, he says.
"A 5- or 6-year-old tractor might bring nearly as much, or even a bit more," Keesee says, "than what someone originally paid for it."
Noble Sprayberry is a regular contributor to Out Here.