Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers

Lawn and Garden Tractors (page 3 of 4)

by Michael MacCaskey

Transmissions

The most popular transmission is the hydrostatic or "full hydro." These transmissions are generally the strongest, but they're also the most expensive.

Hydrostatic transmissions have two gear positions, foward and reverse, and the more you press on the accelerator, the faster you'll go. You pay for this convenience in power: the transmission itself consumes one to two horsepower.

Other types of transmissions require shifting. One popular type of tractor transmission is called "variable speed." This transmission features several forward gears and one reverse gear. Like the automatic transmission in cars, lower forward gears are used for climbing and higher gears for cruising. Variable-speed transmissions are not as strong as either hydrostatic or standard gear transmissions.

Another type of transmission, known as "straight line" or "standard gear," is like a stick-shift car. These are simple and strong, but gear ratios are limited.

All transmission types have advantages and disadvantages. Be sure to explain to your dealer how you'll be using the tractor and ask for advice.

Drivetrains

Power is transferred from the engine to the wheels and attachments by an automotive-like drive shaft, gears, chains or belts. "Self-aligning" belts are considered to be the most efficient. The drive shaft is the strongest, but it consumes the most engine power and is the costliest to repair.

Frames, Axels, and Bodies

These are the foundations upon which all else is built. One-piece frames, whether of stamped steel or cast iron, have many times the longevity of a frame assembled with bolts, screws or rivets. When the latter come loose or shift, all kinds of things work their way out of alignment.

One manufacturer, Steiner, produces a tractor with a fully "articulated" frame, which means it bends in the middle. It's complex to make such a frame and to make it strong, but it improves maneuverability.

Most tractors are covered by polycarbonate-plastic bodies, which never dent or rust. In some cases, they are heavy and strong, but not always. Ask your dealer if the body is guaranteed.

Turning Radius

Generally, look for the smallest turning radius. A small radius indicates the tractor is more maneuverable, so it's easier to navigate around shrubs, sprinklers, trees and other obstructions. Trouble is, the tractor industry has yet to agree upon one method to measure the turning radius, so some manufacturers exploit it while others ignore it.

Attachments are important if you're shopping for a yard or garden tractor. There are a variety of attachments available, and you'll probably be using several. When shopping for attachments, make sure they are easy to change. The best ones take a matter of minutes without tools; the worst can take an hour and require a toolbox.

Some manufacturers offer rototiller attachments that come with their own engine, which means the tractor is only towing the rototiller. While this system works fine, these attachments cost much more than the nonpowered types and are much heavier, making the tractor more difficult to handle.

Attachments from some manufacturers, notably Toro, are fully interchangeable even with other models from different years. For instance, you could mount a 1975 rototiller onto a new 314-H tractor, and vice versa.

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