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Are Tractors Manual Or Automatic? (Explained)

Are Tractors Manual or Automatic? How do you drive a manual tractor?

Older tractors usually work on a manual shift transmission. However modern tractors have a lot of complex intelligent features that make them work just in the same way as an automatic car transmission.

Are tractors manual or automatic?

So in this light, I can say older tractors are manual, while the newer tractors are automatic. Automatic tractors come in different forms, and efficiencies, which you will be learning today.

So let’s look at what a manual and automatic tractor entails, and their different types and functions.

Manual Tractors

The manual tractor works on a traditional style gear lever, which is also a stick-shift system. Usually, it contains a number of gears, including a reverse gear. Usually, the range of speeds is determined by the number of gears provided.

The original manual tractor drive system relies on operating a clutch to change gears, engage/disengage the PTO, to change range. To drive it, you have to engage the drive using a double stage clutch, where full depression stopped all drives, and partial depression disengaged only the gearbox.

However, there has been an upgrade in the manual tractor, as today’s manual tractor makes use of independent PTO drives, which eradicates the need to engage a double stage clutch.

Originally, the gear levers were located on the top of the gearbox, just between the driver’s legs, the same way it appears in a regular manual car. The levers were usually double, one is meant for the gears and the second one is used for changing the ranges that allow the forward speeds and full engine power to spread widely. Just like a car, the older manual tractors have a separate reverse gear.

However, the modern manual tractor doesn’t have a separate reverse gear. Instead, it makes use of a forward and reverses lever, allowing you to change direction without having to change the current gear the tractor is on.

For instance, if your tractor has twelve gears, it means it has twelve forward and twelve reverse gears. For safety reasons, your tractor runs slower while reversing your tractor on the same gear.

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Typically, the manual tractor of today requires a clutch operation to change gear, and directions on the shuttle lever. There are now more advanced versions of manual tractors that operate on a hydraulically operated forward and reverse shuttle that allows you to change directions without using the clutch.

Here, the addition of a progression engagement control allows you to set the speed at which the tractor reacts, allowing you to drive perfectly without engaging the clutch. The only time you will have to engage the clutch is to select the speed range the tractor is going to be working in. This is said to be an intelligent transmission upgrade of the manual tractor.

So, you can see that the modern manual tractor has greatly improved from an operational point of view. It has gone ahead in providing near clutchless operation and semi-automatic gear changes that allow you to select the power output, and gear speed to match the task.

The advantage of this is that you can achieve a fixed forward speed, and this is essential to achieve enhanced fertilizer applications and accurate spraying including the turf maintenance task of aerating.

Automatic Tractors

The automatic tractors work on the belt and pulley variable drive systems that eliminate the need for manual gear changes. Here, you only use the drive pedal to accelerate. Also, to slow the tractor or stop it, you have to engage a separate brake pedal.

Automatic tractors have advanced into different forms, and they include:

HST (Hydrostatic Transmission) Tractors

Tractors that work on Hydrostatic transmissions have been around for quite a time now, and have evolved to be better, efficient, and economical than ever. The idea of the HST transmission is to provide a gear-free driving experience; no gears to shift, or clutches. All you have to do is just press the pedal and go.

 It provides an automatic transmission for tractors, in that even if you are an inexperienced tractor driver, you can easily operate it, unlike the manual tractors.

HST tractors possess an instant forward and reverse feature that comes on its own, which is a great feature. Formerly, the HST tractor would not give the perfection you require to achieve equal hole spacing. However, due to the introduction of electronic cruise control, you can consistently achieve forward speed, including consistent equal hole spacing.

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One of the cons of the HST transmission is that it too noisy. This is because the engine has to be running at a high speed all the time to provide power to the tractor. The introduction of the autothrottle system has helped to minimize the degree of noise and vibration and subsequently reduces fuel consumption and engine emissions. For ease as an agriculturalist, you can start with the HST tractor.  I have been using it for a year now, and I can tell you that it is a blessing. 

Driverless Tractors

driverless tractor is a fully automated tractor that works autonomously to deliver high tractive torque at slow speeds to perform agricultural tasks on the farm or field.

Why it is referred to as driverless, is because it operates without the presence of a human inside the tractor itself. Like a driverless car, it is programmed to independently decide the speed, set its positions and sense, and avoid obstacles like humans, animals, or structures while in operation.

Driverless tractors can be divided into a fully autonomous tractor and a supervised autonomous tractor. The former makes use of high-tech protocols and is more expensive to purchase.

Driverless tractors make use of GPS and other wireless technologies to operate. Most times, they work with a manned tractor in lead, or you can control it straight from the control station with your phones or specialized tech gadgets.

Electric Tractors

The electric tractor is an upgrade of the automatic tractors. Here the tractors do not need diesel fuel to operate. It works just like the TELSA car system. It is gradually hitting the market.

Bloomberg stated that a crop of electric startups is hitting the $292 billion heavy machinery market, this states that electric tractors have come to stay.

The most powerful electric compact utility is the e25, which is perfect for mowing, hauling, tilling, and other farm duties that do not need a tractor

Do Autonomous Tractors Exist?

Yes, they exist, and a perfect example is the self-driving John Deere 8R tractor that plows fields, plants crops, and avoids obstacles, with minimal human intervention. To get this tractor, you need about $500,000, which means they are very expensive to purchase.

Which Gear System Is Best For The Tractor?

If you’re purchasing a new tractor that is over 100 HP, you will have to go for a powershift transmission or a CVT. The best is the CVT Gearbox Repair Closeup.

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In addition, to be the best, they have a longer life span, are easier to operate, have better fuel efficiency, a better resale value, and allow for more accurate speed control leading.

Do tractors have clutches?

An older manual tractor makes use of a manual clutch to shift gears, take off, and change direction. But in modern automatic tractors, you don’t need to increase speed, only to take off and make drastic changes in speed.

Can You Shift Gears While driving a Tractor?

For tractors made before the 1980s, you have to be stationary to change gears. While, in modern manual tractors, you can change gears while moving, and switch quickly between forward and reverse movement while in motion.

In an automatic tractor, the tractor can automatically change the gear for you, you mostly don’t need to get involved. In less tech-advanced automatic tractors, you will be required to just press a button to shift gear – no clutch engagement at all.


We can see that tractors are evolving at high speed for the past five years. Very soon, the manual tractors will be out of the market. However, this is not to say that the automatic tractors are free of faults, they have, but these faults are constantly looked upon and upgraded.

Now you don’t have to be under the sun In the field to operate a tractor, with a Smartphone, and navigation GPS, you can fully control your tractor on the farm from your comfort zone  – all thanks to technology, and AI.

Mark Lockett

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