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How to Properly and Safely Drive a Subcompact Tractor

We want to help you understand what you need to know to drive a subcompact tractor properly and safely.

And as a quick aside --- we are here to help you purchase a new tractor when the time is right.

Let’s get started.


Tractors come in all sizes --- featuring different engines with varied power. To learn more about selecting a tractor, please click here.

They also come in various types including Garden, Lawn, Subcompact, Compact, and Utility.

Operators have various uses for their tractor. Each use requires a specific implement and PTO (Power Take Off) mechanism.

Some tractors are used for snow plowing and blowing. Others are used with buckets for moving wood, stone, dirt, gravel, or mulch. Some operators attach forks to lift large logs, small dead trees, and other heavy objects. You may need to build a fence or till. And a large amount of tractors are simply used to mow a lawn. The uses are endless.

If you are using a backhoe, we have some excellent safety tips for you here.

All these uses require very specific training which you can get online or through local schools. That is beyond the scope of this article which is focused on driving the tractor only.


Driving a tractor requires three basic steps.

The three steps include:

  • Training

  • Inspection

  • Operation


First and foremost you must be trained extensively on basic tractor operation/safety as well as on the specific equipment you are going to operate.

You can get training from local schools, online resources, local governments, experienced operators, and your tractor dealer.

For farm hands or employees under 16 years old, you must familiarize yourself with OSHA labor standards regarding child labor.

Some jobs involving heavy machinery are too dangerous to be performed by less experienced workers. Better to be safe than sorry.

Please note that the FLSA prohibits anyone under 16 years of age from operating a tractor of over 20 PTO (power-take-off) horsepower, and from connecting or disconnecting implements or parts.

Also --- in some areas, it is necessary to obtain a registration to drive your tractor on the road (i.e.… UK and Australia) while other regions forego registration if your tractor displays reflective caution tape and is clearly visible.

You absolutely must know and understand these items.

Seeing as many smaller tractors come with a bucket, you need to know how to use it. You must be trained and practice.

A bucket is used for many things including:

  • Scooping and moving things such as dirt and gravel.

  • Hauling items such as junk and brush.

Follow proper driving safety when adding a bucket. Never drive with the bucket in the full "up" position. And always remember to raise it into the drive position so it's not dragging in the mud.

Training is a must for understanding and using tractor implements.

Not only do you need to know exactly what implement is right for what usage – you must know how to use your 3-point hitch to secure them properly and safely. You must also understand what to look for as far as damage or other mechanical issues.

Follow these safety precautions:

  • Make sure that nobody is anywhere near the tractor. This includes the front, back, and sides.

  • Back the tractor up slowly.

  • Practice a safe stop --- applying the emergency brake.

  • Put the transmission in neutral.

  • Dismount the tractor and hitch up.

NOTE: If any implements are heavier than the tractor --- make sure the implement has independent brakes that are in good working condition. You must also be trained in how to use them. Drive the tractor very carefully. Use the guidelines outlined in your owner's manual for each implement, attachment, and device.


Before you drive a tractor --- you need to give it a detailed inspection.

This way you can potentially catch a tractor problem, mechanical, or maintenance issue before you start driving.

Click here for a comprehensive list of daily tractor maintenance items.

Here are a few things to look for:

  • Loose wheel lugs, nuts, and bolts.

  • Low tire pressure or a flat tire.

  • Improperly secured stabilizer chains.

  • Cooling system level and leaks.

  • Radiator leaks.

  • 3-point hitch leaks.

  • Hydraulic fluid leaks.

  • Battery level.

  • Oil leaks.

  • Oil pressure.

  • Sticking clutch.

You also need to make sure to wear good-quality work boots with gripping soles. Tie back long hair. Remove any dangling jewelry as it could get caught in moving machinery. Avoid wearing loose or baggy clothing.


Ok, you are now ready to drive.

First --- climb onto the tractor using the proper hand holds.

Once in the seat, get familiar with the controls. Also, find the clutch if you have one.

(Hopefully, you have already been trained on your specific tractor. If not, take the proper training right away. Please note that there are typically two types of tractor transmissions --- (1.) Clutch and (2.) HST. Both have different operations procedures. See below.)

Set the seat position. You should be able to reach the steering wheel, throttle --- and all the other controls easily and comfortably with your hands and feet.

NOTE: Wear your seatbelt. Surprisingly, many operators do not wear one. A rollover can happen. You must be prepared. Your tractor should also be equipped with a ROPS to protect you. You should also have a FOPS on your tractor for overhead protection.

More likely than an accident in your tractor --- will be the need to quickly turn off the engine and hop out and do something that needs doing. The safety roll bar will help to prevent serious injury. Practice good tractor safety and drive safely.

Next ---


Press the clutch pedal down to the floor with your left foot. You want to be sure the transmission is in neutral as you turn it over.

Press down on the break with your right foot.

Turn the key forward and start the engine. (If the tractor stalls, click here.)

When the engine starts, drop the throttle slightly (without killing it) to let the engine warm up a little. (If you jump straight from starting it to putting it in drive --- you will likely stall the engine.

To start driving --- release the tractor's parking brake.

Continue holding the clutch to the floor and put the transmission into first gear.

Slowly lift your foot off the clutch. As with any manual transmission, you want to be slow and smooth as you let the clutch out. It's a lot easier since you don't have to be actively pushing the gas.

Keep the throttle at a low setting and take your foot off the brake.

Maintain a consistent slow speed. Tractors aren't made to go fast --- they are made for durability and power. Don't push it. Go slow and make turns, go around curves, and go up and down hills with caution. This is important whether you are using implements or not. You do not want to tip the tractor or rollover.

(If the tractor begins to overheat, turn the engine off right away.)

Stop the tractor by pressing the clutch all the way to the floor.

Switch the gears to neutral and set the parking brake.


A hydrostatic (HST) transmission is great for a novice operator or someone who does not feel comfortable operating a clutch. These transmissions perform like an automatic transmission in a car.

If you have an HST tractor, there are two foot pedals. One to go forward (forward arrow indicated) and one to go in reverse (reverse arrow indicated).

HST tractors also have three safety features you will want to keep in mind:

  • The tractor will only start with the range lever in neutral.

  • The engine will shut off if the operator leaves the seat (unless) the range lever is in neutral.

  • The engine will shut off if the operator leaves the seat and the PTO is engaged.

(For Both Transmissions to Stop Operation)

Slow the throttle.

Turn the key to the off position --- and the engine will shut off.

You have now properly and safely driven the tractor.

Hopefully, this brief article has helped you understand how to drive a tractor properly and safely. Clearly, there is much more to learn but we wanted to give you some basics to get you started.

If you need any further help, or have any questions about equipment operation, tractors, implements, or anything else equipment-related, please contact your dealer, local mechanic, or call us at 602-734-9944. Please ask about our current new and used tractor supply.

If you are looking for old, vintage, classic, or new tractor parts, send us a part request.

Team Tractor Ranch - #1 Tractor Dealer in Arizona. We sell and service most major brands of tractors including Yanmar, Kubota, John Deere, TYM, Mahindra, Kioti, Case, New Holland, Massey Ferguson, Ford, Deutz, Case IH, Farmall, International Harvester, Branson Tractors, LS, Shibura, Claas Tractor, McCormick Tractors, Valtra, Solis, YTO, Montana, and Nortrac.

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