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Image of large tractor wheel as found on most tractorsThe large diesel engines used in modern farming tractors  range in power output from 18 to 575 horsepower (15 to 480 kW). The various classifications of tractors are commonly two-wheel drive, two-wheel drive with front wheel assist, four-wheel drive (often with articulated steering), or track tractors (which have either two or four powered rubber tracks). Classic style tractors include the diminutive lawn tractors and the more robust garden tractors. These range from about 10 to 25 horsepower (7.5-18.6 kW) being ideal for landscaping, grass mowing and smaller farming tasks. Motorists are often advised to use caution with these tractors due to their size and low speeds.

The transfer power to other machines such as balers, slashers or mowers is common in tractors. Belts around a flywheel to power stationary equipment were often used in earlier models. A power take-off (PTO) shaft is employed in more recent models and this provides rotary power to stationary or pulled machinery. External hydraulic fluid and electrical power are also supplied by modern tractors.

Image of a tractor in a field, possibly one of the vintage tractorsFarm tractors mostly have a manual transmission. Several sets of gear ratios are divided into speeds. The tractor has to be stopped in order to alter the gear ration. These gear ratios provide a range of speeds from less than 1 mph (good for working the land), up to about 25 mph (40 km/h) (for road use). A lever is used to reverse the tractor so a gear change is not necessary. In older models, the operator is required to depress the clutch to allow a shift between gears (a limitation of straight-cut gears in the gearbox), but technologies such as power shifting in the 1960s have eliminated this requirement along with more modern continuously variable transmissions. The operator now has more and easier control over working speed than could be allowed with the throttle alone.

Most tractor operations require slow, controllable speeds. This allows the farmer a larger degree of control in field work. However, such slow operating speeds can cause aggrevation to other roads users when the tractor is on the road. Some countries, like the Netherlands have roads that do not allow tractors to alleviate such aggrevation. More tolerable road speeds of around 50 mph (80 km/h) are possible with more modern models like the JCB Fastrac.