What is the difference between a tractor and an excavator?

When you have a big job to do, you want to make sure that you have the right equipment. There are some jobs that work best with a tractor, and others where an excavator is the right choice. Understanding the basic differences between the two will help you decide which is better for your specific situation.

What’s A Tractor?

A tractor is machine that’s designed to deliver high torque at low speeds. Most commonly, the term is used to describe a farm vehicle that provides the power and traction to mechanize agricultural tasks, such as plowing, disking, harrowing, planting, and harvesting. It can also be used to clear land, pull up trees, dig holes, and run any number of accessories using its power take off (PTO).

There are agricultural tractors, and there are industrial ones. While the agricultural tractors are used to perform the tasks mentioned above, industrial tractors are designed to couple with other pieces of construction or earthmoving equipment.

What’s an Excavator?

An excavator is a type of earthmoving machine equipped with a bucket. Excavators are used with various attachments to perform a number of different tasks such as loading of bulk materials, digging, lifting, or drilling.

How Do They Compare?


Tractors have more power than excavators because their engines are larger and produce more horsepower. Excavators have smaller engines, but produce more torque, which is the ability to apply force or twisting power to an object. Torque is important for digging or moving heavy objects


When it comes to digging, excavators are more well equipped for the job. They’ve been specifically designed for digging. Since they’re stronger than tractors, they can handle more weight.

Lifting Capacity and Reach

An excavator’s lifting capacity is measured in tons, while a tractor’s is measured in either tons or cubic yards. A standard bucket excavator can lift up to 24 tons, almost double what a tractor can do.

Durability and Versatility

Tractors can be used for more tasks than excavators, and many times they’re equipped with a front loader for digging. Excavators have the advantage of versatility over tractors, but they don’t last as long or do as much work as a tractor will.


The cost of an excavator is generally higher than the cost for a tractor, depending on what size machines are selected and what options are included. The fuel cost of operating a tractor is usually more than for an excavator, mainly because the tractor will have a much larger engine.  Maintenance on an excavator, however, will be more costly than that for a tractor.

When to Use a Tractor

A tractor is better for large jobs, as it’s more powerful than an excavator. If you need to dig up a large area, the tractor will work better than an excavator. If you just need to dig up a small area like a garden, the excavator is better. A tractor can do other tasks that require less power such as grading fields, moving dirt piles, or plowing snow.

When to Use an Excavator

If you just need to dig a hole, go with the excavator. An excavator has more powerful hydraulic systems that can life heavy loads and move them around quickly. They can also work in bad weather conditions because of their size and weight distribution. If you’re working in soft or soggy ground, it’s easier with an excavator because they don’t sink into the ground as easily as a tractor might. If you need to lift something very heavy, the excavator is the right piece of equipment. Excavators are designed specifically to do that job.

Final Words

Tractors and excavators are two different machine that are best suited to different purposes. To know which one is the best for you depends on the jobs at hand. If you need expert advice on the type of equipment you should use, contact the pros at Mission Valley Tractor and Equipment.

Mission Valley Tractor & Equipment has become an authorized distributor for Land Pride, Gearmore, Towmaster Trailers, Kubota, Paladin, and Echo Outdoor Power Equipment, making us one of the area’s best resources for rugged farming and construction equipment. We’re committed to putting our customers first, which allows us to provide our clients with tough and durable equipment for a variety of uses. In addition to offering new and used equipment, we have a staff of highly trained and experienced technicians that can complete any repairs or preventive maintenance you may need.

We’re conveniently located in San Jose on Brokaw Road, making us easily accessible from both Interstate 880 and Highway 101. If you would like more information about the products and services we offer, visit our website, give us a call at 833-530-6710, or stop by and see us.

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