Front-wheel-assist (FWA) is a popular option on many compact utility tractors and is standard equipment on several models (Figure 1). It is also available on some subcompact and lawn/garden tractors (Figure 2). FWA provides four-wheel-drive when engaged. FWA substantially increases the cost of a tractor, but it provides some important benefits. On popular 28- to 30-hp compact tractors, FWA adds $1,100 - $1,600 to the price. What do you get for your money?
Increased TractionUsing FWA generally gives you better traction since all tires are pulling. This can be especially helpful when using a front-end loader, since the loader will transfer weight from the rear to the front and FWA lets you use this extra weight for traction. When pulling a tillage tool or other implement with a heavy draft load, having FWA is often equivalent to having several more horsepower on your tractor. One added benefit of FWA is that you do not have to waste tractive force from the rear tires pushing non-powered front wheels though soft soil; with FWA, the front tires pull themselves through. If you are just mowing, there is less advantage to FWA, since traction is usually not limiting.
Ballasting for FWAWith FWA, you may need more weight on the front axle than with a two-wheel-drive tractor. With two-wheel-drive, the weight on the front axle is useful for traction when dynamically transferred to the rear axle under load; with FWA, the weight on the front axle is usable for traction even without weight transfer.
Stronger, Heavier Front AxleFWA front axles are heavier and stronger than two-wheel-drive axles. This means you will need less extra ballast with FWA to achieve the same front axle weight. The stronger FWA axles are beneficial when using a front-end loader, since they are better able to handle the weight.
Power TurnsWithout FWA, a tractor may resist turning and the front tires may slide. With FWA engaged, a tractor will pull itself around turns with less skidding of the front tires. The overall turning radius is generally smaller without FWA, but turns are easier to make with FWA. The ability to make power turns without skidding the front tires is one argument for using FWA even when mowing. Some manufacturers offer FWA with turf tires.
When Not To Use FWAMost manufacturers recommend disengaging FWA when driving with no load or driving in high gear on pavement. This will reduce tire wear.
Front-wheel-assist can be a valuable option on your compact utility tractor if you use it for tillage or loader work, but it may not be worthwhile if all you do with the tractor is mow. If the ground is soft enough to need FWA, you probably shouldn’t be mowing.
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