Why is the Yanmar tractor so popular?
The popularity of the Yanmar tractor has exploded in recent years. In part, because of the relatively low price compared to other tractors in its size range but also because of its rugged simplicity. In this article we will explore why so many people are now seeking out the 1970's 'YM' Yanmar instead of a more modern machine.
Before we talk about why we love these little Japanese workhorses... let's take a quick look at their history. While Yanmar tractors first entered the US market in the mid 70's, the company was actually founded in 1912 and was one of the first companies to build a diesel engine. Despite being a global agricultural powerhouse- the tractors they introduced in the USA in the '70s never really 'took off'. Yanmar's philosophy was simple- produce the highest quality machines possible and not worry too much about what that machine would cost. This led to virtually indestructible tractors but at a price higher than other, better established, brands in the same size range. Ultimately, Yanmar was not able to gain traction in the competitive compact tractor market and the relatively unknown (in the US) brand left the US market in the mid 90s.
It was not long after Yanmar left the market that people began to take notice of the extreme simplicity and durability of the small machines. While Yanmar was slowly building a following among used tractor buyers, a few entrepreneurs took note of this increasing popularity and began importing the tractors directly from Japan. These "gray market" tractors, as they were called, were able to be imported and sold at a very low cost while still offering all of the same quality and reliability as the US market Yanmars. Many of these gray market machine shared parts with the US models and parts availability was very good.
Not many people realize this but the expression 'they don't build them like that anymore' was actually first spoken while looking at a mid 1970s Yanmar. Now, I basically just made that up but the expression is certainly a perfect fit for the tractor. Remember how you used to be able to pop the hood of an old car and actually see things like spark plugs? You could change your own oil. You could troubleshoot your own vehicle's problems without plugging it into a laptop. If you pop the hood of a new car you will find a sea of plastic shrouds and expensive electronic components... all of them strategically designed to fail just minutes after the warranty expires.
Tractors are the same way. The 'YM' series tractors are the 1970's Chevy Nova. Simple, sturdy, reliable. It does everything you need without all of the complicated bells and whistles that are going to break and cost a fortune to fix. If you break it- you can usually troubleshoot and fix it in your yard where it sits and keep working. Newer tractors are stuffed with complicated electronics which, while they can make the tractor more comfortable to operate, also add to its complexity. Good luck trying to trace down the starter circuit of a modern tractor. Many of them are now computer controlled! Most new tractors offered by many brands also have electronic over hydraulic systems (lifting the loader or three point is done by electronics - not just a valve), electronic controlled engines, electronic cruise controls, and detailed electronic instrumentation. Those things are great when they work but incredibly costly to repair and the average owner can not diagnose digital circuits on their own. By contrast, most Yanmars need a power wire to start and that is it. Everything else is mechanical. The average, mechanically inclined, homeowner can maintain and repair almost any part of their tractor. This is not the case with many, more complicated, designs.
While other brands are adding additional complexity they are taking away something else. Durability. If you take a look at a modern tractor you will see a lot missing compared to the older Yanmars. The older Yanmar tractor has sleeved engines, for example. The engines could basically be maintained and serviced to run forever. Wear out an engine (it should take 10,000 to 15,000 hours or more if maintained properly) and you can just drop in a new set of cylinder sleeves and be back to work the next day. Newer brands (even Yanmar's newer tractors) have a sleeveless engine. It costs less to build but any excess wear to the cylinders must be bored out by a machine shop and that process can only be done a couple of times at best. Overheat your engine and the un-sleeved block may be un-repairable while a sleeved engine can often be overhauled in your back yard. And it is not just the engine parts. Axle shafts and PTO shafts typically have replaceable wear collars so that seals do not cut into the expensive shafts. These are not things that you typically find on modern 'throw-away' tractors.
Another one of Yanmar's attributes was their willingness to share parts across many models. Instead of manufacturing a different clutch for every model, for example, they share the same clutch across dozens of models. This cuts down production costs and encourages aftermarket companies to reproduce common parts. This is one of the reasons that Yanmar tractors are still so easy to get parts for 30+ years later. There are actually many tractors that were sold by another big brand less than 10 years ago that you can not get major parts for any more!Depreciation is another thing to consider. A 30 year old Yanmar is pretty much done depreciating. Its value will not go much lower. As long as you buy it for a fair price, maintain it properly, and take care of it- you should expect to get nearly the full purchase price when it comes time to sell. Drive a new tractor off the trailer and you are almost always upside down many thousands of dollars. Keep one for a few years and it could be worth as little as 1/2 what you paid for it!
Always be sure that any tractor you are using is equipped with a ROPS and retrofitted with the most up to date safety features.
***** What is gray market? Click here. *****