Posted - 04/30/2009 : 19:53:25
| We own a small farm and ever since my son has been old enough to walk he has wanted to be with me as I took our small tractor into the woods to gather wood, move stones or what have you. I've become quite used to having him ride on my lap on our garden tractor as we did outdoor chores. In fact, given a choice between playing inside or going out to do chores, he would choose to go with me. However, as he got older he was getting too big to fit behind the wheel with me any more, and getting independent enough that he wanted to start driving "my own tractor". He had a Peg Perego pedal tractor that his grandmother had given him, but he had outgrown it and since our driveway isn't paved so it was very hard for him to pedal it anyway. So with all that in mind I began looking for a powered ride-on that would be both a toy and a useful piece of farm equipment. Looking at what was available then I was sure we'd end up with either the Peg Perego Gator or the Power Wheels Arctic Cat, as both have a back bed where he could put wood or whatever else that needed carrying.
I hemmed and hawed. The Gator had the bigger bed, but the Arctic Cat seemed to have the better reliability rating. In the end, we decided to let the birthday boy himself decide, so we packed him up and headed for a Toys-R-Us that had both models.
I'm very glad we did it this way because as soon as we got there a big problem became obvious. My son is a bit big for his age, but still he was only four, and he barely fit behind the wheel of either ride on. The Artic Cat says it's good for 4-6 and The Gator from 4-8, but as you can see from the photos we took then, both claims are ridiculous. He would have outgrown either unit in six months, and thatís if we were lucky.
Fortunately, just across the isle was the Power-Wheels "Brute Force" Kawasaki ATV. We tried it out. Since the child rides astride there is much more room for growth. The unit also has larger tires and more ground clearance than either the Arctic Cat or the Gator. In short, we went home with the ATV and I can't say enough good things about this unit. It does not have a bed to carry things, but it does have a roomy set of saddlebags behind the seat for tools or toys or whatever a child wants to carry. In addition it has a very strong hitching point at the rear which you can hitch a child's wagon to, and that's exactly what we did. With a Radio Flyer "ATV" wagon (which has large knobby tires), this unit can haul an amazing load for its size, much more than either of its rivals. In fact, by the end of the summer the stack of firewood my son had gathered from our property was ten feet long and four feet high. The tires are large and knobby, and provide good traction in most conditions except snow and ice. This coming winter I want to mod up a set of chains for it, but in all honesty most of the things that people mod for here simply arenít necessary with this unit. Even the cupholders that are built in to the front, which I had thought to be just for show, turn out to be very practical. Riding around on a hot summer day, my son put one of his water bottles in one and was happy and hydrated all afternoon.
Do I have anything bad to say about the unit? Not really, but I would caution buyers that the Kawasaki Brute Force has the same drawbacks that all of the 12-volt Power-Wheels ride-ons have, These drawbacks are discussed in other reviews but to reiterate:
When the unit is in reverse or if it is in first gear the two electric motors are in series. What this means is that it moves half as fast and the traction is not very good because if you have one wheel under load and one wheel slipping *all* the power goes to the slipping wheel. This is fine for paved streets or flat yards but to get serious traction the unit must be in its forward, second gear. Then the electric motors run in parallel, and both wheels get full power. It's still possible to get it stuck (heck, it's possible to get a real ATV stuck too) but usually my son can get unstuck simply by backing up. In second gear, the unit moves at about five miles per hour over level ground. This is about as fast as our 17.5 hp lawn tractor goes at top gear, throttle open wide, and going downhill the unit is even faster, about 7 miles an hour. At least at this stage of his development, I donít want him going any faster than thatÖ though I must admit, Iím eyeing the middle space in the toolbox on the back of the unit as a perfect place to put an extra 6 volt battery when he gets older.
Heís now entering his second year with this unit, and in that time weíve had only one problem. What happened is that one of the electric motors sheared one of its power input tabs, resulting in no power to that wheel. This was almost certainly caused by a bad habit my son developed, shifting from forward to reverse too quickly. We took it to the local authorized power-wheel service center and it was fixed under warrantee while we waited. Heís now more careful, though the fix did reveal one oddity of the Power-Wheels support to me; they insist on having all powertrain parts replaced by the service centers themselves; they will not ship gear, engine or shifter parts directly to customers. That's fine if you live near a service center, which we did, but would be a problem if you donít. I have read at least one other review of the Kawasaki Brute Force where this same problem happened to a customer; the solution for us has been, teach the child to make sure the unit comes to a full stop before putting it in reverse and it has not reoccured.
With an expanded warrantee our unit cost about $400 from the local Toys-R-Us. The model we got was the red one, but since then the same unit in a camo color scheme has come on to the market. Make sure you shop around because I've seen that model quoted for anywhere from $330-$800. For us the purchase has been very worthwhile. My son has a ball with it, riding around the trails in the woods, "helping" me with chores. Below is a picture of "his" woodpile, entirely gathered with his wagon, that helped keep us warm this past winter.