Get Your Tractor Ready

Ten Tips for Tractor Maintenance

Jim Patrico
By  Jim Patrico , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Filters are among the first things to replace or clean on most equipment, says Justin Johnson, a technician at a Case IH dealership. (DTN/Progressive Farmer image by Jim Patrico)

Season's over, and your row-crop and 4WD tractors' work is done. Time to put them to bed for the winter. We asked an expert for pointers about what simple maintenance chores you should perform now to make sure your tractors are ready to roar out of the shop the next growing season.

Here's what 19 years of experience tells Justin Johnson, a technician at Heartland Tractor, a Case IH dealership in Nevada, Missouri:

1. Wash it, clean it up, wax it. Yes, wax it. "Everything on a tractor is fiberglass with only the paint protecting it," Johnson said. If that paint goes, the fiberglass begins to flake and gets brittle. Wax protects the paint.

As for the wash, it's not just cosmetic. "Get that dirt off so you can see what is going on," Johnson advised. For instance, if dirt gets packed on a transmission housing, it can affect its cooling system. With dirt, "You are insulating it instead of letting heat dissipate."

Be sure to grease the tractor in all the appropriate places after you wash it.

2. Fix what you know is broken. "So many times in the spring, I will go out on a service call, and a guy will say, 'You know, that was broken last fall.' If you know it's broke, fix it. You have all winter," Johnson said.

Make notes about performance and maintenance issues during the year. No matter how small the problem is, attend to it while you have time. Example? "Oil leaks. I have never seen an oil leak repair itself," Johnson said. "It might be something as simple as a 15-cent O-ring. Some guys will ignore an oil leak if it is small." But doing so eventually can lead to buying a lot more costly lubricant. So fix a small problem now at a small price to save money and hassle later.

Not incidentally, an oil leak can be a fire hazard.

3. Fill the fuel tank completely. Plastic fuel tanks can trap condensation, especially when using biodiesel fuel, which can cause diesel and water to separate when they heat up. Sophisticated equipment doesn't like a contaminant like water, which can cause engine and fuel-line problems.

Also, destructive algae can grow if water is in the tank. Johnson said he sees about five cases per year of algae harming a tractor's performance. Filling the fuel tank completely can reduce the risk of condensation.

If you do find algae, track it to its source. If it's in your farm's storage tanks, eliminate it with an additive. Same fix applies if you find algae in the tractor tank.

4. Look closely at your operator's manual. The manufacturer has provided service intervals for filter changes, oil changes and much more. "Some of these [recommended changes] might sound piddling, but they can be important in the long run," Johnson said.

Usually, intervals are expressed in hours of service. "If something is supposed to be changed at 400 hours, and you have only 300 hours on it now, change it while you have time," Johnson said. "You're going to put that extra 100 hours on once spring comes anyhow."

5. Break out the mouse repellent. Some people put mothballs in the cab; some lay out traps and bait. Johnson recently had to tear apart a cab console because a family of mice had taken up residence and chewed through wire insulation. Manufacturers have reduced the problem by using wires coated with a type of silicone-based plastic that doesn't attract rodents. But it can still be a problem.

Moth balls or mouse bait are a lot less expensive than paying $100 per hour for a technician to pull out a console, repair a few wires and put the whole thing back together.

6. Charge the battery to a full charge. "A dead battery will freeze," Johnson said. Once you have trickle-charged it, you can leave the battery unplugged for the winter. While you are at it, clean the battery surface and terminals. Voltage can travel through dirt, dust and moisture on a battery, and drain it.

7. Pull monitors out of the cab and receivers off the roof, and store them in a covered place out of the weather. The expensive electronics in such devices are built tough, but there's no need to test their hardiness by needlessly exposing them to severe weather.

8. Blow out air filters or replace them? Replace them, Johnson said: "It's a bad idea to use compressed air to blow out a filter. If you blow a hole in that [filter's] paper and don't see it, dirt will go through and hit your secondary filter. If the secondary filter is clogged, that dirt will go right into the engine. I never blow out an air filter." It doesn't make sense to try to save a few bucks on a new air filter at the possible cost of rebuilding an engine.

9. Check the air pressure in the tires. If you have duals, make sure each set of inside and outside tires has the correspondingly correct pressures. If you have a flat tire or a slow leak, you will see it and have all winter to fix it. "It's a simple thing that will save you time in the long run," Johnson said.

10. Make sure the freeze point in the antifreeze is low enough. This depends on where you live, but checking antifreeze is a simple operation that can save a lot of headaches. Along those same lines, Johnson advised, store your valuable tractor inside if at all possible. Why let snow, ice and wind chip away at your investment?

A final tip: If all these maintenance tips are too much, and you would rather spend your winter doing other things, Johnson said you can always, "Bring it to us; we'll take care of it for you."

Jim Patrico can be reached at


Jim Patrico