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The basics of tractor maintenance

Learning proper tractor maintenance is the key to getting the most productivity from your investment

Like any piece of heavy equipment, a tractor is a major investment, and once you’ve committed you need to get the value back out of it. Add to that investment the cost of tractor service for repairs, and that value becomes harder to hold on to. Regular tractor maintenance is the key to getting extra years of work out of your machine, giving you the best return for your money.

Because every tractor model is different, be sure to have your owner’s manual handy. You will need to pay attention to things like recommended tire pressures, correct fluid types, and the best maintenance schedule for the make and model of your tractor. It will also help you locate and identify different components, dipsticks, and lubrication points.

Using your tractor correctly

The best tractor maintenance begins with usage. When you drive the tractor, keep an eye on the following gauges:

  • Temperature: The temperature gauge should indicate the normal operating temperature, but your tractor engine temperature shouldn’t climb over 220 degrees.
  • Oil pressure: On diesel tractors, oil pressure should stay over 40 and under 60 PSI.
  • Tachometer: If you have a diesel tractor, the engine works at lower RPMs than a gas engine. Avoid operating it at maximum.

If any of the gauges creep out of recommended ranges, stop the tractor immediately and figure out what the problem is!

Tractor care doesn’t stop when you turn off the machine, either. Even when it’s off, you should be thinking about;

  • Overloading: Just because your tractor can pull an eight-foot mower doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good idea. Make sure that the equipment you’re using is within the specified capabilities of the tractor. If you regularly overload the engine, the result could be a costly tractor repair.
  • Proper storage: Keep your tractor out of the elements when you aren’t using it. If you don’t have a garage or shed, make sure that rain can’t get into the exhaust system. If the tractor doesn’t have a protected cabin, cover the instrument panel and seat if you can’t store it indoors.
  • Regular cleaning: We know, farming is dirty work! But if you keep your tractor clean, it makes it easier to find leaks, damage, and debris buildup.

These steps will help you protect your tractor from damage, but there are also some regular maintenance tasks that you will need to keep up with.

How to perform tractor maintenance

Unlike a car or truck, where usage is measured in miles, a tractor engine is measured in hours. As a result, you’ll find that a tractor requires that you pay closer attention to the tractor maintenance schedule laid out in your owner’s manual. The things you need to know is are:

  • Fluid checks: You will have several different types of fluids to check on your tractor, including engine oil, transmission fluid, coolant, electrolytes in the battery, and hydraulic oil. Check these frequently, as a leak can cause damage to expensive parts!
  • Tire pressure: The tires on your tractor aren’t as easy to read as car tires when they have low air pressure. Check the pressure frequently; front tires are usually similar to car tires and can handle 32 PSI, but the rear tires only take 12 to 20 PSI. They may also need a ballast of water and antifreeze, if you need maximum traction.
  • Check the brakes: Many tractors have mechanical rather than hydraulic brakes. Make sure they are lubricated correctly and that they are adjusted to be equal in pressure. Tractor brakes are designed to operate independently so you can cut tighter corners.
  • Check and replace filters: Tractor engines have several air filters to keep dust and debris out of sensitive systems, and tractor maintenance requires checking and replacing them when needed. On a diesel engine, you’ll also need to check the fuel filter for water.
  • Clear the radiator screen: Make sure the front grill is clear of debris that could inhibit the air flow to the engine. This buildup can choke the engine or result in temperature spikes.
  • Regularly grease your tractor: A tractor has more moving parts than a car, so you will have to get in the habit of lubricating them with grease. This includes steering, brakes and clutch, and pivot points. This is hardly an exhaustive list, so a good rule of thumb is: if it moves, there should be somewhere to lubricate it.

Your owner’s manual will be important when performing these tractor maintenance tasks. It will also be helpful when you’re looking for grease fittings, finding dipsticks and fill ports for different fluids, and the correct fluids to use for each component.

The signs of wear and tear in tractors

You probably already know to pay attention to strange noises or changes in performance from driving a car. The same holds true for your tractor, but with the addition of high-pressure hydraulic systems to operate attachments. Any time you perform tractor maintenance, keep an eye out for cracks, fraying, leaking connections, or other signs of damage on any of the hydraulic hoses. If you lose a hydraulic hose, it can have a huge impact on the function of your tractor.

The price of farm work is eternal vigilance!

When you take the time to maintain your tractor, you’ll get longer life and improved performance for your trouble. Of course, no matter how well you protect your tractor, things will eventually wear down and fail. As any piece of heavy equipment ages, you should increase the frequency of your maintenance checks, to improve your chances of catching problems before they can grow into a disruptive failure.

When you need answers to heavy equipment questions, the Experts on JustAnswer are a valuable resource. Whether you have a problem with your machine, or just need a little help with tractor maintenance, the answers they provide can either help you resolve the issue yourself, or arm you with more knowledge for your visit to the mechanic. 

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