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Equipment Hub: Smart habits – optimizing the life of utility tractors

Taylor Ergle for Progressive Forage Published on 30 May 2018

The utility tractor is much like a utility player on a baseball team – essential no matter the job and expected to go to work at a moment’s notice. The utility tractor is used for some of the most time-sensitive jobs on the farm, from raking hay to powering an auger at harvest to feeding livestock.

Often it is the one machine overlooked during both winter maintenance and the mad spring or fall rush. Since no one can afford their key player to be sidelined during the big game, taking time for daily maintenance and completing service at key intervals is the best way to prevent downtime, costly repairs and shortening the tractor’s useful life.

For the exact maintenance guidelines and service intervals for your utility tractor, start by reading the owner’s service manual. You’ll find valuable information such as specifications for fluids, tire inflation pressure, bolt torques and location of service points.

Since today’s tractors are equipped with many electronic features, it’s critical to have your local dealer service your new utility tractor at the recommended service intervals, which typically start at 50 hours.

Enhancing tractor life

These maintenance tasks should be done daily to keep your utility tractor running smoothly.

  • Test safety features. Before starting your workday, check to make sure safety features such as power takeoff shields are in place, and lights and turn signals are working. Also check the neutral start switch is operating correctly.

  • Remove dirt and debris. Give special attention to the engine, grille screens and radiator cooling screen. Make sure the rear of the tractor is clean, especially the hydraulic couplers, so dirt doesn’t get into the system.

  • Check the engine oil level. Add oil as needed. An initial oil change is recommended at the 50-hour mark for most new tractors. When replacing the oil, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, keeping in mind the recommended oil viscosity may change based on the time of year and temperatures expected between oil changes.

  • Check the radiator coolant level to keep your tractor from overheating. Coolant level, type and cleanliness are all equally important. Running the tractor with the coolant just a little low can create a host of problems, since it lubricates and protects the cooling system as well as cylinder bore liners and the coolant pump. When adding coolant or completely replacing coolant, follow manufacturer’s recommendations or match the type of antifreeze in the system.

    Never add ordinary tap water because minerals in the water can lead to rust, scale and corrosion. That’s why most service technicians generally use a 50-50 extended life premix. Flushing the radiator fluid on a regular basis also helps keep the system clean and the engine in great shape.

  • Check the transmission oil level/auxiliary hydraulics oil level and change following manufacturer recommendations. Hydraulic fluid not only allows remote cylinders to operate; it is the critical lubricating force in your tractor’s transmission.

  • Check or clean the radiator/cooler fins daily depending on the operating conditions. Since heat from the engine is exhausted through the radiator fins, dirt and debris clogging the fins increase the risk of overheating the engine. Blowing dirt away with compressed air is the best way to clean the fins.

Routine maintenance

Routinely checking and servicing essential tractor components will reduce the likelihood of a breakdown.

  • Battery – Check the cables for corrosion and make sure they aren’t rubbing against the frame components. If the tractor has been starting weakly, or the amperage gauge shows it is not charging at all, start by cleaning the battery terminals for a better connection. At the 50-hour interval, make sure the battery connections are tight.

  • Tire inflation – Low inflation is not always obvious, so check tires at least weekly. Tests have shown incorrect tire pressure can waste as much as 20 to 40 percent of engine power through slip and increased rolling resistance. Use a calibrated pressure gauge and check pressure in the morning since manufacturer tire pressure recommendations are all cold-temperature. Also know your tractor weight per axle and be sure ballasting is at recommended levels.

  • Belts and hoses – If your tractor has a hydraulic system, it has high-pressure hoses or tubing. A leaking or broken hose can cause hydraulic pump failure, loss of steering or other problems. If a hose or belt appears damaged, worn or cracked, replace it. If fittings or connections are leaking, tighten them or replace the seals.

  • Look at brake linkages. – Ensure brakes are adjusted equally. When you use a tractor every day, you may not notice the linkage getting out of adjustment. Make a specific effort to check for free play and other adjustments on that linkage.

  • Regularly inspect air and fuel filters since both impact power. – Check the fuel filter for accumulated water or contaminants, and replace as needed. Check the fuel filter sediment bowl, and drain any water or sediment from it. If operating the tractor in dusty conditions, the air filter may need to be cleaned daily or weekly. Use compressed air, blowing from the inside out to keep dirt from going deeper into the tractor. Replace the air filter if it cannot be cleaned or is damaged.

  • Lubricate your tractor. – Moving parts like steering components, brake and clutch linkages, loader arms and three-point-hitch pivot points will have a grease fitting. Find these and apply grease based on manufacturer’s recommendations for type, amount and frequency of lubrication.  end mark

Taylor Ergle is a product specialist at Compact and Utility Tractors

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