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Brad Nelson Published on 11 November 2009

Back when 80,000 miles on a car qualified it for early retirement, I met a fellow who insisted that he regularly got over 250,000 miles out of a car. He was driving a ten-year-old Cadillac that he said had 150,000 miles on it at the time.

He claimed that by keeping clean oil and air in the engine, just about any car would do the quarter-million mile trick.

Here’s the math. If this guy puts 20,000 miles a year on a car, then by the time he has it paid for he will have 80,000 miles on it. The car companies then expect him to trade it in and keep making payments.

If, however, he can maintain it so it goes the 250,000 miles he claims, then he has the next eight-plus years without a car payment. What does it take to do that? Some common sense and preventive maintenance is all.

The place to start is the owner’s manual of the car. It will list the maintenance interval the manufacturer recommends to keep the car running a long time. Now add some common sense.

If you replace the brake pads, for example, when the lining gets down to about a quarter of new, you will probably go through four or five sets of brake pads before you need to do anything with the rotors.

If your brake maintenance happens when the usual driver of the car says, “Honey, the car makes an awful racket whenever I step on the brakes,” then brake maintenance just got much more expensive.

As most of us are going into winter, let’s discuss preventive maintenance as it pertains to winterization. First, let’s talk about machinery you do not expect to use again until time for next year’s crop. Here are a few items to consider:

Batteries
If a battery is sound and fully charged when parked for the winter, it should start whatever machine it is in next spring. This is considering that there are no current draws on the battery all winter. A battery disconnect switch will do wonders, not only for winter storage, but for some equipment that is in regular use.

The clock on the stereo will drain a battery over the duration of a hard winter. Another thing to keep in mind is that a fully charged battery will require much lower temperatures to freeze than a battery that is almost or fully discharged. Dirt and debris on top of a battery will draw current from it. It’s not necessary to start every crop season with new batteries in every tractor or machine.

Fuel systems
If your equipment runs on diesel and you have a clean source of diesel fuel, then not much is required. If you are getting some water in your fuel, then that water should be removed from the tank and filters of the fuel system before storage. Don’t worry about the fuel gelling over the winter.

If it will be nice and warm before you need that machine again, the fuel will have liquefied all by itself even if it had gelled during the winter. For gasoline engines, I have found it helpful to use a fuel stabilizer in the gasoline to keep it fresh through the winter.

The same rules for cleanliness and purity apply to diesel fuel and gasoline. The more fuel (gasoline or diesel) in the tank at storage time translates into less chance of condensation water contaminating the fuel over the winter.

Rust and corrosion
It appears to be standard procedure to clean the hay from the bale chamber in balers as they are stored for the winter. Anything will winter better if it is clean enough to see the paint. If indoor storage is not an option, then clean and lubricate and if possible cover parts like the knotters on balers.

Exposed metal plus water usually equals rust. Parts that are steam-cleaned need to be allowed to dry before being covered for the winter, preferably with a good dose of lubrication after drying.

Cooling systems
The obvious is to check the coolant for the proper amount of anti-freeze. This prevents damage from freezing and from internal corrosion. Be aware that a mixture near or over two-thirds anti-freeze to one-third water will not cool the engine very well.

Rodents and other vermin
Your normal mouse can easily crawl through an opening of only one-quarter inch. Then they forget how they got in. Then they eat all your left-over munchies and tear up the insulation and upholstery to make nests to have their babies in.

When you think you have the mess cleaned up and all of them removed next spring, you will invariably find that one of them died in an inaccessible spot inside the air conditioner or heater ductwork. The areas of defense are to prevent entry and to make the inside of the cab distasteful to the furry little fellows.

Metal scratcher pads from the kitchen work well stuffed into irregular openings that mice use for entrance. Fabric softener sheets repel mice. I can understand that. I can’t stand the smell either. An overload of minty air fresheners will do the same.

If it gets down to extreme measures, note that a medium-sized blow snake or king snake can survive the winter very nicely on about a dozen mice. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how to find it and remove it next spring.

For vehicles and machines that you will run through the winter, all of the above should be considered, other than the snake in the cab to eat the mice.

Additional things to note are:

Fuel systems
If you live in a region with cold winters and run diesel vehicles or equipment, you need to have your supplier deliver blended fuel or add anti-gel agents to your fuel yourself. If my memory serves me correctly, straight #2 diesel fuel starts waxing up and gelling at around 25ºF.

This plugs fuel filters and stops the machine or vehicle and does terrible things to one’s vocabulary improvement program. Blending #2 diesel with #1 diesel (similar to kerosene or stove oil) will greatly reduce the gelling temperature of the diesel. #1 diesel has less energy per gallon than does #2 diesel, so expect to lose fuel mileage if you go this route.

Most gasoline is now contaminated with ethanol, so unless you have a major water problem with your gasoline supplier or storage system, there should be no problem getting through very cold weather as long as you have enough battery to get the thing started.

Windshield wipers and washer fluid
I start using up all my summer blend windshield washer fluid about the end of August. Then when the first freeze hits in October or November, all my vehicles are ready. Heated wiper blades are available. Note that three months is a good lifetime for a set of wiper blades.

Lubricants
If your winter climate is extremely cold, take a look at synthetic lubricants. Less friction, easier starts in engines and a higher cost with no longer oil change interval for motor oils. There should be a fuel savings when synthetics are used in all the gearboxes as well as the engine crankcase.

This is no time to scrimp on use of the grease gun. Warm grease flows more easily than cold grease. If you cannot bring the machinery into a warm shop and then grease it when everything is warm, at least warm up the grease gun.

Tires, wheels and tire chains
Consider the driving conditions in your area. A siped tire works well on ice, snow, and wet pavement. They also run cooler and last longer in hot weather. As for driving on snow, be aware that tire tread depth is more important than tire tread type.

If you drive where tire chains may be required, install them on your vehicle at least once on dry pavement so you have an idea what you are doing when you have to put them on in a snowstorm. Be aware that the chemicals used to de-ice roads are highly corrosive to wheels and mounting hardware as well as the whole underbody of your vehicle.

Electrical
Any exposed electrical connection is going to be very corroded before spring. The few minutes spent inside a warm shop properly protecting your wiring will save you hours in the dark in the rain or snow trying to find out why the trailer lights don’t work.

It’s worse if a nice man with a gun, badge and ticket book is standing there telling you that you and your vehicle are not going anywhere until the lights work. Little things add up.

I once had a driver who took a few minutes every now and again to tighten loose screws in the cab of the old Mack he was driving. He replaced the light bulbs in the instrument panel until they all worked. He kept the cab clean, and greased the truck and saw to it that the oil was changed on time.

Three years after he bought his own truck and left us, you could still see his hand in the old Mack. Little things add up to the point that a tractor or baler will last another two or three years. And those two or three years will be years without payments.

Most of the spending to get longer life out of vehicles and machinery is time. If you trade it in, the dealer is going to invest some time and then sell it to another hay grower, who will use it for two to five years, while making payments. If you put the time into it you can run it for a couple more years. Without payments.  FG

Brad Nelson

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