Maintaining your tractor is a daily chore. If you’re doing it right, you’ve got a maintenance schedule set up, taking into consideration the hours and stress you’re putting on your machine. If you’re following that schedule, you’ll know that December and January are the times you’re needing to perform winter maintenance, either to keep your tractor running through the winter or to make sure it is ready to roll when the thaw arrives.
When You Do Not Use Your Tractor Through the Winter
Some tractor owners simply store their tractor through the winter, so they develop a yearly winterizing routine they perform right before pulling the cover over it for the first time
- Drain fuel from the tank and carburetor – This should be common knowledge at this point, but fuel (particularly ethanol-laden gasoline) will change itself to warmish as it sits, gumming the jets in the carburetor and clogging the small holes gasoline needs to pass through.
- Disconnect and store the battery – If you leave the battery in, and you leave your tractor in a cold area during the winter – garage, pole barn, outside – you’ll have a dead battery come spring. Safely disconnect the battery cables and store the battery in a dry, temperature-controlled location. Do not store it in your house or near open flames though. Also, before storing, make sure the battery is fully charged.
- Release the clutch – Moisture can work its way into all parts of your tractor including the gears. If you leave the clutch in, the disc could rust to the flywheel. Releasing the clutch keeps these two separated, and functioning smoothly.
- Put it up on blocks – Keeping the tires in contact with cold concrete over the winter can cause flat spots, leading to severe wear and poor performance. It can also cause cracking and drying. Many tricks have been tried – putting carpet squares, sand bags, or plywood underneath is a common one. This doesn’t really help though. The only solution is to raise your machine up on blocks.
- A good cleaning never hurts – A thorough cleaning inside and out will do great favors for your tractor through the winter. Dirt can harbor moisture, which can allow rust to form. Dirt in the mechanical parts can harden up over winter storage and become a problem in the spring as well.
- Grease it up – A lack of grease on moving parts of a tractor that sits for months can make it harder for those parts to get moving once again. Check your grease zerks for clogging, check for a lack of grease on moving parts, and check to make sure your wheel bearing are greased up and free of moisture.
- Checking the fluids – While this should be considered regular maintenance, it is particularly important when you are storing your tractor for the winter. If it is dirty, change it – if it is low, top it off. Hydraulic fluid is particularly important to check, as it can draw in moisture during storage because of condensation.
- Clean the filters – Clogged air filters are always an issue in the spring time. While you’ll want to check it again before starting up in the spring, a thorough cleaning or a replacement prior to storage can help you be prepared and lessen the workload later.
- Spark plug – Pull out spark plugs, check for carbon build-up or other signs of misfiring, and make sure they are gapped correctly. Put a drop of engine oil into the spark plug hole, replace the plug with either a cleaned and re-gapped plug or a new plug, and crank the engine a handful of times to pull the oil into the cylinder.
- General inspection – If you would look at it during daily maintenance, look at it twice before winter storage. Cracked light bulbs, fraying belts, leaky hoses, and more can be a pain to repair when you pull the tractor out in the spring.
When You Use Your Tractor Sparsely Through the Winter
Often, a tractor may sit for days or weeks between uses in the winter. Whether it is just being used for plowing and snow removal, or daily winter chores simply do not require a tractor, you’ll need to modify the maintenance you perform. Obviously, some of the maintenance tips above for full winterization will be useless – after all, you’re not going to want to have the tractor up and down off of blocks every three days. Some of them fall under general maintenance tasks, such as greasing and checking fluids, and should be done regularly.
Batteries can still be problematic if you are only using them now and then. Your best option for a battery that sits now and then is to use a marine or aviation-style cutout switch for your battery. You can prevent battery drain by flipping the switch and disconnecting the battery from the rest of the electrical system. If you go this route, you’ll need to make sure to flip the cutout switch back before trying to start your engine, otherwise you may burn out the generator in your diesel tractor.
You may also see issues with the fuel if it sits weeks between uses. The easiest solution is just to start your tractor up every few days and allow it to run for some time. If you’re using the tractor weekly, you really don’t have to worry about doing this.
When You Use Your Tractor Regularly Through the Winter
Even if you are using your tractor day in and day out, you may experience some difficulties throughout the winter. Performing basic winter-specific duties in addition to daily maintenance will be necessary.
The biggest problem many regularly-used tractors will face in the winter months comes from the toll the cold takes on the oil. Oil gets thicker and stiffer, making it harder for the engine to turn over and start. When this is combined with the reduced cranking power because of the cold weather, you may run in to a tractor that won’t start. The easiest solution for this is to use an engine heater to keep the oil warmed to a temperature that keeps it fluid. The better solution is to swap out the oil for oil designed specifically for winter usage. This may not be a solution for engines in older tractors, as many winter oils are detergent oils, which are not recommended in older engines.
A second problem faced in the winter is the moisture in the air that can work its way into an engine compartment. This can make the distributor cap quite wet inside, and can cause shorts, or the failure to spark. Open up and check on this before even trying to start your tractor.
Scheduling Your Maintenance
When it comes down to it, the worst thing to do is fail to complete any winter maintenance because you’re unsure of what to do or when to do it. Even if you don’t have a hard schedule written down, you can use certain markers throughout the year as reminders. Use Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years as a reminder to perform winter maintenance will work great for most tractor users. As long as you perform some of the maintenance points mentioned, it’s better than not performing maintenance at all.