Winter Tractor Maintenance – Using or Storing Your Tractor in Winter

By Drew Tyson January 5, 2015 08:00 Updated

Winter Tractor Maintenance – Using or Storing Your Tractor in Winter

Not the recommended way to store your tractor in winter...

Not the recommended way to store your tractor in winter…

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.

"Tractor with a snowblower in Kuopio" by Leo-setä - KuopioUploaded by A333. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Tractor with a snowblower in Kuopio” by Leo-setä – KuopioUploaded by A333. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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.

By Drew Tyson January 5, 2015 08:00 Updated
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12 Comments

  1. G.R.Ronan January 30, 06:23

    On battery’s I like to use A float charger/desulfator on my skid loader and plow truck battery’s. It keeps them charged and warm (A warm battery gives you more kick than A cold one). Also the cycling of the battery will help avoid the sulfation on the lead plates which leads to premature battery failure. Cheap insurance when you have 5 foot drifts to move and the equipment has to start.
    As far as putting A tractor up on “blocks” in my world blocks are made out of concrete and are the last thing I want my Farmall 400 sitting on. A good set of heavy duty jack stands front and rear are the proper items to set A tractor on.

  2. Donald Eugene Guest January 30, 14:53

    Yo ur Comments

    Donald Eugene Guest
    6 George Street
    PO Box 603
    Oxford Nova Scotia
    Canada
    B0M 1P0

    Well have a question even we do it right there is a time for some that the tractor has set through more than one season waiting on a part sometimes due to whatever reason that has had that come about right like the part has to come into Canada here so it takes a bit of time Belaraus is one of those so when that has happened brakes sometimes are an issue upon restarting after a long sit time any suggestions as some even had stickiness when a season ?
    Thank you for any answer you all might be able to provide
    sincerely
    Donald Eugene Guest

  3. Thomas May January 30, 15:53

    Your Comments Sometime ago I found a blog about finding a Hydraulic filter for a 5220-5230 Compact tractor hydraulic filter. How do I get to it again. I have contacted and ordered from many sources, but it is not the correct spin on filter. The last one I found cost me $78.00 from an Agco Lawn and Garden dealer that just happened to have one.

  4. D January 30, 16:04

    Drain fuel from the tank and carburetor – This should be common knowledge at this point, but fuel (particularly ethanol-laden gasoline) will change to varnish as it sits, gumming the jets in the carburetor and clogging the small holes gasoline needs to pass through.

  5. Dan Allen January 30, 23:22

    With regard to the statement about damaging the generator if the battery isolation switch is not turned back on before attempting to start the tractor.
    Things may be done differently in the USA than here in Australia, but a correctly installed battery isolator will isolate the entire system thus not allowing any components to operate especially the starter, hence no problem.

  6. J.L.Cybulsky February 1, 00:12

    y Y our Comments Like the articles on tractor maintenan

    very good information on tractor maintenance

    J.L.Cybulsky

  7. Geoff Thomas February 2, 02:14

    Your Comments
    I have found that the easiest and cheapest way of preserving batteries through long periods of non-use is to directly attach a SMALL solar panel, – max 2 watts, (so 12 volts, 2 Watts) – such a small panel will not overcharge the battery, but just balance the self discharge.
    Very cheap, these small panels, $15/20; usually come with battery clamps, can be where there is no power handy or are easier even when it is.
    Also suit out in the paddock if that is where your machine (or boat) has to spend it’s off days.
    Cheers,
    Geoff Thomas.

  8. Karina February 10, 17:56

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    finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you
    a shout out from Porter Texas! Just wanted to mention keep up the fantastic job!

  9. Mike January 30, 12:54

    If you use your tractor for snow removal on or near public roads, be sure to wash it regularly to remove any corrosive road salt residue

  10. Coalguy January 30, 13:31

    Draining fuel from the tank is not so easy, and not a good thing in cold climate like Canada. Condensation in an empty tank will cause rust. Use non-ethanol-laden gasoline in the fall, drain the fuel in the carburetor, and fill the tank to the top to leave as little air as possible. Add some fuel stabilizer to the fuel and you are good to go for the winter month. As previously stated by G.R.Ronan, if you have access to an electric plug, an intelligent batteries charger is the way to go.

  11. Rudy Hiebert January 30, 15:41

    Article has many good points however an additional point I would like to make is the use of synthetic engine and transmission lubricants (instead of petroleum based oils) along with the appropriate fuel additive. Draining the gasoline fuel would be the right thing to do however if diesel is the fuel then a superior additive would be my suggestion. Synthetic grease, instead of petroleum based, would also benefit were greases are needed. One final idea and suggestion is doing what I’m used to doing is to smother the engine’s carburetor with a superior “fogging oil until it stalls when I parked the tractor for the last time in the fall.

  12. doityerself January 31, 04:13

    Don’t forget to check for a mouse nest, everywhere. Nothing quite like that smell when you’ve warmed up your machine and want to use it.
    I’m currently trying peppermint oil on a piece of rag to prevent nesting, I’ll get back to you if it works….

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