Thank you to guest blogger, Eve Pearce, for her latest article on the winter maintenance of tractors and harvesting equipment.
The harvest might be complete, but simply storing machinery till it is next needed increases the likelihood of breakdown next season; appropriate winter care of agricultural machinery is therefore essential to maintain its condition. The time, effort and money spent now to carry out winter maintenance is small in comparison to what will be needed if these machines are left and then require repair; all of which can impact on your work in the fields in spring, preventing you from keeping to schedule at one of the busiest times of years for farmers. You might think that you don’t need to worry too much, as you have taken out an insurance policy to cover your machinery to manage risk along with other aspects of your farm. Having such insurance is vital, but while farm vehicle cover can protect against breakdown, it is still the best policy to prevent a breakdown in the first place. Take a look at the guidance here and apply them now whilst you aren’t so buy in the fields.
Inspection and Cleaning
Tractors and harvesting equipment that have been worked hard during the harvest may potentially have developed some problems with their parts, so a thorough inspection to highlight any damage is essential; waiting for a new part isn’t so much of a problem now compared to if you were in the midst of working. Your machinery is very likely to be coated in dust and dirt from harvesting, so now is also the time for a full clean, as grime that is left on machinery parts will only become a culprit for mechanical problems in the coming months.
Although you will more than likely be using your tractor during the winter months, carrying out maintenance now will ensure that it is in good condition for the spring when its workload will increase. The following areas should therefore be attended to:
• The spark plugs, distribution points and condenser of the ignition system should be replaced – unless you have already done so in the last year. The wiring should also be looked over; if there are any signs that their insulation is breaking down they should be replaced.
• To ensure that the electrical system is in good working order battery fluid levels need to checked – and topped up as needed – any corroded terminals or wires cleaned with a solution of baking soda and ensure that the battery remains fully charged to avoid freezing.
• Engine maintenance not only guards against breakdown, but can also improve fuel efficiency. If your tractor has a gasoline engine its carburetor will need to be returned to the suggested settings. The fuel filter will also need to be serviced to ensure that contamination of fuel doesn’t occur.
Injectors for diesel engines require servicing, but this is definitely a job for someone experienced in this – your dealer is the best point of call – as if you try to take them apart yourself you are likely to cause damage. As with the gasoline engines, the filtration system of a diesel engine needs to be serviced. Remove the remaining engine oil – drain when the engine is warm so that contaminants will also be removed – and after servicing the oil filter, replace with a lighter oil, which is better for colder weather.
• The air cleaner ensures that the air for combustion is as clean as possible to prevent engine damage; the manual will provide details of how your particular type of air cleaner can be serviced.
• To maintain good transmission review the level of lubricant and top up if needed; if you have used a heavier lubricant during the warmer months, replace it with a lighter lubricant.
• The fluid within the hydraulic system should be drained and replaced with the recommended fluid at least once a year to remove contaminants; do so now if you haven’t already.
• If needed tighten the brakes and check the lubricant level – topping up as necessary – within the steering gear case if you have power steering.
• Maintenance of the cooling system ensures that excess heat generated by the engine is allowed to pass as needed through the radiator core, so remove any dirt from the grill using a water hose. Inspect for any leaks around the radiator tanks and core; even if no maintenance is needed, drain and flush the cooling system before topping up with the recommended fluid.
• Look at the tire casing for evidence of damage and repair as needed. Tire pressure should also be checked. Wheel rims could also be damaged and if so, bent rims can be corrected using a sledge hammer.
Maintenance of Implements
The implements that you tow with your tractor may not be used a frequently, but are just as important to maintain at this time of year; even if you managed to get by this year with an implement that was showing signs of wear or had a part missing, it is not a good way to start the next season. Parts that might be showing signs of wear include plow points, the tangs from hay rakes and the knives from mowers. Even if you lubricated bearings and shafts earlier in the year, grease again now to keep out moisture over the winter. Use inevitably leads to the loosening of nuts and bolts, so check all of these are tight on your implements; a very easy task, but something that can guard against significant and costly repairs further down the line. As with your tractor inspect the tires and wheel rims of your implements. Finally ensure that they are safely stored away until next use; it pays to have warning signs in place to prevent accidents.