Correctly maintaining a tractor will add years to its useful life. However, there are some basic differences in maintaining a tractor from other vehicles. Also, since there are many different types and brands of tractors, there is no comprehensive maintenance guide that’s universally applicable to all types of tractors, but following these steps should help.
Study Your Owner’s Manual. The manufacturer has specific instructions for basic care of your equipment, and they have the expertise to give you the best advice on how to do it. If you don’t have a manual, get one. Here are some items you should find in the Owner’s Manual:
- Maintenance Schedule. This will tell you the intervals for routine maintenance, including chassis lubrication, engine, transmission, and hydraulic oil change, filter changes, and other maintenance items.
- Specifications. This should be a table telling you the type of fluid for the transmission, hydraulic system, brakes, and engine coolant, as well as their capacities. Tire inflation, bolt torques, and other information may be found under specifications or other sections of the manual.
- Location of lubricant points (grease fittings), fluid check dipsticks or sight glasses, and instructions on cleaning air and fuel filters.
- Basic operating instructions and other information specific to your tractor.
Obtain Tools. Tractor maintenance requires numerous wrenches and other tools in larger sizes than for automobile maintenance, so plan to buy or borrow the tools you need.
Protect the tractor from the elements. Because most smaller farm (or garden) tractors do not have a cabin to protect the seat, instrument panel, and metal components, it is a good idea to store it in a shed or garage. If you can’t do this, keep rain out of the exhaust system, and cover the seat and instruments.
Check fluids regularly. Tractor usage is measured in hours, not miles, so the amount of use may be deceptive, and leaking components may cause failure of expensive parts. Refer to the owner’s manual to determine how each fluid is checked. • Check the engine oil. • Check the transmission fluid. • Check the coolant in the radiator. • Check the hydraulic oil. • Check the battery electrolyte.
Check tire inflation. Because of the shape, low inflation is not always obvious. Rear tires normally have between 12 and 20 PSI inflation pressure, the front tires may have up to 32 PSI. The back tires on farm tractors should be filled with ballast, especially if you are pulling an implement where maximum traction is required. Usually this ballast is water with an antifreeze solution added.
Keep an eye on belts and hoses. If your tractor is equipped with a hydraulic system, it has high pressure hoses and/or tubing, and failure of this fluid conduit can cause component (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.
Keep the brake linkages lubricated, and make sure the brakes are adjusted equally. Many tractors have mechanical brakes, operated by a linkage and cam system instead of a master/slave fluid system. These brakes are located on the rear axles, and work independently, so that they may be used to steer the tractor in tight corners or to reverse the direction of travel. The brake pedals will interlock for road travel, so that one pedal is not accidentally engaged by itself, causing the tractor to spin while traveling at a high speed.
Watch the gauges. Keep an eye on the temperature, oil pressure, and tachometer.
- The temperature gauge should be marked with a normal operating range, but any time the indicator says the temperature is over 220 °F (104 °C), the engine is running hot.
- If equipped with a diesel engine, the oil pressure should be between 40 and 60 PSI.
- The tachometer tells how many revolutions per minute the crankshaft is turning. Diesel engines are designed to operate at lower RPM and higher torque than gasoline engines, and “over revving” your engine, or operating it at maximum RPMs is not recommended.
Check the filters regularly. Most systems on tractors are equipped with filters to protect against dirt, water, or other contaminants that could cause failure of the components.
- Check the fuel filter for accumulated water. Most diesel engines have a water separating filter, since diesel fuel attracts moisture.
- Check the air filter often. Tractors are often operated in very dusty conditions, and in some cases, the filters must be cleaned daily or weekly. Clean the air filter with a shop vacuum or with compressed air, never by washing it. Replace the air filter when it cannot be cleaned satisfactorily, or if the filter is damaged.
Check the radiator screen. Tractors are often operated in conditions where debris may accumulate on the radiator, so they usually have a front screen or grill to prevent plant matter, insects, or pollen from clogging the radiator.
Lubricate your tractor. Tractors have many more moving parts that require greasing than do automobiles. If you see a part that moves, look for a grease fitting, and grease it. Use a grease cartridge pressure gun, clean the fitting, attach the hose, and pump grease until the associated seal begins to expand, or grease is seen oozing out of the attachment you are lubricating. Look for grease fittings on steering components, brake and clutch linkages, and three-point hitch pivot points.
- Older tractors require specific lubricants in the gear boxes. Often, the hydraulic system and the transaxle share fluid, and using the wrong fluid can cause serious damage.
Do not overload your tractor. If you are using your tractor for cultivation or mowing, it should have a recommended size attachment for the job you are doing. As an example, do not pull an eight foot mower with a 35 horsepower tractor.
Keep your tractor clean This will help you to spot damaged components and leaks, and see if trash or debris is causing problems.