A good winter-ready checklist for farm vehicles

Time spent preparing vehicles for winter will reduce risk of damage and save time come spring

It’s that time again. The days are shorter, black clouds loom overhead, snow is in the air, the mornings are brisk, and harvest is done — but is your farm equipment ready for winter?

A good pre-winter checkup will help prevent downtime regardless of whether it is a piece of equipment or truck that you use every day to provide feed for your cattle or don’t use again until next year to farm and harvest.

  • Power washing. When preparing motorized equipment and trucks for winter, begin by cleaning old oil and debris from the motor with a steam cleaner, power washer or a few cans of engine degreaser and a garden hose. Determine whether there are any system leaks.
  • Change oil. It is a good idea to change the motor oil to prevent particulate sedimentation and remove moisture that has collected over the course of the summer. Over winter, the solids in motor oil fall out of suspension and collect in the bottom of the oil pan. Once on the bottom of the pan this sediment is not easily removed with subsequent oil changes, but can be dislodged under stressful operating conditions later, fouling filters and causing unnecessary wear.
  • Check coolant level and concentration. Use a coolant concentration tester to make sure that your engine is protected to the coldest temperature you anticipate during the winter. A 50:50 ratio will protect your engine to -36 C, and will also raise the boiling point and protect your engine under extreme hot temperature operation.

In addition it is important to drain and replace coolant periodically. Coolant particulates will precipitate over extended periods of non-use and can occur after new coolant has been added to old coolant. And make sure to use a high-quality fleet coolant with an anti-electrolysis additive. In the case of heavy trucks, change the coolant filter.

And last, due to most tap water containing minerals, whenever possible, blend your coolant with distilled water to retard particulate formation and coolant breakdown. When you have completed this process, start the engine and allow it to come to operating temperature to properly circulate coolant through the engine.

  • Check the engine fan for any wobble in the bearing. In engines where the fan is mounted off the water pump this play will indicate the onset of bearing and seal failure. Before leaving the coolant system check all the drive belts for the fan, alternator, etc. for damage and wear. This is a good time to get a jump on next season and replace these items.
  • Clean or replace air filters. Over the winter, moister can collect in the solids within the air filter causing the dirt to solidify. Once the dirt has caked it is very difficult to effectively clean the air filter in the spring without damaging the filter.
  • Check batteries. If the battery cells are not sealed, make sure the fluid levels are correct and refill with distilled water as needed. Remove any corrosion between the cable ends and the terminals. Use a terminal brush and a good terminal cleaner to neutralize and remove the corrosion.

If you do not have a can of terminal cleaner, you can mix a quart of warm water with a couple teaspoons of baking soda to neutralize the acid buildup on the battery and terminals. After wiping the terminals and the cable ends and allowing to dry, apply a couple coats of corrosion sealant to the terminals and cable ends. To reduce the risk of batteries going dead over winter, leave the battery cables disconnected until the first time you need the truck or equipment.

  • Check air brakes. In the case of trucks and trailers with air brakes check for air leaks and fix them. Drain air storage tanks to remove any moisture. If the truck has an air dryer system, change the element to prevent problems later.
  • Check hydraulics. While changing the hydraulic filters pay attention to the appearance of the fluid. If the fluid is cloudy or milky, this indicates the presence of moisture. Water in the system will dramatically shorten the life of pumps and seals, leading to costly repairs.
  • A good cleaning. After servicing the engine and hydraulic system, use water or air to clean crop waste/chaff, dirt, and oil/grease from the body and frame.
  • Get the grease gun. Fully grease all fittings. This will push any water or dirt out of the component and fill the void so moisture cannot enter over winter. Before moving on, be sure to check the fluid level in all gearboxes. If the fluids are low, check for leaking seals and refill to the proper levels.
  • Top up fuel. In areas of high humidity it is a good idea to fill the fuel tanks to capacity to prevent excess condensation. Unless absolutely sure you won’t need to start a truck or piece of equipment with a diesel engine until the temperatures rise in the spring, treat the fuel in the tank with a good diesel fuel water dispersion additive and run the engine long enough to circulate the fuel.

One last note on the issue of condensation: if, at some point during the winter, you need to use a trailer with air brakes that has sat idle in the yard, pour a bottle of airline dryer in the air supply and service lines before you hook them to the tractor.

  • Check the air pressure in the tires to make sure they are properly inflated. Periods of extended under-inflation can damage tires, and in the least, cause added labour in the spring when you find the tire flat.

Michael Thomas operates Thomas Ranch along with family near Salmon, Idaho. Contact him at: [email protected].

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