These days, large-scale farmers tend to turn their equipment inventory over at regular intervals, which are much shorter than farmers of a few decades ago would have considered. But even they are likely to have one or two older tractors around to power grain augers or for other jobs that add only a few hours a year. For them and for smaller farmers who often keep their tractors for a long time, the question arises, just how many hours is a tractor expected to log without requiring major overhauls?
Most major manufacturers expect their tractors to provide something like 8,000 to 10,000 hours of service without needing a major overhaul. Mike Bevans, a project manager at the Alberta Ag Tech Centre in Lethbridge, says proper maintenance is the key to meeting those expected lifespans or even exceeding them.
“There are some things you just wont be able to extend (the life of),” he says. Those are wear items, such as clutches, but careful operation will ensure you get the most out of them.
To get your tractor on a first-rate maintenance program, start by storing it inside to keep it out of the sun’s rays as much as possible. That will extend the life of the paint and reduce checking on tires.
Also, invest in a pressure washer to keep it clean. Fluid leaks are easy to spot on a clean tractor, and Bevans says farmers should be diligent about fixing those leaks as soon as possible. Leaks can result in unexpected low oil levels. During busy, peak seasons, it can be easy to forget to check fluids. You may end up operating the tractor for extended periods without adequate lubrication — a very quick way to wear something out.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but read your owner’s manual. The engineers that designed your tractor put it through extensive testing, and the recommended maintenance program for that particular model is based on a lot of research. Follow their advice. “There are certain engines out there that are prone to certain problems,” says Bevans. And the published maintenance programs are designed to address them. The moral of this story is that one oil-change and maintenance program does not fit all tractors.
Because of the unique conditions on your farm, even the recommended oil-change interval may not be adequate. “Spend the money and have your engine oil tested,” says Bevans. The soot levels in the oil will let you know if you need to increase the frequency of changes. And regular testing will eventually show a pattern that will keep you on track when it comes to change intervals.
Also, the levels of certain alloys in the waste oil can alert you to excessive bearing wear before it becomes a critical problem. And even if your tractor isn’t due for another oil change at the end of the season, give it one anyway. Acids from combustion build up in the engine oil. If the tractor sits for long periods with acid-contaminated oil, this oil can contribute to excess corrosion on internal components.
Don’tforge taboutthe other fluids
Check your coolant — and not just its level. You need to maintain additives at proper concentrations, which stabilizes the pH level of the coolant and prevents corrosion. If you don’t know the exact chemical base of the coolant used in your engine — there are three different varieties — change it and start a new monitoring program. John Deere, among others, sells a test kit for their brand of coolant along with additives. Remember to check the coolant’s freeze point, too.
And don’t forget to check your trans-hydraulic fluid. Keep it topped up. Leaks on implement cylinders and hoses can gradually draw down the tractor’s fluid level. When you pull out the dip stick, look at the fluid’s colour. “It needs to be nice and golden,” says Bevans. “If it’s brown or black, it’s full of dirt.” Change it along with the system filters.
When it comes to air filters, many producers like to break out the air hose and blow the dirt out of them. That’s not good enough, says Bevans. Just blowing it out can embed particles into the filter paper, which can damage the filter’s effectiveness. Spend the money and spring for a new one instead. There’s an old saying that engines are good for a certain number of working hours or a handful of dirt, whichever comes first!
When it comes to the oil you use in your tractor, make sure it meets the proper specifications. Some no-name brands offered in discount, big-box stores look like a good deal at first, but a close look at them sometimes shows they only meet outdated standards. For the little extra cost involved, get good-quality lube. It’s the only thing keeping your engine from a meltdown — and you know what that costs!
As for the synthetic versus mineral-based oil debate, is the extra cost worth it? “I’m on the fence with that,” says Bevans. “If you’re starting on an older engine with a lot of hours, I wouldn’t bother with it.”
The bottom line? If you still want that tractor working on your farm when the tach clicks over the 20,000-hour mark, start showing it some love. You’ll end up taking a wrench to it a few times during its life, but with proper maintenance those times will be fewer and farther between.
Scott Garvey specializes in writing about tractors and farm machinery technology for publications in Canada and Great Britain. He’s also a former affiliate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). He farms near Moosomin, Sask.