If you had a choice between spending $15 to $30 to replace the air filter on your compact tractor or spending thousands to replace the entire engine, which would you choose?
That may sound like a silly question, but that’s really the choice you face when it comes to tractor maintenance. It can mean the difference between a smooth-running, long-lasting tractor or costly repairs. It’s common sense, but in my years working as an equipment dealer, I’ve seen too many owners come in with major problems that came with hefty price tags. If they had kept their tractors maintained, they could have avoided those painful repairs. As a tractor owner, the best thing you can do is diligently follow a maintenance routine. To help you determine that routine, I’ve outlined a plan below. These maintenance recommendations are fairly consistent across all compact tractor brands and sizes. However, some tractors have specific attachments or other maintenance requirements, so always refer to your owner’s manual.
Your First Service
Most tractor manufacturers recommend a complete service check after the first 50 hours of use and on regular intervals thereafter. You might be tempted to skip the first service since the tractor’s so new, but it’s a critical maintenance step. Don’t skip it!
During this service, you’ll need to change the oil, hydraulic fluid and, if your tractor has front-end assist, the front-end oil. In addition, you should check the coolant, change the fuel filter and retorque the loader and wheel bolts. While savvy tractor owners with the right tools can usually perform this service themselves, I always recommend having it done by the professional technicians at your dealership. They do this kind of work every day, and they know how to do it right.
You’d be surprised what a daily five-minute walk around your tractor can do. It’s quick and easy, and your diligence will be rewarded because it could save you thousands of dollars down the road. When you do your daily walk-around, here’s what you need to look for:
- Check for any loose bolts and hose connections, frayed hoses or oil leaks and make sure the tires are properly inflated. These are all little problems that, if left unattended, can lead to big problems over time.
- Clean out the radiator screen and air filter with a low-pressure air hose. Often the radiator and radiator screens can collect dirt and debris, building up over time and causing the tractor to run hot. That can lead to major engine problems.
- Check the oil and, if necessary, top it off. Always check the oil when the tractor is on flat level ground and check the hydraulic and transmission oil when the loader is in the down position, flat on the ground.
- Grease the loader (if you have one). This needs to be done daily because losing grease can lead to key parts grinding and wearing, reducing their lives.
- Keep the foot plate on the clutch adjusted properly to keep the clutch from getting worn and damaged.
- Finally, make sure you use clean fuel. Debris or water in the fuel can damage your fuel system and even the engine. Buy your fuel from a station that sells a lot of it, so you know it hasn’t been sitting for a long time. Also make sure your fuel containers are clean and have tight-fitting lids.
Engine and Transmission Service
The two most complex and most expensive components in any tractor are the engine and the transmission. Repairing either of these is very expensive, so it’s critical that they are well maintained and serviced regularly.
The best thing you can do is to keep the oil and filters clean. That means changing the oil and oil filters at the manufacturer-recommended intervals. Also, keep your engine and transmission relatively clean, as this can help you spot any leaks. Manufacturers typically recommend servicing the engine every 100 hours and the transmission every 300 hours. Your equipment dealer will work this service into your tractor’s regular maintenance check schedule.
Again, I always recommend that engine and transmission servicing be done by trained professional technicians. They not only have the know-how, but they also have access to the specialty tools and diagnostics equipment needed to do the job right. Also, because of their experience and training, they can spot potential problems and recommend preventive maintenance to avoid costly repairs later on. If you do it yourself, you could end up spending a lot of extra time and money, and maybe even void the warranty in the process.
Some maintenance doesn’t fall into regular schedules. It just needs to be done when it needs to be done. The best example of this is the tires. A quick, visual check is all that’s needed to determine if your tires need to be replaced. If the treads are worn down to 50 percent or less, or if the tires are starting to show signs of dry rot — cracks in the treads and sidewalls, brittleness, faded color, it’s time to replace them.
Front tires tend to wear faster than rear tires, so keep an eye on them. It’s best to replace tires before you need to, otherwise you could have a tire failure at the worst possible moment. The other parts that need to be replaced on an as-needed basis are the air and fuel filters. These aren’t as easy to see as tires, so try to get into the habit of checking them on a daily basis.
Some fuel filters have a transparent pod that lets you see if they’re getting dirty or are getting water in them. If either of those two things are happening, it’s time to replace the filter. When you check your air filter, first clean it out with a low-pressure air hose. Then hold it up to the light. If you can see light coming through, it’s still in good shape. But if no light passes through, replace it.
Finally, if your tractor sits idle for months at a time during the winter, you should have a yearly spring checkup before the season starts. A lot can happen over a long, cold winter. The battery can lose its power and die. The clutch can stick, especially if the tractor was stored outside or in a moist environment. Hoses and tires can get cracked. Oil and other fluids can become gummy. A spring service check will address all of those issues and more, ensuring that your tractor is ready for the season ahead.
Talk to Your Dealer and Follow Your Manual
The maintenance tips I’ve given here should be considered general guidelines. Every tractor is a little different, so read and follow the specific maintenance recommendations provided in your owner’s manual. Also, look to your dealer as a resource of information and advice, especially when you’re buying your first tractor. They should point out all of the maintenance needs, demonstrate how to perform them and review the owner’s manual with you before you take delivery. Compact tractors are simple, hardworking machines that don’t need much to keep running. If you’re diligent about taking care of them, they will serve you for a long time.