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Good prep keeps farm machinery functioning through winter

By Tom Manley, MOSES

Probably time to change the coolant in the tired old Ford.

Winter is coming. That statement strikes fear not only in the hearts of people in the fictional Westeros, but also in farmers. We are all frantically working to check off at least a couple of the pre-winter projects we had on our lists from the spring, and wondering how we always seem to not be fully prepared for what inevitably returns every year. In our rush to batten down the hatches, it is easy to forget about the equipment we are probably using to do it. Now is a good time to consider what your machines might need to survive the winter and be ready to serve us in the spring.

Fuel Systems
The two biggest issues with diesel fuel systems this time of year are fuel blend and water in the fuel system. In the super cold tundra of the Upper Midwest, a winter fuel blend appropriate to our severe cold is absolutely necessary. Fuel dealers will have switched their supply over; but, if you have summer fuel in your tanks, it is time to treat it with a diesel anti-gel additive. I have serviced tractors and skid steers that stopped running with temps in the 40s due to gelled fuel. It can sneak right up on you those first cold days in November.

The other issue is water. Check your inline fuel filters and water traps for moisture and liquid water. Drain and replace filters as needed. An additive, like isopropyl, to capture water and move it through the system is never a bad idea. This is true for gasoline systems as well. Gasoline can go “bad” in a hurry over the winter. If a piece of equipment is being used frequently, this is less of an issue. If that old Ford only gets fired up five times a winter to perform the one task it has been relegated to, you will want to use some additive to stabilize that fuel.

Small gas equipment that won’t run all winter should have some treated fuel run through the system and the remainder drained back into a fuel can. If it will see some use, fill the tank and leave it full.

Cooling Systems
Freeze plugs are intended to protect your engine from the extreme pressure of expanding water, but are not a guaranteed safeguard against damage. Use a coolant tester to verify the level of freeze protection. If in doubt, or the coolant is showing its age, drain the system and replace it.

Batteries can take a beating over the winter. Cold and infrequent use take their toll, and suddenly you can’t move feed on the coldest morning of the year. Check the fluid level and top off as needed on any serviceable/non-sealed battery.

Remove the battery and store someplace warm if the machine will not be called into service over the winter. If the piece of equipment will not be used regularly, but will see some use, disconnect the ground lead between uses to eliminate parasitic loads and sulphation. Use a low-amp trickle charger to keep it—and you—happy.

Engine Oil
If there are any concerns about quality or age, change the oil and filter. Try to get the engine up to full operating temperature every time it is used to avoid problems with condensation in the crankcase.
It is often a good idea to use an oil with a lower base viscosity. Check your manual for the recommended weight for your winter temps.
Remember that oil pressure will be very high on start-up, relief valves will be open, and it will take some time before the oil can really start to do its job. Be kind, and don’t put that engine under load until the oil is thin enough to flow. Most engines will warm up after 3-4 minutes of idling.

Hydraulic Oil
Hydraulic systems will have many of the same concerns addressed above for engine oil. Lower viscosity oils are often available and recommended for extreme cold. Don’t put cold hydraulic oil under load or you run the risk of pump failures. I have replaced many a hydraulic pump in dairy skid-steers where the operator couldn’t wait for the temp to come up before going to work. Also, filters at or well past the service interval should be changed now to avoid a bad day in January.

Some of the little stuff that might bite you if you don’t prep for winter include zerks, dirt, and lights. Hit all those grease zerks while it is still warm enough to displace some of the old grease. Keep the grease gun in a warm place, and lube equipment after using it, when the grease at a pivot point can flow a little.

That last warm day of the year might be a good time to wash off the dirt and chaff from the whole year to avoid corrosion and help discourage critters from taking up a winter residency in your tractor. Air boxes are their favorite home, so don’t forget to take a look at that air filter and clean or change as needed.

You will need your lights to work with the short days, so check them all now. This long period of darkness also is a good time to sharpen blades, chains, and your wits to be fully prepared for spring.

Winter can be hard on equipment, livestock, and farmers. Hopefully, a little prep can go a long way. May your path to the barn stay clear of the deepest drifts, and your winter be an easy and restorative one.

Tom Manley manages business relationships for MOSES. In his past lives, he owned a motorcycle shop and repaired engines for an implement dealer.




From the November | December 2018 Issue

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