Assessing A Used Tractor - Brakes and Clutches
(25 November 2015)
On independent mechanical brakes, check the linkage adjustment on one side of the machine, then go to the other side to compare dimensions. Unlock the interlock so you can depress each pedal separately; they should move in about the same manner. If movement is not similar, the brakes probably need more work than just adjusting the linkage. New linings and possibly new return (retractor) springs may be needed. Brakes are typically one of the most neglected systems on agricultural equipment, so expect to do some repairs, especially if the unit is more than 20 years old.
Locking the brake pedals together, as shown here, is essential for safe tractor driving at road speeds. Even lightly touching a single brake at road speed can throw a tractor off course. Locked brake pedals give a driver a larger target to step on for emergency braking. Ease of locking encourages this safety practice; if the locking mechanism does not work easily, operators tend to neglect using it. Watch out for rust buildup, broken-off latches, or bent parts that will not latch.
With the engine running at fast idle, both brakes locked together, and the transmission in a mid-range gear, gently feather-out the clutch while depressing the brakes. This will check the clutch, the brakes, and the response of the engine governor. The governor should smoothly increase engine speed as the engine struggles to move the machine forward. You should be able to stall or nearly stall the engine with the brakes. Is the clutch engagement smooth and positive, or does it seem to slip? Slippage indicates adjustment or repair may be necessary. Does the machine pull left or right, indicating poorly adjusted or faulty brakes?
On mechanical clutches which are not hydraulically assisted, sometimes a pending clutch problem can be detected by manually disengaging the clutch pedal. With the brakes set, transmission in neutral, and engine running, slowly depress the clutch to feel for smooth movement in the linkage. Once the pedal is down, listen and feel for a noisy, rough clutch release (throwout) bearing. If you feel vibrations or the clutch pedal movement is rough, there's a good chance the clutch needs to be overhauled. Although release bearing replacement appears simple, it often entails splitting the tractor, and once you've gone that far, itŐs best to replace clutch disc, pressure plate, etc. In short, it could cost you more than the tractor is worth.
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