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Contributed Article

Tractors and Winter

Unfortunately, tractors and winter don't mix well. It seems that I can start out with my tractors in great running condition but sometime during the long cold dark winter they quickly revert to the lawn-art category. The lack of running, cold weather, and admitted neglect all take their toll on a machine. If you are lucky enough to not need your tractors during the winter months you can perform a few simple maintenance items to winterize and come spring have them going by reversing the process. If you need your tractor in ready-to-run condition (like that first snowfall) then you have to be ready to perform the maintenance necessary to get it going. It will help to take some precautions to minimize this maintenance (if it takes a weekend to get it going, you will likely have more snow on the ground than you can clear).

For the simplest case where you can get by with putting the tractor to bed for the winter, you can follow the normal winterizing procedures. They are:

  • Run all the gas out or drain the tank
  • Drain the Carburetor
  • Remove the plugs and put a few drops of oil in each cylinder then replace the plugs
  • Seal up the distributor or magneto to keep moisture out
  • Place the entire machine on secure and stable blocks to preserve the tires
  • Disconnect the battery cables and place the battery in a safe and temperature controlled storage location
  • Check the coolant with a hydrometer to be sure it can handle any freezing and adjust or replace anti-freeze as indicated

With these simple procedures, you should be able to bring the tractor back to life in Spring with no damage or adverse affects. To restore it back to functioning condition, you remove the blocking, fill the tank, replace the battery (maybe with a 24 hour trickle charge), and remove anything you have done to seal or cover the machine and components. After allowing time for the carburetor float bowl to fill, it should come to life as easily as it did before you winterized it. This is by far the best scenario if you don't have need of your tractor for winter chores.

Draining the gas from the tank and carburetor is extremely important since gasoline tends to convert itself to a varnish while it sits. The jets in the carburetor and the various holes that gas must pass through are quite small and quickly become clogged or reduced in size by the thick substance that gasoline becomes when it sits. Even the relatively large openings of the tank outlet, sediment bowl and fuel line become reduced in size as the gasoline converts and eventually will not allow enough gas through. Once clogged, it takes no small effort to clean out every trace of the varnish. The float bowl of the carburetor will also have a thick scum in the bottom that you will have to scrub out. Since this is a difficult job to clean up after the fact, it is far simpler to drain off the fuel.

The battery will suffer from exposure to cold weather and is especially vulnerable if not fully charged. It can be difficult to find a location that is safe storage and still warm enough. Remember not to store the battery in the house or anywhere near open flames. If you suspect that the battery is not fully charged, you should charge it prior to storing. A fully charged battery is less likely to be damaged by the cold.

If you use your tractor regularly throughout the winter, you will likely experience very few of these problems since running it daily will keep it's battery charged, full of fresh fuel and generally always ready to go. There are still some problems with winter weather that may stop you dead in your tracks. The first is that the oil will be a bit stiffer when its cold and make the engine more difficult to turn over. This problem, when combined with the fact that, even fully charged, the battery does not generate the same cranking power at freezing as it does at 70 degrees, may keep you from starting the engine. The solution here is to run an oil with a viscosity designed for winter use. This may present a problem since it is not recommended to use a detergent oil in most older tractors and most winter oils are detergent oil. Talk with a oil retailer about this and see what they can find for you. Another alternative in this respect is the use of an engine heater to keep the oil warmed to an acceptable temperature.

The second problem that may occasionally plague even a regularly used machine is the moisture in the air during those times when the temperature is hovering above freezing and there is still a lot of snow on the ground. With heavy thaw occurring, you may find that your distributor cap (and everything else) is soaked inside. The solution is obvious, it has to be dried out to keep everything from shorting and not delivering spark. Be sure to dry it throughly and you will be on your way again.

For those that use their tractors only occasionally during the winter, the same tips may apply as do for regular use but with a couple of extras. You may have the fuel problems mentioned above if the tractor sits for more than a couple of weeks. You can reduce these problems a bit by shutting off the fuel before turning off the engine and letting the engine die from lack of fuel. After the tractor has completely cooled down, drain the remaining fuel from the carburetor with the float bowl drain petcock. This will ensure that there is not fuel gumming up the jets and holes. A second big help is to install an aviation or marine battery cutout switch. This will allow the battery to be disconnected with a flip of the switch and ensure that your battery doesn't slowly drain over the time it sits. This works amazingly well but a word of caution is advised. If you have a magneto ignition or diesel and forget to flip your cutout switch on prior to starting the tractor, your generator will burn itself out trying to charge a non-existent battery.

Even though tractors and winter don't mix, a few simple precautions will keep your tractor and maybe your driveway in great shape!

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