A half-day spent winterizing farm equipment can produce major savings, according to a sampling of equipment experts.
“My theory is that maintenance costs less than repairs,” says Dan Anderson, a technician for Van Wall Group, an Iowa-based implement dealer.
Anderson puts a thorough cleaning first on his list of winterizing steps: “When you really clean a machine, you look at it more closely and see cracked metal, worn belts, or bad bearings that you might overlook when it is in use.
“If you don’t catch them until you’re in the field next spring, you’ll pay for the same repair plus the damage to related components, and it will mean a breakdown right in the middle of a busy season.”
Mark Hanna, Extension agricultural engineer at Iowa State University, says time spent preparing equipment for winter can keep a $500 repair from turning into $2,000 worth of damage. He offers a winterizing checklist.
Cleaning and Rodent Prevention
It’s especially important to remove all grain and crop residue from combines so they won’t serve as source of food or bedding for rodents. “Right now, they are looking for places to nest where they won’t be disturbed,” says Hanna. “Get into all the nooks and crannies and remove all biomaterial.”
It’s fairly common for mice to chew on wiring harnesses, according to Hanna. “That could quickly add up to several thousand dollars in repairs if mice sever the wrong connections.”
He also suggests using sticky traps in addition to baits, since poisoned mice may take refuge inside equipment, then die in hard-to-locate spots.
Check equipment manuals — many recommend filling fuel tanks to avoid leaving room for water to condense.
For equipment that won’t be used all winter, Roger Hoy, director of the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory, suggests draining the fuel tank of any biodiesel and replacing it for the winter with regular diesel.
“Even using an algaecide [in the biodiesel], you can get some algae growth over that time, and it could cause fuel system problems in the spring,” Hoy notes.
For tractors that may get use in colder climates, Hoy reminds growers to replace the #2 diesel commonly sold in spring and summer with #1 diesel, which is less likely to gel.
“When it comes to engines and fuel systems, the practices for tractors and combines are about the same, says Hoy.
Fluids, Coolants, and Filters
For any engine, check fluid levels, make sure coolants and oils are up-to-date, change transmission and crank case fluids as needed and change filters. Check the operator’s manual for specifications and make sure the antifreeze will protect engines down to the lowest expected winter temperatures in your area. This is also a good opportunity to spot leaks that need attention.
Belts, Hoses, and Bearings
Clean-up is an excellent time to inventory and inspect belts, hoses, and bearing, and make a list to follow up before spring.
Make sure to have a good charge on batteries and remove the connection to the negative battery post to avoid a long, slow drain Liberty Bell Workers Compensation. Hoy suggests putting batteries on a trickle charger in someplace warm until spring.
Water Pumps and Water Lines
Drain any water pumps or lines in the system, especially in sprayers, to avoid freeze damage.
For a tractor that may be used during winter, install a timer on the heater, so the tractor will be ready to go when needed but won’t draw energy around the clock.
Hoy sums up his winterization approach: “Inspect and repair anything that got put off during harvest. Take a few extra days to do that now, and spring will go a whole lot easier.”