Routine tractor maintenance may not make a top 10 list of favorite farm jobs, but neglecting the regular intervals of servicing a tractor’s critical fluids and filters not only can decrease a tractor’s overall useful service life, it can be robbing producers of the hard-earned dollars spent for horsepower (hp).
“Honestly, the biggest things that I see when it comes to increasing a tractor’s life expectancy are the routine maintenance issues,” says Mark Hanna, Extension agricultural engineer at Iowa State University. “Things like fluid and filter changes may not be a glamorous job, but they are the most critical aspect of getting the most out of your equipment.”
And Hanna says it’s not just the engine that producers should pay attention to. “The engine, power transmission and drivetrain are all working together, and they all need regular maintenance and inspection to ensure they are working efficiently.”
And letting an oil change or air filter cleaning linger longer could also be costing in reduced hp.
“Recently, we were developing a tractor maintenance bulletin and we looked back at a study done a number of years ago where tractors were tested for power efficiency before and after filter and fluid changes,” Hanna says. “Producers brought a tractor in, and it was hooked up to a dynamometer before service and after service. That study showed that, on average, producers had a 3 1/2 percent power increase after routine maintenance.”
So for a 200 hp tractor, a 3 1/2 percent power increase means 7 hp. And given that, on average, producers are spending $650 to $700 per hp on new tractors, producers who don’t regularly service filters and fluids could be costing themselves as much as $4,900 by not sticking to a regular maintenance schedule.
“That’s a significant number,” Hanna says. “And that goes beyond the additional wear and tear that we can see with tractors that aren’t properly maintained.”
Stretching oil change intervals can have varying degrees of impact, depending on how the tractor is being used and how long the time between oil changes. “Various additives are in the oil to mitigate contaminants and the oil can handle it for a certain amount of time,” Hanna says. “But as additives are consumed, there will be increased wear and tear on the tractor. You might be able to get by for a time, but it will have an impact on tractor life.”
Routine maintenance can also come up during the most critical production times — planting and harvest, when producers are expecting the most out of their equipment and usage is highest. That’s when keeping track of service and maintenance intervals can sometimes creep down on the to-do list.
“That’s when a good team relationship with the producer and dealer comes into play,” Hanna says. “Working together, they can develop a service plan that ensures schedules are met.”
For more information on tractor maintenance at Iowa State, visit: www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM2089L.pdf