Winterizing Your Tractor

Reader Contribution by Billy Clark
Well, it’s that time of year. The trees are almost bare or completely so, depending on where in the country you are. Some areas are experiencing their first snowfalls of the season, and it’s only 7 weeks till CHRISTMAS !! Time to prepare the summer tools of your trade for a long winters nap, especially the fossil fuel powered ones.

Some folks may use their tractors during winter. If you have numerous livestock to feed, or snow to plow, the tractor might be in operation anywhere from a couple times a week to once every couple weeks. If this is the case, your winterizing operations may be minimized.

If possible, store your tractor under a shed, or cover. A simple cover helps considerably with temperature extremes as well as protecting the seat, paint, and wires and hoses from the grueling effects of sun and bitter cold. If covered with plastic make provisions for it to breathe a little. Plastic covers can sweat and cause their own problems without air circulation.

Make sure the antifreeze is up to the necessary rate for your area. Use an antifreeze tester, available at any auto parts store to check the freeze point of your water/ethylene glycol mixture. It’s simple to use, just remove the radiator cap, insert the tube a few inches into the mixture, squeeze and release the bulb, and wait to see how many of the little balls float in the mixture. The more that float, the lower your freezing point. Testers usually come with a chart printed on the side, or on the packaging of the unit which will tell you what temperature you’re protected to. Remember, you need to be protected to the lowest expected temperature plus 10 degrees or so, not the average low temp.

The antifreeze is also a corrosion inhibitor; it keeps everything in your cooling system from rusting. The freeze protection is still there as long as it’s not diluted, but the corrosion protection wanes after a few years. I would recommend “freshening” the antifreeze at least every 3 years.

For gasoline models it’s best to remove all fuel for the winter months, unless you do in fact plan to use the tractor some. At the very least, turn off the fuel valve on the tank and run the unit till it dies. Ideally remove all fuel from the tank. This may sound difficult, but you can simply disconnect the fuel line, attach a length of rubber hose to the petcock, (or over the line if it’s easier to disconnect at the filter or carburetor) and drain into an appropriate fuel container. Fuel in the tank over winter will turn “stale” indicated by the varnish smell when started up the next spring, and in some cases build up residue on the tank sides which will cause problems later. The small amount in the carburetor will evaporate leaving behind all the additives in a varnish-like coating that will stop up all those little bitty jets and passages making your spring a hair pulling experience. Fuel treatments designed to keep your gasoline fresh can help, but really aren’t intended for long term storage, their purpose is more for the things you use about once a month, not 3-4 months of non-use. If you prefer, you may treat the fuel and simply start and run the engine for 10-20 minutes at least once a month. If you will be using your tractor, you might consider a water removing fuel treatment to prevent freezing of fuel lines in extreme cold climates if you have back to back days where the mercury just doesn’t make it above the 32 mark.

DO NOT, I repeat do not remove all fuel from a diesel tractor, and DO NOT run it until it dies. If you have owned a diesel for very long you are likely familiar with the great pains caused by running out of fuel and having to purge the air from the pump and lines. DO treat your fuel with a conditioner before storage, and if your diesel will be used during winter you might include a bottle of HEET, or “Diesel 911” or something similar to prevent gelling in extreme conditions. Many areas of the country have a winter fuel mix which starts rolling into the local retailers around the first frost dates. These winter fuels will have some anti-gel protection, but be prepared to add extra for extreme weather. Keeping the tank completely full of fuel reduces condensation and moisture content. If it’s full of fuel, there’s no room for damp air, or oxidation of metal tank walls. Again, running the engine once a month is a good idea, keeps things from gumming up and keeps the battery charged. Just don’t choose the coldest days to start ‘er up. Diesel just doesn’t like to fire off well in extreme cold, and using ether or starting fluid is not recommended unless really necessary.

Batteries should be protected for the winter. A discharged battery is more susceptible to freezing, and if there’s any drain on your battery a long term storage is likely to ruin it. Disconnect the battery at the very least, either cable will break the circuit and prevent any drain. Ideally, remove the battery and store it inside. Some recommend storing attached to a charger with a float switch, but a couple months won’t hurt, and a trickle charge before re-installation will bring things back up to par. There’s always the option to attach a small solar battery charger to keep everything up to snuff, or run the engine once a month.

Some folks recommend changing the engine oil before storage to remove acids and contaminates built up in the crankcase. Others recommend waiting till spring to remove the moisture built up from the winter. The former seems more logical to me. Moisture will be dispersed very shortly upon startup by engine heat.

A few simple steps now will make your spring startup easier and less expensive. Go into winter prepared and enjoy.