10 Easy Ways to Mess Up a Good Tractor

MHUB - March 11, 2015

We know you've never done any of these. But the next time your neighbor does, you'll know how to fix it. Tractors are loyal servants. Still, they cannot always overcome the misguided operating skills of their owners. Their rush to finish a job—and their firm belief that warning lights are only advisory—can bring even the finest piece of machinery to its knees. With help from tractor-service technicians, we've compiled a list of dumb things some tractor owners do. 1. Filling the diesel fuel tank with gasoline: Ah, the mighty diesel engine, rough and rugged. . . until you pour in gasoline. The first thing you hear is a loud "pinging" sound. Next, your pistons take on interesting new shapes. Last, you write a check for a new engine. Solution: There is a good reason why the decal by the diesel tank on a diesel tractor says "diesel fuel only." 2. Failing to tighten the engine oil drain plug: The oil needs to stay with the engine. The oil drain plug keeps it there. So why does it mysteriously loosen itself after oil changes? My theory is that the plug is installed and finger-tightened. When you go to get the wrench to tighten the plug, something breaks your concentration (like a cell phone call from your neighbor who wants to know what happens when you put gasoline in a diesel engine). The drain plug never gets tightened, and an engine bearing molds itself to the crankshaft. Pull out the checkbook. Solution: Always check for leaks. If the oil gauge reads "0" or the oil light is red (techs call it the "idiot light"), stop the engine. Or, it will stop by itself. 3. Stringing lights, radio, GPS or fan onto your electrical system without going through a fuse: Electrical circuits on tractors are protected by fuses and breakers. Each circuit is designed to carry a certain number of amps. But tractors always need more lights. So you grab the headlight wire, strip the insulation, splice in a new wire and tape it. When the fuse blows, you install a higher amp fuse. When it blows, tinfoil or a piece of wire closes the connection. Great idea—until your tractor burns to the ground. Solution: Check the number on that fuse—the original fuse. That's the circuit's rating. If it blows, find out why the circuit is drawing too many amps. 4. Operating a tractor too fast: Tractors are designed for slow operation in rough terrain—not the 33-degree banks at the Talladega Speedway. Go too fast over rough ground and you can leave front axle parts—even entire axle assemblies—on the ground. I was cruising through tall grass in a new field one time. The right front tire fell off after I ran onto an old, open well. The front axle broke, and I got bruised up. Solution: If you have the need for speed, move onto the road (in something other than a tractor). Tractor rollovers happen before you can react. 5. Putting dirty fuel in your tractor: Dirty or contaminated fuel in a tractor, whatever fuel type it uses, is a problem. The injector pump is a very precise component and will not drink water or debris. Solution: If your tank and fuel system are dirty, you may have to remove and clean your tractor's fuel tank. Don't forget to clean your supply tank too. 6. Never servicing the hydraulic and electrical systems: The hydraulic and electrical systems are easily ignored because the tractor will usually start and the hydraulics will work, even if not perfectly. But buy just one new hydraulic pump and you'll remember to service it next time. The battery is the heart of your electrical system. Inspect all wires often, and keep your battery secure so it doesn't shake around. Inspect your positive cable. If it shorts, you could have a fire because there is usually no fuse or breaker protection for this battery cable. Solution: The fix is simple. Always service the hydraulic and electrical systems, look for leaks and check for bare wires. 7. Operating the tractor with your foot resting on the clutch pedal: A foot that rides the clutch will soon put you in the market for a throw-out bearing, a clutch and pressure plate, or both. Solution: Most clutches require about an inch of "free travel" when they are properly adjusted. Always remove your foot from the clutch pedal after the clutch is released. 8. Failing to keep the radiator clean: It's not too rare an event for an engine to burn up due to dirt clogging the radiator cooling fins. Solution: If your engine registers hot, try what we do in the shop. Blow and wash the dirt from the radiator. But be careful with high-pressure water or air. The pressure can bend the radiator fins. 9. Not servicing the air filter. The air filter is the engine's lifesaver: The time it takes for the filter to get dirty is only determined by the dust in the air where your tractor is running. Solution: Service your filter more often in extreme conditions. If your engine begins to smoke, check your filter. Remember: No air in, no power out. Some tractors are equipped with an air filter gauge or a light. This shows you the amount of air restriction in the filter. 10. Running the tractor out of diesel: You thought the fuel gauge didn't work. You knew you were low on fuel. The red light and dinging bells meant nothing to you because you just wanted to finish the job. OK, OK, so you didn't break anything when you ran it out of fuel, but you surely lost time. Solution: Keep plenty of fuel in the tank so you won't have to pay the service technician to bleed the lines and change the fuel filters. Your first-place ribbon is your service invoice.