Using a tractor maintenance checklist is a great way to keep your small farm tractor operating smoothly. For many of us, we’ve come to rely on our tractor, and being without it is a great inconvenience. We’d all like to avoid losing the use of our tractor, and we can do so by following a basic tractor maintenance checklist.
Tractor Maintenance Checklist
Your tractor uses several consumable products to operate, and they certainly don’t last forever. Besides fuel, we have different oils, grease points, filters, and rubber products. All these things have a service life we need to observe because if we forget or ignore them, they’re guaranteed to break at the least convenient time.
The air filter on your tractor’s engine stops dirt and dust particles from destroying your engine from the inside out. Tractors mow and till fields, as well as grade driveways and move materials like dirt, sand, gravel, and manure. These jobs can kick up a lot of dust, so don’t be surprised if your air filter clogs up quickly.
Periodically inspect your air filter, or your filter’s air restriction gauge if it has one. Can you see daylight through your air filter, or is it so loaded with dirt that you can’t see any light through the filter medium? Is your tractor smoking more than usual? Does your tractor starve out or noticeably loose power? These are all cues to change your air filter.
Fuel filters, much like air filters, stop contaminants from your tractor’s fuel from destroying your engine internally. Fuel filters don’t last forever, and when they stop flowing fuel, it’s because the filter is doing its job.
Many diesel tractors include a water separator in the fuel filter. Water in diesel fuel is a real concern and can do irreparable harm to your engine. Read up on your specific fuel system and understand how to maintain it, because if neglected, it may leave you without a tractor.
Modern agricultural tractors have built-in hydraulic systems to run implements and bucket loaders. Most of these tractors will feature a filter to capture contaminants in the hydraulic oil as it circulates through your system. A clogged filter can cause pressure issues, making your bucket loader or hydraulic implements slow down or lose power, so be sure to change them per your manufacturer’s recommendation.
Be aware that many modern tractors share the hydraulic fluid between the transmission and implements, so your hydraulic and transmission oil may be one in the same. Older tractors may feature a stand-alone system you need to check independently.
Checking Hydraulic Oil
On most modern tractors, there is a sight glass window in the back near the PTO shaft, or there is a dipstick somewhere. Check your hydraulic oil level frequently, because incorrect levels can cause damage and performance problems. It’s best to check your fluid level with no rear hydraulic implements attached because they can affect the oil level. Be sure to lower the bucket loader as well. Otherwise, it will throw off your readings.
Just like your car or truck, your tractor needs an oil change eventually. Unlike cars and trucks, we’re not changing a tractor’s engine oil based on mileage, but by operating hours. All tractors should have an hour or “Hobbs” meter on the dash. This meter logs how long your engine has been running. Just like changing the oil on a vehicle, you’ll be changing the oil filter on your tractor at the same time.
Engine coolant will collect contaminants from wear and tear on the coolant system, and deposits will begin to form over time. An occasional flush and replacement of fluids help avoid internal damage to your coolant system like rust and clogs. Also, when you change your coolant, be sure to replace your thermostat for good measure.
Before the cold winter months, it’s wise to check that your coolant is still capable of resisting freezing temperatures. Using a coolant hydrometer, you can test the freezing point of your coolant. If it’s not up to the task, it’s time to change. Additionally, when you flush your system, consider doing a coolant pressure check to look for leaks. Be sure the hydrometer you’re using is meant to be used for your type of coolant to be sure you’re getting the right reading.
Engine belts on the front of your tractor’s engine keep things spinning. Your alternator, coolant pump, hydraulic pump, and other assorted accessories depend on belts to transfer mechanical power from the engine’s crankshaft to the device. Without a proper belt, these accessories can’t do their job.
When checking belts, look for cracking, glazing of the friction surface and other apparent wear or damage. If you remove your belt for any reason, turn it inside out and bend it to see if it cracks or snaps. Both situations mean it’s time to change it. If your tractor doesn’t use the flat side of the belt as a friction surface, such as a belt tensioner, then you can mark the date of installation, or hour meter reading on the flat surface for reference.
Diamonds last forever, but rubber has a shelf life. Your coolant hoses and hydraulic lines won’t last forever, and you should inspect them on occasion. Coolant hoses will eventually deteriorate and split, causing coolant leaks, but hydraulic lines seldom give you a warning except for checking and cracking. Scrutinize hydraulic lines at flex points, such as at hinge points on your loader, since that’s where they’ll fail first.
Replacing Hydraulic Lines
Many commercial or heavy equipment repair shops and tool stores can make new hydraulic lines while you wait. Be sure to bring them the original hose, broken or not, so that they can duplicate it for you. Keep that old line for reference, however, just in case that new line won’t fit correctly.
Keeping track of the last time you visited your tractor maintenance checklist can be tricky. A maintenance logbook is a great way to track your actions and repairs. I also suggest writing the reading of the hour meter on any new filter, hose, or part you install with a paint marker (not sharpie) when you install it. If you’re not good at keeping records or good at losing them, this may save your bacon down the line.
Your tractor has many moving parts, and a lot of those moving parts require regular greasing to keep them moving smoothly. Look for grease zerks (fittings) on joints and pivot points all along your tractor. If there’s a grease zerk, then there’s a joint you’re supposed to grease.
One of the farm tools I suggest investing in would be a battery-powered grease gun for greasing these fittings. Pumping a manual grease gun gets old quick, a battery-powered grease gun makes this a lot easier.
|What To Do||How Often|
|Check Oil Level||Before Startup|
|Check Fuel Level||Before Startup|
|General Walk Around||Before Startup|
|Check All Fluid levels||Every 10 Hours|
|Check Air Filter||Every 10 Hours|
|Check Fuel Bowl (if equipped)||Every 10 Hours|
|Grease All Zerk Fittings||Every 10 Hours|
|Check Wheel Bolts||Every 10 Hours|
|Change Engine Oil and Filter||Every 200 Hours, or Annually|
|Check Belts and Hoses||Every 200 Hours, or Annually|
|Check Hydraulic Lines||Every 200 Hours, or Annually|
|Replace Air Filter||Every 500 Hours|
|Replace Fuel Filter||Every 500 Hours|
|Change Hydraulic/ Trans Oil and Filters||Every 500 Hours|
|Flush Coolant System||Every 2 Years|
|Replace Thermostat||Every 2 Years|
|Fill Coolant System With New Coolant||Every 2 Years|
|*Basic recommendations. Check your manual for specific maintenance schedules.|
As you’re going through your tractor maintenance checklist, you’ll probably find spots of metal that have lost its paint. It’s common to rub a loader arm on a tree or rock, and bucket paint is something of a lost cause, but keeping ahead of paint loss can save you pain later. Aside from the bucket, touching up the paint on your tractor will serve to keep heavy rust at bay, and keep it looking good. Many hardware and farm stores sell tractor paint colors by the spray can. A quick touch-up here and there can go a long way.
How About You?
Do you check your tractor on the regular? Do you have a pre-flight plan, or do you just “wing it?” Let us know in the comments below and join the conversation!