Decrease start-up time with winter maintenance
By Michael Zimmerman
After a long season of working in the fields, it could be tempting to just park all that equipment inside and lock the doors. But doing some preventative maintenance now and periodically through the winter will help minimize maintenance time in the spring, leaving more time for planting.
Joel Unger, Service Manager at Twin Valley Equipment in Eaton, provided some basic pointers for end-of-season farm equipment maintenance. Many of the tips can go toward a variety of vehicles that are put away for the cold months, including lawn tractors, motorcycles, and cars.
“Downtime in the winter is uptime in the spring,” Unger said. “In the spring, you only have a small window to get it planted. If you’re down for a week or two, you might have lost the prime time.”
In addition to cutting the spring start-up time to a minimum, proper maintenance will also extend the life of equipment and keep resale value high.
First and foremost, Unger recommended giving all equipment a good cleaning. “The basic thing is to clean everything up,” he said. “As you’re cleaning, you can inspect all the hardware and check any wear points.”
Clean all planters, drills, seeders, and combines, according to a release from Utah State University Extension on winter maintenance. Making sure the equipment is free of any grain and plant material will reduce rusting and make the equipment and its storage area less attractive to pests.
“Trapped grain attracts rodents, who often make a meal of electrical wiring, leading to short circuits or other electrical problems,” the USU release states.
The same goes for balers and tractors, as any plant material, dust, or soil retains moisture, which can lead to rusty equipment. Using a power washer is a good way to clean equipment, but be sure to avoid contact with seals if using a high powered washer, according to the USU release.
After using the pressure washer, or instead of, compressed air can be used to reach any hard-to-reach places.
According to Unger, a rust preventative coating could be beneficial after cleaning.
“There’s a few people that will lightly coat the equipment with diesel fuel mixed with a little oil,” he said. “They’ll spray the machinery down to put a light film down to keep it from rusting. That kind of preserves the paint and it keeps the metal from rusting.”
In various Internet forums, the ratio of diesel to oil ranges from 2-to-1 to 4-to-1. For a less flammable solution, there are several rust inhibitor products on the market.
Unger also recommended changing engine oil as well as fuel and oil filters in the winter.
“A lot of guys like to change the oil now. Some don’t, but I like to change the oil as I grease everything and check hoses and belts for cracks,” he said. “Fuel filter and oil filters are a yearly maintenance item, especially on newer equipment. On newer equipment, you want the keep the filters changed. It’s cheap compared to what injectors cost.”
All hoses and belts should be checked before storage, but Unger recommended changing hoses and belts every four years regardless of their appearance.
Before storage, it’s a good idea to check the freezing point of your coolant with a simple antifreeze tester available at any hardware or auto parts store. Unger recommended changing coolant every two years. Now is also a good time to lubricate any grease points on equipment. Each owner’s manual gives instructions on where the specific points are located.
As for transmission fluid, Unger recommended it should be changed every 1,000 hours or three years. Unger also recommended checking hydraulic systems before winter storage.
“With hydraulic systems, you want to operate them and make sure they’re lifting your equipment properly,” he said.
Hydraulic lines should also be checked at this time, as a little bit of dirt or soil in a hydraulic system can cause some expensive damage. With engines and hydraulic systems, a training bulletin on Fleetguard.com recommends periodically warming up both engines and hydraulic systems during periods of non-usage. Hydraulic cylinders should not be stored fully extended, because if temperatures increase, the oil will expand and could cause damage to the system.
Tires should also be checked for proper inflation before storage to reduce damage to sidewalls.
Unger said that the winter is the best time to check for the fit of any new equipment as well.
“If you’re updating your equipment, for instance buying a new planter and you want to put it to your old tractor, you want to check your specifications of your tractor and planter to make sure they’re compatible,” he said. “We’ve run into a lot of that recently. New planters take so much more oil flow, and you need a tractor to operate that.”
As for batteries, some remove them prior to storage. According to USU, a small drain on current could discharge the batteries and cause them to freeze in cold weather. There are several battery maintainer on the market to keep batteries charged through times of non-usage.
The most valuable tool for maintenance, Unger said, is the owner’s manual. Each manual gives instruction for regular service intervals, either by years or by hours.
Twin Valley Equipment provides service to farm equipment, including harvest equipment, hay and forage equipment, planting equipment, and tractors. Unger also has several lawn mowers in from customers for winter servicing. Twin Valley Equipment can be contacted at (937) 456‑6281 or online at www.twinvalleyequip.com.
Michael Zimmerman is a staff writer at The Register-Herald in Eaton.