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Good tractor maintenance begins with your eyes

February 2021

Jenny Mathews, Pula Imvula contributor. Send an email to jennymathews@grainsa.co.za  

One of the most challenging and costly events in a farmer’s diary is when he has to deal with breakdowns when the machines should be doing what they are meant to do in the fields. Untimely breakdowns can affect your productivity and income.

A lot of maintenance can be done in the quieter months but just as you eat, sleep and brush your teeth every day to maintain your own well-being, there are certain things that have to be a part of the daily maintenance routines of your equipment.

It is important to remember that the four things a tractor needs to work are:

  • diesel;
  • air;
  • lubrication; and
  • a water cooling system.

Photo: John Mathews

If you normally fill your fuel tanks from a bowser it should be clean. However many farmers 
will fill ‘scoops’ with fuel and fill their tractors at the edge of the field where it is working. It is very important to make sure the containers used are perfectly clean. If dirt and grime contaminate the diesel, the filters will be contaminated. If filters aren’t changed regularly, you run the risk of damaging the engine. Dirty fuel affects the tractor’s injectors. The engine will not function at full capacity. Injectors are a costly item to repair or replace. The injector sprays the fuel into the cylinders under very high pressure. When injectors wear, you could either get over- or under fuelling. 

Air cleaners need to be cleaned regularly with high pressure air, but they can only be cleaned a few times before they should be replaced. This is to prevent clogging because if your air filter is dirty and prevents the flow of air into the engine, it will affect the running of the engine. Dust in the engine causes wear on bearings and rings which will result in the tractor using excessive oil.

Farmer John says: ‘Look through your air filter from the inside, and hold up a light to the outside. If you see a good amount of light, your air filter is okay. If the light is dim or you can’t see it at all, replace the filter immediately. Plan on checking the air filter every eight hours; more often if you are working in very dirty conditions.’ Some farmers actually keep track by writing the hours worked on the oil and air filters.

Oil is your main source of lubrication in an engine. Oil must be replaced at regular intervals – about every 300 hours of work. A tractor driver must be trained to check oil levels every day. Low oil levels, due to either an oil leak or worn rings forcing the tractor to use more oil, will cause oil starvation and ultimately the seizing up of the engine. This will require a total engine overhaul at great expense. The oil filter must be replaced with every oil change. 

The key elements in the cooling system are the radiator, the water pump, rubber hoses and fan belts to drive the fan which cools the engine. A weak link in any of these is problematic. A leaking radiator will cause the water to leak out and the engine will overheat and possibly seize – also leading to a complete engine overhaul.

The water pump has bearings that need to be checked and greased. The rubber hoses must also be checked regularly as they can perish and leak. This is a cheap and quick fix to avoid major damage. It is also necessary to make sure the clamps around the hoses are tightly secured. Fan belts do stretch and perish over time. The belt tension must be checked regularly to make sure there is no slipping and to ensure the fan is turning properly.

We cannot afford to neglect any steps in our maintenance processes considering the huge capital outlay that we fork out to acquire our tractors and implements. The best practice when it comes to maintenance is routine.

Take time to familiarise yourself and your workers with maintenance on each machine or implement; identify the parts that take the most strain, such as bearings and belts and get them moving and grooving like they should. Usually the best method with regard to on the job checks is to have a ‘pre-work’ routine. Instil this routine into your labour force.

Make it a rule that before any tractor or implement enters a land:

  1. Everything is fuelled up.
  2. Everything is greased up.
  3. Tyres are checked.
  4. Oil is checked.
  5. All moving parts are given a good spin.

It’s all about being proactive to save time and money in the long run.

Publication: February 2021

Section: Pula/Imvula