Top tips to keep your tractor running in cold weather

When ordering fuel be sure your supplier is filling your tank with winter grade
When ordering fuel be sure your supplier is filling your tank with winter grade
Derek Casey

Derek Casey

With temperatures set to plummet in the coming days farmers are being advised to prepare their farms for the severe conditions.

Tractors are often even more critical on farms during bad weather. Here we outline some tips on how to keep it running in cold weather.

Give your tractor time to warm up

If an athlete tries to perform to maximum ability without first warming up they will likely do damage. It's the same for your tractor engine. Give the heater plugs a chance to do their job on a cold morning rather than burning out a battery turning the engine over.

Diesel engines are designed to run at a temperature of 80 - 85oC.

Until it reaches that temperature the engine is not performing at its best.

A turbo-charged six litre engine requires as much as 400,000 litres of air per hour.

As it warms up the compression and oil scraper rings stretch to their correct length, the main engine bearings expand to carry the load of the crankshaft and all the other parts of the engine expand to their proper working size.

Warm your engine up for about five minutes before you really ask it for its best.

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Of course, the athlete needs to warm down as well, and so does your tractor engine, especially if it is turbo-charged.

Always allow the engine to tick over for a couple of seconds before you turn off the key. It allows the whole engine to cool a little, especially the pistons, and it allows the turbo-charger to slow down before stopping.

Winter grade diesel

When temperatures plummet, diesel thickens and gels, forming a wax-like substance.

This makes the normal flow of fuel to an engine's injectors very difficult and the tractor can cut out. Normal winter grade diesel should be wax-resistant down to temperatures as low as -12C.

You might think that keeps us safe in Ireland but remember during the winter freeze of 2011, certain parts of the country got as low as -17C. Even in parts of the country with less extreme temperatures, a wind chill factor can cause issues.

When ordering fuel for the October to March period, be sure your supplier is filling your tank with winter grade. Add an anti-waxing agent to your farm storage tank and to your tractor's fuel tank to prevent waxing.

This is cheap and it can save you a lot of time thawing frozen filters.

A 235ml bottle costs €6 and treats 125 litres of diesel.

Water in fuel

Cold weather is the acid test for water in diesel because the water fraction will freeze before the diesel does.

On the tractor, this issue manifests itself in the form of a blocked filter with ice in the water bowl. The tractor won't start or it can even cut out during operation.

Depending on the location of the filter, a severe wind chill can be created in some tractors by the engine's cooling fan blowing cold air onto the filter. In such a case, the water bowl can freeze and the diesel in the filter can wax.

You can prolong your tractor engine's lifespan with some easy and inexpensive checks during wintertime. Photo: Roger Jones

The long term solution is to prevent water from getting into your fuel before it gets near the tractor.

If you don't already have a water filter on the storage tank tap, fit one. You can also get filters that sink to the bottom of the storage tank and sit absorbing water from the fuel

Regularly drain the water bowl on a fuel filter to stop the water from freezing. Some farmers cover the filter with cardboard or plastic to insulate it from the cold air and the engine's own cooling fan.

If a filter is frozen, thaw it out by pouring some hot water over the filter and then bleed diesel up to the injector pump. To stop condensation and water forming inside the bulk storage tank, keep the tank full as much as you can.

Proper tank placement is critical. The tank floor should slope away from the main tap. This means that dirt and gunk will collect at the lowest point of the tank where the drain is, not at the main tap where it can get into the tractor's tank.


Batteries suffer hugely in the cold. Capacity drops rapidly in low temperatures, so a weak battery hasn't a chance. There are rechargeable power packs that you can buy for a tractor to avoid jumpstarting from another battery.

However, these can be quite expensive (€300-€400) and there is a risk that you could overpower the tractor's electrical system.

It is safer to use a spare battery of equal capacity to the one in the tractor for jumpstarting.

Before temperatures truly drop replace a fading battery that you suspect is going to let you down.

Keep a spare battery on farm at all times during winter for jump starting and/or replacement. Ensure the battery terminals are clean and well connected. Replace a fading battery before wintertime.

Check that the amp hours on the new battery are the same as the one being replaced.

Is the battery being blamed when the problem is really the starting motor or alternator?

Is there adequate oil?

How much oil should you have in the tractor? Dip the tractor engine oil when the tractor is cold and on level ground. The oil level should be on the "safe" part of the dip-stick. Do not have the oil on the lower part of the dip or there will not be enough oil to cool your engine.

The main shafts, crank-shaft, cam-shaft and rocker-shaft are oil cooled. Having enough oil makes sure that the oil gets a chance to cool between circuits of the engine. If the oil overheats it may lose its lubricating properties.

Too much oil in your engine can equally do a lot of very expensive damage. It can blow out the oil seals on your crankshaft and the oil will leak out and destroy the clutch.

Is your engine breathing clearly?

This is a very basic requirement. A turbocharged six litre engine running at 2,000rpm will use over 400,000 litres of air every hour.

The air intake system pre-cleans the air and much of the dirt is removed before it gets to the air filter. But the air filter will need to be cleaned regularly. Unscrew the air filter cover and pull it out.

Tap it on your hand or your knee to knock much of the dirt out of it. If it is very dirty, blow it out using air from a compressor.

Blow it from the inside out and wear safety goggles.

A clean air filter is a basic requirement to derive proper power from your tractor. If you do not get enough air into the cylinders you cannot burn the fuel.

Clean the radiator

Keep the radiator clear of straw, hay, insects and everything else that seems to get stuck in there.

Blow air through it, from the engine side toward the front, or flush it out with a hose on an ordinary tap supply, not a pressure hose.

Keep the radiator clear of straw, hay and insects, and check the condition and tightness of the fan belt.

Check the condition and tightness of the fan belt so that coolant is circulated around your engine. How tight is it?

Look for to inches of play in the centre of the longest side of the fan belt. Keep a spare belt in stock.

Indo Farming