Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Prolong the lifespan of your tractor by caring for its engine

If you want to continuously get the best performance from your tractor, you must be prepared to do the basic maintenance

You can prolong your tractor engine's lifespan with some easy and inexpensive checks. They should be done year-round, but especially during wintertime.
Your local farm machinery dealer will stock a number of products aimed at stopping water getting into your tractor's fuel system.
A turbo-charger may be turning on its shaft at speeds of up to 80,000rpm, so it needs some time to slow down before turning the engine off.
Keep the radiator clear of straw, hay and insects, and check the condition and tightness of the fan belt.
You can prolong your tractor engine's lifespan with some easy and inexpensive checks. They should be done year-round, but especially during wintertime.
Derek Casey

Derek Casey

Winter can be a gruelling time for farm machinery and no machine works harder on the farm than your tractor. Tractor engines tend to give as good as they get, with a little maintenance helping to keep running costs down and generally prolonging the tractor's trouble-free lifespan on the farm.

By the same token, those who ignore the basic cooling, lubrication and fuel requirements of an engine are prone to having expensive breakdowns and a shorter engine life. The following are some easy and inexpensive checks to do year-round, but especially during winter.

Check no 1: Is your engine breathing clearly?

This is a very basic requirement. How much air does a six-litre diesel engine consume in an hour running at 2,000 rpm? Its minimum requirement will be (6 x 2,000)/2 = 6,000 litres per minute.

In an hour the requirement is 6,000 x 60 = 360,000 litres, and that is without a turbocharger. The turbocharged version will need more than 400,000 litres every hour it is running at that engine speed. All of that air must come through the air filter, so if the tractor has been working in dusty conditions you will very likely have gathered enough dirt to block (or partially block) the air filter.

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 to knock 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 turn your face away or wear safety goggles. A clean air filter is the basic requirement for power from your tractor. If you do not get enough air into the cylinders you cannot burn the diesel fuel, so you do not get the correct power out.

Check no 2: Does your diesel quality make the grade?

Diesel is required for the tractor to run, and only diesel. Be sure that no water gets into the fuel. To consume the diesel, the tractor requires having the diesel presented in the cylinders as a vapour.

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This is done through the injectors. At 2,000 rpm each injector opens and closes 1,000 times per minute. Diesel is vapourised by pushing it through a set of tiny holes (you can barely see them with the naked eye) in the injector at enormous pressures in the region of 2,500psi.

Consider that your car tyre pressure is about 30psi. In time, this pressure will cause the holes in the injectors to become bigger through wear and the vapourisation of diesel will become less efficient.

As injectors wear the efficiency of the engine reduces; you get less power out for the same fuel going in.

Injectors must be removed, checked, reconditioned and replaced regularly. How often? After the first 1,500 hours and every 1,000 hours thereafter is the recommended schedule.

Keep an eye on the water trap under the fuel filter if it is there, or drain the fuel filter regularly, to prevent water getting to the injector pump.

Fill up your fuel tank in the evening after work to prevent overnight condensation, rather that in the morning.

Water in the injector pump can be fatal for the pump – not to mention extremely expensive.

A number of products are available from farm machinery dealers aimed at stopping water getting into your tractor's fuel system.

Check no 3: Give your tractor time to warm up!

If an athlete tries to perform to maximum ability without warming up they will likely do serious damage. It's the same for your tractor engine, or any other engine.

Diesel engines are designed to run at a temperature of 80-85C. Until it reaches that temperature it is not performing at its best.

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 5 minutes before you really ask it for its best. But the athlete should warm down also, and so should your tractor, most especially if it is turbo-charged.

Always allow the engine to tick over for a couple of minutes 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 greatly.

A turbo-charger may be turning on its shaft at 80,000 rpm. That's at an incredible speed of more than 1,300 revolutions per second.

If you do not allow it time to slow down you can do serious damage because when you stop the engine, the oil supply to the turbine shaft will stop and the oil will burn up in seconds with the possibility of melting the shaft.

Check no 4: Don't let your engine overheat

To cool the tractor engine, we mostly use coolant – never water alone. Engines that have just water in the cooling system are more prone to becoming porous.

The coolant is usually a mixture of water, anti-freeze and summer coolant. Keep the cooling system topped up with a ready-made coolant from the supplier of your make of tractor or make up a mixture of one litre of anti-freeze to two litres of water. Only use soft water; do not use your tap water if you have lime problems in your taps.

This will develop a lime blockage in your radiator as the cooling tubes in the radiator are very narrow and will easily block with lime. Ideally use clean, soft rainwater.

Keep the mixture in your cooling system during the summer as well as the winter for two years and always top up with the coolant mixture, not water.

If you are losing coolant constantly you must ask the question, where is it going? Check for leaks daily. If you open the radiator cap on the older type cooling systems, when the engine is cold in the morning, expect to find that the coolant level is below the neck of the radiator by about an inch or a little more.

When the engine warms up it will expand and fill the radiator.

If your system has an expansion bottle with coolant, just make sure the system has coolant in the expansion bottle between the high and low marks on the bottle.

Check no 5: Is there adequate oil for lubrication?

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.

Check no 6: When did you last clean the radiator?

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

Check the condition and tightness of the fan belt so that coolant is circulated around your engine. How tight is it? Look for 1/2 to 1/4 inch of play in the centre of the longest side of the fan belt. Have a spare fan belt in stock.

Irish Independent