Winter checks/servicing

Always good practice is to get your tractor serviced in the autumn, after the summer rush and before the weather deteriorates into the winter. Most people will know their own competency and ability levels as to how much they can or can’t do themselves. If you can, then leave it to the dealer or mechanic to service. Many dealers will have special winter servicing deals or extra discounts on filters for the winter period.

There is a lot you can do or check yourself, without much expertise. A quick runaround may give you an insight into little problems that need rectifying before they become big problems. Mechanical problems very rarely disappear so ignoring them doesn’t work. More often than not it’s cheaper to resolve issues early.

Fluid levels

If you are not comfortable with all things mechanical, among the things you can easily do is to check your tractor’s fluid levels. Low levels of engine oil, backend oil, coolant or brake fluid may indicate a leak or other problem that needs to be investigated. Make sure you top up with the correct specification oil, coolant or brake fluid. Using the wrong type or specification can have disastrous results so refer to the operators manual or ask a dealer or mechanic.


You can check the effectiveness of your tractor’s coolant or antifreeze with a simple and relatively cheap tool like this (available in most autofactors). Cooling systems are pressurised and the coolant can be near boiling point after working the engine for a while. So, you should only check a vehicle’s cooling system when the vehicle is cold and not running. Floating discs indicate what protection level is offered by the coolant or antifreeze in the vehicle’s system.


With the tractor off and ignition key in your pocket, have a look at your tractor’s fan belt or belts. There may be one or more vee or flat belts driving the cooling fan, water pump, alternator, AC or more. If they look worn, burnt or perished (cracking) they will need replacing before there are any heating or charging issues. Loose belts will need tensioning by a suitably capable/qualified person.


Blocked radiators may cause over-heating of engine, transmission or ineffective air-conditioning. Carefully blow out with compressed air but do wear a dust mask as there can be a lot of irritating particles captured in the cooling package. Give the outer air filter a blow out too if not too complicated to access.


The loads experienced by the front axle of a loader tractor can be phenomenal, especially when handling a full shear-grab or silage bales. Whether two- or four-wheel drive, most farm loader tractors need more than regular greasing of the front axle components to minimise wear. Don’t forget to grease the loader too.

Hydraulic hoses

Flexible hydraulic hoses carry hydraulic oil under extreme pressure. If one bursts it can be extremely dangerous, maybe dropping a load and causing damage or injuring an individual or livestock. The escaping high pressure oil is equally as dangerous. If there is any doubt about a hydraulic hose, ask the experts or get it changed.


Worth a mention on their own are fuel and filtration. Fuel and water do not mix. Diesel injections systems definitely do not like water and can cause extremely expensive damage. Fuel filters are generally not (too) expensive and well worth the investment. Evidence of fuel contamination in a tractor’s system, this glass bowl and filter for example, may be worthy of a follow-up. Is there a water-absorbent fuel filter on your farm diesel tank?


A faulty or ineffective handbrake has got to be one of the more dangerous defects on any agricultural tractor. The issue may be more complex than simple adjustment so it will often require a garage or agricultural mechanic to repair/rectify.

Cab steps

Cab steps should be clean and in good physical shape.

Frozen, wet feet surrounded by thick socks and wellingtons in the depths of winter will appreciate a full set of cab steps in good condition. In your teens, 20s and even early 30s, you might leap from the ground and land in the seat. Remember, though, the older you get, the less forgiving gravity is. Often, replacement steps are now available from both main dealer and after-market suppliers.


Good house-keeping does not require any qualifications. Keep the cab floor, beside the hand-brake and behind the seat free from clutter. Net, twine or feed bags are excellent at getting caught up in controls, or worse, feet. It’s a long way to fall from a cab.

Cab filters

Cab heaters are essential for winter tractor operation, keeping the driver warm and comfortable, while also attempting to keep glass clear on a wet, muggy day. Poor heater performance is often attributed to it ‘being a tractor’. To be fair, tractor heating systems are in general very good. The often dusty environment tractors operate in means they are equipped with internal and external cab filters. These are frequently ‘forgotten’ about but can affect the heater/fan performance drastically if blocked. Blow out or replace as required.

Air conditioning

Functioning air conditioning may sound counterproductive in the midst of cold and wet winter. That said, if you (can) run your air conditioning with your heating, the AC will draw the moisture out of the air and dry out the cab and its glass much quicker. Many agricultural dealers and repairers are equipped to deal with AC problems. If not, your local air-conditioning specialist may be able to help.


The first very cold day of winter is the day on which the most vehicle batteries are sold. Assuming all battery connections and cables are good, a battery that is struggling in mild weather is not likely to improve in performance. Modern electronic battery testers, such as this Lemania unit from Genfitt, can check the condition of a vehicle’s battery, and often alternator too, very quickly and safely. If it’s poor, change it out before it becomes a cold-day problem.


Winter can be long and dreary, with tractor and loader work often being done while the sun is elsewhere. Good, and working, work lights make dark tasks brighter, plus a whole lot safer for livestock and others living or working on the farm. The same applies for road-going lights. Chances are that while you are driving a tractor on the road, you are the slowest moving vehicle. Make sure all lights are working, especially the beacon.


Anything that helps improve a tractor’s visibility on the road has got to be a good thing. Other road users are especially vulnerable where tractors are exiting a field on to a road where the driver can’t see the road properly. Simple things like reflective tape on front linkage arms may help the tractor be seen earlier and reduce the odds of an accident.


The humble mirror is perhaps one of the most essential pieces of equipment on a tractor or material handler. Once you get used to using them, it is hard to be ‘comfortable’ driving without them. Whether around the yard or on the road, it is something that is in constant use. Mirrors are especially vulnerable to damage, particularly on our vegetation-laden ditches. Most glasses are not expensive and are generally easy to replace.


Effective wipers front and rear are essential for our weather. Most wiper head replacements are not expensive. Good practice is to change front and rear wiper heads before winter arrives. Refills just don’t work as well, particularly if the components of the head are worn. Don’t forget to refill the washer bottle too. Proper washer-mix should stop the water freezing if the temperature takes a dip below zero.


The busiest tractors of the winter tend to be loader tractors. Tyre condition, especially front tyres, is very important. Tyres with splits or signs of perishing should be replaced. If in any doubt, get them checked by your local agri-tyre specialist. Pressures should be within spec and the same for each front tyre. A difference will make the tractor less stable with weight on the loader. Loose wheel nut indicators may be worth considering for a loader tractor.

Hitch, loader and linkages

There can be numerous grease points on rear linkages, front loaders, rock-shafts and hitches. It’s good practice to grease and lubricate and make sure they’re not seized. Make sure the hitch locking mechanism both releases and locks correctly. Rectify or get repaired if required. An escaped trailer, feeder or spreader will not end well.

Bolt safety

Take the time and check the tightness of hitch bolts.

Many times I’ve come across loose hitch bolts working in the trade. So much so, I’ll use a product such as this tamper proof sealant from Wurth. There are many other versions, such as Torque Seal and different colours too. It is applied as a thick liquid and goes rock hard exposed to air. If a bolt loosens, the highly visible sealant shatters and it is easy to see there’s a problem.