Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Oil change time

Published on 07 August 2017

I don’t think it comes as any surprise that the best way to fix a problem is to not have it in the first place. I also think there are few things as sickening as that feeling you get when you hear a strange sound coming from your truck or tractor’s engine compartment:

“That just can’t be good.”



Interestingly, as much as any of us hate to suffer a breakdown, there are those among us who just refuse to implement a regular service schedule on equipment. One of the simplest ways to help your equipment last longer is a regular oil change.

It just makes sense if you stop to think about it. What is the typical day in the life of a diesel engine on the modern farm? It’s hot; it’s dusty. There is a good of deal of vibration. Now let’s stop and think about what the worst enemies of metal are: heat, dirt and vibration. It makes you wonder how any engine survives as long as it does.

A major reason to change the oil in your diesel tractor or truck is: Simply running them causes issues within the crankcase. Burning diesel fuel produces sulfur dioxide, which causes wear and tear on piston rings and crankshaft bearings.

Therefore, now that we have established changing the oil regularly is a good idea, what is the best way to go about it? Many farmers ascribe to the idea it is best to get the engine hot before changing the oil. There is a good bit of merit to this notion. Heating the engine would naturally include heating the oil as well.

Hot oil would be more likely to capture any deposits and keep them in suspension so they flow out with the draining oil.


Now that we have the oil heated, one major consideration is: We are dealing with hot oil … and a hot filter and a hot turbo and anything else that happens to be available to put your hand or arm against.

I recommend while you heat the oil to help with flow and cleaning, allowing the oil to drain for a good while and waiting for the engine to cool before tackling the remainder of the change is a good idea as well.

Still, removing the drain plug on many engines will expose you to the heat of the oil itself. I have gotten to where I wear latex gloves whenever I work on any piece of equipment. The first reason is to make it easier to clean my paws but, maybe more importantly, I don’t want oil or grease on the steering wheels of my equipment.

My poor dad had the roughest hands, and he never wore gloves. Consequently, his steering wheels, especially the one in his pickup, looked like someone took a grinder to them where his hands rested.

One item that might help you drain the oil more safely is a petcock or valve. Many engines offer the ability to fit the oil pan with a valve and drain tube that helps you quickly start draining the oil without the need of loosening the plug and, at least initially, exposing your hand to the hot oil.

That said, installing aftermarket drain valves need some thought as to their location. One would not want a drain valve exposed to being possibly knocked open or, worse, knocked completely off. I also have wondered about the restrictive size of some valves and found they offered little advantage due to their small-diameter drains.


From experience, let me just say filters do have differences. Last year, I had a diesel-powered lawn mower that needed its first oil change. I serviced it and replaced the filter with an aftermarket filter I had used successfully in the past.

While it wasn’t all the time, I began to get low oil pressure sensor lights going off, but checking the engine for both oil level and oil pressure (with a gauge), I couldn’t find a problem. The engine ran a bit hotter than before, and the light continued to flicker on our steep banks.

I finally decided I had seen enough and changed the filter again, this time installing the branded original equipment manufacturer filter recommended in the manual. The filter change brought everything back into specs, so I can only assume there was a difference in the restrictiveness in the aftermarket filter. The branded filter is $4 more, so it really is not an issue from now on; I will go with the original equipment manufacturer filter.

The same goes for oil. As we have discussed before, oils – even of the same weight and specs – are not created equal. The best bet is to investigate the oils the manufacturer recommends or speak with a trusted mechanic who has dedicated a large amount of time to servicing equipment like yours.

If your truck or tractor is new, there is also the possibility the recommendations can change as far as oil types and specifications.

If those changes do occur, it can spell trouble for farmers because most of us are do-it-yourselfers. We are out of the loop as far as service bulletins go, so if you own a newer type of truck or tractor, especially with a new-to-that-model power plant, check the internet periodically for service bulletins for that particular model. I found one on my newest pickup where the originally recommended oil weight was being blamed for main bearing failures.

The solution was a heavier-weighted oil that, in my case, turned out to be nearly half the price of the original. Needless to say, I changed at the next oil change.

Once you have set on a particular weight and brand of oil, I highly recommend you stick with those decisions at least until the next change. Mixing oils with different weights and different manufacturers’ processes and additives can result in serious damage to your engine.

In closing, engines are not unlike dairy cows. They are at their most productive points when they are clean, cool and well-cared-for.  end mark

Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has more than 40 years of hands-on dairy and farming experience.

Andy Overbay
  • Andy Overbay

  • Extension Agent
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension
  • Email Andy Overbay