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Service tips to extend the life of utility tractors

Brian Celli for Progressive Dairyman Published on 11 December 2018
Utility tractor

Regardless of the season, utility tractors are typically the workhorses in many operations. Keeping tractors serviced properly is time and money well spent to ensure efficient operation and peak performance.

Regular service also helps avoid costly, unnecessary repairs and extends the tractor’s life.



An engine rebuild can easily cost thousands of dollars in parts and labor. Downtime for repairs is inconvenient and can delay critical jobs like planting, baling or harvest.

Step-by-step service tips

Make it a habit to check the oil, coolant and other fluid levels each time before you start the tractor. Review the operator’s manual for details on service intervals as well as the correct oil viscosity and recommended filters. With that information, create a maintenance and repair schedule, then keep good records. Follow these tips when servicing your utility tractor.

  • Change and evaluate tractor oil – Engine oil reduces friction and wear between moving metal surfaces and minimizes heat caused by friction. When oil levels are low, engine parts overheat. Exceeding the manufacturer’s recommended hours between oil changes may cause premature wear or engine damage. For newer tractors, the engine oil and oil filter aren’t changed until 500 hours of operation. However, if fewer than 500 hours of use occur in a year’s time, change the oil and filter anyway to keep water and other contaminants from accumulating and possibly causing damage.

Before starting the oil change, make sure you have the right filter, type and weight of oil for the temperature and environment the tractor will be used in after the oil change and amount of oil needed. Overfilling engine oil can damage seals.

  • Selecting an oil weight – Oil weight or viscosity describes how well oil flows at a specific temperature. It is not a measure of quality. The higher the number, the thicker or slower-flowing, which changes how oil coats internal engine parts to protect against heat and friction. A 30-weight oil flows more quickly than a 50-weight oil but doesn’t offer quite the same level of protection at higher operating temperatures or in stressful conditions.

Oils that are too thick (high viscosity) decrease power and lubrication and increase fuel consumption. Oils that are too thin (low viscosity) don’t provide the protection needed for the engine and drivetrain.

On an oil label, the “W” following a viscosity number stands for winter and indicates the lubricant has different flow characteristics at different temperatures. It also means the lubricant is suitable for cold temperatures. On a cold start-up, a 20W-50-weight oil flows like a 20-weight oil.


Once the engine is warm, a 20W-50 works like a 50-weight oil. During the winter, when temperatures dip, operators may want a thinner oil that thickens up when it warms up. Multiviscosity oils that function well in a broad range of temperatures are available and often recommended. A 50-weight oil may be too thick to flow through the engine when it’s started on a cold day. A 20-weight oil might be too thin to keep a warm engine safe.

  • Changing the oil – Run the engine for a few minutes to warm the oil, which helps it flow better and drain faster. With a drain pan under the tractor, below the drain plug, loosen the plug by turning clockwise, and drain oil completely.

    Then, wipe any loose dirt away and replace the plug. Make sure to inspect the oil to be discarded for water, which may give the oil a milky appearance. Also check for engine coolant and diesel fuel. Metal particles in the oil may indicate excessive wear of moving engine parts and potential failure.

Make sure to change the oil filter each time the oil is changed. As the oil drains, remove the old filter and replace with a new one. Coat the O-rings or rubber gaskets with fresh oil first. This lubrication helps the O-ring survive the initial torque from tightening the oil filter.

Then refill the engine with new oil. Start the engine and idle for about 30 seconds before checking for leaks around the oil filter and drain plug. Turn the engine off for a few minutes, and then check the dipstick to be sure the right oil amount was added. Add or remove oil as needed.

  • Select a quality filter – Selecting a quality oil filter as recommended by the manufacturer is as important as choosing the right engine oil for your utility tractor. Consider a filter’s beta ratio or efficiency, collapse/burst pressure, cold-weather performance, capacity or quantity of particles that can be retained and gasket quality when choosing an oil filter.

  • Get an oil analysis – An oil analysis is a way to monitor engine wear and oil contamination and can identify potential problems before a major repair is necessary. Get a baseline analysis done and then run a follow-up oil analysis each oil change. Test kits are available from local dealers to make oil analysis convenient.

  • Check coolant levels, especially in the winter – Coolant fluid (water and antifreeze) carries engine heat away from the engine. Low coolant levels or coolant that contains insufficient antifreeze may cause the cooling system to freeze and cause the engine to fail.

    When checking coolant levels, make sure the tractor engine is cool. Use a hydrometer to accurately measure the freeze and boiling points. Effective coolant should register less than minus 34ºF and a boiling point above 265ºF. If these measurements aren’t met, flush and replace the coolant. If you notice debris when checking the coolant levels, it may also mean you need to flush the system.  end mark

PHOTO: Utility tractors are integral to many operations but are often neglected in regular service and maintenance. Photo courtesy of AGCO Corp.

Brian Celli is a tactical manager for compact and utility tractors with Massey Ferguson