Preparing diesel-powered equipment for winter is critical as temperatures fall

As fall settles over the Ozarks, now is the time to prepare diesel engines for cooler days and nights ahead, which will help producers keep their operation running smoothly.

Mandi Seela, marketing manager for S&H Farm Supply, said her service department recommends checking antifreeze in tractors to ensure it is ready for older temperatures.

“That’s first and foremost,” she said, adding that antifreeze (coolant) levels should be at 20 degrees below zero or lower. If more coolant is needed, additional coolant, not water, should be added.

Owners should follow the recommendation of their equipment’s manufacturer for the type of antifreeze used in their equipment, and there are specific coolant products for diesel engines.

Thad Ruscha of Ruscha Machinery of Verona, Mo., said fuel and fuel filters are often overlooked when it comes to winter preparation, and can be the most problematic. “If you have any moisture in your fuel, it’s going to plug your filters and things just won’t work,” he said. “You have summer fuel and winter fuel, and keeping up on your fuel additives and your filers are part of general maintenance and if you keep up on that, things will be fine. Moisture in your fuel or hydraulics will just complicate things when the oil gets heavy. In the winter, your belts and hoses will also get hard, that complicates things even more.”

Another issue producers face in cold weather is fuel “gelling.” Diesel fuel is prone to waxing or gelling in cold weather; both are terms for the solidification of diesel oil into a partially crystalline state. The presence of solidified waxes thickens the oil and clogs fuel filters and injectors in engines. The crystals build up in the fuel line (especially in fuel filters) until the engine is starved of fuel, causing it to stop running.

Winter diesel is enhanced to prevent it from gelling in cold weather conditions. In general that is achieved by treatment with additives that change the low temperature characteristics of the fuel.

Adding that fuel conditioner, Seela said, is important if tractors are kept outside or if there is no access to plug in a block heater. A block heater warms an engine to increase the chances that the engine will start as well as warm up the vehicle faster than it normally would in extremely cold weather.

“You should put the conditioner directly in your fuel take and then let that tractor run for a 15, 20 minutes,” Seela said. “Running the tractor lets it get through the system and gives you a good spread throughout.”

Ruscha said some tractors, especially those that are newer, don’t need for block heaters to be plugged at all times in the winter months.

“Most of your newer stuff will start below freezing,” he said. “But, you get down to the 20s and the teens, it just helps them start easier. Your older tractors might not start at 40 degrees.”

Ruscha and Seela also recommend treating any bulk fuel tanks on the farm before winter begins, and treating as needed as fuel is used.

“This time of year, it’s also good to think about treating them with an algae remover,” Seela added. “The change in temperature can create condensation inside the tank. It’s never a bad idea to treat your tank for algae, especially if you get fuel from multiple sources.”

Clean air filters, Seela said, should also help equipment work properly in the winter months.

Ruscha said the best defense against winter is to be proactive in general maintenance practices.

“If you take care of your equipment, then you shouldn’t have any problems,” he said.


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