Sales of tractors are up 17% on this time last year and could set a record by year-end, says NZ Tractor and Machinery Association (TAMA) president John Tulloch.
Many of us are probably guilty of jumping on and turning the key, and really only worrying about routine servicing when the solenoid clicks, and she won't go.
Perhaps as we start a New Year we should be making a resolution to give the old gal a little TLC, by way of a routine service.
Whether you're running an old grey Fergie or one of todays' hi- tech honeys, the same rules apply.
Broadly speaking the tractor can be broken down into three key areas; the engine, the transmission and the rear transaxle. To the extremities we bolt a wheel to each corner, and a three point linkage and a drawbar to the rear.
Starting at the front of the tractor take the time to check the cooling system. First and foremost check the coolant level, when the engine is cold.
Try to top up with a proper coolant/anti-freeze mix, normally at a 30-50% ratio. This ensures the system stays clean and free of any deposits and has a chance of operating at maximum efficiency.
With the radiator itself, make sure that it is clean and none of the fins are bent or broken. Finally make sure that the drive belt that runs the radiator fan, and most likely the water pump is correctly tensioned, and free from cracks. If it isn't, then replace it.
Moving rearwards to the engine itself consider an oil change. Oil is the lifeblood of the engine and does a number of jobs. As one who's been in the industry for more years than I care to remember, I can remember the pneumonic I was taught at uni - London County Council Cleansing Dept. Oil lubricates, cools, cleans, is corrosion preventative and dispersant.
Whilst the farmyard hack may not clock up the high hours it's important to ensure that it gets a fresh charge of oil on an annual basis.
It's real easy. Get the engine up to operating temperature, find a suitable receptacle and remove the drain plug from the engine sump. Let the old oil drain out fully, then remove the filter cartridge being mindful that its contents may be hot.
Once everything has drained away, the most important point is to replace the drain plug in the sump. If you don't you may be surprised how much fresh oil it takes to come up to the mark on the dipstick.
Next step is to pre-charge the replacement filter with oil -remembering to lubricate the sealing gasket on the end of the filter. Install the filter and tighten, only hand tight.
Then add oil up to the mark on the dipstick. Now start the engine. Check that the oil light on the dashboard goes out within a few seconds. Once this happens, stop the engine, add a little more oil to bring it up to the correct mark on the dipstick; then restart the engine. Allow it warm up before use whilst checking around the engine for any leaks.
Whilst we are at the front end it's also a good time to give the air cleaner a check. This will normally be a cartridge type, which is normally accessed by undoing a number of clips and removing the filter element. If it's very heavily soiled, treat the tractor to a replacement, but if it's not too bad, blow the filter out with an air-line to remove most of the dust. Once she's spotless pop it back in.
Also in the engine department we need to ensure the tractor is receiving a fresh supply of clean fuel. At this point it's worth mentioning that a tractor doesn't like water in the fuel, particularly when using modern fuels with ultra-low sulphur content, that have very limited lubrication properties.
To change the fuel filter, firstly make sure that the area around the filter head is nice and clean, then undo the bleed screw at the bottom of the filter housing and drain off any water. Now remove the filter element and discard safely. Then replace the seals on the filter housing and replace with a new filter element. Now the system needs priming, so firstly ensure the fuel tank is full and the tap is turned on.
Use the hand primer pump to fill the filter housing. Once the housing is full, open the bleed screw on the top of the filter housing to eliminate any trapped air. Keep pumping until all air bubbles have stopped. Now start the tractor whilst keeping an eye out for any leaks. In some cases you may have to just crack open an injector to get the last of the air out of the system, but only do this as a last resort.
Moving back down the tractor we now need to look at the area of the gearbox/transmission. This area converts the output of the engine into useable power that can be transmitted to the ground. Inside is normally a selection of shafts gears and clutches that need a regular supply of fresh clean oil. The service schedule will say change every 1000 hours, but some tractors in lifestyle situations may only run up 150 hours a year - so the transmission oil should be changed on an annual basis.
To change the oil, firstly run the tractor for about 15 minutes and get it up to operating temperature.
Remove the drain plug at the rear of the tractor, and if the tractor is a 4WD, look out for a second drain plug in the area of the 4WD transfer box. Once everything stops draining replace all drain plugs.
If the tractor has the correct hours change the hydraulic filter, and top up the transmission to the correct level. This may be indicated by a dipstick, sight-glass or even a level plug. Run the tractor for a couple of minutes, then switch off, and top up to the correct level.
If the tractor is a 4WD unit, drain the oil in the front diff casing, then replace the drain plug. Remove the level plug, and top up with the correct specification oil until a slight trickle comes from the level hole.
Carry out the same procedure with both final drives. Jack up each of the front wheels in turn and rotate until the drain plug is in the 6 o'clock position, remove the plug and drain. Now rotate the wheel to the 9 o'clock position and fill to the level. Replace the drain plug.
While all this draining and dripping has been going on, walk around the tractor with a loaded grease gun and give every grease nipple a couple of shots. Pay particular attention to the front axle and steering, and the thee-point linkage at the rear of the machine.
This small investment of a couple of hours of your time, a fresh filter or two, and a few litres of oil might seem like a chore, but the old gal will love you for it.