LIVING WITH AN OLDER TRACTOR Can be both a challenge and rewarding. Especially if you are now in possession of a tractor purchased used from outside your immediate family, you have no chance of knowing it's significant maintenance history. Was it maintained by previous owners? Or did one or more previous owners do no maintenance and only fix only what was broken and preventing him using the tractor at the moment? Did it sit idle for long periods?
I'm not trying to set myself up as any kind of mechanic or tractor expert, only trying to help other "newbie owners" or potential buyers be aware of the pitfalls I tripped into and those waiting in the shadows for them.
Most of us buying an older tractor have to reconcile this purchase into their budget. This is true whether your goal is to restore the tractor or keep it as a working tractor. So in general, priorities have to be made (your partner may help with setting priorities). The lure of shiny paint, cushy seat, the attachments you want to use will try to lure you, But do your system checks first. Be prepared for the frustration of finding out you don't know how to do something, and the joy of success in learning new skills. The first of which may be where to find, and when to call your new friend, the mechanic.
There are few things as discouraging or as useless as a tractor that won't start, won't run, won't lift, has a flat tire. So do your maintenance and leave that broken tractor syndrome for the guy down the road. Be generous and give him a tow.....but do not loan him your tractor or tools!
It is vital that as soon as possible after purchase, you go through all systems that make a tractor a tractor. Buy the owner's/operating manual (in the $20 range online) and I recommend referring to it before proceeding.
Here are some things I learned:
Find a good mechanic who will give fair value for his labor and knowledge
Learn when to call the mechanic
The charging circuit must be capable of fully charging the battery
The battery must take and hold a full charge
The ignition circuit must function properly
Fuel and air filters in place and in good condition
No fuel or oil leaks
Carburetor or diesel injection system must work properly
Fluids / Lubrication:
Grease all Zerk fittings
Radiator at the proper level and indicate that it has antifreeze to the prudent temperature
Engine oil change it and the filter after running the engine long enough to warm up.
Steering Housing full as per owner's manual
Power steering if equiped full as per manual*
Transmission if clear, full as per manual. If milky, change and fill as per manual*
Hydraulics/Rear Axle if clear, full as per manual. If milky, change and fill as per
*Some of us buy “fallen flag” tractor brands, and in this I include Ford as a “fallen flag”. I have found my New Holland dealer's parts department very willing to help but the service department to be fairly disinterested in servicing my 1968 2000 (perhaps because it's not diesel). Also Ford specifications for fluids are now pretty meaningless. (some parts places such as Tractor Supply and NAPA sell “universal tractor fluid” and this is fine in the power steering, transmission, and hydraulics/rear axle).
Brakes test as per manual and adjust as necessary.
Tires/Wheels/Rims No rust at the valve stems. Bite the bullet and get rid of the
rags. Odds are the new ones will last you a lifetime.
Along the way you will find that those who worked on the tractor must have had a few pieces and parts left over when they considered their job complete. Don't be satisfied with leaving it as you found it. Replace that missing washer, bolt, screw. It was there for a reason.
If you have a gasoline tractor, don't count on much expertise at your local tractor DEALER. Most mechanics in those shops have no idea how a carburetor works......they were trained for diesel.
Especially if you are now the proud owner of an older tractor, PLEASE throw away the adjustable wrench and vise grips....while you're at it promise not to use 12 pt sockets or box end wrenches. Please stick with 6 point sockets, end wrenches, and 8 point sockets for square fittings. While I detest impact wrenches, lets face it, that's what built your tractor and it's what the mechanic used 33 years ago to put that bolt in! You may have to resort to one to break loose 5 layers of paint and 33 years of rust. But try cutting away the paint from the nut and giving it a few hours with penetrating oil before breaking out the impact wrench.
Why did the transmission or hydraulic/rear axle fluid go milky? Disuse. Period. How can I prevent it from happening again? Run/move/drive the tractor and use the hydraulics on a regular basis.