Changing fluids, filters keeps your hard-charging tractors up and running

Apr 19, 2010
by DTN

Changing fluids and filters in your tractor is an important, sometimes overlooked, duty. Let’s face it; it’s a pain. There is some significant cost to doing this maintenance, but it is money well spent—and not all that much compared to the cost of a blown engine or replacing a transmission with gears ground to shards of scrap metal.

You’ve asked, so here are some of my thoughts on the vastly interesting subject of fluids and filters.

First off, it is important to keep records of operating hours and the days and months that have passed since you last serviced your tractor.

Along the way, make notes on the conditions under which your tractor has been operating. Very dirty conditions justify frequent servicing, especially the cleaning or changing of air filters. Remember that old rule of thumb: The more dust, the more you must rush!

Not only is changing the engine and transmission oils and filters on a timely basis important, but also, you might spend a bit of time researching the quality of the oils you want to use.

In the February 2010 “Ask the Mechanic” column, I responded to a reader who asked my opinion of whether he should use original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM) oils rather than those available at auto stores, hardware stores or chain stores—any place engine and hydraulic oils can be purchased.

My response was that many tractor manufacturers would not honor a warranty claim if their own oils and filters were not used in the tractor. That statement is not entirely correct. I should have stated that many tractor manufacturers might not honor a warranty claim if their own oils and filters are not used in the tractor. But if the oil meets or exceeds the OEM’s specifications, then you are covered no matter where

you buy it. (See the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 if you are dying for more information.)

The big question is “How do I know if it meets OEM specs?” Of course, you can read about it on the label of the container that holds the oil. But make sure you understand what you’re reading and that the product does indeed meet the manufacturer’s specs.

If you are using another oil and have a warranty claim—say, the clutch burned up in a powershift transmission—you may have to wait until the dealer sends an oil sample to the OEM for analysis to see if the oil is up to snuff, or rather, specs. If it is, they should honor the warranty. If it is not, they can deny the warranty claim.

Some dealers display buckets of oil in showrooms that do not meet their specs. They will be very clear that using this oil will invalidate your warranty. Manufacturers can, have and will deny warranty claims where oil is used that does not meet or exceed their own specifications.

Whether you should pay the extra price at the dealership for their oils and filters is a topic that is much discussed from the local coffee shop to the coffee room at corporate headquarters.

I get many questions about it, but there are two that cover most issues. First, will non-OEM oil void your warranty? Second, will non- OEM oil shorten the life of the engine or transmission? These are two very different questions.

Let’s face a few facts about engine and hydraulic oils and filters. There aren’t many manufacturers of these products. But these manufacturers blend oils and make filters to different specifications.

Engine and transmission manufacturers spend millions on research and development of components. They often claim the special additives in their oils are vital for the life of these components.

Now, some of you believe that oil can reach OEM minimum specifications without any consideration of the additives in the oil. Other readers never use anything but non-OEM oils and filters and claim they have never had any trouble. Still others have told me that they went back to the OEM oils and filters in order to eliminate problems.

These are differences of opinion, which is nothing all that surprising. Here’s my opinion, based on all the maintenance and repairs I’ve done: Make sure your oils and filters meet or exceed OEM specifications.

Take the time to read the labels. Purchase your fluids and filters from reputable dealers. Never put oils in your equipment that fall below OEM specifications.

So what about changing your oils? Start with your owner’s manual. But, as I stated earlier, the more dust, the more you must rush.

I have found that a tractor used daily for feeding needs less time between service intervals. The constant heating and cooling of the oils and components of these short-run tractors make for increased condensation.

I have also found it best to change the oil before spring work begins.

So, to review:

• Change your oils and filters based on the manufacturer’s recommended service schedule.

• Shorten the maintenance intervals when the tractor is operating under “special conditions,” such as running in extreme dust, and where daily use is combined with short run times.

• If you purchase oils and filters other than the OEMs, make sure they meet or exceed the OEM’s specs—not just because someone tells you they do, but because you know that they do from reading labels and buying from a reputable dealer. — Steve Thompson, DTN