Preseason Diesel Tractor Troubleshooting Guide
Many hunters begin planning their green fields in earnest once the July page is torn from their calendar. Loading and hauling their tractor along with seed, fertilizer, implements, tools and coolers is a ritual many hunters look forward to. What they don’t look forward to is spending their time with diesel tractor troubleshooting and working on a diesel tractor that won’t start.
Diesel tractors are preferred by many farmers and landowners because they are tough as nails, and if they are halfway maintained, they last long enough to be included in a will. This is a great selling point for anyone looking to purchase a new or used diesel tractor. There are some maintenance items that are common to gas and diesel engines, but many owners are in foreign territory when it comes to diagnosing and fixing a diesel tractor that won’t start or run smoothly. Below are some general guidelines that may help with your tractor. (Always check with your owner’s manual or dealer first about your specific model.)
If a diesel tractor suddenly won’t crank or stay running, there is a good chance that a few things should have been checked out before loading it onto a trailer. It’s always more convenient to prevent mechanical issues than it is to break out a toolbox in the middle of a dusty field trying to fix a problem with only a hot Alabama August sun for company
Test Calibration specializes in everything diesel and is located in Mobile, Alabama. They can supply new or rebuilt parts or rebuild your old diesel fuel pump, injectors or turbo back to factory specifications since 1976. I talked with the owner, Ted Raby, about some of the more common issues that landowners might encounter with their diesel tractors as they prepare their food plots in the coming weeks.
The very first things he put on his warning list of things not to do is use starting fluid to prompt a start.
“Don’t use starting fluid for a contrary diesel tractor, it can seriously damage your engine. If you are having starting issues or you experience a loss of power, then there is something within your fuel system or engine that needs attention. Call and let us help you diagnose your problem,” Raby cautioned.
Raby suggested that tractor owners should become friends with their tractor owner’s manual and shouldn’t hesitate to contact Test Calibration before opening a toolbox. He emphasized that it’s a good idea to have a notebook or other means of recording the details and dates of all oil/ hydraulic fluid changes, filters, mechanical issues, parts replaced, when greased and any additives used in the fuel, oil and cooling system. It also makes sense to record the hours and date changed on all filters.
Many scheduled maintenance items are based on engine hours, but some are performed by the calendar. Refer to your owner’s manual. If your tractor only sees occasional use, it’s a good idea to crank it up once a month and run it to operating temperature to ensure the battery stays charged and everything is in working order.
This monthly cranking schedule is a good time to check fluid levels, belts, hoses, grease fittings, filters and engine hours for any scheduled maintenance.
Raby pointed out that the newer low sulfur diesel fuel is subject to oxidation and moisture contamination if stored over a long period and is a contributor to maintenance issues.
“If a tractor is parked too long with less than a full tank, then the excess air can cause moisture to form which can lead to tank rust and even algae in the fuel,” Raby noted.
In other words, newer fuel can degrade quicker than the previous formulas and older diesel engines can be adversely impacted if additives are not used when refueling. In older model tractors this can mean a clogged fuel filter and a decrease in the life of the fuel pump and injectors.
Diesel Tractor Troubleshooting: Removing Air From Fuel Lines
According to Raby, the primary reason a diesel tractor turns over but won’t start is because air is present somewhere in the fuel system. Running a tractor till it’s low or out of fuel and a clogged fuel filter are two of the more common ways air gets into the system. Parking or operating a tractor on a steep hill or incline with low fuel can also create air in the system.
The fuel system begins with the tank and ends at the injectors. Some models have a manual fuel primer to bleed air after a filter change or even an automated solution. Refer to your owner’s manual or call your dealer for the correct procedure to bleed the air from your tractor.
Here are some common tractor won’t start troubleshooting tips to find and remove that air from the system.
- Fuel tank- Verify fuel level is above the filter and ensure the fuel shutoff valve is open. Also check the position of the switch or lever that shuts the engine off.
- Trace the fuel line from the tank and look for any obvious fuel leaks between the tank and the injectors.
- Fuel filter- Loosen the bleeder valve on the fuel filter till clear fuel exits; tighten. (Some tractors have two filters inline – bleed the second one.) If there is no bleeder valve then loosen the line that exits the filter and retighten after fuel flow. (If no fuel flows then the filter may be clogged.)
- Fuel pump- If equipped with a primer lever, open bleed screw/valve and prime until fuel flows with no bubbles. If there is no primer, then bump the starter till fuel flows; retighten. (If another filter is present between pump and injectors, bleed and verify fuel flow.)
- Go to the farthest injector and loosen the incoming fuel line. Turn the ignition till a steady stream of fuel emerges and retighten.
- Repeat the procedure at the adjacent injector and each remaining injector till all the air is removed.
At this point most people grin as their engine starts
Diesel Tractor Troubleshooting: Surging or Loss of Power
If a diesel engine is running a little rough, surging, or bogging down when using the hydraulics or “PTO”, then contaminated fuel or a dirty fuel filter might be the problem. If the tractor has a glass fuel bowl, check for water near the bottom. If there is no fuel bowl, then the line from the fuel tank can be loosened and a sample drained into a clear jar. If water is present, then draining the fuel until it runs clear or draining it through a special funnel that filters out the water is an option. If the fuel is clean and if it still runs rough, then a clogged filter might be the culprit. Close the fuel tank valve and remove the filter.
Install a new filter, O-rings or gaskets, and open the bleed valve on the filter housing. Open the fuel tank valve till diesel fuel exits the bleeder opening and retighten. A small amount of air might be present at start-up, but it should smooth out quickly.
Diesel Tractor Troubleshooting: Cold Weather Starting
In cold temperatures diesel fuel gels, oil thickens and batteries weaken. If these items are neglected prior to a dramatic drop in temperature, then cranking an older tractor can be a challenge. Many modern diesel tractors come equipped with block heaters and glow plugs for easier starting during cold weather. Older models can be retrofitted with a block heater that is properly sized for the engine; just check for your cat first before cranking. Older diesel tractors sometimes require a creative approach for cold weather starting, and there are several things that can be done to help them crank without using starting fluid, which should be a last resort.
Before the approach of cold weather:
- Add a gel preventive to the fuel.
- If your tractor is equipped with a block heater, plug it up at least three hours prior to starting, to warm the engine block and keep the oil from thickening.
- Inspect and clean the battery terminals and connections.
- Switch to a cold weather grade of diesel fuel.
- Use thinner or synthetic engine oil rated for winter use.
Tips on Buying New or Used Tractors
If you are in the market for a good new or used tractor and have some questions about what kind or the size of tractor you might need, then a call to Smith Tractor is in your best interest. They have locations in Frisco City and Atmore, Alabama. and another in Jay, Florida I talked to Dewayne Williams about some of the major brands and what to look for when buying new or used. Williams has been buying and selling tractors for over 40 years and he has a wealth of knowledge that he will share to make sure your next tractor will meet your needs.
“Many buyers come in with an idea of how much horsepower they need. I find that after asking a few simple questions about what type of work they will be doing, many are surprised that they don’t need the size tractor they imagined,” William said.
Williams uses the following questions to help a buyer determine exactly what size and type tractor a person needs:
- How will the tractor be hauled?
- How much power do you need?
- Which transmission fits your skill level?
- Two-wheel drive or four?
- Which implements will you need?
- What are your comfort and convenience requirements?
- Can it be serviced locally?
The primary purpose of a diesel tractor is to make difficult tasks much easier. As long as they are properly maintained, they can turn working the land and planting those green fields into some good memories.
Test Calibration Company, Inc.
Mobile, AL 36618
Smith Tractor Company