Successful farm tractor ownership requires a plan for scheduled maintenance and repairs as needed. This is especially true when purchasing a used farm tractor. Preventing a costly tractor repair begins with the initial purchasing decision and continues by performing scheduled maintenance and completing minor repairs. Annual maintenance and repair costs of used tractors is difficult to accurately predict but can range from $.75-$1.50 per hour of operation which is 10-15% of the total operational cost. Increased fuel efficiency, exhaust emission control and in cab technologies are standard on many tractors built since 2004. By 2015 all farm tractors built, regardless of engine horsepower size, must meet the EPA Tier 4 emission standards. What model year tractor is right for you: pre-2004, 2004-2015 or post-2015?
Initial purchasing decision
Once the size, capacity and model year of the optimum tractor is identified, it’s time to start the search. Begin by identifying the tractor makes and models that are supported locally through service, parts and sales. Schedule a conversation with a local service manager to discuss the repair and maintenance considerations of a particular tractor model you’re interested in. Discuss the specific maintenance and repair costs associated with operating a farm tractor built since 2004.
Prepare a list of pre-purchase questions to ask the dealership salesman or the private tractor owner. This list can be useful in estimating the expected maintenance and repair cost of a specific tractor. Finally, seek out a trusted advisor to assist with the physical inspection of the tractor. Perhaps a local farmer, local agricultural mechanic or county Extension educator would be available to assist with an inspection. A properly inspected, used farm tractor with a known history that runs and operates well doesn’t have much to hide.
The tractor’s operator’s manual contains the recommended maintenance schedule for the make and model of the tractor. Used tractors may or may not have an operator’s manual available at the time of purchase. Replacement manuals are often available through the tractor manufacturer or available from a third party. The pre-purchase questions are a good opportunity to ask about the current maintenance schedule for the tractor and which service needs are suggested in the near future. Tractor service intervals are often based on the hours of operation. Common routine scheduled maintenance includes engine oil+filter, hydraulic oil+filter and engine coolant replacement.
The operational status and work conditions of the tractor should also be considered. For example, during cold weather the fuel filter may need to be replaced to allow for a proper rate of fuel flow. When operating in dusty conditions the engine air filter may need to be cleaned or replaced. During hot conditions, the engine coolant radiator and hydraulic oil cooler may need to be cleaned so that proper operational temperature is maintained.
Make minor repairs
Making minor tractor repairs helps to prevent major repairs. This begins with regularly monitoring all fluid and lubrication levels of the tractor, ensuring filters are in place and functioning and inspecting the tractor for broken parts or loose wires. When it’s time to add fluid or lubricants be aware that each has a recommended standard, which is identified in the operator’s manual or the parts department at the local tractor dealership. By fixing a worn out part today, a more costly repair in the future may be avoided.
Long term tractor ownership
The actual maintenance and repair cost for a used tractor is a result of the condition of the tractor when purchased, individual maintenance and repair decisions and the type of work the tractor performs. To ensure long term and efficient operation of the tractor it’s important to develop a detailed maintenance plan and understand the working capacities of the tractor. Most of the yearly tractor maintenance can be completed with basic mechanic skills. Repairs may need to be completed by a private agriculture mechanic or the service center at the local tractor dealership. Keep an accurate record of these repairs to assist with troubleshooting in the event of future operational issues.
Owning and maintaining a used farm tractor can be a fulfilling long-term investment. Quality used farm tractors can assist with completing many tasks on the farm or property. Limit the guesswork of purchasing a used tractor by focusing on the presale condition, completing scheduled maintenance, and repairing worn out or broken parts quickly.
- How to Calculate Machinery Ownership and Operating Costs, 2-2005, SDSU Extension; Burton Pflueger
- Estimating Farm Machinery Costs, FSA21, University of Arkansas Research and Extension; H. Scott Stiles and C. Robert Stark, Jr