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Run Tractors and Other Diesel Engines at Peak Performance

Tractors and other diesel engines on the farm require considerably less fuel if properly operated and maintained. Achieving (and maintaining) peak performance of your engines will result in many benefits such as high fuel efficiency, reduced maintenance expenses, reduced downtime, and extended life.

Tractors and other diesel engines on the farm require considerably less fuel if properly operated and maintained. Achieving (and maintaining) peak performance of your engines will result in many benefits, such as high fuel efficiency, reduced maintenance expenses, reduced downtime, and extended life. The following are strategies for achieving peak performance:

Check fuel injectors

Dirty fuel injectors can cause inefficient fuel combustion and some loss of power. Clean the injectors if you see black smoke coming from the exhaust. Use a fuel injector additive on a periodic basis for minor cleaning.

Service air cleaners

Dirty air cleaners restrict the flow of air needed for fuel combustion process. The air required for burning just one gallon of #2 diesel fuel is approximately 1,300 cubic feet, which is about 10,000 gallons of air! Restricting the airflow means the fuel-air mixture contains excess fuel, resulting in less available power, increased fuel consumption, and obnoxious emissions from the engine. Check the airflow indicator found on most air cleaners to see if there is a problem. Black exhaust smoke is another indicator that your engine is not getting enough air for complete combustion.

filter

Keep your fuel system clean

Replace the fuel filters as often as necessary. Fuel filters on diesel engines are more critical than those on gasoline engines because dirt or other small particles can ruin the fuel injector systems. If fuel filters are generally dirty after, let's say, 200 hours of operation, then replace the fuel filters more frequently. Examine the old fuel filter when you replace it. Cut it in half. Does it feel slippery and slimy? Check if algae or other contaminants are present in the filter. Show the fuel filter to your fuel supplier to get recommendations. Servicing fuel filters and air cleaners on a frequent basis is very cheap insurance.

Use the proper viscosity of motor oil

Oils that are too thick (high viscosity) decrease power and lubrication and increase fuel consumption. Oils that are too thin (low viscosity) do not provide the protection needed in the engine and drive train.

Use the right size tractor for the job

Certainly, you don't want to use a 200-horsepower tractor for trimming the grass along the driveway. It would be just as silly to try to use a 30-horsepower tractor to pull a four-bottom plow through heavy clay soils.

Operate tractors in higher speed gears and lower throttle settings

Most tractors are seldom operated at conditions when the total power capacity of the tractor is required. Therefore, when the drawbar loads are reduced, shift to a higher gear and reduce the throttle setting to get the desired forward speed. Problems with operating tractors in low gears at high engine speeds are increases in fuel consumption and wear on the drive train. You can do the "shift up-throttle down" routine manually. Many of the newer tractors have the option for infinitely or continuously variable transmissions to achieve greater fuel efficiency without the need for manual adjustments.

Use proper ballast

Farm tractors are designed to be operated with additional weight, or ballast, when pulling heavy loads to reduce wheel slip. Insufficient ballast can cause excessive wheel slip and increased fuel consumption. Drive wheel slip should be no more than about 10 percent for optimum efficiency. Some slip is desirable under heavy loads to reduce the wear and tear on the tractor's drive train.

Check tire pressures frequently

During periods of heavy use, check tires on a weekly basis for proper inflation. Don't wait until the tires look low or flat. Tire pressure that is just 4 psi (pounds per square inch) low can result in an 8 percent increase in fuel consumption.

Replace drive tires that have excessive wear

Worn tires cause an increase in fuel consumption because of increased wheel slip resulting from poor traction. A radial-ply drive tire has more flex in the sidewall of the tire, which can increase traction when compared to the same sized bias-ply tire. Although radial tires are more expensive, these tires outperform bias tires because of their unique design features.

Tractors and other diesel engines on the farm require considerably less fuel if properly operated and maintained. Achieving (and maintaining) peak performance of your engines will result in many benefits, such as high fuel efficiency, reduced maintenance expenses, reduced downtime, and extended life. The following are strategies for achieving peak performance:

Check fuel injectors

Dirty fuel injectors can cause inefficient fuel combustion and some loss of power. Clean the injectors if you see black smoke coming from the exhaust. Use a fuel injector additive on a periodic basis for minor cleaning.

Service air cleaners

Dirty air cleaners restrict the flow of air needed for fuel combustion process. The air required for burning just one gallon of #2 diesel fuel is approximately 1,300 cubic feet, which is about 10,000 gallons of air! Restricting the airflow means the fuel-air mixture contains excess fuel, resulting in less available power, increased fuel consumption, and obnoxious emissions from the engine. Check the airflow indicator found on most air cleaners to see if there is a problem. Black exhaust smoke is another indicator that your engine is not getting enough air for complete combustion.

Keep your fuel system clean

Replace the fuel filters as often as necessary. Fuel filters on diesel engines are more critical than those on gasoline engines because dirt or other small particles can ruin the fuel injector systems. If fuel filters are generally dirty after, let's say, 200 hours of operation, then replace the fuel filters more frequently. Examine the old fuel filter when you replace it. Cut it in half. Does it feel slippery and slimy? Check if algae or other contaminants are present in the filter. Show the fuel filter to your fuel supplier to get recommendations. Servicing fuel filters and air cleaners on a frequent basis is very cheap insurance.

Use the proper viscosity of motor oil

Oils that are too thick (high viscosity) decrease power and lubrication and increase fuel consumption. Oils that are too thin (low viscosity) do not provide the protection needed in the engine and drive train.

Use the right size tractor for the job

Certainly, you don't want to use a 200-horsepower tractor for trimming the grass along the driveway. It would be just as silly to try to use a 30-horsepower tractor to pull a four-bottom plow through heavy clay soils.

Operate tractors in higher speed gears and lower throttle settings

Most tractors are seldom operated at conditions when the total power capacity of the tractor is required. Therefore, when the drawbar loads are reduced, shift to a higher gear and reduce the throttle setting to get the desired forward speed. Problems with operating tractors in low gears at high engine speeds are increases in fuel consumption and wear on the drive train. You can do the "shift up-throttle down" routine manually. Many of the newer tractors have the option for infinitely or continuously variable transmissions to achieve greater fuel efficiency without the need for manual adjustments.

Use proper ballast

Farm tractors are designed to be operated with additional weight, or ballast, when pulling heavy loads to reduce wheel slip. Insufficient ballast can cause excessive wheel slip and increased fuel consumption. Drive wheel slip should be no more than about 10 percent for optimum efficiency. Some slip is desirable under heavy loads to reduce the wear and tear on the tractor's drive train.

Check tire pressures frequently

During periods of heavy use, check tires on a weekly basis for proper inflation. Don't wait until the tires look low or flat. Tire pressure that is just 4 psi (pounds per square inch) low can result in an 8 percent increase in fuel consumption.

Replace drive tires that have excessive wear

Worn tires cause an increase in fuel consumption because of increased wheel slip resulting from poor traction. A radial-ply drive tire has more flex in the sidewall of the tire, which can increase traction when compared to the same sized bias-ply tire. Although radial tires are more expensive, these tires outperform bias tires because of their unique design features. 

tools

Practice conservation tillage

The big advantage of reduced-till, low-till, or no-till systems is that you are reducing the number of tractor passes through the field, thereby reducing fuel consumption, soil compaction, and soil erosion. But you need to be aware of the increased expenses for chemicals.

Keep all ground-engaging tools sharp

Tools such as plowshares, coulters, and chisels must be kept sharp to maintain fuel efficiency, speed through the field, and overall equipment performance. Sharpen the tools on an as-needed basis and replace the worn-out parts when necessary.

Shut off diesel engines rather than idling for long periods

New studies show that significant fuel savings can be realized by not idling diesel engines for more than ten minutes.

Consider fuel additives

You may need to treat your fuel with an algaecide if you notice an algae problem when replacing fuel filters. An algaecide additive is more likely needed during warm weather. You may also need an additive during cold weather for easier starts. Before pouring any additives into your fuel storage tank, check with your fuel supplier to learn what additives have already been provided when your fuel was delivered.

Limit fuel storage to no more than six months. Fuel stored longer than six months (either in the engine's fuel tank or in your on-farm storage tank) loses stability and develops varnishes. If longer storage becomes necessary for whatever reason, ask your fuel supplier about a stability additive.

Make sure fuel storage tanks on the farm meet local, state, and federal regulations

These regulations have been enacted to address minimizing the danger of fire and reducing the risk of environmental contamination because of spills and leakage.

Refer to your operator's manual

The manual contains critically important information such as proper oil viscosity, tire inflation pressures, ballasting, trouble-shooting tips, and recommended maintenance intervals.

Whenever we are able to reduce energy consumption, we are also able to improve the quality of our environment because less electricity needs to be generated and less petroleum needs to be imported and refined.

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Run Tractors and Other Diesel Engines at Peak Performance

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Contact Information

Daniel Ciolkosz, P.E.
  • Assistant Professor and Research Associate
Phone: 814-863-3484