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Diesel Tractor Won’t Start In Cold Weather: Why & What To Do


If you live on a farm, your tractor is probably your best friend through rain or shine. So, what do you do when it goes kaput right in the middle of winter?

A diesel tractor might have trouble starting in cold weather because the cold can be fairly harsh on a tractor’s battery, oil, and engine. Especially if the tractor has been left sitting for quite a while, its oil will start to age and lose grade, making it difficult to turn the engine over.

In addition to the oil problem, there are many other reasons why your tractor will not start, but don’t worry. There are many other solutions as well!

Common Ailments

The cold can do a number on tractors! It can be especially difficult to get your tractor to start if it has been sitting for a long time. This means that the winter weather has had time to creep in and freeze up the system. Here are some of the most common ailments that plague tractors and their owners during the winter:

As mentioned before, you should probably check and possibly change your tractor’s oil before anything else. Letting it sit in the cold for too long will make the oil lose its grade. It will thicken and solidify to the point where you might as well have maple syrup in your oil reservoir. This is going to make it extremely difficult to start your tractor up, so check there first.

The problem might also lie with the tractor’s battery. The cold drains battery power like nobody’s business! An idle battery is a dying battery, so you should definitely take a glance in that direction. It could very likely be causing the issue.

It is also possible that your fuel has gelled. Like oil, cold fuel can thicken and become unsuitable for use during the cold months (sourceOpens in a new tab.). Changing fuel as regularly as possible is a wise move.

Another reason for your tractor not starting might be that it needs new glow plugs. Glow plugs are heating elements that heat incoming fuel and encourage fuel combustion in diesel engines.

If your glow plugs are old and used, they will not generate nearly as much heat and will often just burn out completely. Like most machinery, glow plugs need replacing from time to time. Make sure they are in good condition; they could very well be the key to starting up your tractor again!

Common Quick Fixes

The solutions to all your tractor-related problems are, for the most part, pretty straightforward. As mentioned above, fuel and oil might be the largest issues you may face. Since this is the case, it is a good practice to replace the oil regularly.

If your tractor has been idle for a fairly long while, you should probably check and replace the oil before using it. Make sure you are using good oil, too! Synthetic oil is the stuff to use if you want to keep your vehicle in great shape.

It’s the same thing with your fuel. Do not let your fuel gel if you can help it. Even if you put your tractor away with a full tank, you may or may not need to replace it, especially if it has been sitting in a cold garage or barn for several weeks. In fact, if the fuel in your tank has gelled, you might even need to replace the fuel filter.

Let the temperature rise (either by parking the tractor in a heated garage or using a block heater) and replace the filter immediately. Gelled fuel can often block the passage of fuel from the tank to the injector pump, especially with older tractors. You might also consider replacing your glow plugs.

Not only will operational plugs help to keep your tractor’s engine safe and healthy, but they will also help to improve overall performance.

If you want to keep your battery from being completely drained during winter, there are actually a couple of things you can do. A fairly popular trick that many people use is to remove the battery and store it during the winter months.

Since the cold can really leach out a battery’s power, taking it out of the tractor and storing it somewhere warmer can keep it charged, strong, and ready for its next use. If you feel like you need/want to give your battery an edge, you can invest in a trickle chargerOpens in a new tab. (link to Amazon). If you choose to leave the battery in the tractor for the winter, you can plug in the charger and leave it. This will keep your battery operating at peak performance.

Parking your tractor in a heated garage can be very helpful if you have access to one. Even if it is no warmer than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, your tractor will be much better off and have an easier time starting up. This is quite possibly the easiest solution you could employ because keeping your tractor warm will eliminate the need for more complicated measures.

If a heated garage is not an option, you can also try using an engine block heater. It does exactly what its name says: it heats the engine block! While block heaters do vary somewhat in design, they are extremely easy to use once installed. Most of them can usually be installed in the oil pan. As long as you are close to an electrical outlet, you should have no problem!

You can also put winterizing additives in with your fuel which will improve your engine’s winter resiliance. Keep in mind that additives will only do their job if added above the Cold Filter Plugging Point (CFPP). This means that any additives you use should be added at a fairly warm temperature.

If you want to use a stabilizer, consider a product like STA-BIL Diesel Winter Ant-GelOpens in a new tab. (link to Amazon).

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A good time to do this is usually right after you put diesel in your tractor. The fuel should be warm enough that the mixing will go well and the additives will do their job. Remember though, winter additives are not the end-all-be-all solution that will solve all your winter problems.

Their main purpose is to keep gelled fuel that could clog the filter to a minimum. There are enough incompatibilities between additives and winterized fuel that, for safety reasons, they should not be mixed.

Paul Brown

Paul has a two-acre yard on red clay soil in Southeast Texas. He knows exactly what the challenges are to nurturing a thriving yard in difficult soil. He takes a practical approach to yard improvement and enjoys putting best practices and “golden rules of lawn care” to the test. Click here for Paul’s author page

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