This is an issue that pops up much too frequently with tractors. You get your mind ready to work, you hop on, turn the key and… nothing. Just a clicking sound. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about this but here are the facts:
Issues that can cause a tractor to click and not turn over include:
- Bad solenoid
- Faulty safety switches
- A dead battery or terminal corrosion
- Failing engine
Whatever the problem is, it is essential to diagnose it first. Then, you can figure out the correct approach for getting your tractor up and running again. Read on to learn more about this topic!
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Issues Within the Circuit
When you turn the key, you are dealing with the primary side of the starting circuit. The secondary side of the circuit involves all of the components that you don’t see because they are behind the surface.
Watch this short YouTube video. There’s no voiceover but the visuals and text do a pretty good job of helping you to understand circuit issues:
The clicking sound that you hear is made by the solenoid. This is part of the circuit. However, most of the time, the solenoid is not at the core of the problem. When the solenoid clicks, it hands the positive cable over to the cranking mechanism of the starter.
If this never happens, the problem is probably not within the secondary side of the circuit.
Typically, people are surprised to learn that the problem is on the primary side of the circuit. This is because resistance builds up within the wire over time. Then, the primary wire will have less ability to connect the battery to the starter’s cranking mechanism fully.
If this is the issue, there is a simple way to diagnose it.
All you need to do is jump the two terminals within the circuit, and then see if you can get the engine to turn over. If it happens to crank, then you will need an SW-3 or starter solenoid.
It is also possible that this would not be the problem, and that the problem could be on the secondary side of the circuit. There are many locations within the circuit where a connection problem could occur in cause the issue of clicking without turning over.
Suppose you apply an additional load to the electrical system before you try to crank the starter, such as extra lights, and the load items bog down during the cranking cycle. In that case, one of the secondary connections is the problem.
However, if these items do not bog down and you still hear the clicking noise, then you will still need an SW-3.
Safety Switch Malfunctions
Very commonly, when a tractor is clicking but not starting, one of the safety switches isn’t working. One of these is usually under the seat: the problem could be as simple as the switch being knocked out of place while you were in the seat, using your tractor.
The other three safety switches are underneath the tractor (depending on your model). After checking the one underneath the seat, you can enlist the help of another person to sit on the seat to check the switches underneath the tractor.
It is possible that there could be an object, such as a rock or tree branch, wedged in with one of the switches, and this could cause your tractor to click without starting.
The three safety switches are:
- Power take-off switch. The first switch underneath the tractor that you should check is the power take-off switch (PTO). You should have the person helping you move the PTO lever on and off, which should allow you to find it. (Read our troubleshooting guide if the PTO won’t engage.)
- Safety switch. There is also a safety switch that will allow the tractor to know when it is in gear, which protects you because then you can’t get down and have the tractor roll over you. On the tractor’s gear drive, this will need to be in neutral for you to start the tractor.
It can be somewhat challenging to find this switch since it can even be mounted within the transmission. If inside the transmission, there will be two wires heading in the direction away from it; if one of these is off, then the tractor will not start.
- Brake safety switch. There is also a brake safety switch that ensures that you aren’t able to leave the tractor while running without the brake is on. You need to have the person helping you press down on the brake pedal, engage the emergency brake, and observe the linkages.
When this is happening, you should be able to find the safety switch underneath the tractor.
This video gives a walk-through of finding and checking safety switches:
A problem with one of these safety switches is a fairly common reason for a tractor to click without turning over. This is one of the first things that you should check when you have this problem.
It could be that there is an object lodged into the system that prevents the proper functioning of these switches, or they could just be failing due to age.
Faulty Battery Connections
There are many cases where power will not pass appropriately from the battery to the cables because of the battery connections. In some cases, the battery cables are loose, largely because tractors vibrate a lot and can easily shake them loose.
This is why it is smart to service your tractor at the beginning of every season.
Sometimes, there is a leaking of battery acid at the battery poles, which crystallizes and leads to high resistance. In this case, you will need to clean the connections, which equates to adding a mixture of baking soda and water on top of the build-up and scrubbing off the corrosion.
A small amount of petroleum jelly can prevent future build-up as well.
Flat or Faulty Batteries
If there is something wrong with the battery, the first thing you need to do is check it for leaks. If it is leaking, replace the battery. Be careful when you are checking on this since battery acid can be very dangerous.
If there is no leakage, you can jump-start the battery. In order to do this, you will need jump-leads and a 12-volt battery. In some cases, this will start your tractor but not completely solve the problem.
You may want to check your battery and alternator. You can do this using a voltmeter. Remember that it’s generally not good for batteries to sit idle, as they are supposed to charge and discharge constantly.
Sometimes, if a battery is fully discharged and just allowed to sit for a long time, it won’t return to life.
I’ve become a big fan of trickle chargers (link to Amazon). I keep one connected during the winter and throughout the season anytime I don’t expect to crank the tractor for a few weeks. It’s an inexpensive insurance policy for my battery.
Batteries do their best work and last for a longer time when you maintain their state of charge.
Internal Engine Damage
In the worst cases, tractor engines can fail completely. In many cases, it doesn’t make sense to repair them because getting a new engine (or replacing the tractor entirely) will be the economical choice.
If you need to replace the engine, you can purchase a new engine and install it yourself or have it done professionally. But make no mistake, this is a big job. Depending on the age and condition of your tractor, it could be that it’s time for a new one.
The truth is though, it’s usually a simple issue causing the tractor to click, not a complete breakdown of the engine itself. I’m betting one of the problems I’ve outlined is causing that click.
A few different problems can cause a tractor to click without starting. I know that it is frustrating but walking through these steps will likely help you to zero in on the issue.
See our other troubleshooting guides for common tractor issues including:
- Tractor blowing black smoke and doesn’t have power
- What do do when your diesel tractor is running rough
- Tractor keeps stalling? Know these 7 common causes
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