2012 22.4 Ask Albert!

Dear Albert,
At the end of winter last year my tractor became hard to start. When the weather warmed up it started just fine again. Now that winter is approaching, I’m worried about it starting. What do you recommend I do?
– Worried with cold weather approaching

Dear Worried,
The first thing to do is check is your tractor battery. How old is it? How long since you’ve taken a look at it, cleaned its terminals, and checked its fluid levels?
It is important that the battery is correct for the piece of equipment it’s running. Batteries have a code stamped on the outside of the case with the date it was manufactured and sold. Locate this code and make sure the battery is the correct one for the equipment, either for the application or cold-cranking amps (CCA) required. CCAs are the amount of current needed to supply the starter with enough energy to crank the engine at a proper speed. If a battery doesn’t have the proper CCAs for the equipment, it is not going to be up to the job.

Load Testing

After making sure the battery and equipment are compatible, check the battery condition by load testing. This requires the use of a special tool called a battery load tester. The tester can load the battery by pulling high amps out of it. Load testers test batteries at one-half of the CCA. For example, on a 1000-CCA battery, load the battery to 500 amps. The voltage should not drop below 9.5 volts and should hold for approximately 10 seconds. These specifications change depending on battery size and manufacturer specifications, but this is a close standard.

Additional factors

Other factors that contribute to engines not starting include key switches, safety switches, starter solenoid switches, and bad wiring.
Battery cables and connections are as important as a good battery. Make sure to keep the battery, including the cables and terminals, clean and fluid levels up. If the battery, cables, and connections are good but there is still a starting issue, test the starter. Do this by amp load testing to see if the starter is working properly. A very high amp load could mean that the starter is damaged. Have the starter re-tested or replaced if necessary.
Sometimes a click or a series of clicks can be heard without the starter responding. This is generally indicative of a low charge on the battery. If the battery is discharged, recharge the battery before testing it again.
A battery charger and good load tester can be expensive – ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500. It is extremely useful to have a good battery charger around the farm. A middle of the road, sturdy charger runs about $500 and is worth the cost to be able to charge all batteries on property (think electric fences!). Dealers and parts stores can also test batteries on site at very little cost.

Jump-starting Safety

Do not jump-start from the starter (bypass starting) under any condition. Jump-starting in this manner is very unsafe and can cause serious injuries. Jump-starting from the starter while the piece of equipment is still in gear can run over the user. Nowadays, most equipment includes a label on the starter to warn operators of the danger of bypass starting. Many equipment manufacturers eliminate jump-starting as an option by encasing the starter in a cover.
Jumper cables to the battery are not much safer. Batteries can blow-up and the hydrogen gas generated in the battery can cause blindness. Additionally, these gases are explosive. There should be no source of ignition near the batteries, whether that is an open flame or a lit cigarette.
Get proper training or call someone who is trained to help with anything hazardous. Always make sure to use eye protection around batteries.

Wintertime tips

Cold weather is bad for batteries. At zero degrees Fahrenheit, the battery is only at fifty percent of its operational capacity. Be sure to keep the battery clean of dirt and mud in the winter. Self-discharge occurs when electrons in the battery are discharged through the dirt and moisture. Test for this by using a voltmeter to check the voltage on the case of the battery. Storing tractors or any equipment in a covered area (shop or garage) will help keep wind and severe cold from the engine. It’s also important to keep batteries secure in the equipment so they
don’t bounce around.
In areas prone to severely cold temperatures, battery blankets are used to help warm the batteries. This allows batteries to produce more power for starting. Additionally, engine block heaters allow the engine to be warmed prior to starting. These heaters warm the oil, which in turn warms the engine block and makes it easier for the engine to crank. Don’t make the mistake of buying a “new” battery that has been sitting on the shelf for a long time. Batteries are coded for the time of manufacturing, so make sure to read these numbers to make sure the battery hasn’t been sitting around too long.
Don’t be misled by people who recommend unnecessarily buying a new battery. Get a second opinion from another professional mechanic if there is any doubt.

See you in November,

Ask Albert! is a regular column by one of Tilth Producers most excellent mechanic/inventor/farmers. E-mail questions/comments to albert_roberts@
or snail-mail: Ask Albert! c/o Tilth Producers, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103.

Tags: Battery, Jump-Start, Jump-Starting, Tractor, Wintertime