PHOTO: Daniel Johnson
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October 13, 2020

Adding liquid ballast to your tractor tires can significantly improve performance in so many respects.

You will increase traction and lower your tractor’s center of gravity (a plus for negotiating sloping terrain). Also, you’ll also be able to counterbalance the weight of heavy implements, improving performance and safety.

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But with so many types of liquid ballast to choose from, it’s hard to know which offers the best solution for your specific needs. Let’s explore the pros and cons of five common liquid ballasts:


Water

Pros: Adding water is certainly the simplest way to gain tire ballast. It’s inexpensive, readily available and safe to use.

Cons: At 8 pounds per gallon, water isn’t as heavy as other options. It also freezes at a relatively warm temperature (32 degrees F), which introduces the risk of expanding ice separating the tire from the wheel rim. As a result, water isn’t suitable ballast in areas with cold winter weather. The last thing you need is frozen tractor tires when you’re ready to plow the driveway or snowblow you fields.


Read more: Here are 5 ways to counterbalance your tractor.


Antifreeze

Pros: By definition, antifreeze is designed to resist freezing. A 50/50 antifreeze/water mixture will remain liquid at much colder temperatures than straight water—down to approximately -35°F. A higher 70/30 mixture of antifreeze/water can perform even better in colder temperatures, but don’t assume straight antifreeze will serve best of all. Antifreeze needs to be mixed with water to perform—left by itself, antifreeze will freeze at a little less than 0°F.

Cons: Antifreeze is more expensive than water, and ethylene glycol antifreeze is very toxic. Consider using propylene glycol antifreeze instead, which is somewhat safer.

Calcium Chloride

Pros: Calcium chloride has historically been a go-to choice for several reasons. When mixed with water, the solution can withstand temperatures down to -50°F or -60°F. It’s also inexpensive and weighs about 40 percent more than straight water.

Cons: Calcium chloride is famously corrosive and can cause significant damage to wheel rims. Inner tubes can help alleviate the issue, but calcium chloride can also be hazardous to handle, making it a less desirable choice than in the past.

Beet juice

Pros: An increasingly popular option, beet juice is heavier than water (weighing about 11 pounds per gallon) and resists freezing down to -35 degrees F. Even better, it’s not corrosive or toxic, avoiding the major cons associated with other liquid tire ballasts.

Cons: Really the only disadvantage to beet juice is the price. It’s a more expensive solution.

Windshield washer fluid

Pros: A relatively inexpensive solution, windshield washer fluid freezes at a much lower temperature than water—typically -20 degrees F or less, depending on the formula.

Cons: Windshield washer fluid isn’t any heavier than water, so as far as ballast goes it’s not an improvement in warm-weather locations. In addition, many windshield washer fluids contain methanol, a highly toxic alcohol. It goes without saying windshield washer fluid shouldn’t be ingested. And care should also be taken to avoid breathing vapors or allowing the fluid to come into contact with your skin or eyes.

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