4 Tips for Starting Your Tractor in Cold Weather

Tractors and cold weather don't get along very well, so if you need to keep yours running during the winter, here are tips for helping a disagreeable machine start.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

While many tractor tasks are seasonal, such as cultivating fields, it’s nice to run your tractor throughout the year, even during the cold months of winter. Depending on where you live, “winter” might be a few days that dip down toward 20 degrees F—or prolonged periods of time hovering at 0 degrees or colder. The problem is, tractors and cold weather don’t get along very well. Diesel tractors in particular are susceptible to the effects of sub-freezing temperatures—with fuel gelling, oil thickening and batteries weakening. It can be a challenge to get a tractor started during cold weather.

If you conduct a bit of research on tips and tricks for starting tractors in cold weather, you’re bound to come across ideas ranging from complicated (various combinations of fuel additives) to impractical for hobby farmers (leave the engine running 24/7). Others can be downright dangerous—for example, we do not recommend lighting a fire under the tractor to warm the engine.

Besides, if you’re a hobby farmer, you probably don’t need complex solutions for keeping your tractor running every day of winter. Maybe you need itonly occasionally for plowing the driveway or moving a big trailer of manure. If that’s the case, here are a few simpler tips for keeping your tractor running in cold weather.

1. Park in a Heated Garage

The most ideal solution, if it’s available, is to simply park your tractor in a heated garage during cold weather. Even if you keep your garage at a modest 50°F or so, your tractor will thank you and start like it’s summer outside, eliminating the need to proceed with more complicated solutions. However, if you don’t have an empty heated garage bay (cars usually have the priority parking here), then keep reading.

2. Use an Engine Block Heater

An engine block heater is exactly what its name suggests—a small heater, typically powered from a regular electrical outlet, intended to heat the engine block and make the tractor easier to start. Designs vary, and some heaters can be installed on the oil pan or in place of the dipstick to heat the oil. Once they’re installed, heaters are easy to use and work great as long as you park within reach of an electrical outlet. However, installation of some heaters can be a difficult job best left to a professional.

3. Remove the Battery When the Tractor Is Not in Use

Batteries don’t care for cold weather. They grow weak and are unable to deliver the power needed to turn over a stubborn engine, even if they are otherwise fully charged. A fairly reliable method I use? Take the battery out when the tractor is not in use and keep it somewhere warm so that’s it’s ready to fire its best shot when I need the tractor to start on a cold day. I’ll even top off the battery with a charger so it’s at peak strength.

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4. On Mildly Chilly Days, Park Facing the Morning Sun

A friend with a diesel tractor once demonstrated a simple but effective technique for warming up his tractor on an autumn morning when overnight temperatures were moderately chilly. He just parked his tractor out in the open, facing east, so that the rising sun would fall on the hood right away in the morning and get a head start warming up the engine. This doesn’t work too well on cloudy mornings, but the simplicity of the overall idea was striking enough to warrant a mention.

How do you keep your tractor running during cold weather?

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