Grease: the Lifeblood of Your Tractor
So you bought a new tractor or piece of equipment, brought it home and used it. And something on it broke.
Of course, you took it to a dealer to get it fixed, figuring everything would be covered under warranty – but it wasn’t. In fact, the bill was all yours.
Nine times out of ten, it’s a result of what we’re going to talk about today: Lots of damage is preventable if you are diligent about greasing your tractor or your brush hog. Remember, anything with moving parts requires lubrication. And to properly lubricate, you need to know how to use a grease gun.
Back when I was in the dealership world, there were many times that I’d go into the shop and the technician would be working on a nearly new piece of equipment. I’d ask him what happened, and he’d answer that the customer didn’t know what a grease gun was. Well, how would you if you’d never been around ag equipment?
When I was growing up as a farm kid I had a kind of unwritten deal with my dad. I got to drive a tractor at the age of 12, but I knew I had to keep that grease gun handy and every so often shoot a little bit of tractor grease into those grease zerks when I was using the tractor. If I didn’t, I’d be in big trouble because dad didn’t like greasing. So if I drove the tractor I had to do the dirty job.
Now, I hear from a lot of you that you recently bought a tractor although you’ve never owned a piece of ag equipment before. When I started in the business over 25 years ago, most of the folks buying tractors had grown up on a farm – or maybe their granddad owned a farm – and they’d been on a tractor seat. These days, however, a lot of folks buying smaller tractors have never been around these machines before. And they may not know the importance of finding all those little zerks on a tractor and pumping a shot of grease into them on a regular basis.
What Does Grease Do?
Grease is basically an oil with thickener in it that you shoot into pins and bearings to keep them lubricated. There’s always pressure in the bearings and on the pins, so oil is gradually forced out, lubricating everything that’s moving in there.
For automotive applications, there are sealed bearings, but they’ll probably never come to the tractor market. There’s a couple reasons for this. Number one, sealed bearings are most likely not strong enough to last in the hostile environment of the tractor world. Number two, if you could put sealed bearings in tractors and skid loaders and things like that, I don’t think customers want them. That’s because farmers, the folks who run industrial equipment, and commercial lawnmowing people all want grease zerks on their machines because they feel they need to put that grease in there themselves… and then they’ll know it’s lubricated.
Here’s a real life example: A few years ago, one of the major commercial lawn mower companies dropped the zerks on the front wheel spindles. I was working in the dealership world then, and this sounded like a great idea. After all, they don’t actually need a greaseable bearing in those spindles. But the manufacturer put the sealed bearings in and they worked great – and the customers hated them. The commercial lawn mowing guys demanded they have a greaser on that front wheel spindle. So, after a couple of years, the grease zerks came back. They weren’t needed in that part of the machine, and the sealed bearings worked fine, but customers demanded the old design mowers. Honestly, I don’t think you’ll ever see sealed bearings in a tractor.
Was Your Tractor Greased in the Dealership?
You’ve purchased your tractor, and I imagine you expect it came fully greased when you took delivery. But how can you be sure? I really hate to tell you this: Assume that none of the zerks have been greased.
Why? Because if you’re buying your tractor in April, May or June you’re in the heat of the selling season when dealers are doing 40 or 50 percent of their business. They don’t have their top mechanic prepping tractors for delivery; they may have a high school kid out there doing the prep. That guy has a list of things he needs to do and he’s crazy busy, but when he signs his name on the bottom of the list, that tractor goes out. So assume that none of your zerks have been greased. The easy way to tell is to check a zerk or two on a painted part of the tractor. If there’s clean paint on the top of the zerk, it’s never been touched.
Your Owner’s Manual Will Show You Where to Grease
When you’re ready to start greasing up the tractor, grab your owner’s manual. It will tell you where every grease circuit is on that tractor. This is especially important on a new tractor, but can be really helpful even if you’ve done it before.
And it’s not tough to do, really. The grease zerk is a fitting that leads to an area where there are bearings or pins. The zerk has a ball on the end of it, and when you put a coupler on the end of the zerk, it pushes that ball in and lets grease flow from the grease gun into the fitting. When you release the coupler by pulling it out, the ball comes back up because of the pressure of the grease now in the fitting. And that keeps all the lubrication in that set of bearings or pins.
When it’s time to grease, you can go to your local farm supply store and buy a cheap grease gun, which is fine because any grease gun will work. Personally, I prefer the LubeShuttle system. It’s a German-built grease gun that operates off a lot of pressure. The pressure sucks grease out of the tube and pushes it where it needs to go. I’ve found that it generally gets your lubrication into a lot of places where a common grease gun won’t get it.
I do know that a lot of these farm store grease guns are built in third world countries, and I doubt they’re really that great at getting the grease where it needs to go, but I have no doubts about LubeShuttle. In fact, I like it so much that I sell it on my website, and if people ask me what is the best grease gun for tractors, I tell them about LubeShuttle. Not only does it grease very thoroughly, but it’s safer than most standard grease guns and a whole lot cleaner to work with, too.
If you’re changing the tubes in a standard grease gun you’ve got to pull a long rod with the spring back and get it to lock. Then you have to unscrew everything and hope the spring doesn’t come loose in the process and mash a finger. After that, you fish a slippery grease tube out of the canister and put a new one in. It’s a nasty job and it’s why a lot of people hate greasing.
But with LubeShuttle, you just take a new recyclable plastic tube and push the disc at the bottom up, forcing a blob of grease up over the top of the tube. Slip one of the grease tubes for the grease gun into the gun and you’re ready to go again. It’s very simple, takes just a couple of seconds, and takes all the mess out of the greasing process. It may just be the best tractor grease experience you ever have.
New Tractors, Cheap Zerks
I’m really disappointed about this, but some manufacturers are putting very cheap grease zerks on their new tractors. It can be a problem, because if you don’t get the coupler in just exactly the right place, it’s not going to take grease. Some of these cheap zerks have got short necks, which are tough for the grease guns to handle. I don’t know why the manufacturers are making this particular change, although you can assume it’s to cut costs. But you can certainly replace those cheaper fittings with better ones if you need to.
Now, when greasing, you want to get the coupler dead straight with the zerk or the grease will come out one side or the other. To make it easier and more accurate, I use the SafeLock. It’s got a long snout on it that locks onto the zerk when you push the handle, and the grease goes where it’s supposed to. I personally prefer a pistol grip grease gun with the lever grip because you can operate it with one hand. But whatever style grease gun you use, you’ll know the grease area is full when grease start coming back out of the zerk. Most of the time you’ll also hear a kind of crackling sound as the new grease pushes the old out. When you see or hear the grease, you’re finished with that zerk.
Cleaning Up After Greasing
One of my YouTube viewers asked if I thought you should wipe excess grease off from where it goes out from the loader arms. He figured that if you let grease stay around the pins, it keeps dirt from getting in your pins.
While I agree you could let that excess grease stay around, here’s what I think about it.
When I was in the equipment business and would go out to evaluate the value of a trade, wads of grease around the loader arms told me the customer knew how to do maintenance but might not know how to do cleanup. But say you have a new tractor and you regularly wipe all the grease off so it looks pristine. If a warranty issue comes up that could result from lack of proper greasing, it may look like you’re not maintaining your tractor. So, especially on a new tractor, just leave that residue on there. It shows you’re doing your job.
The other thing I’ll tell you about grease is that it protects the paint underneath it. I once traded for a tractor from a customer of ours and he was obviously really good at greasing tractors. I went out to look at it and it was probably the most disgusting looking tractor I had ever seen. It was just covered with grease, and I figured that when he had taken it out on the highway on a trailer, grease just got blown all over the machine as it travelled. But I knew underneath all that mess was an almost new paint job. because the layer of grease preserves the paint. It protects from UV light, and keeps wind, rain and other weather from discoloring the paint. We power washed it and it was probably one of the best looking tractors we’d ever traded for. It looked like it came off the showroom floor and we sold it in just a couple of days.
I’d suggest that if the grease bothers you, just wipe it off with a dry rag. Power washing will spread the grease everywhere, and you’ll end up having to wipe it all off anyway.
And to answer the question specifically, I don’t think having grease caked around a bearing area is going to prevent dirt from coming in, because when the grease is doing its job the pressure inside is pushing grease out. That should keep the dirt out, too. And grease on your tractor will, in fact, accumulate dust and dirt anyway, especially if you’re out brush hogging. Weeds, seeds and and all that stuff is going to accumulate in the greasy areas. So just wipe it off.
And that’s how it works. If you grease on a regular basis, I guarantee your equipment will last longer.