With harvest nearly complete, it¹s time to prepare farm machinery for winter. Whether you use your equipment in the winter or store it until spring, proper winterization will extend equipment life and ensure equipment is ready to go.

Neil Hoff, CHS product management director for refined fuels, recommends farmers first consult their owner's manual for the manufacturer's guidelines on winter storage. From there, farmers can build a list of items on each piece of machinery to evaluate.

Begin by cleaning all equipment with a high-pressure washer to remove dust, dirt and residue. Avoid direct contact with seals and bearings. Grease unpainted metal parts to protect them from the elements. Repaint scratched or corroded areas. Equipment that runs good and looks good will command higher trade-in values.

Check for worn or loose belts, broken parts, and leaks. Winter downtime provides an opportunity to make repairs before the next busy season.

Next, farmers need to winterize fuel, especially if they¹ll be using the equipment, says Hoff. Begin by draining the water separator and replacing any water-absorbing filters. "Nine out of 10 problems are water-related issues,² he explains. ³Although fuel gelling can be an issue, it's water turning to ice in fuel storage tanks and filtration that typically plugs filters during the first couple of cold snaps. You need to get the water out of the fuel before temperatures get cold."

Fill fuel and hydraulic oil tanks full to prevent condensation from forming as weather warms in the spring. If farmers plan to use equipment, they¹ll need to take steps to prevent diesel fuel from gelling when temperatures dip.

Paraffin wax is present in all diesel fuels and is a natural lubricity provider. However, just like any wax, as the ambient temperature of the fuel drops, the wax begins to form large square-shaped structures. These can come out of suspension and cause fuel to gel. As wax crystals begin to form, the fuel will take on a cloudy appearance. This is known as the cloud point. If this process continues, fuel will reach the Cold Filter Plugging Point (CFPP). The wax crystals will clog the fuel filter, starving the engine.

"To prevent gelling, farmers should use a cold flow improver that includes de-icers and wax anti-settling agents, which extend the operability of the fuel," says Hoff. "Cold flow improvers change the wax square-like formations to a more pin-like structure, which allows the fuel to pass through filters."

"Don't over treat, and be sure to add your cold flow improver before the fuel drops below its cloud point," he adds. "Additional treatments of CFI are more likely to inhibit the fuel¹s performance than help. Stick to the recommendations."

Another option is to use a diesel fuel specially formulated for low temperatures, such as Cenex winterized premium diesel fuels. Cold flow improvers, de-icers and wax anti-settling agents are included in the additive packages for these fuels, and they have a lower CFPP than regular diesel.

Next, check coolant levels and replace both oil and fuel filters. Change the engine oil to remove harmful acid and contaminates that can accumulate in the oil pan and crankcase.

"If farmers plan to use equipment during the winter, they should switch to a full synthetic with a lower viscosity to prevent thickening and engine damage," says Hoff. "Lubricants become thicker in cold temperatures. If oil becomes too thick to lubricate essential parts, damage can occur."

Hoff advises farmers to clean battery posts and cables, then disconnect battery ground cables on idle machines to prevent battery drain. Last, check tire pressure and fill as necessary.

Storing equipment under a roof is best, but if that¹s not possible, store it under a heavy tarp and use water-resistant wax to protect equipment from rust and corrosion.

"Farm machinery requires maintenance both on and off the field to keep it running smoothly year after year," says Hoff. "Caring for equipment is one way to ensure efficient fieldwork and less downtime."