As colder temperatures drive you inside, here are a couple jobs to tackle with tips from farm mechanic and columnist Dan Anderson. His hands-on approach can help you become a DIY pro.
Winter Battery Care
I resent the cost of maintaining batteries through winter. The batteries in my wife’s SUV or my pickup are no big deal. What gives me fits are the less-used batteries: trolling motor batteries, garden tractor batteries and batteries for small engines and devices around the farm.
After spending a lot of money in the spring replacing batteries, I seem to have two choices:
1. Develop a schedule to regularly put each individual battery on a trickle charger or battery charger to bring them to full charge several times each winter.
2. Buy a trickle charger for each battery and keep it connected all winter.
I’ve resigned myself to the fact I’ll need to spend $15 to $50 to buy trickle chargers for each battery. After vowing for several years I’d charge each battery once a month through winter, I admit I can’t maintain that schedule. Comparing the cost of a half-dozen trickle chargers to replacing full-size batteries, I’m convinced it’s better to pay a painful price now rather than an agonizing price next spring.
Is That Drive Belt Worn Out Enough to Merit Replacing?
For three years I had a good-natured “contest” with a customer about one of the drive belts on his combine. Each winter I pointed to stress and fatigue marks on the belt and suggested he change it. For three winters he said, “Nah, it’ll run another year.”
Every fall for three years after he finished harvest he’d bring in his combine for its annual checkover and chortle at me, “Got by another year with that belt you said I needed to replace!” That was fine by me. I don’t want customers to spend any more money than necessary.
But this raised the question, “When is a belt worn out?”
Let’s agree any belt that is in smoking shreds is “worn out.” We’ll work backward from there toward “good as new” with guidelines to help determine whether replacing a belt is necessary or not.
- Any belt with cracks more than halfway through from its back edge is on borrowed time. Replace it unless you like working on equipment in the field.
- Belts with visible cracks one-fourth of the way through from the back will be cracked halfway through within 50 hours of use. Treat them accordingly.
- Belts with shiny, almost polished sides have been overheated and could have a short future, especially if they’re overloaded again.
- Belts that flop a lot were spun on their pulley and have a 3" to 6" long section that was in the slipping pulley. That short stretch is now measurably narrower than the rest of the belt and drops deeper into the groove when it goes around the pulley. That not only makes the belt flop excessively when it runs but shock-loads the bearings driven by the belt. A belt with burned sections can make entire machines shake due to that single narrowed segment of the belt creating a vibration.
- Belts with myriad small hairline cracks on the narrow part of their “V” are “iffy” but might last a long time if you don’t overload or overheat them. I’ll point them out, but I might run them one more year if they were mine.
But that depends on whether I’m feeling lucky and willing to work on the machine in the field. If my goal is to minimize breakdowns and maximize field time, a new belt during the off-season is one less thing to worry about.