As the leaves fall and the temperatures drop, efforts around the home turn toward preparing for the coming winter season. Typically, the last bits of yardwork are wrapped up before it’s time for winterizing yard machines and putting them in storage. But why stash a compact tractor when it could prove to be a valuable year-round tool?
With a few adjustments and thanks to a variety of attachment options, a tractor can serve as a reliable snow management machine throughout the winter. Here are the key items to consider when looking to transform a tractor from a three-season machine to a 12-month workhorse.
Think About Year-Round Use
To help decide which attachment or attachments will be best for handling snow, the first step is to think about how the tractor is currently outfitted. Tractors equipped with a front loader already have snow-removal potential and it’s likely that a loader bucket easily can be swapped for a front snow blade.
Tractors with rear three-point hitches are equipped for a variety of rear blade and blower attachment options. Similarly, tractors with a front hitch may be suited for a front blower.
When the current tractor setup has been reviewed, the next step is to look at available options and attachments, and the benefits and drawbacks of each.
Get Comfy with a Cab
Sub-zero temps and whipping winds are non-factors inside a heated cab, so this may be one of the first additions to consider when looking to outfit a tractor for winter use. Keep in mind not all cabs are easy to put on or remove from the tractor, so it’s good to consider if the cab will be a desirable year-round feature prior to choosing one. For example, a cab that stays on year-round for a tractor without air conditioning may prove to be an uncomfortable addition during warmer weather months.
Buckets vs. Blades
A tractor equipped with a front-end loader can be used as a plow, but it’s important to practice and work slowly at first. It’s crucial to find the proper bucket height and tilt while plowing to avoid damaging the bucket and loader arms as well as the surface, whether a driveway, sidewalk, or roadway. Blades, both front and rear, are more intuitive to use for plowing and are naturally more forgiving on surfaces.
Buckets have the upper hand in situations requiring scooping or dumping, while blades offer only pushing or pulling capabilities. However, most blades can be angled, providing windrowing capabilities to push snow to the side of the tractor as it travels.
A hybrid bucket and blade, known as a snow pusher, offers the operator-friendly pushing capabilities of a blade as well as the ability to effectively back-drag, useful for pulling snow away from areas like garage entrances or street approaches.
Using a blower means skipping the piling and/or dumping steps that may be required when using a blade, bucket, or combination of the two. A variety of rear three-point blower attachments exist, but before diving into a rear blower purchase, keep in mind that it will require operating the tractor in reverse. This may seem obvious and may not be a concern for clearing short stretches. But blowing snow from a long driveway entirely in reverse could prove to be a literal pain in the neck.
Front-end blowers remove driving backward from the equation, but the tradeoffs are cost and limited options. Tractors are commonly outfitted for three-point rear attachments, but front-end blowers may require additional modifications, which can push the cost above that of a rear attachment. The size and manufacturer options for rear blowers also outnumber the relatively limited options for front blowers. Again, consider the tractor’s current setup when choosing a blower.
Winter Operating Tips
Most tractors are hardy enough to operate in winter conditions, but depending on regional temperature ranges, it may be necessary to fill up with winterized diesel suitable for cold conditions. Using inadequate diesel fuel during low temperatures can result in the fuel gelling, which can clog fuel system components and reduce engine performance.
Compact tractors are generally equipped with four-wheel drive, giving them an advantage on slick surfaces and soft ground. Tire patterns are typically suited for ag, industrial, and turf uses. A turf pattern is best suited for snow and ice, followed in order by industrial and ag.
If the tractor is used off-road or on gravel roads, it may warrant extra traction provided by tire chains. There are a variety of chain styles to choose from that will help prevent sliding and slipping on slick surfaces, especially when plowing heavy snow. Driving on paved surfaces with chains on is not recommended, as the chains, surface, or both may be damaged.
Operating a cold engine in cold weather can prove extra hard on engine components, so as always, be sure to let the engine warm up to the optimum operating temperature as specified by the manufacturer.
Finally, after cleaning up from a nasty winter storm, remember to clear off excess snow before parking a tractor to keep ice and water from accumulating and contributing to rust.
With the variety of attachments and enhancements available for most compact tractors, every homeowner can turn this machine into one capable of battling winter’s worst elements.
About the Author
Nick Arndt is an Account Manager for RDO Equipment Co. in Moorhead, MN. Connect with him on Twitter @RDONickA or Instagram @rdonickA.
To learn more about snow attachment offerings or how to choose the right snow attachments, visit your local RDO Equipment Co. store.