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Three Common Compact Utility Tractor Issues and How to Troubleshoot a Tractor

28 Apr 2021

Compact utility tractors (CUTs) are trusted, reliable machines for both residential properties and commercial job sites. Their owners range from homeowners to hobby farmers to professional growers. These tractors work well on those hot summer days and cold winter nights and handle a variety of tasks for gardening, landscaping, snow removal, and more.

Related article: 5 tips for buying a used compact tractor  

Now imagine the frustration of getting primed for a day of work with a CUT only to have the tractor not be in top shape to tackle the task at hand. The day quickly goes from productive uptime to frustrating downtime, with the focus now on how to troubleshoot a tractor.

From starting trouble to engine issues, there are a host of problems that can come when operating a CUT. Fortunately, some of the most common issues are minor and can be addressed easily.

First Things First
Prior to attempting any type of service work, always consult the operator’s manual for troubleshooting help. When proceeding with troubleshooting, make sure the machine is on a flat, stable surface. Turn off the engine and apply the parking brake, then allow the machine to cool down.

Take a look at three of the most common CUT operating issues, along with possible causes and tips for how to troubleshoot.

1. Engine Start Issue
If the engine is hard to start, starts but stalls soon after, or will not even start at all, there are several potential causes to investigate.

  • Possible Problem Area: Battery

    How to Troubleshoot: The first thing to check is that the battery is fully charged, and posts and terminals are clean.

    If the problem persists and no other areas are the problem, replace the battery.

  • Possible Problem Area: Electric Circuitry

    How to Troubleshoot: Check for a blown fuse and replace if needed. Follow the recommendations and process per the operator’s manual.

  • Possible Problem Area: Fuel System

    How to Troubleshoot: First, ensure the fuel shut-off valve is open/on and adjust if needed. Next, check to see if the fuel filter looks dirty. Change the fuel filter if needed. The third area to check is the fuel lines to ensure there are no loose connections or leaks.

    If the problem persists, the fuel may be stale or contaminated. Drain the fuel and replace with a fresh fill.

  • Possible Problem Area: Air IntakeHow to Troubleshoot: Clean the foam pre-cleaner with warm, soapy water. If the paper air filter element is dirty, replace it. A paper air filter element should never be cleaned, only replaced, as it can rip or become damaged from wiping or blowing air.

2. Engine Overheating

Excessive heat is one of the leading causes of engine failure. If the engine overheats and the tractor is not being operated at overload, consider the following possibilities.

  • Possible Problem Area: Oil

    How to Troubleshoot: Check the engine oil level and fill to the proper amount if needed.

  • Possible Problem Area: Coolant

    How to Troubleshoot: Check the coolant level and add engine coolant if needed.  

  • Possible Problem Area: Fan Belt

    How to Troubleshoot: First, inspect the fan belt. If it appears damaged, replace it. If it looks okay, it may be that the tension is off. Check the fan belt to ensure it is to the specified tension.

  • Possible Problem Area: Air Flow
    How to Troubleshoot: Clean the foam pre-cleaner and/or replace the paper air filter element. As already mentioned, never attempt to clean a paper air filter. Check and make sure the radiator and radiator screen are clean and free of debris.

    If the issue is not the air filter, airflow may be restricted for other reasons. Clean the area around the engine, ensuring there is no buildup of dirt or other debris.

3. Steering Problems

If the tractor’s steering seems off, there are a few possible culprits.

  • Possible Problem Area: Oil

    Troubleshooting Tip: First, check to be sure the transmission/hydraulic oil is at the proper level, and fill if necessary. Allow the engine to run a bit to give the oil time to warm up before starting again.

  • Possible Problem Area: Filter

    Troubleshooting Tip: Check the oil filter for dirt, clogging, or damage and replace if needed.   

  • Possible Problem Area: Lack of Lubrication

    Troubleshooting Tip: Lubricate the steering linkage.  

  • Possible Problem Area: Bent Front Axle
    Troubleshooting Tip: If the axle is bent, this is one issue that needs professional attention. Bring the tractor to your dealer partner or other authorized service center to be fixed properly. 

Encouraging Uptime

At some point, all tractors – all equipment for that matter – will experience an issue. It is part of the territory that comes with owning and operating equipment. Ideally, a problem can be addressed with simple troubleshooting and one of these easy fixes.

Related video: Watch to learn the differences between John Deere’s 1023E and 1025R tractors

That said, the best way to deal with future issues is to prevent them. Many common tractor issues can be eliminated with proper preventative maintenance. Dedicating just a few minutes each day or even every week is the best defense to unplanned, costly, and frustrating downtime. 

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About the Author
James Rogholt is Service Manager for RDO Equipment Co. in Fergus Falls, MN, where he has worked for the past seven years. His favorite part of working at RDO is interacting with customers and he enjoys helping them keep their equipment up and running.

For more information on equipment troubleshooting and maintenance, contact your local RDO Equipment Co. store.

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