Tips on Diagnosing Tractor Engine Difficulty

A few months ago, we offered some tips for starting your tractor in cold weather conditions. Temperatures are certainly on the rise, but if you haven’t used your tractor much, if at all this winter, you may experience some engine troubles. But by making a few simple adjustments, you can improve your tractor’s operation and save the time and expense of hiring someone to fix it for you. Here are some common issues for gasoline and diesel engines and how to fix them:

For Gasoline Tractors

  • Failing to start or running unevenly – Fuel issues are a good place to start when confronted with uneven engine performance. A basic first step is to make sure your fuel valve is turned on and the tank is full (with the correct fuel). Next, check your float valve and fuel lines to make sure they aren’t sticking or clogged. Once you get past fuel checks, move on to things like a dirty air cleaner, loose manifold or weak distributor. Finally, make sure your wires and spark plugs are clean, intact and properly connected.
  • Overheating – As you may have guessed, the first thing to look at when your engine overheats is its cooling system. Check for things like low water levels and radiator problems. Proper mixture of your fuel and lubricating oil can also impact the cooling of your engine. Other culprits include a slipping fan belt, weak spark or broken water pump impeller vanes. Finally make sure you aren’t overloading your tractor or pulling at a reduced RPM.

For Diesel Tractors

  • Hard starting – There are several things that can make a diesel engine difficult to start. As spring approaches, cold air will become less of a problem but it’s something to keep in mind during early planting months. Other causes include incorrect timing, loss of compression, dirty nozzles and a low battery. Once again, make sure your fuel transfer and injection pumps are clean and working properly.
  • Losing Power – Like other engine issues, a clean and functional fuel source is crucial. After making sure there’s enough fuel in the tank, check for air or other restrictions in your fuel lines. Other power loss problems include a defective transfer pump, late injection pump timing and loss of compression. If your engine continues to struggle, check the air cleaner, valves and nozzles for irregularities.


Preparing your tractor for spring is crucial, but knowing how to diagnose engine problems as they arise is equally important. Remember to always make one adjustment at a time and if the adjustment made does not improve your tractor’s condition, return to the original setting before trying something else.

What other tractor engine issues have you experienced and how did you solve them? We welcome additional pointers!

-Jared Johnson

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