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How do I keep it in top shape?

In this edition of Maintenance Q&A, we answer questions from readers who bought new equipment and want to know how to keep it in good working order.

Release that air

Q. Jake in Colorado bought an air compressor. What kind of maintenance should he do to keep it running well?

A. Bob Hunter, tools editor for WOOD magazine, says an oil-lube compressor should have the oil changed twice a year. With oil-free compressors, you will eventually have to resleeve the cylinder.

No matter what kind of air compressor you have, Hunter says it's extremely important to release air and water from the tank on a regular basis.

“As it fills with cold air, it builds up condensation, and that water will sit in your tank and rust if you don't release it.”

Every time you use the tank, release the air at the end of the day, says Hunter.

“Some people with heavy-duty shop compressors won't do that,” he says. “But it's still a good idea to make it at least a weekly maintenance, otherwise it will rust from the inside out.”

The release valve is usually on the bottom side of the compressor. Open it, and you'll hear a big gush of air. Then, tip the compressor over to let the water drain out. You'll see a lot more water in the tank when it's used in a humid environment.

Be sure to check the air filters and intake vents often, and keep them as clean as possible, especially if you're working in a dirty environment. The compressor has to work a lot harder to intake air if the vents and filters are clogged. Also, periodically inspect the air hose, because it will eventually wear out.

“Over time, the hose could develop cracks in it,” says Hunter. “It's something you should consider expendable. Five years is a pretty good life for an air hose. You don't want it to rupture and blow out, so every five years or so, toss the hoses and get new ones.”

Clean those filters

Q. Neil in California just got a new utility tractor. How can he get the best fuel economy?

A. Mark Hanna, Extension ag engineer at Iowa State University, says regular tractor maintenance is the key to fuel economy and minimizing expenses, because the engine needs to work at peak performance.

“Getting that right mix of fuel and air in the combustion cylinder is crucial to getting your best fuel economy,” says Hanna. “Anything that impacts the combustion cylinder is going to be important. Be sure to maintain fuel and air filters. You need to know what that maintenance schedule is, and you need to follow it fairly scrupulously.”

Filters trap small particles as air and fuel go into the engine. Over time, the particles build up, restricting the flow of air and fuel, which reduces engine combustion efficiency.

Hanna also recommends being vigilant about cleaning dust and debris from radiator screens, especially if you work in a dirty environment. If the screens are clogged, air can't flow through to cool the engine.

A tractor's engine temperature also affects combustion efficiency.

“That comes down to keeping the engine's operating temperature at what it was designed to be,” says Hanna. “You want your cooling system functioning well. You need to exhaust that heat through the radiator fins. Depending on the environment you're working in, keeping those fins clean can be pretty important.”

Your tires can also reduce fuel efficiency. Make sure they're at the proper inflation for the weight they're carrying. 

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