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Keep equipment batteries in peak condition during winter

Before parking the tractor in the shed, work through this battery health checklist.

Mindy Ward

October 19, 2022

4 Min Read
closeup of hands removing a car battery cable
INSPECT IT: After harvest is prime time to get your equipment ready for winter. Part of that maintenance should include a look at your tractor battery. Keeping it charged is key for optimum performance.wwing/Getty Images

Taking care of your farm equipment batteries over winter can mean a quicker, smoother start to spring planting.

It is common that batteries lose power as temperatures turn colder. But why?

“Batteries work through an internal electrochemical reaction, which will send power to the terminals,” explains Josh Goldsworthy, product manager for batteries at Case IH Genuine Parts. “So, in cold weather, this chemical reaction actually slows down, and that is what reduces the power of the battery. The electrolyte viscosity and the resistance inside of that battery are increased as the temperatures of the electrolytes drop.”

For instance, when a temperature drops below 32 degrees F, the battery will likely only deliver about 75% of its capable power, Goldsworthy says. In more extreme temperatures, around zero degrees, that power delivery could actually reduce to 40%.

A battery needs to be kept as close to full charge as possible in the winter because it will keep the internal battery chemistry at an optimal performance. If it is not fully charged or allowed to drain down completely, the inside chemistries start to resemble properties closer to water.

In that state, the inside of the battery can freeze and damage the internal plates, which Goldsworthy says ultimately reduces battery performance and can lead to total battery failure.

Proper care for batteries

Here are a few maintenance tips from Goldsworthy to keep batteries in optimum condition this winter. Following these can help you avoid equipment failure and poor machine performance:

Inspect. Visually assess the battery to see if there are any cracks or damage. Goldsworthy notes that any leakage can be very dangerous because of the chemicals inside the battery.

Test. Using a simple battery tester check for voltage and cranking amps.

Clean. If storing your battery in the machine, Goldsworthy says it is important to clean off the top part of the battery. “Those batteries can collect chaff, leaves or dust during harvest, which can also allow moisture to collect,” he explains. Moisture creates a conductive path that can drain the battery faster.

Brush. Terminals need to be clean from corrosion. Use a terminal brush and terminal cleaner for best results. “You need a really clean contact to give you the most consistent power supply, whether starting the machine or hooking up to a battery maintainer,” Goldsworthy says.

Charge. Charging a battery keeps it from freezing. A battery maintainer works automatically to provide that charge, so you can leave them on as long as you need. It shuts off when the battery is fully charged. When it detects a drop, it will kick back on, but it will not overcharge. If you’re not removing your battery and it’s going to be stored in the cold, Goldsworthy says, “It’s really important to have a maintainer on it, or at the very least, check it periodically with a portable charger.”

Store. The ideal condition is to store batteries inside a warm place connected to a maintainer. “That will leave it in a full state of charge, and you’ll avoid any potential freezing,” Goldsworthy adds.

Built for farming conditions

When it comes to farming, the type of battery matters. Case IH has its own heavy-duty batteries designed to meet farming’s rugged conditions.

“They're designed for off-road, heavy-duty use, and tested to ensure that the vibration resistance that battery can withstand will exceed those of a standard aftermarket battery,” Goldsworthy explains.

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Typically, he notes, aftermarket batteries will only partially anchor the plates in the battery to the actual battery itself. “But our MagnaPower batteries, we completely anchor those plates to the bottom with an epoxy to make sure that those plates are protected to the max against things like jolts and vibration, which can cause damage to inside plates and will degrade the battery over time.”

Winter may be the time to swap out batteries. “A high-quality battery can give you the confidence to know heading into winter if you're going use that piece of equipment, you'll have a healthy battery,” Goldsworthy adds, “or if you're heading into storage and you properly maintain it, you'll know in the spring when you pull it out that you have a healthy battery, so you can hit the ground running right away.”

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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