The importance of routine maintenance on farm equipment is often discussed, and a publication on the University of Nebraska Website now backs up this assumption with numbers and five important tips.

The publication was compiled by Robert D. Grisso, Extension Engineer and Steven R. Melvin, Extension Educator, at the University of Nebraska.

The article says that studies show improved routine maintenance procedures can reduce machinery repair costs 25 percent. An $80,000 tractor typically requires about $24,000 in repair costs during 5,000 hours of operation when receiving average maintenance. This cost can be decreased to approximately $18,000 with excellent service management.

Here are five tips offered in the article to extend machinery life.

Keep maintenance records. Mike Patry, a farmer near Colwich, Kan., says he keeps a journal of maintenance procedures to make sure each procedure is taken care of. Grisso and Melvin also suggest the following record keeping tips:

Mount a service record chart for each vehicle and implement in a prominent area of the farm shop or in a service record book. The chart should identify hour maintenance intervals so it is convenient to identify, perform and record services needed.

Follow the "Preventative Maintenance Guide" in the operator's manual for each piece of equipment.

Carry a small notepad in each cab to record problems and observations.

Use a large planning calendar for noting major repair and service operations to be carried out on each piece of machinery in the months ahead.

Cover all charts and the calendars with Plexiglass. Record data with a grease pencil; at the end of the year the plexiglass can be erased and the chart and calendar reused.

Oil Analysis Regular testing of engine oil and tractor hydraulic fluids is an easy way to help prevent equipment failure or at least diagnose potential problems, says Dale Hanson, manager, lubricant technical services for Country Energy, LLC, an agent for Cenex Harvest States Cooperatives and Farmland Industries, Inc. Oil analysis helps monitor wear and oil contamination, and when done on a regular basis it establishes a baseline of normal wear and can indicate when abnormal wear or contamination occurs. In many cases it enables identification of potential problems before major repairs are necessary and helps avoid downtime during critical operations.

Machinery Storage Equipment stored inside has a significantly higher trade-in value compared to the same equipment stored outside. For example, consider keeping $300,000 worth of tractors, combines and planters inside, and assume 50 percent trade-in value after five years. The equipment's value is approximately $20,250 greater because it was stored inside, assuming the trade-in value is increased by only 13.5 percent. Storage also saves money by reducing repairs and time in the shop. Machinery stored inside had only 7.6% downtime, while unhoused equipment had 14.3% downtime. Tillage implements should be the last to be placed inside. They take up a lot of space and decline in value only slightly faster when left outside. Usually, the deterioration that occurs to the tires and bearings is less than the cost of providing building space.

Engine Tune-Ups As engines operate, they lose power and fuel efficiency. To obtain optimum engine performance, check the power produced and the fuel consumed and compare them to University of Nebraska Tractor Test data. Test results include several ratings for each tractor. For comparative purposes, look at the figures that indicate tractor PTO horsepower and fuel efficiency at maximum PTO horsepower.

Avoid Modification of Tractor Engines A tractor engine may be modified to get more power, but are the consequences of boosting engine horsepower beyond original ratings worth it? Most manufacturers do not allow any changes from standard specifications without voiding the warranty, so you're on your own with the changes. Another problem is an almost guaranteed reduction in service life. By increasing power 20% on a tractor, you assume the manufacturer built the engine parts, clutch, transmission and final drive 20% stronger than originally needed. In the end, the tractor probably will end up in the repair shop long before it should.