Tractors and combines, along with hay balers and harvesters, have many moving parts that are made possible with bearings and ball joints. To maintain these heavy-duty machines under optimal performance conditions, special attention to bearing lubrication is necessary.
Why is Bearing Lubrication Critical?
Proper lubrication serves a number of functions:
- Reduces wear and friction
- Prevents heat from generating
- Guards against corrosion and
- Helps to minimize debris
Farm equipment works in environments that tax machinery with heavy loads, high operating temperatures and speed variations. Maintaining proper oil or grease levels insures that equipment can perform at maximum output in harsh operating conditions.
Simply keeping a lubrication schedule is not enough. The correct amount of grease or oil must be added to the bearing. Excess lubrication can lead to additional heat within the bearing, which damages the unit. Too little lubrication adds friction and increases operating temperatures.
There are usually warning signs when a bearing is running hot. For example, the metal-on-metal contact can cause added noise and vibration, or lubrication leaks that have a darker color due to heightened temperatures.
Ball Joint Maintenance
Depending on the equipment and suspension, there is an upper and lower ball joint on either side of the front wheel steering system. The two lower ball joints take the biggest hits because they absorb the shocks from uneven land conditions. So, it’s not surprising that they wear out first.
When performing scheduled lubrication, check the ball joints to see if the rubber seals – or boots – are holding the grease inside the unit. If the boot is torn or missing, the likelihood that the ball joint needs to be replaced is strong as it has not been protected from the elements. Worn ball joints can be blamed for sloppy steering tolerances as the socket and ball wear out together and the joint becomes loose. If there is a clunk or rattling sound – or a tight spot in steering – it’s time for replacement.
How Bearings are Evolving
Manufacturers are finding new ways to improve bearings. Many needle bearings can be replaced with self-lubricating bushings – also known as maintenance-free bearings – that do not require added grease or maintenance schedules.
Ball joints with tight yet flexible boots keep grease inside the unit while protecting it from field containments like dirt. Since ball joints are imperative to steering and suspension, the right seal can improve the life of the vehicle.