Recently, I spent some serious time determining what my health insurance selections should be for 2019. While this is not a particularly entertaining process, it’s important to making sure that my family is properly protected.

I also spent some time ensuring my outdoor power equipment would be ready for the long winter’s sleep, including a final cleaning, a check for loose belts and bolts and greasing and oiling wear points.

The biggest part of that winter storage insurance, though, really came down to two items: battery maintenance and fuel conditioning.

Battery maintenance

Battery maintenance is enhanced with a multi-step or smart charger that diagnoses a battery’s needs, then charges it accordingly. No risk of overcharging or damaging the battery.  

Idle time

I did a bit of research on batteries and learned some interesting facts. For example, according to BatteryStuff.com, two-thirds of batteries never reach their full life rating because they’re not being recharged on a regular basis.

Batteries sitting idle slowly lose their charge to parasitic drain. When this occurs, sulfur molecules in the sulfuric acid that constitutes a battery’s electrolyte solution attach themselves to a battery’s lead plates. That sulfur can coat the plates so thoroughly that in a surprisingly short time — often less than a couple of months — it prevents the battery from being recharged. This process is called sulfation and is the No. 1 cause of battery failure.

Of course, disconnecting cables from a battery is a good start. But even then, a fully charged battery in storage will deplete itself at a rate of 1 percent discharge per day.

Your best bet is to completely remove the battery and keep it charged in storage. Wherever batteries are stored, be sure the area is not subject to freezing or high temperatures.

Actually, high temps are worse for batteries. A battery stored at 95 degrees will self-discharge twice as fast as one stored at 75.

As you know, battery chargers are essential around the farm. A recent BatteriesPlus blog post by David Neubert outlines the three basic chargers you should consider:

  • Trickle chargers slowly and steadily recharge 6V and 12V batteries to bring them back to a full charge, which is great for deeply discharged batteries.

However, traditional trickle chargers often require manual operation and don't know when to stop charging. They will continue until they are unplugged or disconnected.

  • Float chargers, unlike trickle chargers, don't charge batteries. They maintain them. Although they can't recharge a dead battery, they can be used frequently and left connected to a battery without any risk of overcharging. Float chargers automatically shut off when the battery is fully charged.
  • Multi-step or smart chargers are fully automatic. They go through a series of steps to diagnose a battery's needs and then charge it accordingly, allowing you to just plug it in, make sure there is a good connection and walk away.

Combining the characteristics of both trickle and float chargers, along with the ability to make "smart" adjustments throughout the process, these chargers are able to recover deeply discharged batteries and maintain a safe level of voltage without any risk of overcharging or damaging the battery.

Winterize fuel tanks

When it came to prepping my idle equipment’s fuel tanks, I’ve been told that filling tanks to the top is the best thing I could do for my gas- and diesel-powered equipment.

Additives/conditioners might be of help, as well.

Sta-Bil, a Gold Eagle brand, has always been my go-to additive. However, there are many other brands available, including Lucas Oil and products from OEMs such as John Deere, Case IH, AGCO, etc.

Combustion Technologies USA has a product called CleanBoost Maxx, which is a fuel stabilizer as well as a combustion catalyst. According to the company, CleanBoost Maxx can be used with all grades of diesel fuel, JP8, kerosene and gasoline, and promises increased horsepower and torque, cleaner fuel injectors, reduced emissions, improved fuel efficiency and faster starts. Might be worth a try.

Finally, there’s the issue of storing diesel exhaust fluid. One of my local John Deere dealerships, Sloan Implement, offers the following tips:

  • DEF fluid should be stored inside and at a temperature that will remain fairly constant, preferably above 40.
  • If you have John Deere machines that will be stored for the winter, make sure you allow the DEF pump to stop running before you turn off the battery switch. This allows the pump to evacuate the lines of any DEF fluid and bring it back into the tank.

You can hear the pump running for about 45-60 seconds after the key is turned off, then the pump will shut off. It’s OK to leave the DEF in the vehicle tank in cold weather. There’s no need to drain it.

  • For bulk storage, remember, DEF freezes at 12 degrees. If your DEF is located outside, move it to a warm, dry location, if possible.

If your shop or garage does not have room to accommodate your totes, invest in a DEF shelter or heated tote blanket to prevent your DEF from freezing.

  • When DEF freezes, it will expand approximately 7 percent. To avoid tote and drum ruptures, leave room for expansion.

There you have it. Proper winter storage is insurance that your machinery will be ready to go when you need it just three or four months from now.


Michael Gustafson has written for and about farm equipment companies, their products and dealerships for more than 40 years, including 25 years with John Deere. He lives on a small acreage in Dennison, Ill.