When it comes to agricultural equipment, specifically tractors, many of them are used for decades upon decades due to durable, well-made engines and machinery that lasts. For this reason, agricultural equipment comes with a price tag – a big price tag.
New tractors, ranging in size from compact to 4- and 6-cylinder engines, can cost $30,000 all the way up to several hundred thousand dollars. According to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, 184,000 tractors were sold in 2013, up 10% from the prior year. The biggest jump in sales last year, however, was in tractors with less than 40 hp.
Despite the fact that new tractor sales were up in 2013, industry experts report that the business of rebuilding and remanufacturing older tractor engines and ag equipment was still very prevalent. In fact, most ag equipment doesn’t need rebuilding or remanufacturing for 10 to 15 years, so the increased number of new tractors being sold today means good news down the line for engine rebuilders and parts suppliers.
“That’s where our market starts, 10-15 years after manufactured,” said Ryan McCoy, vice president of sales for Howard Enterprises, a distributor of aftermarket engine parts and tractor parts.
Due to the prohibitive expense of buying a new tractor or piece of ag equipment, many people, when their machines see engine issues, will opt for rebuilding the engine to get longer life out of their equipment.
“Right now we’re seeing what could be a very big impact on the life of agricultural equipment,” says Paul Kelly, vice president of Maxiforce, an aftermarket engine parts company. “The impact of Tier 4 engines in agricultural equipment is going to be very significant. People are going to extend the life of their older agricultural pieces of equipment much longer than they probably would have before.”
The biggest reason being the cost of these new engines – a Tier 4 engine is twice the cost of its predecessor. OEs such as John Deere and Massey are being required to use Tier 4 engines for emissions purposes. These engines are complicated due to selective catalytic reducers to reduce emissions and more electronic components.
“People are not only scared of the price, they are scared of the equipment because they don’t know it,” Kelly says. “We think people are going to be rebuilding their engines and giving them a longer life than they would have done in the past. I think it’s going to be a positive impact on the engine rebuilding world.”
Classic tractor engines
Just as with classic car models, certain makes of tractors are beloved for their durability and their engines. John Deere, International, Case, Ford, Massey Ferguson, Perkins, Allis-Chalmers, Oliver and Cummins are just a few tractor engines that have stood the test of time. But it seems to be a unanimous fact that John Deere and International lead the rest of the pack when it comes to rebuilding.
For instance, the John Deere 4020 was manufactured from 1963-’72 and John Deere produced and sold 57,000 of them. The 1066 International was produced from 1971-’76 and International produced 55,000 of them.
Larry Scott, president of Scott Diesel and Farm Service in Fort Lupton, CO, rebuilds John Deere, International, Case, Ford and all the major brands of tractors. “The most popular engine I’ve seen come into the shop is both the John Deere and International 466 engine,” he says. “People tend to keep them because of the tractor’s reputation and the longevity of the tractors themselves, so they rebuild the engines.”
Charles Carey, owner of Carey Tractor and Tire Service in Ionia, IA, echoes Scott’s thoughts on the most common tractor engines, saying he works on International 466 engines a lot. “The 466 International engine is a hard engine to beat,” Carey says. “There are more Internationals around than anything else.”
No matter what kind of tractor a farmer owns, the fate of it relies on how well it’s taken care of and the level of regular maintenance performed on it.
“The average age of the engines we see are between 7,000 and 10,000 hours,” says Scott. “If someone has maintained their tractor and done proper maintenance on them, I’ve seen John Deere’s go 15,000 hours. On the flip side, if they don’t take care of it I’ve seen engine’s come in with as few as 4,000 hours.”
Most of the issues seen are general wear and tear, but some of the reasons to rebuild an engine can range from a burnt valve, drop valve, blown head gaskets, low oil pressure, drop rod or spin rod bearings, burnt piston, liner leaks, and more.
“It all depends on whether they change oil filters and oil,” Carey says. “That’s the cheapest thing you can put in an engine.”
Whether a new tractor is purchased or the tractor’s engine gets rebuilt or remanufactured depends upon the farmer and his resources.
“The bigger guys are rolling in the new equipment, and the littler guys are rebuilding what they’ve got,” says Aaron Roth, an instructor at the College of Applied Technologies at the University of Northwestern Ohio. “It depends on the acreage that they are farming as to how often they roll a piece of equipment. If they’re trading equipment, then they are ending up with the new Tier 4 equipment with all the fancy emissions stuff on them. But the smaller guys are rebuilding what they’ve got and reusing them.”
When it comes to rebuilding an engine, in most cases, it’s a third the cost of what you could go out and buy a new one for.
“These guys put an investment out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and even something like a compact tractor is $35,000 to $45,000,” Roth says. “They’ll trade a car every couple of years, but they’ll keep their tractor forever.”
To keep these tractors running well, rebuilders rely on part suppliers. Companies like Maxiforce and Howard Enterprises specialize in overhaul kits and parts to rebuild these engines.
Howard Enterprises carries parts for Case, International, John Deere, Allis-Chalmers, Oliver, Cummins, Massey Ferguson and Perkins. But John Deere, International and Cummins are its top three, according to McCoy.
“Our overhaul kit, which is pistons, cylinder liners, piston rings, rod bearings, main bearings and a complete gasket set with crank seals, is probably 50% to 55% of our business,” McCoy says.
The price varies per application, but the average cost for an overhaul kit from Howard is around $300.
For a 4020 John Deere the kit costs about $960, and $930 for a 1066 International. McCoy says John Deere PowerTech engines and Cummins B and C series engines are also popular.
Maxiforce does very well with its overhaul kits as well, which basically include everything in a box to rebuild an engine, according to Kelly.
“The other popular products are the oil pump, water pump, injectors and thermostat, what they call the wear parts,” Kelly says. “Our bread and butter is the John Deere PowerTech engine line. The PowerTech engine is the most popular ag engine out there and covers the last 15 years of John Deere engines.”
Aside from John Deere’s, Kelly says Perkins are also popular engines that he sees getting rebuilt.
Both Carey and Scott agreed that overhaul kits are great products and help make an engine rebuild less expensive. According to Carey and Scott an average 6-cylinder diesel engine rebuild can run from $6,000 to $10,000 versus buying a new tractor for around $100,000.
Not all engine rebuilding business goes to local engine shops, however. If the tractors are newer, many people will bring them back into the dealers for repairs and remanufacturing.
John Deere says that whether they overhaul an engine or just replace it with a remanufactured engine depends on the damage and the time of year the engine is brought in. If the engine is brought in during the earlier part of the year, they are more likely to overhaul it. If the engine comes in during the later part of the year, they typically install a remanufactured engine.
A new 9L – 13L John Deere engine can cost anywhere from $27,000 to $40,000, while a remanufactured engine costs between $13,500 and $19,000. John Deere does offer overhaul kits, which cost $2,500, but the oil pump, water pump and fuel system components are extra.
International 400 series engines don’t have overhaul kits available. Engine rebuilders must purchase parts to rebuild these. Remanufactured International engines can cost $6,000 to $7,000.
Tony Mitchell, a manufacturing engineer in the engine division of CNH Reman, a joint venture between SCR Holdings Corp. and CNH Industrial, says remanufacturing business has been booming.
CNH Reman is the complete reman center in North America for all Case, Case-IH and New Holland equipment, parts and components, whether that’s engines, transmissions, rear ends, hydraulics, air conditioning, or electrical.
“We do FTP engines, ISM, smaller B-series Cummins and New Engine Family (NEF),” says Mitchell. “Remanufactured B Cummins are less than $10,000 installed versus $60,000 for a new tractor. Some of the bigger tractors or combines remanufactured engines are $25,000 versus $300,000 or $400,000 for new equipment.”
The future of tractor engines
Aside from newer technology slipping into tractor engines, the other piece of equipment engine rebuilders are starting to see more of are compact tractors.
“When you think of a skid steer you think of construction guys, but any decent farmer has a skid steer to move hay or ground,” says Kelly. “It is the most utilized piece of equipment on the farm.”
That’s becoming a very important segment for companies like Maxiforce because there were no parts for these compact tractors. So farmers and engine rebuilders didn’t have an outlet to get parts to rebuild these.
“In the last five years we’ve introduced a line for Yanmar and these small Perkins engines,” Kelly says. “That has taken off big time, and has been the hottest launch we’ve ever done because there wasn’t an outlet for parts for these small-board diesel engines found in these compact utility tractors that every farmer has gotten.”
Compact tractors are going to open up a new opportunity for engine rebuilders because previously it didn’t exist. The engines in small tractors were considered throwaway engines. You sent the core in and they sent you a rebuilt one or a new one. Engine rebuilders want to be able to rebuild customer’s engines and offer a cheaper option than having to buy a whole new engine.
“Compact tractor rebuilding has become a bigger part of the rebuilding business simply due to the fact that instead of having the larger acre farms of 200 to 2,000 acres, now you see people with 20 acres and less and they have a mini tractor,” Scott says. “The newer little tractors are definitely taking over.”
Mitchell says the CNH Reman sees 30 to 40 compact tractors a day.
“Those are some of our highest volume engines – the little 25 to 45 hp engines,” Mitchell says. “People are definitely fixing those little tractors as they tear up.”
As with any piece of machinery, sooner or later it’s going to need to be replaced with a new piece of equipment. As technology continues to influence newer models of tractors, the agriculture industry is going to have to upgrade equipment and use the new Tier 4 engines.
“I think you’ll see the new engines stay around just as long as the older engines,” Mitchell says. “There’s no doubt they can have some expensive repairs, but the newer equipment is like the newer cars – its so much more capable than the older stuff was, has so many more options on it and the ability to do so many different things that the older units wouldn’t, and that makes them a lot more productive tractors.”
While the newer engines are creating a lot of talk, much of it hasn’t been out long enough to really know how it is going to stand up to the test of time like the older equipment has.
“Let them get four or five years on them and then we’ll see,” Carey says.