I'm experienced mechanically, but these tractors are really different. What should I check when buying a used tractor?
Articulation bearings - Where the tractor articulates, ensure the pivots are not worn out. Lever the machine gently up and down below bottom joint with 2x6 or pole. Watch the pivot points closely. Bearings should show no slop or replacement is necessary. Cardan joints - Reach in and move both sets of cardans back and forth using both hands (u-joint carriers @ mid frame). U-joints should show no slop or replacement is necessary. U-joints are roughly $25 each, entire cardans are about $250 each. Check steering play on manual steer machines. Box is adjustable if play is not excessive, but tie rod links are not. Look at link ends to ensure they are still tight. Tie rod links are still available, but steering boxes are out of production and out of stock. Links are about $65. Jacking each axle group up one at a time, spin one tire and the other tire should spin in opposite direction. If it doesn't, there is internal damage. Axles should move smoothly. Pull out the differential lock for the front end and it should lock the axle (tires will not spin in opposite directions). If not, the diff lock is damaged. Check seals for leaking. If leaking and when in the air, grab tire with both arms and gently rock back and forth with someone holding the steering wheel (this anchors the machine). Watch axle to ensure there is no play in bearings. If so, suspect wear. CAUTION: When lifting and rocking the axle groups, be careful of articulation (drum rotating side to side). These machines easily swing and fall off of jacks. It's suggested to block or support both axle towers when in the air. Ensure rims are not damaged as they are expensive to replace, about $300 each. Ensure the starter doesn't grind the bendix when engaging and releases cleanly. Check and make sure the starting solenoid isn't cracked or damaged (older types out of stock, out of production). Replacement (European made) starters run about $450. Imports are about $250. Look closely at the engine tin work around the cylinder fins for crud and impacted debris. This can lead to serious cooling problems. A well serviced engine will be clean of debris. (Unless the seller just read this). Ensure engine is not being started using starting fluid. Excessive use of starting fluid can be damaging to engines. It should never be used with a diesel that utilizes glow plugs. When engine is running, check for excessive blue smoke when warmed up. Almost all will smoke for the first 1/2 minute on start up, but should clean up quickly. Blue smoke is burning oil. If burning oil is evident, remove the oil bath from the air cleaner and see if it cleans up in a minute or so. If it does, the oil bath cleaner is probably plugged up and needs servicing, otherwise engine is worn. Black smoke is excessive, unburned fueling, common under load. White / blue / smokey exhaust is poor fuel detonation and is either injector nozzles or the engine is worn. Rebuilding air cooled diesels is easily done. Parts run between $500 and $1000 depending on needs. Remove oil filler cap when 1st started then again when warmed up, compare for excessive blow by. If significantly worse when engine is hot, rings are worn. Ensure parking brake is all there, no longer available (but conversions are possible). Worn brake shoes should be relined, cost depending on local resources. Try machine in all gears to ensure they all work without clicking or grinding noises. Transmission gears, pinions and shafts are all available. Rear articulation drum should rotate easily back and forth when driving. Ensure power steering is working if power. New steering valves are expensive, originals out of stock and out of production. I'm hesitant to purchase an Italian tractor because I understand parts are hard to get a hold of, is this true? Italian manufacturers support their tractors for a long time and many parts are still available right off the shelf for 50 year old units. It is true that North America has had it's challenges with parts because there hasn't been widespread dealer support. That is not as important as it has been in the past because of the world wide web. It should be obvious though that parts out of Italy are not an overnight order. The orders may be fairly large at times and Italy may need to bring in parts from their OEM manufacturers. This could mean several weeks or even months for our order to be filled. Since the 1990's tractor manufacturers have struggled world wide. Gone are the days of endless available inventory. It is not unusual now for Italian manufacturers to manufacture parts in small runs as needed.
I have heard engine parts are not available through the tractor manufacturer, is this true?
Yes, unless the tractor is new, engine parts are normally not available from the tractor manufacturer. The difference between tractors was typically the engine type. Back in the 80's, you could purchase a Goldoni Universal with either a Slanzi (18hp), Ruggerini (32hp) or Lombardini (38hp) diesel. The difference between a Pasquali 997 (Ruggerini) and the 998 (Lombardini) was the engine. Tractor "types" were really about engines - the tractors being exactly the same (except for the smallest units that still shared transmission parts). We now have access to all engine parts out of Italy, including the Slanzi which is a big help. Since engines may require oversize bearings or rings, we order rebuild kits in, so plan accordingly. Out of Italy, it may take 4 to 6 weeks for special order parts. We normally order about every quarter, but because of the cost of shipping - we need pallet minimums to keep our prices reasonable. Our normal prices are for shelf inventory. Special orders can substantially affect pricing.
What parts are not available anymore?
We have had excellent luck with most parts, but there are a couple of parts that seem to be out of production and no longer available. Many of the original hydraulic oil pumps are out of production, but we stock replacements that bolt right in. Original style seats and steering wheels are no longer available for the older units, but this is important only when restoration is the objective. There are enough seats manufactured today that look similar to originals that it usually isn't a problem and we stock replacement steering wheels. Pasquali and Ferrari no longer manufacture transmission gears for the older tractors, so we are limited to their existing stock. Large castings are hard to find. Some older tire sizes are now only available in the equivalent radial sizes, but match up perfectly. Rims are expensive out of Italy, so we have Hey Wheel in Kansas build them for us (See the tractor parts section). They can make up just about anything. They are also reasonable. There aren't many parts that are no longer available. We have a large stock of both new, new / old stock and salvaged parts available
I've heard parts are really expensive for Italian tractors, is this true?
A few can be, but it's not any different than with most other tractors. Italian tractors hold up very well and the parts are competitively priced with import tractors. Our experience has been that Japanese tractor parts are often more expensive. The biggest challenge for us is shipping. Italian manufacturers ship by air freight. The downside is about 35 to 60% of the part cost is shipping. That being said, parts are still about the same as Japanese parts once they land here, because our counterparts need to ship them here too. As with any import tractor, don't try and compare prices to the venerable Massey 135. One of the most popular production units of all time, parts are dirt cheap and made all over the world.
Is it true Italian engines are air cooled?
They can be either air or liquid cooled. The smaller (less than 50 hp) Lombardini, Ruggerini and Slanzi diesel engines have been traditionally air cooled, the VM power plants can be either or even oil cooled. Although air cooled diesels are less common to North America than Europe, they are without question well regarded by industry world wide. Air cooled diesels have exemplary records as being tough, long lasting and powerful for their size and weight. They are easily worked on and require little maintenance. Like their water cooled counterparts though, the cooling system has to be looked after. You have to clean accumulated trash out around the cooling fins to ensure the fans or blowers cool efficiently.
Is it true all Italian engines burn oil?
No. This is a question I have been asked a number of times. Italian engines are well designed, well built and easy to work on. If an engine burns oil, it is because the rings, valve guides or both are worn; the result of not changing oil, not servicing the air cleaner or severely overheating the engine. A necessity with air cooled engines is periodically removing the engine shielding and cleaning out accumulated dirt and trash which prevents it from cooling. Any engine will burn oil if abused or not cared for. A consideration is they should not be run at idle for extended periods of time. Your engine is best warmed up or cooled down running slightly below mid throttle, not at idle. Italian engines are the same as all engines, they don't burn oil unless they are not cared for properly.
The single, biggest contributor to these engines burning oil is not servicing the air shroud around the cooling fins. These engines are prone to pack rats, mice and other critters building nests up inside the cooling shroud against the cylinder fins. This blocks the fan air from cooling the engine and results in overheating the piston rings. The rings relax, loose shape and result in oil burning, hard starting and loss of power. After a good cleaning and pressure washing of the cylinders, I fabricate a hardware cloth guard and mount it on the engine shroud in front of the fan. This prevents unwanted visitors, but grass and debris will still be drawn in over time. A Spring cleaning of the air shroud will go a long way to preventing premature wear of these legendary engines.
My engine seems to run well when cold, but burns oil and loses power when hot. Why is this?
While it's difficult to generalize, it may be as simple as having too much oil in your air cleaner and it could be choking the engine air. Many Italian tractors are run thousands of hours with no service to the air cleaner. The oil cup sludges up, forces the oil up into the screen and chokes off the engine air. When starting cold, it creates a rich fuel environment for an easy start, then warms up to a sluggish, smoking mess. Remove your oil bath air cleaner, wash the entire screen and cup in solvent. Refill to the proper level and try it again. You may be surprised. Better yet, modify the air cleaner to an element - see our TIPS section.
Another consideration is the cooling shroud. Remove the cooling shroud where it attaches to the cylinders and make sure it isn't filled with hay, weeds or pack rat nesting material. This is a common problem with air cooled engines. The fins of the cylinders are packed with debris and the increased heat causes the engine to overheat and burn oil.
I was told not to run my diesel at high RPM's, is this true?
No. Italian diesels typically develop maximum torque at 1800 RPM, but that is not necessarily the optimum speed to run them. On the single cylinders, the manufacturer recommends normal running speed to be roughly between 2000 and 2600 RPM (for continuous light to heavy loads). Lombardini went so far to say that for any purpose outside this field of use, to please contact them to discuss the application. This is especially important for the single cylinders like the 986. These engines do not like slow speeds. When run at the higher RPM's they are designed for, oil pressure is highest and the engine works the least. The idea that diesels like to 'lug' and should be run at low RPM is simply wrong and detrimental to the engine. For the twin cylinder engines, recommended normal running speed is roughly 2200 - 2500 RPM. The bottom line is don't lug your diesel engine, it's hard on it. The idea engines should be run at low RPM is rooted back to stationary engine days, where anything over 550 RPM was considered red line. Modern diesel design not only allows for higher speeds, they benefit from it. Always refer to the engineers power curves if in doubt. They are usually published in the service manual for your engine.
Are Italian tractors big enough to really work?
There are no worries there. Italian tractors pack unbelievable power into a small package. North America's auto and tractor industries have differed from Europe in both design and concept. It's like comparing a Ferrari to a Corvette. Both are powerful and have their place, but the Italian sports car is designed for a different driver in mind. Italian tractors are powerfully built, unbelievably agile and will traverse slopes where other tractors don't dare drive. Vineyard tractors are the ultimate example. Small, but powerful and turn in as small a radius of 3 feet 9 inches. Most are AWD and at the end of the day you could drive up to your kitchen table with some of the models because they fit through a standard doorway with the wheels on narrow mount. We drive our Italian tractors across slopes that would be impossible to navigate with a conventional tractor. They may look small parked next to a conventional tractor, but don't let size fool you. Take a look at the tractor pull or logging video in our Gallery section.
Are there weak points to the articulating design?
Not that we can see. Italian tractor frames hold up very well. Original designs were steadily improved during the 70's and 80's; with the later design of the 90's just about bullet proof. We know of older tractors that failed using 1000 lb. counter weights (so loaders could carry more) but this is tractor abuse, not a design flaw. It has been suggested that if the lower ball bearing does fail, to replace it with a bushing cut from polymer or UHMW. This is because it holds up better to shock load. However, it's not beyond the home mechanic to change out the articulation bearings. We know tractors with eight thousand of hours on them that have never failed. Like everything mechanical though, while failure is uncommon, it certainly is possible. Most Japanese tractors are stout, well built tractors; but we have purchased them broken in half. That shouldn't suggest Japanese tractor frames are weak.
But what about when driving over rough terrain?
Actually, that's when articulating frames really shine. They not only hinge in the middle, the front and rear sections rock side to side about 15 degrees. That means that if you are turning uphill and your right front tire is climbing over a rock, your right rear tire could be traveling down into a dip and you would not lose traction.
Is it true they are hard to steer?
This is usually the result of mounting a front end loader on a manual steer tractor. With a fully loaded bucket, manual steer is not easy to work with; similar to a conventional tractor. If you want a loader for heavy work, ensure the tractor has hydraulic assist steering. You won't regret it. If not running with a loader, manual steer is adequate and not a worry. When plowing or tilling, the low tire (in the trench) tends to pull and the tractor wanders. Engaging the front diff lock will minimize this tendency. Remember, diff lock's are used when pulling straight, do not turn with the diff locks engaged as it will wear the differentials.
Can you use them as a skidder?
Although they are designed similar to a skidder, remember they are a small tractor. Pulling timber is normally not an issue as long as the size and length of logs are reasonable. If you are doing "wheelies" or having to jerk the logs to get started, your load is too large. These tractors are amazing, but recognize they have limits just like any tractor in their HP range. It is easy to become over enthusiastic with Italian tractors because they typically out shine a conventional tractor of the same power. NEVER pull from a point higher than the rear axle as you increase the risk of flipping the tractor. A rear PTO forest type winch or grapple attachment is recommended if you want to move a lot of wood.
Why don't they have fuel filters?
Actually they do, but the Pasquali fuel filter is located in the bottom of the fuel tank. Drain the tank and remove the 10mm bolt. Gently rock the filter base away from the tank and clean the filter housing well. Replace the filter, cover and bolt; then snug up just enough to prevent leaking. Don't over tighten the bolt. See the tips section. Older Slanzi's used either a cartridge or a unique spin on the same outer size as their oil filter. Ferrari's used cartridge filters. We normally stock all of them. PLEASE: Do not cheap out and put an in-line plastic filter into the fuel line instead of buying the proper filter. The small in-line filters will wax up and starve the injection pump which results in pump failure. While we have great prices on injection pumps, they are still expensive. Change out your filters every year. If even a tiny amount of water gets into the injection pump or it starves for fuel, it trashes the pump. Don't misunderstand, we like selling pumps - but would like to prevent you from having to replace it even more. If you want to bypass the original filters because of price or annoyance, choose a good CAT or CAV type filter with replaceable elements and a glass bottom (like the old Perkins diesels used). The elements are inexpensive and they have more than enough pleated area to filter with full flow. I often upgrade tractors to these filters because they are a real improvement over early attempts.
I've heard Pasquali's are not Italian, but were actually built in Spain, is this true?
The Pasquali's that were built in Spain will have a Hispanamotor (Lombardini under license), Diter Espana (MWM), Minsel Espana or another of the Spanish diesels. They would also be labeled as an E series, for example 996E. Pasquali did have a plant in Spain, but few of them made it to North America. Unless your model number ends in an E on the front name plate, your tractor was built in Italy.
What is the best Italian Tractor?
In my opinion, the one you own, because if you don't own one - it doesn't matter. I like all Italian tractors. The older Pasquali's are rugged, rudimentary tractors. The Goldoni's have always used castings instead of welded components. The Ferrari 85 is still one of my favorites although a bit big for most people. Carraro and Valpadana have a huge following. Determine the use and go from there. A good way to look at it is, if you break the tractor (and believe me - you will if you use it) can you find parts? Are there other used tractors available if parts become hard to get. If there are derelict Pasquali's in your area, I wouldn't buy a rare Ferrari unless you are a collector. Some people prefer Lombardini engines, others swear by the Slanzi which is no longer made. Others only run Ruggerini. All of them are excellent, tough engines - but treat them well as parts become harder to find.
How often should I change the engine oil?
Interestingly, most tractor manufacturers say to change the engine oil after 200 hrs. Personally, I think 50 hours is where you should target an oil and filter change. I have run them 100 hours between changes and find there is just too much suspended carbon in the oil. This creates excess wear on the rod and main bearings and prematurely wears rings. Oil and filters are cheap insurance for engine longevity. Even though engine rebuild parts are reasonable, a rebuild takes time and there is no reason to waste time on something that could have been prevented. Currently a 5 gallon bucket of 15-40W diesel oil is about $50 CDN. That means a typical oil change will use about $12 or so of oil. Keeping your oil clean is one of the best (if not the best) way to make your tractor last. With oil filters between $10 and $20 dollars or so, that's about $30 per year if done each fall before the winter season.
Are flotation tires better on an Italian tractor?
Not necessarily. Flotation tires have advantages when soils are wet or loose and you want to minimize compaction. They do provide a lighter foot print because they have increased contact area on the ground, (but turning the tractor on pavement is really hard on tires and manual steering boxes). Think of it this way - if the tractor weighs 3000 lbs. and the larger tires provide twice the ground contact, it halves the weight per square inch of contact. In actual fact, narrow agricultural tires provide better traction in most conditions, especially snow. Flotation tires provide stability in steep slope conditions and should be preferred when logging. Most people prefer the look of them, but they have distinct disadvantages when not needed. Narrow agricultural tread has twice the weight per square inch of contact area providing less slippage and better traction. They also provide less resistance when steering. The best is to have both sets and change them out to conditions.