Tractor Tips

Liquid Ballast

The different types, why you should consider using, how to get your tires filled.

In previous tractor tips, we discussed various types of ballast and when to use the different types. In today's article, we focus in more detail on liquid ballast. 

Adding a liquid or fluid to tractors tires has been used as tractor ballast since tractors began using pneumatic tires. It is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to improve tractor stability and traction. Because the tires are the lowest point on the tractor, filling them with heavier liquid lowers your tractor's center of gravity. 

Another benefit of liquid ballast is the extra weight and better traction that it gives a tractor. More weight pressing the tires into firmer contact with the soil means more engine horsepower can be turned into pulling power (or front-end loader pushing power) before the power overcomes the grip and the tires lose traction and spin. 

Types of liquid ballast:

Water:
This is one of the cheapest options but it is not recommended in climates where temperatures can get below freezing. Therefore, water is not a very common choice in the US. Water weighs only 8.3 pounds per gallon, this will limit the amount of weight you can add to the tractor compared to some of the other liquid ballast choices.

Calcium Chloride:
Calcium chloride is a salt solution that is dense, widely available, competitively priced, but very corrosive. You must add inner tubes to the tractor's wheels & tires, otherwise the steel wheels will corrode away quickly.  A 31 percent mixture of calcium chloride is freeze resistant down to minus 58 F. Calcium chloride weighs 11.3 pounds per gallon making it a good option to get the most weight on your tractor. In case of a tire rupture resulting in a liquid ballast leak, the salt is not toxic to animals but can damage any plants growing on the affected soil. 

Beet Juice:
In North America, beet juice is perhaps most well-known under the brand name Rim Guard. Beet juice is a recent addition to liquid ballast choices. Advantages of beet juice are it is nontoxic and non-corrosive to wheels. It is freeze resistant down to minus 35 F. Beet juice weighs about 11.0 pounds per gallon. Like the calcium chloride choice, it is better at adding weight to your tractor than many other liquid ballast choices. The downside however is that beet juice is more expensive than some other liquid ballast options.

Windshield Washer Fluid:
One of the less expensive liquid ballast choices on the market is windshield washer fluid.  It is non-corrosive and freeze-resistant down to at least minus 25 F.  The biggest down side to windshield washer fluid is it weighs only 7.6 pounds per gallon (less than plain water) which really limits the amount of weight you can add to your tractor.

Antifreeze:
Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) in a 50/50 mix with water is freeze resistant to minus 34 F and weighs 9.4 pounds per gallon.  The biggest disadvantage of antifreeze is if a tire ever ruptures the spilled fluid is very attractive to animals but is also very toxic.  Antifreeze is also one of the costliest liquid ballast selections. 

Once you have determined a need for liquid ballast to improve your tractor/loader or tractor/tillage performance, where should you go to get you tires filled with liquid ballast? Try your tractor dealer first.

Tractor dealers are often best to advise you on the exact amount of ballast your tractor needs, the right formula for your local climate, and how to best protect the service life of your tractor wheels and tires. Many local tractor dealers are equipped to supply and install one or more types of liquid ballast.  If your tractor dealer is not able to provide liquid ballast installation, tire dealers are another possible source, especially tire dealers in rural areas that do significant amounts of tractor tire business.

As you can see, there are always more things to learn about ballasting and other aspects of getting the most out of your tractor investment. Ballasting with liquid in tires, or with other ways of adding weight to your tractor, does pay dividends in a lower center of gravity for confident operation and more traction to help you turn more tractor power in to useful work.