Tractor Tips

How to Operate Your Tractor Properly on Slopes & Hills

Ignoring these tips could send you down a slippery slope…

Operating a tractor on hillsides, and climbing and descending hills are some of the most challenging and risky situations a tractor owner can face. But tractors and their attachments are about caring for the land -- the earth -- and the earth is not flat. Sometimes a particular task that must be completed involves maneuvering on sloping ground. But never let the desire to complete the task come before protecting the tractor operator and any co-workers or bystanders.

When you find yourself in a tractor operating situation that includes hills, follow these tips to not only get your job done, but to get you and yours back home without incident.

Proper operation of the tractor and attachments should be your number one priority. Read the owner’s manuals of both the tractor and the attachment for tips specific to your tractor and its performance on slopes and hills. Always wear your seatbelt and ensure your Roll Over Protection System (ROPS) is in the up position while operating any machinery in any circumstance.

  1. Overturns are a major source of tractor accidents. Tractors are subject to both side overturns and rear overturns where the front of the tractor lifts and the tractor falls over backwards. Tractor overturns can occur on flat, level surfaces, not just on sloping ground. Proper operating techniques and being on guard to prevent overturns are required whenever a tractor is being used.
  2. When operating on sloping terrain, be even more cautious to prevent tractor overturns.
  3. Tractors tend to be more stable if properly configured and ballasted. Refer to the operator’s manual and talk to your tractor dealer for details.
  4. On sloping ground, it may be better to run the tractor up and down the slope as much as possible rather than across the slope. This may help minimize the chances of a side overturn. Maximum caution to prevent rear overturns is always necessary.
  5. As much as possible, by hand and on foot in many cases, prepare the sloping ground work area before using the tractor by removing obstacles such as rocks, debris, and fallen and low-hanging limbs (you don’t want to strike a low-hanging limb with your tractor cab or ROPS). Loose debris can make slopes slippery even in dry weather. If trees, boulders, or other fixed obstacles make the sloping ground very challenging for tractor operation, do not hesitate to choose to not use the tractor to accomplish the task.
  6. Run the tractor in a lower gear range to give you more control over the machine while operating on a slope. In addition, set the tractor into four-wheel drive; this provides more traction and a stronger ability to brake. This is because in two-wheel drive, only the rear-wheels brake. Therefore, operating your tractor in a low range and in four-wheel drive while on a slope will help you maintain control of the tractor in a slow and cautious speed appropriate to doing work on sloping ground.
  7. Note how tractor braking differs from how cars and trucks brake (cars and trucks always have braking on all wheels). Remember that tractors are built very differently than cars and trucks and perform differently. Therefore, adjust your driving techniques accordingly.
  8. Always keep the tractor in gear while operating on slopes and hilly terrain. When shifting from forward to reverse (or from range to range), place your foot on the brake to prevent rolling downhill as the transmission shifts. Avoid starting and stopping on slopes. Whenever possible do not make any sudden direction changes, headland turns, or stops on steep slopes. Make your headland turns, stops, and other changes on more level ground at the beginning or ending of the slope if at all possible.
  9. When using a front-end loader on a slope, it’s imperative to keep the loader as low as possible at all times. Raising the loader too high on a slope can significantly increase the chance of a rollover. Remember that low and slow are good watch words for loader operation on any terrain.

Follow these tips and apply a little extra caution, and you can keep your tractor and your day from going downhill.