Tractor Tire Ballasting 101

posted on Wednesday, June 7, 2023 in News

What Does it Mean to Ballast Your Tractor Tires Properly?

Regarding compact tractors, ballast is weight added to the front or, more commonly, to the tractor's rear axle to optimize the load distribution. By adding and removing extra weight in your equipment, ballasting can directly change your unit's traction, power, and performance.


Why is it Important to Add Ballast to Tractor Tires?

The short answer: you need it to keep all four of your tractor's wheels on the ground while using certain implements or completing certain tasks. Using a counterweight, you keep the most powerful part of the tractor's drive system, the rear wheels, on the ground. It will also lower your tractor's center of gravity and, as a result, increase your tractor's "side-to-side" stability when you are operating on slopes or other uneven terrains. Doing this also maximizes the lifespan of your drivetrain components, letting you go longer without replacing certain parts.

With compact utility tractors becoming increasingly popular among home and land owners,, it's best practice to safely ensure that you correctly balance your tractor for the tasks at hand.

Ballast is also vital when operating excavators or wheel loaders where the lift load is forward. Not only do you need a proper rear counterweight to lift heavier loads, but you also need it to maintain even weight distribution on hillsides. 

Whenever you pull anything heavy – trailers, hefty rear implements, etc. – add weight to the front for extra stability. Hauling heavy weight on the back of your tractor can lift the front wheels. With ballast, this will help maintain steering control and prevent tip-over. When towing, the max towing capacity is equal to the total weight of your ballasted tractor and you, the operator.

How to Add Ballast to Tractor Tires?

When preparing to add ballast to your tractor tires, you should park your equipment on a flat and level surface. 

      •    Safely take the weight off the rear tires. You can use axle supports to take the weight off the tire/s or a jack. Make sure the jack rating works for the weight of your equipment
      •    Rotate the tire valve stem. For a 40% fill, move the tire stem to 4 o'clock or 8 o'clock; for a 75% fill, move the tire stem to the 12 o'clock position to fill the tire with fluid
      •    Deflate the tire

For a gravity fill:
      •    Position the bucket of ballast fluid in the tractor seat to hold it above the tire
      •    Connect the barrel to the tire using a hose and a tractor tire fluid fill kit
      •    Utilize gravity by raising the bucket to move the liquid from the bucket to the tire

For a transfer pump fill:
You will need to purchase a transfer pump with garden hose connections. These pumps are available at most ag-related retailers. The pump will move liquid from the bucket to the tire without worrying about the placement of the bucket.

How Do I Know How Much Ballast to Add to My Tractor Tires?

Every model and corresponding attachments have different weights and limits. Always consult your tractor's owner's manual first for the proper weight needed to ballast. You should use no more or less than the weight recommended by the manufacturer.
Remember, what is right for one task may be completely wrong for another. Never assume the same ballast will work in all situations. 

Some factors to consider when choosing are:
        •    Soil surface—if it is loose or firm
        •    Type of implement—integral/semi-integral or towed
        •    Travel speed—slow or fast
        •    Tractor power output—partial or complete load
        •    Tire size
        •    Type of front axle—2WD or MFWD
        •    2-Wheel Drive Ballast

What Are the Types of Liquid Ballast for Tractor Tires?

There are multiple options of liquids to use when putting ballast in your tractor tires, and they all have pros and cons. You can choose the option that is best for your equipment, weather, and budget. 

Water: Water is the cheapest ballast since it is free and adds 8.3 lb. of weight per gallon but offers no freeze protection. Only use water if you live in a warm climate with no concern about freezing. 

Calcium Chloride: Calcium chloride is widely available. Mixed with water, it provides excellent freeze protection down to -50° F and adds 11.5 lb. per gallon, but it is highly corrosive and needs to be used in tires with tubes to protect your rims from rusting.

Ethylene Glycol: Ethylene glycol antifreeze is widely available because it is the same kind that goes in your car's radiator. You can mix ethylene glycol 50/50 with water, and it will offer freeze projection down to -40° F, and it weighs about the same per gallon as plain water. The main drawback is that it is very toxic. Animals and children can be drawn to it because it tastes sweet, so it is important to control your inventory and be mindful if you have a tire leak.  

Propylene Glycol: Propylene glycol antifreeze has the same properties as ethylene glycol, except that it is non-toxic. It is easy to get but more expensive per gallon, but this is a safer option if you have pets around your farm equipment often.

Windshield Washer Fluid: Windshield washer fluid is another popular ballast because of its wide availability and low cost per gallon. Used full strength in tires, it provides freeze protection down to -20° F and weighs about the same per gallon as water. 

Polyurethane Foam: Polyurethane foam is costly but is freeze-proof and can provide up to 12 lb. of weight per gallon. As a bonus, it makes your tires flat-proof. The downside to this option is that it is only available through dealer networks, and it also makes for a rough ride on the tractor since there is no cushion in the tire.
Beet Juice: Beet juice is costly but very effective, with freeze protection down to -35° F, and weighs almost 11 lb. per gallon. Beet juice is the heaviest, non-toxic ballast option. As a plus, it is entirely safe and biodegradable. RimGuard is the most well-known brand offered at select Tri County dealerships. Contact your John Deere representative to see if your location carries RimGuard, and read this Why It's Better article for more information. 

Tractor Tire Ballast Weights or Ballast Boxes

Another option for adding ballast to your tractor tires is to add cast iron ballast weights to your tires. Ask your John Deere representative for information about the options of available cast iron ballast weight. The first option is a front weight, which attaches to the front of the tractor to act as a counterweight for rear implements. These are easily attached and removed as needed. It is important to remember that front weights cannot be on a tractor at the same time as a loader. Most factory loaders are calibrated with ballast for other factory-recommended rear implements but always refer to the operating manual for your equipment to confirm. You can also use a more permanent solution by attaching weights directly to your rear wheels. 

The third counterweight option is a ballast box, typically loaded with sand or concrete to the weight you need. Ballast boxes mount to your 3-point hitch. If you don't have a ballast box, you can use another rear-mounted implement that meets the counterweight requirement. 
Proper ballast on your tractor tires is important for accomplishing the work on your property and maximizing the longevity of your equipment. While it may take some up-front effort, you can increase your efficiency and productivity by making good ballast decisions while decreasing your need for parts and repairs in the future.

Are you interested in adding some ballast to your equipment lineup? Give one of our dealerships a call for friendly, expert advice and recommendations!