It's getting cold here in VA. Probably a lot colder in the North! Hard starting in cold weather has a lot of likely causes. So take your time can read through this list. Oftentimes you will discover multiple problems. But pay particular attention to the need for a strong battery, clean connections & a well tuned tractor!
No matter what else you do, the battery must be fully charged. A float charger is helpful; not a trickle charger, but a float charger. A battery charger, even a "trickle" charger, left unattended will eventually boil out a battery. I use float chargers for two reasons: battery longevity and a sure start. Battery sulfation occurs at a specific rate at "X" temperature. Over time, sulfation reduces battery performance and eventually its effects are irreversible. Sulfation of batteries starts when specific gravity falls below 1.225 or voltage measures less than 12.4 for a 12v battery, or 6.2 for a 6 volt battery. Sulfation hardens on the battery plates reducing and eventually destroying the ability of the battery to generate current. Using a float charger significantly reduces sulfation. Your battery loses 33 percent of its power when the temperature dips below freezing, and over 50 percent of its power when the temperature falls below zero. A fully charged battery will not freeze until -76°F; however, a fully discharged battery can start to freeze at 32°F. So……keep the battery fully charged! If you have a digital volt meter, 6.03 volts on a 6 volt battery and 12.06 volts on a 12 volt battery is only a 25% charge! I use Deltran battery tenders on all the tractors, the golf cart & 29 Ford. Pricey, but they work & have in-lines fuses. All are hard wired to the vehicles. (*see below)
If you need to jump it, see tip # 43. No, it doesn’t need to be 12v. Plenty of N’s start just fine on 6v in below 0* temps.
Clean grounds & battery terminals are always important. Don’t forget to loosen the starter from the block (see tip # 36) and polish the block & all starter mating surfaces w/ sandpaper to insure a good electrical ground.
If you can’t remember the last time you replaced the battery cables, it’s time to do it. Just because the terminals are clean doesn’t mean there is no corrosion under the insulation. And, this is another case where size matters (see tip # 41)
A charged battery, clean grounds & new cables aren’t going to mean much if the tractor needs a tune-up. At a minimum, every fall, remove the cap, check the points for pitting or burning, re-gap them & put a dab of lube on the cam. (BTW…..if you’ve wondered why some folks get years of use out of a set of points…….this is one of the reasons). See tips 66, 67 & 68.
Things that aren’t all that important in warm weather become serious when it gets cold…like timing. A few degrees of timing either way at 60 or 70* isn’t likely to result in a “no-start” situation. Well, it can at 10 or 20*. Check the timing! Yes, you can set the timing on a front distributor.
Distributor gaskets are important on a sidemount & critical on a frontmount.
As is the gasket under the coil. Just like with the battery cables….if you can’t remember when you replaced the gaskets, do it this year.
Push the clutch in when you start the engine (tip # 29)
Oil viscosity can make a difference. If the tractor is going to be consistently operated below 20* F, switch to SAE 10w30; at 0* go to SAE 5w30.
Pull the air cleaner cup & check for ice.
Use a fuel stabilizer. I’ve used Marine Sta-Bil for years, but recently switched to Star Tron because Sta-Bil has a 1 year shelf life.
This tip won’t make it start easier, but it will make it run better: turn the main jet out ˝ to 1 full turn for cold weather operating. Cold air is denser so you need a richer mixture.
While each N has its own starting sequence, none of them will start well by just yanking out the choke rod & holding it out for 5 or 10 seconds while the engine cranks. This is a gravity fuel system on a low compression engine; it is easily flooded by too much choke.
Key on, gas on 2 full turns, clutch in, 3/4 throttle, press the starter button. Let it crank for at least 3 - 4 seconds before you pull the choke rod. Then, don't hold it out for more than 2 or 3 seconds.
If you find out it will not start w/o excessive choking, you have problems.
If you flood it, the plugs are fouled & it will be it next to impossible to start. Replace the plugs. You don't need to toss them; heat the tips for a few seconds w/ a propane torch to burn off the invisible spark-robbing deposits from today's additive filled gasoline........or wash them in brake cleaner.
Folks who live in places a lot colder than I do here in VA will argue about battery blankets or magnetic oil pan heaters as compared to lower radiator hose heaters or dipstick heaters. While the consensus leans toward lower radiator hose heaters, I can’t offer a personal observation; the only thing I’ve ever used to heat an engine was a 100w light bulb laid against the intake manifold. Freeze plug heaters are difficult to find for N’s because of the limited space in the water jacket. Magnetic oil pan heaters on the intake manifold will help as well. And after you get it started, it will not run as well as it should in cold weather if the engine never gets to it's proper operating temperature. Use a thermostat! See tip # 25.
While water in gas today is unusual because of all the ethanol, it’s not unheard of. The problem stems from what’s called ‘phase separation’ in the gasoline. The alcohol binds to the water & it settles in the bottom of your tank. The way to mitigate that is to keep the tank FULL and use fuel stabilizer. Less air means less moisture in the tank for the alcohol to absorb. If you’re lucky enough to live in a state where you can buy ethanol free gas (and it does not require a bank loan to do it) then add alcohol to the gasoline. (e.g., “HEET”) Otherwise, the 10% ethanol in the gas is more than enough to deal w/ the water.
And finally..............the tractor won't run very well with a cracked block! Check your anti-freeze; use a 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and distilled water.
* Battery Tender website: http://www.batterytender.com/