Why Are Tractor Tires Filled with Water or Other Fluids?

If you’re looking in the market for a farm tractor and have never had one before (like us), it’s always a good idea to find out the benefits and reasons to filling your tractor tires with water, or other fluids and compounds. And learn about alternative methods, if you prefer not to use fluid. 

There are three main reasons to fill tractor tires with fluids, like water. It will increase the traction of the rear tires, lower the center of gravity, and prevent the rear tires from raising off the ground when lifting heavy objects or adding bucket loaders and other accessories to the front-end of the tractor.

All these factors help prolong the life of the tire and increase, overall, productivity. There are many other fluids and compounds, other than water, that are used to fill tractor tires. Therefore, it would be good to know the added weight they provide, potential issues, and freeze resistant thresholds for each.

Putting Liquid in Tractor Tires is Called Ballasting

The ballasting of tractor tires is a relatively inexpensive way to increase tire traction. The increased weight in the tires allows the tread of the tire to grip the ground better. Especially, on muddy and loose surfaces. Reducing slippage and providing more friction in the rear wheels. As a result, this will decrease fuel consumption and, also decrease wear and tear on the tires, which will increase the life of your tires.

Lowering the center of gravity and introducing proper counterbalancing will improve the operating safety and stability of the tractor, as well as decrease front axle stresses.

My biggest concern when operating the tractor is that the back wheels will come off the ground when using the front loader, or that I won’t have enough traction when going up steep terrain. The ballast we put in our tires can decrease the chances of either of these happening significantly.

Other Fluids and Compounds Used to Ballast a Tractor Tire

Farmers are very resourceful and creative folks. I’m sure it was through trial and error, they were able to find these successful and effective compounds and fluids to ballast their tractor tires.

The most common fluids and compounds used by most farmers and hobby farmers are:

  • Water
  • Automotive Antifreeze
  • Windshield Washer Fluid
  • Beet Juice (RimGuard)
  • Polyurethane Foam
  • Calcium Chloride

In John Deer’s sales manual they provide a chart outlining the liquid weight per tire for a 40% fill and 75% fill. They also recommend that the front tires have the same amount of liquid fill as the rear tires.

After discussing our options with a few different folks, we learnt that it’s common practice to use 75% of tire capacity as a maximum when ballasting our tractor tires.

FLUIDPOUNDS
PER
GALLON
FREEZE
RESISTANT
THRESHOLD
POTENTIAL
ISSUES
TOXICITY
Water8.3Will cause rims to rust over time.
Antifreeze8.0Up to -25F
(depending on mixture)
Highly toxic to animals, soil and plants.
Windshield
Washer Fluid
8.0Up to -25F
(depending on mixture)
Some what toxic and not pet safe.
Beet Juice11.0Up to -35F May attack rubber joints in valve stems.
(metal stems are recommended)
Polyurethane
Foam
9.96 – 12.45It Cannot Freeze When worn out, you throw out the whole assembly (tire + rim) and start over.

No air in tires to absorb the bumps and humps.
Calcium
Chloride
11.5Up to -30F
And Potentially -40F
(depending on mixture)
Method requires tubes.

Requires specialized equipment and safety precautions to fill tire.

Calcium chloride is classified by most states in the United States as a hazardous waste, requiring special handling and disposal methods.
Highly corrosive and toxic to animals, soil and plants.

The compounds and fluids listed above are in no particular order of popularity, but each compound has many unique qualities for you to consider. Hopefully, it can help you choose the best option for you and the climate of region you operate your tractor in. We live in a colder climate where it freezes so we couldn’t use water.

Also, it’s worth noting that once your tires are ballast you will require another type of heavy machinery (like a forklift) to move, replace, or adjust your tires.

Other Ballasting Methods

There are several other methods of adding ballast to your farm tractor that are just as effective, if not, more effective than water.  However, we also found that after we ballast our tires we still needed more weight on the back-end to use our rock bucket to move some of the huge boulders around on our property. We were going to use a ballast box but opted to use the box blade on the back-end to counterbalance the workload and weight.

Overall, the amount of ballast you require will always vary depending on the project, task or the implement you are using. Therefore, it might make sense to pick the heaviest task or project you intend to have on your acreage when determining the best ballast options or the best combinations of them.

Below are three other methods to consider if you don’t want to ballast your tractor tires or if you need additional weight, like we did.

1. TRACTOR BALLAST BOX

A tractor ballast box can look like the one below and cost around USD$300 for a used one. The ballast box comes empty so you can be creative when filling it up to get the desired weight you want. We’ve seen compounds such as concrete, cement, rocks, and sand, as well as a combination of these compounds. We’ve also seen steel piping embedded into these compounds, once set, to add more weight.

photo credit: tractorbynet.com

Another creative idea is to do your own “do it yourself” (DIY) project and create your own counterweight, like John Suscovich did. It’s a great way to save some money and have some fun too. Great job John!

This DIY sits on the back of the tractor so we categorized as a second alternative option to a ballast box.

video credit – YouTube Channel of: John Suscovich
PROSCONS
Doesn’t take up much space. Can decrease maneuverability of tractor.
Easy to remove.Adds length to tractor.
You can make one yourself using materials such as: sand, gravel, rocks, dirt, steel, cement or concrete and a ballast box.Could add stress to tractor frame, axles, and tires if the manufacture’s recommended guidelines aren’t followed.
Bolted onto tractor.

2. SUITCASE WEIGHTS

Suitcase weights are weighted plates mounted on a bracket to the either the front or the back of the tractor; similar to the ones in the photo below. These can get very expensive; depending on how much weight you require, as the bracket and the weights are sold separately. Some dealers sell the weights in sets of 10 or less. Or they sell them individually and each weight option comes in a wide variety of weights. Ranging anywhere from 80 lbs per plate to over a 100 lbs per plate.

photo credit: Zomer Auctioneering
PROSCONS
Not bolted onto tractor.
Attached onto front or rear brackets.
Can decrease maneuverability
of tractor.
Easy to use. Adds length to tractor.
Easy to remove. Could add stress to tractor frame,
axles, and tires if the manufacture’s recommended guidelines aren’t
followed.

3. WHEEL WEIGHTS

Wheel weights are weighted plates mounted on a tractor tire; similar to the grey one in the photo below. Some dealers sell the wheel weights in sets but we’ve found most sell them individually. Each wheel weight ranges greatly from around 100 lbs per wheel weight to above 1,000 lbs per wheel weight for utility and larger tractors.

photo credit: Ironsearch.com

We’ve also seen some creative wheel weight DYI projects for smaller tractors.

Steve, a contributor on a forum, used 25 lb bar bell weights (bought from WalMart for around USD$10 each). He used two per side for a total of 100 lbs. Great job Steve!

photo credit: Simple Tractors
PROSCONS
A more direct approach to
adding weight to the axle.
More time consuming
to remove and potentially more
heavy equipment needed
for installation and removal.

It is recommended that wheel weights
should be installed and removed
in pairs to maintain the balance
of the ballast from side to side. 
Doesn’t add additional length or
width to the tractor.

Refer to Your Operator Manual

To get the best performance from your tractor and to ensure you don’t void specific warranties on either your tractor or tires, it is best to follow the recommended ballast and tire pressure adjustments found in your tractor’s manual.

It is also good to learn how to calculate the desired axle weight and tire pressure to ensure maximum tire traction and prevent the impact of unneeded stresses on the engine that could eventually lead to a costly mechanical bill.

RELATED QUESTIONS

Why You May Not Want to Ballast Your Tires?

If you drive at or near top tractor speed on roadways. It will negatively affect the ride quality of your tractor, especially if you ballast the rear tires. Ballasting tires reduces the amount of air in the tire, which increases the amount of friction on the road and can make the ride rougher.

How Do You Know if a Tractor Tire is Loaded?

If the tire is filled with liquid, move the tire valve positioned to 3 o’clock. Press in the center of the tire air valve stem, like you are going to fill the tire up with air, a small amount of liquid should come out instead of air. If you want more liquid to come out move the valve to 6 o’clock. If the tire is filled with foam, nothing should come out.

Christy Louth

Christy is a wife, writer, artist and hobby farmer with an addiction to tractors.

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