OVERLOADED BATTERY terminals are contributing to a large number of tractor fires, according to research by rural insurer NFU Mutual.

The company launched a review into the causes of tractor fires following an increase in claims – so much so that in 2019 it paid out nearly £19million because of tractor fires.

Having examined almost 1000 cases, the Mutual discovered that a common factor was electrical accessories wired directly to the tractor battery cables.

When combined with the heavy current drawn from modern tractor electrical systems, these extra loads can lead to overheating and fires. NFU Mutual is now working with machinery manufacturers and dealers to identify potential problems and urging farmers to get the wiring of tractor accessories checked – and to ensure any new electrical equipment is wired through an ISOBUS connector.

Mutual technical manager Bob Henderson said: “Over the last few years the number of tractor fires has shot up, putting lives of people and livestock at risk as well as leading to expensive damage and disruption of farming activities. A tractor is a significant investment for any farm and the damage from a tractor fire is often total.

“It’s often very tricky to find the exact cause of tractor fires because the intense heat makes forensic examination difficult," noted Mr Henderson. “Traditionally accidental tractor fires have been attributed to overheating bearings and other moving parts starting fires – or chafed wiring causing a short circuit. However, NFU Mutual’s staff engineers, who inspect damaged machinery, were concerned that there could be another factor behind the rise in fires we have seen in tractors which are only a few years-old.

“During our in-depth investigation of these cases we have found a number of fires that have been caused by resistive heating of the battery terminal. In every case the battery terminal has either been altered or has had an additional power feed added. This can compromise the efficiency of the battery clamp, making a poor connection and increasing resistance. This then causes a build-up of heat to the battery clamp and terminal, which ultimately can catch fire," he warned.

“Older equipment is not so power hungry and drawing additional power supplies from the battery was an accepted method – unfortunately this is not so now. Manufacturers have now combatted the problem by fitting power strips to cabs and have also started to use ISOBUS connectors – both of which avoid overloading the battery wiring. These power strips and ISOBUS connectors can be fitted new or as an aftermarket fitment to any machine.”

Tractor fire prevention checklist

• As part of your regular maintenance schedules check the battery terminals are tightened to the correct manufactures torque settings;

• Check the routing of wiring harness, connections, ensuring clips, fixings and grommets are secure and free from damage. This will eliminate possible chaffing or contact with hot surfaces that could cause damage to the harness and lead to a short circuit within the electrical system;

• If an electrical system is not working correctly find out why, don’t ignore these early warning signs, investigate the cause, because it could lead to a major issue;

• Modern electrical systems are very complex and may require the use of a fully trained technician and specialist diagnostic equipment to track down a problem. If you cannot find a fault, then look to an expert for assistance;

• Maintain a strict cleaning regime, by removing the build-up of any material from the engine bay, exhaust systems, axles and under cab area, which could be a potential fire risk.

• When checking the machine’s fluid levels, if a top up is required question why? Is there a potential leak within the system, which could lead to a fire risk?