Don’t Take Chances with ‘303’ Tractor Fluid
If you visit your local parts store or farm supply warehouse with any regularity, you’ve most likely seen pails of “303 Tractor Fluid” on the shelves next to other lubricants and fluids. Some are dressed up with attractive images of tractors, backhoes and the like while others are one step away from generic with little or no fanfare. Regardless of what’s on the outside of the pail, it’s what is under the lid that is a risky proposition where ‘303’ is being called out either as part of the product label or the manufacturer specifications.
What Is 303 Fluid Really?
The term 303 fluid stems from an old specification that John Deere used decades ago named JD-303. It was designed for tractors and similar equipment built between 1960 and 1974. It was made obsolete in 1974 when the use of whale oil, of which the specification was loosely based, was outlawed by the Endangered Species Act. Fast forward to today and the ‘yellow bucket’ as it is often referred to is still out there touting the old 303 spec and cost savings.
JD-303 was replaced with J14 then again by J20-A which is also outdated. When John Deere updated J20-A to J20-C, things got a bit gray. The additive chemistry used to meet J20-A carried over to J20-C. The only change was a new test (oxidation and seal) was added to evaluate a tractor fluid’s ability to meet the Allison C-4 spec. In basic terms, no change or reformulation to the fluid…just a new test.
What Is the Risk of Using A 303 Fluid?
When the Deere spec moved from J20-A to J20-C, some fluid manufacturers took the opportunity to offer a ‘cost effective’ product to customers by watering down their fluid. Keeping the previous paragraph in mind, since nothing really changed to the formulations…reducing the treat rate not only reduced the product’s ability to even meet the obsolete J20-A spec, it lowered the performance making to level well below J-20A. Some unscrupulous blenders went as far as blending their 303 products with poor quality bases oils and in some cases, refinery line wash, neither of which were able to meet the minimum performance requirements for equipment.
Additives are big part of what makes tractor fluids perform the various functions they are intended for: transmissions, hydraulic systems, hydrostatic units, wet brakes, etc. This is another area that some blenders cut corners in order to off their economy-minded 303 fluids. The three primary additives in quality tractor fluids are zinc and phosphorus (often as ZDDP) to prevent wear along with calcium compounds which act as a detergent. By reducing the amount of these additives, the 303 blenders lowered the performance capabilities of their fluids, all at the expense of the unsuspecting customer.
The Petroleum Quality Institute of America conducted a study of 303 fluids purchased from store shelves at random in 2017/2018 in order to determine their performance levels. Their results were shocking to say the least:
- 91% failed to meet the J20-C and J20-A specifications
- 74% failed to meet any JDM specifications
- 60% chance of lower anti-wear protection than J20-C
- 73% chance will offer less detergency than J20-C
What Do Those Numbers Mean?
303 fluids are a risk. They are often poorly manufactured as the result of low-quality components at inadequate dosing rates which can lead to a host of problems:
- Insufficient startup protection in cold weather
- Excessive pump leakage at higher operating temperatures
- Inability to resist oxidation
- Tendency for oil thickening and sludge formation
- Buildup of harmful deposits
Any of the above is reason enough to steer clear of ‘303’ but several or even all is putting your equipment and operation at great risk…both of which cost money. Three states issued bans on the sale of ‘303’ fluids this year: Missouri, Georgia and North Carolina.
What Should I Be Using?
Drydene Universal Tractor Fluid is a premium quality tractor fluid made from high-quality base oils and the latest additives that meets or exceeds the most up-to-date OEM specifications. No line wash, no cutting corners. It is engineered to operate as a multi-functional fluid providing maximum performance to each critical application area:
- Superior extreme pressure (EP) and anti- wear (AW) protection in hydraulic pumps, transmissions and drive units.
- Controls PTO chatter and clutch performance with enhanced friction additives.
- Provides exceptional rust and corrosion protection even to units operating in extreme temperature or environmental conditions.
- Enhances operator comfort by smoothing gear shift performance, quieting PTO engagement, minimizing PTO chatter and brake system noise.
- Excellent low-temperature performance over extended periods.
Click Here to go to the Drydene Universal Tractor Fluid page for more details.