303 Tractor Fluids Fail to Make the Grade

The Petroleum Quality Institute of America said in a report that 91 percent of the J303 tractor hydraulic fluids included in a recent test failed to meet viscosity requirements for the current J20C specification or the J20A specification, which has been obsolete since 1989.

The 303 specification was discontinued in 1974 and replaced with the J20C and D specifications, but is still commercially available in most states and is viewed as a low-cost choice for some consumers.

PQIA tested 23 samples of 303 THF for the study and also found 74 percent of them failed to meet viscosity requirements for the J14B specification, which has been obsolete since 1978. Furthermore, the average level of zinc and phosphorus found in the samples, a gauge of the presence of anti-wear additives, was 60 percent lower than the average for J20C products tested by PQIA and 30 percent lower than J20A products.

Lesser levels of anti-wear protection could potentially result in damage to the spiral gear in the final drive and excessive wear in the planetary gearing used to provide high torque to drive wheels, leading to increased maintenance costs and shorter equipment life for tractors, the report noted. PQIA acknowledged that it is difficult to prove if problems like these are caused directly by 303 THF.

Levels of calcium sulfonate, a common detergent additive, were found to be 73 percent lower in the 303 THF samples than the average of J20C samples and 35 percent below the average of J20A samples. Two 303 THF samples were even found to have no meaningful levels of calcium sulfonate. The report states that lower levels of detergent could potentially lead to deposits, sludging, thickening, shortened service intervals and shortened equipment life.

Samples examined for the report include those tested by a third party for PQIA and those tested by the Missouri Department of Agriculture in 2017 and 2018. All 23 samples of 303 THF tested were from different brands. The program included multiple products from some brands, but each of those products met different specifications.

PQIA President Thomas Glenn said most of the brands tested are well known in the industry, adding that he would only consider four of them to be small brands. If youre in the industry, youve likely heard of [the brands tested], he told Lube Report. These brands have visibility.

The PQIA report concluded that there is no way of knowing if a 303 THF product is suitable for use in a tractor.

In July, two Missouri residents petitioned to file a class action lawsuit against Smittys Supply Inc. and Tractor Supply Co., alleging 303 THF they purchased from the companies failed to meet advertised specifications and performance claims, including assertions that the fluid provides pressure and anti-wear protection for tractor transmission axles and hydraulic pumps and that it protects against rust and corrosion. Both companies denied the claims, and the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Missouri has yet to rule on the class action request.

Missouri, Georgia and North Carolina government agencies have all issued stop-sale orders on 303 THF since October 2017 after deeming the fluids to be harmful to current tractors, with North Carolina issuing the order just three weeks ago. PQIA is encouraging other states to follow suit.