It’s Time For Cold-Weather Equipment Maintenance

Whether you’re getting machines and trucks ready for storage or a hard-working winter, here are a few steps you will want to follow.
It’s Time For Cold-Weather Equipment Maintenance
Ed Wodalski

Depending on where you live, the winter chill may already be in the air. Hopefully you’ve taken the time to properly store your equipment for spring. Or maybe you plan on using it year-round. A skid-steer loader, after all, makes a handy snow removal tool.

In either case, your operator’s manual is a good place to start. Each piece of equipment is unique and requires its own shutdown procedures.

Shutting down until spring?

Typically, winterization includes a multipoint inspection of your equipment: lubricate and/or replace parts; drain and/or change fluids, oil and filter; check tires and inspect the brakes, steering and gearboxes. This is also a good time to check the hours on your machine to see if it’s due for required maintenance.

Lars Arnold, product manager for compact equipment at Volvo Construction Equipment, says after referring to the operator’s manual, it’s a good idea to clean the machine, removing all dirt and corrosive materials.

“Grease the machine’s moving parts; don’t miss any grease points,” he says. “Check the machine for oil leaks and damage.”

That includes engine oil as well as hydraulic fluids and lines, topping off as needed. And don’t forget the windshield fluid. Arnold prefers using soap and water for summer, but switching out to an approved winter washer formula when temps dip to prevent damaging fluid reservoirs. He also recommends filling the fuel tank to prevent condensation and checking to be sure the coolant is suited to your environment. It’s also a good idea to use a fuel stabilizer.

Keep the tracks clean

If possible, store the machine inside, but if left outdoors, don’t park it in the mud, especially tracked vehicles. It’s also a good idea to jack your skid-steer wheels at least an inch off the ground to prevent flat spots.

“This will cause unnecessary wear and tear on the tracks if it becomes frozen to the ground,” Arnold says. “Get some 2-by-8s or 2-by-12s and park the machine on the wood.”

Arnold also recommends retracting all hydraulic cylinders, lowering the attachments to the ground and releasing the hydraulic pressure.

“If needed, apply a thin layer of grease or petroleum jelly to all exposed cylinder piston rods so you don’t get rust.”

He also suggests removing the battery and keeping it in a warm, dry place.

“Put the battery on trickle charge or charge the battery periodically,” he says. “Cover the machine with a tarp so you don’t get moisture and snow buildup.”

Warm it up

Arnold recommends periodically (monthly) starting the machine and running it until the engine reaches working temperature. Remove the grease from the cylinder pistons, check all fluid levels and carefully operate the hydraulic controls, making sure they function properly.

“Get the machine nice and warm and then put it back in storage,” he says. “If the temperature is extremely low, like in the northern states or Canada, we recommend changing the hydraulic oil to an arctic oil. But again, this is different from machine to machine.”

Working in winter?

Of course, not everyone shuts down until spring. If you plan on working your equipment this winter, be sure the diesel fuel is a winter blend. Arnold says there’s no need for additives unless you still have a summer blend in the tank.

“The other thing I would strongly recommend, besides checking the fluids for winter operation, is installing a block heater to ease engine starting and for comfort,” he says. “And maybe a programmable diesel auxiliary heater – set it for an hour before you start working, that way the engine coolant and oil are already heated. When you start the engine it gets warm right away inside the cab.”

Take time to stretch

Winter or summer, it’s always a good idea to idle down your equipment before shutting it off, especially a turbocharged engine, and give it time to warm up before you begin working.

“It’s like an athlete: An athlete never comes out the locker room and starts playing; he always stretches and does warm-up exercises,” Arnold says. “You need to do the same with your equipment. Before you start operating the machine hard, you need to make sure the engine is warmed up and the hydraulic oil is warmed up.” He says an excavator started at -20 degrees F needs time to get the oil warmed and moving in the cylinders and through the control valves.

Don’t forget the attachments

Popular winter attachments such as snow blades, snowblowers, angle brooms and spreaders deserve the same attention as your skid-steer, trackloader or mini-excavator.

Ron Peters, product manager at CEAttachments, says when preparing equipment such as snowblowers for winter use, check the hydraulic hoses for cracks or dry rot.

“Hopefully it was stored inside a building,” he says. “If it was stored outside, you want to check hoses for damage and replace anything that shows wear and tear. Look at the seals on the cylinders that operate your spout deflector; make sure that looks good. Check for oil leakage around the hydraulic motor and seals and replace if any of that is showing wear.”

Take a look at the bolt-on cutting edge that scrapes along the bottom of the blower and replace if worn, as well as the adjustable skid shoes, he says. You also want to apply grease to all the zerks.

If you need to store attachments until spring, such as a power rake, grease and oil the joints by the cylinders to prevent corrosion.

“Set it on pallets or blocks of wood so it’s not on the ground where moisture and condensation would be,” he says. “If it has a hydraulic angle on it, it’s best to angle it so the cylinder rod is all the way inside the cylinder.”

If you do store your attachment outdoors, it’s best to cover it, but don’t fully wrap it in plastic. Doing so can trap moisture and cause damage. If the attachment, such as a power rake, has wheels, keep it elevated to prevent the tires from rot. It’s also best to keep it out of the sun.

“The sun can be very hard on the rubber, including the tires and hydraulic hoses,” Peters says. “It’s also a good idea to smear a little grease on the flat-face couplers so they don’t corrode or rust.”


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