As we head into the winter months, it’s time to prepare your equipment for colder weather, especially if your area will see snow and ice (if it hasn’t already). Fortunately, there are specific changes to the maintenance routine for your heavy equipment that can help you optimize your machinery’s performance all year long. Here are our tips for maintaining equipment in colder weather:
Inspect Equipment Daily: Because extreme temperatures can significantly impact your equipment, start to increase the number of visual inspections you perform as the weather cools down, leading from monthly or weekly inspections to daily inspections during the freezing winter months5. Take a look at electrical wiring, hydraulic hoses, batteries, and tire pressure, as well as the undercarriage of the machine, looking for signs of wear, damage, or clogged debris2.
Check and Change Oil: As seasons change, you want to be sure that you are using oil that is appropriate for the outside temperatures1, including engine, transmission, hydraulics, and final drive lubricants2. Low viscosity oil flows more easily in the cold and puts less strain on your engine3, making synthetic oil a preferable choice in the winter months, though it is more expensive. Even with synthetic oil, always check to make sure the oil is fluid enough for proper flow before starting your machine in extreme cold, checking each dipstick to see if the oil drips, which can indicate it is fluid enough to be used2. You should conduct a complete oil change before and after the winter season1, and you may consider having your local service shop perform a fluid analysis, which can help determine how oil, coolant, and fuel is used in your vehicle and can help you set an optimized maintenance schedule3, including during colder months.
Keep Batteries Charged: Batteries can lose a full third of their strength at 32°F and over half their strength at 0°F, meaning that your equipment’s battery is working overtime in the cold4. You should regularly check the battery’s electrolyte levels by removing the plastic cover and looking into each cell to see if the plates are emerged or close to being emerged. If the electrolyte level is low, be sure to not overfill with water, as that can dilute the electrolyte and increases the risk of freezing5. If you are storing the machine in extreme cold, the battery should either be insulated or removed and stored indoors at room temperatures5. Throughout colder months, be on the lookout for signs of a drained battery, including a grinding or clicking sound when turning the ignition, the machine being slow to turn over, or the headlights dimming when idling, especially if the battery is 3 years or older4.
Check & Replace Hydraulic Hoses: In colder temperatures, hydraulic hoses can become inelastic and may even crack. To avoid cold-related damage to your machine’s hoses, warm up the hydraulic system for up to an hour2 before operating the attachments. You may also want to half-throttle the engine and engage attachments for a few seconds before full operation6. Even with those precautions, it’s also a good idea to have spare hoses, seals, mounts, and fittings available during freezing weather6.
Warm the Engine: Before using your heavy equipment in colder temperatures, always run the engine until it reaches operating temperature, which helps ensure that the intake and exhaust valves will not stick2. Starting fluid can further facilitate starting, but use caution, as it is highly combustible and can ignite too early, damaging your engine7. Block heaters can also effectively accelerate engine warming. Once the machine has run for a while, cycle through the equipment’s functions, which allows you to distribute warmed oil to each of the machine’s moving parts and helps the equipment operate with ease2.
Check Tires & Traction: Cold weather can cause machine tires to lose air more quickly which decreases fuel efficiency and makes the engine work harder3, so be sure to check your equipment’s tire pressure at the beginning of every shift. Using dry nitrogen to inflate tires in freezing temperatures prevents the formation of ice crystals, which can hold open the valve stem and contribute to deflation2. Before driving equipment during snowfall, remove as much snow and ice as possible from the jobsite and conduct a sweep of the area to ensure that snow is not hiding any obstructions that could puncture the tires or damage the tracks4. Maintain traction and control during icy conditions by taking things slow, and when parking be sure to clear off any snow or ice from the tires and park on planks to avoid the tires freezing to the ground3.
Keep the Tank Full (with the Right Fuel): If ignored, fuel tanks and lines can freeze overnight in extreme cold, so it is important at the end of each day to drain the water from the separator and refill the tank with fuel2. Fuel treatments may also be added to thaw frozen filters, liquify fuel that has thickened in the cold, and remove moisture from the lines and tank1. You could also consider winter blend diesel, which includes kerosene in the formula to lower the temperature at which the fuel will begin to gel, but be sure to follow the equipment OEM’s fuel recommendations, as the wrong blend can damage the engine.
Stay Safe: This point is less about maintaining the equipment and more about maintaining your own well being. Make sure your windshield and windows are kept clean and clear during the colder months, as frost and condensation can create dangerous blindspots8. Ice can form on steps, grip plates, and grabs, so be careful to not slip when entering and exiting equipment4, while also avoiding touching frozen metal with your bare skin as it can cause serious injury8. In addition to gloves, workers in severe weather should have high-visibility vests, gear, and accessories so they can be seen during possible sleet and snow flurries, as well as layers of warm clothing than can protect against the cold (especially since many machinery cabs are not heated or enclosed)4. Upgrading your equipment’s lights to LEDs can also improve visibility and endurance in freezing temperatures9. Finally, keep in mind that the body has to expend extra energy to keep itself warm in the cold, meaning that workers will fatigue more easily and should have extra breaks to catch their breath, potentially have a snack, and restore their focus9.
Smart Storage: Before storing your equipment, clean the undercarriage of the machine, which may have collected not only snow, but also salt or other de-icing chemicals that get placed on roads in the colder months which can contribute to rusting5. Ideally, heavy equipment will be stored inside a heated facility, which protects it from the elements and allows for a significantly faster and easier start-up2. Short of being fully indoors, machinery storage should at least be covered so that you do not have to spend time brushing off accumulated snow. If your equipment is stored away long-term over the winter, detach any attachments so the hinges and joints avoid unnecessary wear and damage from the constant pull of weight and gravity2.
Colder weather can make autumn and winter feel especially long, but there’s no need for your equipment to feel additional strain. We hope our tips for maintaining your equipment during the colder months helps optimize your machinery performance and makes your job easier. And we want to hear from you: what do you do to maintain your equipment in colder weather? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author
Ethan is a Content Curator for Trader Interactive, serving the commercial brands Commercial Truck Trader, Commercial Web Services, and Equipment Trader. Ethan believes in using accessible language to elevate conversations about industry topics relevant to commercial dealers and their buyers.