Winter Maintenance Planning
Summer is over and that can only mean one thing – winter is coming, whether we like it or not. While we may not be able to truly prepare ourselves for the onslaught of cold temps, ice and snow, we can prepare our equipment, whether we’re putting it into storage or using it all winter long.
If you’re planning on making the most of your machine investment by using it year round, it’s very important to perform basic maintenance. Taking the proper precautions and steps now can prevent some major headaches later.
Use the proper fluids. If you live and work in a climate where the temperatures regularly dip to 32° F (0° C) or below, make sure that your fluids – engine oil, coolant and diesel fuel – are ideally suited for cold weather operation. Your machine’s operator’s manual will tell you what viscosity your engine oil should be for the expected outdoor temps. Also, check your engine’s coolant mixture to ensure it’s appropriate for cold weather. Finally, choose #1 diesel fuel or one that’s specifically a “winter blend” to prevent gelling in extreme cold.
Drain water out of the fuel/water separator daily. No matter whether you live in a warm or cold climate, you should drain the water out of your machine’s fuel/water separator daily to prevent damage to the high-pressure fuel system and engine. That said, it’s even more critical to take this step during the winter months, because excess water in the fuel can freeze in the lines, causing the engine to stall or starve for fuel. If this situation is allowed to continue, it can require costly repairs to the entire fuel system. You should also drain water from the fuel tank once per month as outlined in your operator’s manual.
Regularly inspect your machine’s hydraulic oil. Make sure your hydraulic system maintenance is up to date. And, whether it’s due for service or not, regularly inspect your hydraulic oil, because its appearance is just as important as its level. If the oil is an abnormal color – particularly dark or burnt looking – replace it. As this oil is exposed to high temperatures, its viscosity decreases, reducing its ability to protect vital hydraulic components. If the oil appears “milky,” drain it immediately because that’s a sign that water has gotten into the oil.
Clean out your machine’s undercarriage after each use. Snow, ice and other materials picked up during the day can freeze overnight, preventing rollers and carriers from properly spinning the next morning. The roller can also develop flat spots. Tracks can even freeze to the ground, and debris can freeze onto the cylinder rods which damages cylinder wiper seals. Clean out the machine’s undercarriage and cylinder rods after each use to remove debris and park the machine on a dry area.
Idle your engine for five minutes or so at start-up, then gradually increase its RPM. Increasing your engine’s RPM too quickly on a cold morning can cause damage because there’s a lack of oil pressure to certain components. By letting the engine idle, the oil can circulate and get up to the proper operating temperature. Ease in when working the hydraulics as well.
Install a block heater instead of using ether or starter fluid. Ether or starter fluid can cause compression to rapidly increase, which in turn causes the piston to crack or melt. Installing a block heater and plugging the equipment in overnight is a much better alternative. Glow plugs or a grid heater are also great for this purpose if your machine is so equipped.
Clean the radiator of debris, ensure it has adequate air flow and test its coolant. While it’s a common practice to cover the radiator to keep the engine warm, an engine can still overheat in cold temps if its cooling system is compromised. Instead, clean the radiator and make sure it’s getting the right air flow. If not, you’ll see multiple warning signs, including odd noises from the machine’s hydraulics, flashing engine or temperature warning lights or audible alarms. You can purchase a simple coolant tester at any parts supplier that will confirm the antifreeze mixture by indicating the lowest temperature at which the coolant is safe.
If you’re putting your machine into hibernation for the winter months, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Your primary goal should be to ensure the machine can come out of storage in the spring and get to work immediately. Your first step is to store the machine in a dry, dust-free environment during the offseason to keep dust and moisture from settling into the components and electrical connections. Don’t have a pristine environment? Park the machine on wooden planks and cover it with a tarp. You should also keep the machine out of direct sunlight to avoid constant temperature changes. Those changes can cause condensation on metal parts, which then freeze when the sun goes down and damage internal components.
Wait, you’re not done just yet! Here’s a checklist of additional steps you should take before patting your machine and saying, “See ya in the spring!”
- Drain any water from the fuel tank and water separator.
- Fill the fuel tank with fresh fuel.
- If you’re close to a maintenance interval, go ahead and change the engine oil, engine filter and hydraulic filters.
- Check coolant condition and level. Replace with long-life coolant if the coolant isn’t in adequate condition.
- Properly lubricate all grease points.
- Retract all cylinders as much as possible so the rods are not exposed.
- Apply rust-inhibiting oil or grease to any exposed portion of the cylinder rods to prevent rust or pitting. If you can’t do this, start the engine every 30 days and operate the hydraulics so that the cylinder rods get coated in hydraulic oil.
- Disconnect the negative terminal on the battery. If conditions will get below freezing in the storage area, remove the battery and place it somewhere warmer.
There’s no doubt – cold temperatures and frozen precipitation can be hard on machines, whether you’re planning on using your equipment or storing it. By taking a little time and following the proper procedures and best practices, you can protect your machine assets and ensure a smooth transition back to milder temperatures when spring finally arrives.