Protecting Your Construction Equipment in Winter

by Brian Frederick
February 6, 2018

Work doesn’t stop just because temperatures plummet. But harsh winter weather has a huge impact on your equipment — especially how it’s maintained. If you don’t take the necessary precautions, you could not only bring jobs grinding to a halt, but do serious damage to your machines.

Is your maintenance program winter-ready? Here’s a look at cold weather maintenance from the ground up — what you need to know to protect your assets through the coldest months.

Inspect your tires

You can’t build anything without a solid foundation, and the foundation of your equipment is its tires. If your machines are using solid tires, winter makes them more vulnerable to uneven wear, cracking and chunking.

Air tires have even more concerns. It starts with the impact of cold temperatures on tire pressure. For every drop of 10 degrees Fahrenheit, tire pressure drops one psi. This can cause a variety of problems. For one, under-inflated tires lower fuel efficiency, up to 0.2% for every psi under average pressure. They also wear unevenly, which can impact alignment, steering and traction. Severely low tires are a safety hazard, as they can cause blowouts.

To ensure your tires are in great working condition, daily checks should be part of your routine.  Ensure everything is properly inflated and carefully examine each tire for signs of wear, cracking or chunking. Remove debris from treads and take off any counterweights when not in use, as they put added stress on tires that can shorten lifespans.

Take care of the undercarriage

Tracks and undercarriage maintenance can account for as much as 60% of a piece of equipment’s maintenance costs over its lifecycle. When operating in sloppy winter conditions, proper maintenance is essential.

Start by cleaning away any mud, snow or debris that has accumulated. Carefully inspect the undercarriage for any worn or loose parts, including brushings, sprockets, rollers, idlers, pins and shoes. Replace or tighten them as needed.

Check the track’s tension and adjustment, according to manufacturer specifications and the needs of the situation. Remember that equipment used on loose, muddy or snowy ground should have a looser tension than that operated on firm-packed earth.

Check your fluids

Cold weather wreaks havoc on fluids. Oil thickens and doesn’t move as freely, impacting seals and joints, and increasing friction. Higher viscosity oils require longer idling periods to warm up and flow freely. Choose an oil viscosity that matches outside temperatures to get working faster from a cold start.

Your cooling system is also a vital part of cold weather operation. In addition to keeping your engine from freezing, it prevents corrosion, lubricates shaft seals and raises boiling point temperatures. In most cases, a 50/50 mixture of coolant and water is ideal, but in very cold climates, 70/30 may be preferable. Pay attention to whether the asset uses OAT or conventional coolant, as the two should never be mixed.

Before winter begins, the entire cooling system should be inspected, including seals and hoses. Make sure the radiator is filled, but not overfilled, as too much coolant can make the water pump work harder.

Even though oil and coolant are the two major fluids affected by winter, don’t neglect the others. Regularly inspect transmission, brake and hydraulic fluids and components to ensure they stay in good working condition.

Keep the fuel tank full

Cold weather operation tends to intensify fuel issues. Any moisture or contaminants in the fuel can cause fuel injection system failure or clog the fuel filter.

To minimize this risk, keep tanks full to prevent condensation inside the tank and fuel lines. Check caps and vents to make sure the seal is tight. Consider adding an additive fuel treatment to unfreeze filters, liquefy fuel and remove moisture. And always keep a spare filter handy.

A lot of newer equipment uses diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), which freezes at 12 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Make sure you have a way to heat and thaw frozen DEF to prevent downtime. If you’re using an internal tank heater, make sure you properly execute the shutdown procedure and wait for the DEF to finish pumping back to its reservoir before turning the machine off.

Make sure batteries are in good condition

Cold is especially hard on batteries. Low temperatures cause batteries to drain pulling voltage, make it harder to start the engine. Prepare for winter and perform periodic checks of electrolyte levels throughout cold months. Make sure levels are up to the full indicator and over the top of the lead plates. Regularly clean rust, dirt or debris that can slowly drain the battery from terminal posts and connectors. A toothbrush and a terminal brush will work just as well as expensive cleaners.

Always be on the lookout for signs of weakness or impending failure, including slow cranking, leakage or issues with electrical components. Be aware that a battery that performs well in warmer temperatures may not be able to handle the stress of freezing weather.

If you don’t plan on using an asset for the winter, or plan on storing it for an extended period, remove the battery and store it inside your warehouse or another climate-controlled building. Be sure to charge it periodically while in storage.

Cover it up

Winter weather can do a lot of damage to the exterior of your equipment. When not in use, keep assets in a dry, protected shelter to prevent paint chipping, seat cracks and wear and tear on wires. If snow is in the forecast, make sure exhaust openings are covered to prevent potential damage to internal components — just make sure to remove covers before operation!

A few more tips

There’s a huge difference from operating a machine in dry summer weather and wet wintery conditions. The cold impacts virtually every part of an asset, so regular, thorough inspections are a must.

Whether it’s inspections of grease points to make sure moisture isn’t building up, replacing air filters to reduce the load on the engine or making sure wipers are in good condition, every piece of equipment requires regular attention to keep it up and running through the winter.

The surest way to make sure your entire fleet stays in great condition no matter how cold it is by automating your maintenance system. Using a platform like ES Track, you can keep a close eye on your entire fleet to prevent weather-induced problems before they happen.

Using a variety of sensors to track machine data, ES Track monitors and records information like engine temperature, RPMs and oil status. Customizable alerts automatically notify you when you’re approaching limits, so you’re never taken by surprise. And if something were to go wrong, real-time GPS tracking and breadcrumb trails let you know exactly where the asset is, so your operators aren’t waiting around in the cold. ES Track makes it easy to keep your equipment working in even the worst weather.

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