Construction companies, engineering firms, agricultural operations, and many other organizations rely on heavy equipment to perform their essential work. In many climates, keeping those machines in top operating condition pits business owners against the elements, especially in the winter. Read on to find out how to maintain heavy equipment to make sure it stays in peak operating condition even during the off-season when winter cold, ice, and snow makes it difficult, or even impossible, to move forward with projects.
1. Decide Whether It Will Be Taken Out Of Use Before Winter Hits
Some forms of heavy equipment are used year-round. Other pieces of machinery are best placed in storage for the off-season to reduce damage when they couldn’t be put to good use anyway. The first step business owners need to take is to decide what equipment will see year-round use and which pieces of machinery will need to be stored for the winter.
2. Protect Equipment From The Elements
The reason it’s so important to decide what equipment will get placed in storage and what will continue to be put to good use throughout the coldest months of the year is that the two categories of machines will require different forms of maintenance. To give just one example, while indoor storage is a good solution for equipment taken out of commission until spring, protective covers are a better bet for machines that will continue to be used year-round. They’re easier to apply and remove and still provide a good deal of protection against the elements.
3. Inspect Equipment Thoroughly
Whether a piece of equipment will be stored for the winter or used throughout the season, it should be inspected before the weather starts to turn. Look for signs of damage or wear and replace parts in the fall if the machine will be used throughout the winter. If it’s going into indoor storage, that gives business owners an extra few months to attend to potential issues.
4. Perform Thorough Routine Cleanings
Companies that use and maintain heavy equipment need to clean it regularly to keep it in working order. Don’t let that routine cleaning schedule fall by the wayside come fall. Clean the machines thoroughly to remove grease, dirt, and debris, paying special attention to the engine compartment. If the equipment will be stored, clean the undercarriage, as well, and don’t forget to lubricate moving components and grease exposed cylinder rods.
Cleaning equipment that will be used throughout the winter is equally important. During normal field operations, heavy equipment is subjected to adverse environmental conditions year-round, but things tend to get even more intense in the winter. Keeping everything clean makes it easier to identify potential problems like wear and damaged parts.
5. Check Fluid Levels
It’s best to replace fluids like fuel, hydraulic fluid, diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), and even windshield wiper fluid before winter hits, whether the machines will be used or not. Some of these fluids have better alternatives for winter, while others, such as DEF, expand when they get cold. It’s important to leave room for expansion, which usually requires removing some of the liquid from the fluid reservoirs, to accommodate very cold temperatures.
Those who plan to store equipment for the winter should use a fuel stabilizer and run it through the engine for several minutes to make sure it circulates through the pump and fuel injectors. If the business will be using the machine before spring rolls around, it’s better to purchase an appropriate anti-gel fuel additive instead.
6. Warm Up The Engine Before Use
Diesel engines and the components around them need time to warm up, especially in the winter. The pipes and hoses in the engine compartment can become more brittle after prolonged cold exposure. Allowing the engine to run until all these components settle into a normal operating temperature range helps to prevent serious engine damage and extend the equipment’s usable lifespan.
7. Check Tire Pressure
Cold weather causes tires to lose pressure faster than they would in the summer. If machine operators will be heading out into the field once the temperatures start to drop, they should always check the tire pressure before each shift. In an ideal world, it’s best to inflate tires in a warm area to help the tire settle, but most business owners and equipment operators don’t have that luxury. Just make sure not to neglect the tires, add air as needed throughout the season, and replace any tires that are showing signs of extreme wear before winter hits.
8. Treat The Batteries Right
If the equipment will be taken out of commission until spring, the maintenance technician should always remove the battery. It should be stored in a dry location where the temperatures stay above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Batteries exposed to extreme cold can experience higher self-discharge rates. In some cases, a trickle charger will need to be connected to the battery to prevent discharge and keep it topped up.
Most equipment operators aren’t going to take the time to remove and reinstall batteries for each field use, which is understandable. They should still start up the equipment to get the batteries charged at least once a week, though, as discharged batteries are much more prone to temperature-related failures.
9. Prepare The Operators
Business owners should take the time to prepare their operators before the winter season hits. Remind them not to wear loose or baggy layers that could get caught on the machine’s controls, and encourage them to wear gloves to prevent frostbite. Review all the company’s training and procedures for operating in inclement weather conditions like ice and snow and make sure the workers take sufficient breaks. Working in the cold can be just as exhausting as operating equipment in extreme heat.
The Bottom Line
Construction teams who choose to continue working through the winter need to take some extra steps to keep their equipment in top condition. Those who choose to store heavy equipment instead still need to inspect and maintain it before it enters storage. Either way, business owners should now know what steps they’ll need to take before the temperatures start to drop.