Guest Column | December 17, 2020

Everything You Need To Know About Winterizing Your Heavy Equipment

By Megan R. Nichols

Servicing Capital Equipment Organizations And Their Customers

The seasonal transition to colder temperatures means company decision-makers must set aside time to winterize heavy equipment. Overlooking that crucial aspect of machine ownership could lead to accidents, breakdowns, and shortened equipment lifespans.

These five tips will help fleet managers take the right approach when getting their equipment ready for the coldest time of the year.

1. Teach Employees About Cold-Weather Complications

Creating an effective winterization strategy starts with ensuring employees understand how to be safe in colder temperatures and keep equipment operational during this time.

For example, people should never charge or jump-start a frozen battery. They need to wait until it warms up to at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit instead. Also, if there is salt on the vehicle at the end of a shift, they should remove it.

Workers getting themselves ready for winter is essential, too. Dressing in layers is a smart move, as is wearing insulated gloves — especially when touching frozen metal to inspect a piece of equipment. The slick conditions that winter often brings increase the time and distance required to stop or turn a vehicle. You may wish to have a training session that goes over the main things employees should know before dealing with cold weather.

2. Use The Right Coolant Mixture And Oil

Based on the name of the fluid alone, many people think vehicles and heavy equipment don’t need coolant in the winter. However, it contains a chemical that keeps water from freezing or boiling. That makes it useful and necessary all year. Additionally, the coolant acts as a lubricant for moving parts, and it helps keep seals and gaskets from getting so brittle that they crack.

Consider using a 70-30 coolant to water ratio in exceptionally cold weather or climates, even if you typically go with a 50-50 mixture during the year’s warmer times. Also, be aware that too much of either liquid creates undesirable conditions. Excessive amounts of water could freeze and cause engine issues, while going overboard with the coolant may stress the water pump.

The steps taken to winterize heavy equipment also involve changing the oil. Experts say oil’s impact on a machine’s fuel economy could range from 0.5% to 4%, depending on viscosity. Many equipment owners change to a lower-viscosity option in the winter. There are also specially formulated blends with a W or the word “winter” in the name to aid buying decisions.

3. Prepare The Fuel System

A faulty fuel system can cause frustrating issues with your heavy equipment, including making it hard to start or keep running. Be sure to check all the parts of your fuel system while working through your winterization strategy. Be aware that specific problems have symptoms. For example, clogged fuel lines could make the machine stutter and occasionally shut off during operation.

Getting the fuel system ready for winter also means ensuring you’ve kept up on maintenance during the rest of the year, including following manufacturer recommendations. For example, the owner’s manual will specify how often to clean the fuel pump’s screen filter. That component keeps large debris from entering the fuel system. However, it can clog, stopping fuel from moving through the pump or slowing it down. Then, the equipment may backfire or become hard to start and accelerate.

Some people also recommend switching diesel-fuel machines to a fully formulated winter fuel treatment. Doing that can prevent a phenomenon called gelling. Some types of diesel fuel contain combustible paraffin wax molecules. They come together and form a gel-like consistency as the weather starts to get cold. As temperatures continue to drop, the substance can turn chunky and clog filters.

However, fuel additives exist that halt that process. They contain ingredients to create a capsule-type barrier around the paraffin molecules. It stops them from turning into a gel.

4. Understand How Cold Weather Affects Tire Pressure

Tire pressure is a representation of the amount of air in a tire. People usually measure it as pounds-per-square-inch (PSI). Having the correct tire pressure affects numerous performance aspects, such as how well the tires grip the surface, whether they wear evenly and if you get good fuel economy.

All plans to winterize heavy equipment should include checking the tire pressure at the start of and throughout the season. That’s because colder weather causes a decrease in PSI. Some heavy equipment operators see the effects as a reduction of 2-3 PSI for every 10-degree temperature drop. Adverse consequences can also happen if an area goes through a short period of extreme temperatures, such as a cold snap.

The best way to prevent problems stemming from low tire pressure in the winter is to set a schedule for an equipment operator or maintenance technician to check it. Alternatively, there are products on the market that attach to wheel hubs. They measure the PSI, then make automatic adjustments as needed.

5. Protect Diesel Exhaust Fluid From Freezing

Many pieces of diesel-powered equipment need diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). Storing it properly is a crucial part of an effective winterization strategy.

For example, the liquid expands when frozen. That means you could end up with a damaged container by failing to protect the bottle from frigid temperatures. Keeping it less than full if you expect cold weather soon is a worthwhile tip.

Keeping the DEF from freezing is primarily important before you add it to a machine. That’s because the tank that stores DEF on a vehicle has a built-in heater, which will help the frozen substance melt. The good news is that the equipment will start even once if frozen DEF has become an issue. Never add something to the tank to help the DEF melt. It must stay pure for proper performance.

Create A Checklist To Maintain Your Winterization Strategy

These suggestions emphasize that getting your heavy equipment ready for winter may turn into a more-involved task than you first thought. However, being thorough with it is much better than rushing through and later realizing you overlooked something crucial.

Perhaps you did not need to winterize heavy equipment before this season because you recently invested in it. Alternatively, maybe you have not taken winter maintenance seriously enough before and want to make a decisive change. In any case, this guide can help you start strong and take steps to keep your machinery operating smoothly.

About The Author

Megan R. Nichols is an industrial writer for sites like Thomas and IoT Evolution World. Megan also publishes easy to understand manufacturing articles on her blog, Schooled By Science. Keep up with Megan by subscribing to her blog.