Preparing equipment for cold weather operations

Jan. 4, 2022

This column published as "Winter is Here" in January 2022 issue

With over 175 years of history behind it, CASE Equipment knows a thing or two about building construction machinery.

And, with its corporate headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin, the OEM also knows a thing or two about getting through long, cold, winter months. So when the company tapped product managers Ted Polzer and Josh Goldsworthy for an online seminar on preparing equipment for winter weather, I figured it was worth my attention.

There’s far more that goes into prepping equipment for cold weather than can be covered in a column. Still, there are some basic equipment moves for winter months that Polzer and Goldsworthy outline that contractors can make now, before the full brunt of winter is upon us. To start: remember that every different making size, type, as well as when it was built, the type of engine it has, and the environment it operates in, will require you to customize your cold weather preparations to a certain degree. If that seems like a lot to sort out, bear in mind that your local dealer is an excellent resource if you have any questions or need help in transitioning machines over for cold weather operations.

Winter operation means shorter days and colder temperatures,” Polzer said. “And many machines have some standard, or optional, features to help them through those months. These can include engine block heaters, heavy-duty batteries, grid heaters, fuel filter and water separator heaters, as well as rear defroster systems. It’s a good idea to start with those systems when getting ready for winter and consider spec’ing them on future machines you purchase.”

It is engine and hydraulic fluids that bear the brunt of cold weather and often lead to component failures as a result. “It’s important to remember that cold affects fluids and makes them behave differently than they do in summer months,” Goldsworthy added. “That’s why warming up a machine is critical in cold weather.”

Cold engine oils and hydraulic fluids are thicker, Goldsworthy cautioned, and forcing them through cold, stiff hoses is a good way to expedite a failure. “So, start your machine and let it warm up for a few minutes,” he advised. “Let your engine oil come up to the proper temperature first, since there is a risk of colder, thicker, oil blowing gaskets or O-rings inside the engine. Then, as its operating temperatures are starting to rise, start slowly cycling through some basic boom movements, allowing warm hydraulic fluids to circulate through the system. Then, once you’ve done that a few times, begin slowly cycling the bucket as well. This way, you’ll have warmer, thinner oils moving through your hoses, and there will be less likelihood of blowing a seal.”

And don’t forget your attachments, Goldsworthy warned, which often are more exposed to winds and colder temperatures. Take the time to also slowly cycle them and allow them to warm up before going to work.

Batteries are another common failure point during cold weather operations. That’s why it’s a good idea to make sure your batteries are fully charged ahead of cold weather, since cold weather increases cranking demand, and a low-voltage battery can lead to fault codes flashing or even onboard computer shutdowns. To avoid these problems, Polzer recommends allowing a machine to run long enough to fully recharge a battery after cranking before beginning work. Another option is to connect the battery to a charge maintainer overnight to ensure full-charge starts in the morning.

Another vital, yet basic, winter preparation point are tires on wheeled machines. Goldsworthy said that general tires used in summertime generally aren’t going to provide the traction needed to operate in snow and ice. You are better off switching to tires with siping tread patterns and sharper tread edges to grip better in snow, ice, and slush.

One final point is machine lighting, which becomes critical with earlier winter sunsets. Case recommends adding as much lighting as practical to machines, which can enhance both safety and productivity on dark winter evenings and in snowstorms and fog.

The entire Case seminar on preparing equipment for winter weather contains many additional tips on converting your machines over for ice, snow, sleet, and cold, as well as practical tips for storing equipment over winter and having it ready to go once spring arrives.

About The Author: Roberts covers the equipment side of our industry for Roads & Bridges.

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