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Protect heavy equipment with these winter cleaning and maintenance tips

Protect heavy equipment with these winter cleaning and maintenance tips

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Keeping your heavy equipment clean and in good condition is a year-round job. However, actually cleaning the equipment can be a little more difficult in colder months when freezing temperatures, winter precipitation and all that salt and grime on the roads present their own challenges to maintaining machinery that’s well-maintained with a professional appearance.

In some cases, you could consider keeping machinery clean in winter a form of preventative maintenance. All that extra dirt, snow, ice, salt and grime can really do a number on both parts and paint.

Aside from cleaning special considerations and challenges, winter also brings with it a few other maintenance concerns that we’ll cover. It’s just a matter of fact in this business that winter often requires a little more work as far as heavy equipment tends to go.

So, let’s get started. Here are a few tips you’ll want to have in mind when keeping your equipment clean this time of year.

Check tire tread

Winter road and work site conditions can often add an extra challenge to heavy equipment operators thanks to slippery or wet conditions. Sites that may have experienced recent snow, ice or sleet are of even more concern.

That means operators must always keep an eye on the tread on equipment tires. Without enough tire tread, maneuvering machinery can become significantly more tricky - and dangerous - in the winter.

If you are wary of your equipment’s tire tread condition, then you can elect to replace the tires with new tires or snow tires. Snow tires allow more traction in the winter on both snow and ice. These can lead to more productivity and safety for your crews.

How do you know whether you need to replace equipment tires? The best way is to check them every day as part of a preventative maintenance routine. Make sure the tires are inflated and the tire tread is not wearing unevenly, cracking or chunking. Clear away any debris after a day’s work.

Lubricate equipment engines

Heavy equipment engines need to be kept properly lubricated in the winter. Extreme cold temperatures can affect how well oil reduces the impact of contact and friction that occurs between an engine’s moving parts.

When it’s cold outside, motor oil’s viscosity could be affected. Motor oil could thicken if the temperatures outside drop too low. When that happens it may not be able to provide enough lubrication to all the moving parts inside an engine while it’s in operation.

One solution to fighting frigid temperatures that may prevent motor oil from doing its job as well is to switch to an oil that can take those lower temperatures, such as a 5W-40 synthetic, 10W-30 or 15W-40 multi-grade oil. Make sure to select an oil that works with your diesel engine, though.

Monitor all other fluids

Oil isn’t the only fluid that needs to be monitored in cold weather. Coolant should also be closely tracked, as should transmission, brake and hydraulic fluids. Each of these can be affected by winter weather - or they could lead to other issues if their levels get too low.

Pay attention to coolant levels so that your coolant can keep machinery engines from freezing, corroding parts and lubricating shaft seals, among other vital functions.

The best way to go about this is to give the cooling system a close inspection before winter sets in. This inspection should include seals, hoses and checking for a full radiator.

Clean undercarriages

Winter weather typically causes extra dirt and debris to collect on undercarriages of heavy construction equipment, especially if it’s being used regularly throughout the colder months.

When that’s the plan, schedule regular cleaning and stick to it. As we have mentioned before, equipment can get dirty very quickly in the winter. Don’t let it build up. Ideally, operators should clean their equipment after each use, though we know that’s not always popular.

But even if you plan on storing machinery, be sure to give the undercarriage - and the rest of the equipment - a complete cleaning. Leave those areas dirty and the cleanup job will only be that much harder when you bring out the heavy equipment in spring.

Check the condition of batteries

Cold weather can run batteries through the wringer. As temperatures plummet, batteries drain pulling voltage. This makes it harder to start engine. That’s why it’s imperative to keep an eye on battery levels throughout the winter season.

There are a few tips to keep in mind when it comes to caring for batteries in winter. If any batteries currently installed in equipment are old, then replace them before winter sets in. It’s also wise to let batteries warm up to about 40 degrees before equipment is used.

Also, keep in mind that it is never a good idea to jump-start a frozen battery. This could result in the battery exploding.

Finally, whenever possible, keep equipment stored inside. This will help reduce the chances of the battery freezing.

Keep air filters clean

The end of summer is usually a sign that work is about to wind down for many construction equipment owners. That means it’s a great time to take a look at your equipment’s air filters.

Now, dust is not normally as big of an issue in the winter as it is in warmer seasons, but it’s still a good idea to have clean air filters heading into storage or cold weather operation. Keeping air filters clean is key because they keep dust from damaging your engine. All that dust contains a compound called silica, which is abrasive.

To check whether an air filter is dirty, you have a couple options. One is to perform a visual inspection. However, many of today’s filters also come with a visual indicator that you can check without risking making the filter dirtier or even damaging it simply by opening up the housing.

If it’s dirty, then it’s time to clean your air filter. This can help with engine performance and fuel economy when operating equipment.

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