Tips for Prepping Compact Equipment for a Winter Workout

Debbie McClung, Woodland Communications
Special Collaboration


Though construction slows in colder climates when the temperature dips, winter is when construction companies located in the snow belt start refocusing their skid-steer loaders toward a different kind of workout.
To ensure equipment stays in peak operating condition, equipment managers must begin thinking about winterizing their compact equipment as soon as the first leaves hit the ground.

Of all the compact equipment in their fleet, construction equipment owners say skid-steer loaders are some of the machines most commonly used in the wintertime. Crews who operate the machines for general construction work during the warm months, repurpose skid-steer loaders with multiple attachments to help supplement their snow removal operations.

As with any equipment maintenance, those responsible for maintenance should refer to their manufacturer's owner's manual where they will find a checklist of seasonal maintenance items, plus oil and fluid recommendations. Any compact equipment operator will attest that there are several basic maintenance procedures and inspections that should be performed before starting a machine. As weather turns colder, items that should be checked include fluids, oils and fuels, tire pressure, battery and cold-climate comfort features such as heating and defrosting systems.

Fluids, Oils and Fuels
Some of the most important winter checkup items are the fluids. If a machine does not have the proper engine oil, engine coolant, hydraulic oil and fuel for operating in colder weather, an operator will find that its performance is not up to par. Equipment managers should refer to their operator's manual for instructions on filling their machine with the correct fluid in the correct increments.

For example, when the temperature turns colder it is important to have an engine oil viscosity that matches the outside operating temperatures and a low-temperature grease for proper lubrication on pivot points.

“Do not overlook the hydraulic oil filters, which should be changed as they may have collected water and debris over the spring and summer. Changing the hydraulic oil filter will help minimize future maintenance problems,” says Mike Fitzgerald, loader product specialist for Bobcat Company.

As with any automobile, engine coolant – or antifreeze – is also an important wintertime fluid for compact equipment that should be tested according to manufacturer’s specifications prior to the weather turning chilly.

Not only can improper oils and coolants cause maintenance problems in the winter, but so can using the wrong fuel. While it is typically not required to use anything other than normal No.2 grade diesel fuel, operations in cold and far northern regions may want to consider an alternative diesel fuel and/or anti-gel additives. In extreme cold weather conditions, diesel fuel can gel.

Pair Advanced Fluids to Tier 4 Machines
Today’s engines burn cleaner and run hotter even in cold months. As the EPA’s engine emissions standards are taking effect in the compact equipment industry, equipment managers must be more knowledgeable about oil and fuel selection to prevent downtime issues. “Interim Tier 4 and Tier 4 engines require CJ-4 oil that has less ash content and minimizes issues with exhaust treatment systems,” says Mr. Fitzgerald. In addition to the required ultra-low sulfur fuel, additional filters on fuel storage and transfer tanks will help ensure clean fluids.

Treat Attachments Equal
A compact loader’s attachments are the tools that deliver the versatility needed to remove snow and ice from sidewalks, parking lots and trails. Attachments such as snow blades, snowblowers, angle brooms and spreaders are some of the most popular and hardest-working tools in the winter months, and deserve the same attention as the machine itself.

Visual checks of attachment components such as hoses, cylinders and guards, cutting blades and edges can help determine if wear is developing or damage has occurred. Some attachments also require fluid-level checks and lubrication.

Tires, Batteries and Other Items
It is common knowledge that when temperatures drop, so does the air pressure in tires. One of the first physical signs of cold weather will be a machine's sagging tires. Low tire pressure can translate into lower lift and push capabilities. Maintenance personnel should check the owner’s manual for the proper pressure and inflate the tires accordingly.

Tips for Safe Service
Maintaining your skid-steer loader in safe operating conditions is necessary for the life of the equipment and the general safety of the operator. Before servicing the loader:

Operators and service workers should be trained to read and follow the manufacturer’s operating and service procedures provided in the operation manuals and on the loader’s warning signs;

Always use the safety mechanisms provided by the manufacturer (lift arm supports, interlocked controls, seat belts and restraint bar);

Turn off the engine and remove the key from the switch (Never service a loader with the engine running unless directed to do so by the operator’s manual);

Keep the foot controls and operator’s compartment free of mud, ice, snow and other debris that can build up inside the operator’s compartment.

Regularly inspect and maintain the following features:

  • Interlocked controls
  • Safety belts
  • Restraint bars
  • Side screens
  • Rollover protective structures.

Downtime is unavoidable if you have a dead battery. There is nothing worse than needing to quickly respond to a snow or ice storm in which the general public depends on clean public walkway or roadway, only to find that it will not start because of a dead battery. Cold weather plays havoc on batteries because it requires them to generate nearly twice as many cranking amps in order to turn the over engine and hydraulic and hydrostatic pumps. That is why equipment fleets in colder climates go through batteries faster than those in warmer climates. So, it is imperative that they take the time to have a load test performed on their compact equipment batteries before the first snow hits the ground. They should also check the battery wires and connections for any wear or corrosion because such defects could result in loss of available cranking power.

“Once you've made sure your skid-steer loader fleet will perform at its optimal level in the winter, you'll next want to ensure the operator's comfort features are working properly. Features popular on skid-steer loaders in northern states include heating and defrosting systems. To keep operators comfortable and productive, inspect each system and perform routine maintenance as specified in the owner's manual,” adds Mike Fitzgerald.

Also, inspect the cab's door and window seals to ensure heat will not seep out, and install a new windshield blade and antifreezing washer fluid. Snow removal operators can spend as many as 12 hours a day inside the cab of their machine, so it is vital that they stay warm and comfortable.

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