Maintenance: Operation & Storage in Cold Weather Climates

Thu November 07, 2019 - National Edition
Keith Kramlich, National Service and Warranty Manager, Takeuchi-US


To ensure that investment runs reliably throughout the coldest months, it is important to take basic maintenance measures.
To ensure that investment runs reliably throughout the coldest months, it is important to take basic maintenance measures.

Winter is coming. Whether you plan on using your equipment or storing it away for the season, it is critical the machines are properly prepared.

Use this guide to help make sure your equipment starts right back up when springtime blooms.

Operation Freeze: Using your Equipment in Sub-Zero Temps

Many operators capitalize on their equipment investment by using it year-round. To ensure that investment runs reliably throughout the coldest months, it is important to take basic maintenance measures by considering:

The Right Fluids

In cold climates where the temperature gets close to or below freezing, the first step is ensuring the engine oil, coolant and diesel fuel in the machine are suited for cold weather operation.

The engine oil should be the correct viscosity for the expected ambient temperature as outlined in the machine operator's manual. The engine coolant mixture should also be checked to ensure the mixture is adequate. Additionally, using #1 diesel fuel or a winter blend helps prevent the fuel from gelling in extreme cold.

Avoid Freezing Lines

In all climates, the operator should drain the water out of the fuel/water separator daily to prevent damage to the high-pressure fuel system and engine. However, this is even more critical during the winter.

In cold months, excess water in the fuel can freeze in the lines. This causes the engine to stall or starve for fuel. If continued, this can cause damage to the fuel system, creating a costly fix. Once per month, we recommend draining the water from the fuel tank as well.

The Hydraulic System

Once the engine is protected, the next step is checking that the hydraulic system's maintenance is up to date. Whether service is due or not, it is good practice to regularly inspect the hydraulic oil. Why? Because the condition of the hydraulic oil is just as important as the level.

If the oil is dark, looks burnt, or is any abnormal color, it should be replaced. As the oil ages and is exposed to high temperatures, the viscosity decreases. This leads to reduced protection of the vital hydraulic components. Drain the oil immediately if it appears "milky," which is a sign of water in the oil. This can cause serious damage to the hydraulic system.

Uh-Oh: Most Common Mistakes

In addition to following the instructions above, operators using their equipment throughout the winter can reduce costly downtime by avoiding these common mistakes:

The Undercarriage

Material left in the undercarriage between the rollers, carriers and tracks can freeze overnight, preventing the rollers and carriers from properly spinning when the operator goes to use the machine the next morning. The roller can also develop flat spots.

Do this: Clean the undercarriage out after each use.

Parking Overnight

With freezing temperatures overnight, the tracks can freeze to the ground. Debris also can freeze to the cylinder rods, which can damage the wiper seals on the cylinders.

Do this: Park the machine on a dry area and clean any exposed portion of the cylinder rods.

Full Bore at Startup

Increasing the RPM too quickly in cold climates can cause engine damage. This is due to the lack of oil pressure to certain components such as the turbocharger. The machine should idle at startup so the oil can circulate and get to the proper operating temperature.

Do this: Let the engine idle for five minutes or so, then gradually increase rpm. Also ease in working the hydraulics.

Ether or Starting Fluid

Never use ether or starting fluid. If an operator thinks starting fluid is necessary, something is likely wrong with the engine or the block heater wasn't used. This fluid causes a rapid increase in compression and can cause the piston to crack or melt, among other failures. A block heater will keep the coolant warm and helps the engine start much easier the next morning.

Do this: Have a block heater installed and plug the equipment in overnight. Glow plugs or a grid heater are also great functions to use throughout the winter (if equipped).

Covering the Radiator

It is common practice to put a cover over the radiator to keep the engine warm in winter. Despite the below-freezing ambient temperature, an engine can still overheat if the cooling system is compromised.

Do this: Clean the radiator of debris and make sure it gets adequate air flow.

Warning Signs

It is crucial to pay attention to the warning signs. Look for signs such as the hydraulics making odd noises, flashing engine or hydraulic temperature warning lights, or any audible alarms.

Do this: Be alert and stop working to assess the situation.

A Checklist for Winterizing a Machine for Storage

The easiest way to ensure a machine comes out of storage without skipping a beat is to create a checklist.

For starters, machines should be stored in a dry, dust-free environment for the duration of the off-season. This helps keep dust and moisture from settling in the important components and electrical connections. Another option is to park on wooden planks and cover the machine with a waterproof tarp.

It also is wise to keep the equipment out of direct sunlight. Constant temperature changes can cause condensation to form on the metal parts, which can then freeze and cause damage to internal components.

Don't have time to make a checklist? We made it easy for you:

  • Drain water from the fuel tank and water separator.
  • Fill fuel tank with fresh fuel.
  • If close to a maintenance interval, change engine oil, engine filter and hydraulic filters.
  • Check coolant condition and level. Replace with long-life coolant if coolant condition is inadequate.
  • Properly lubricate all grease points.
  • As much as possible, retract all cylinders so the rods are not exposed.
  • Apply rust-inhibiting oil or grease to any exposed portion of the cylinder rods to prevent rust or pitting. If you aren't able to retract all cylinders or apply rust-inhibiting oil to the cylinder rods, we recommend starting the machine every 30 days and working the hydraulics so that the cylinder rods get coated in hydraulic oil.
  • Disconnect the negative terminal on the battery. If freezing is a possibility, remove the battery and place it in a warmer area.
  • When removing the machine from storage, follow the procedure outlined in the operator's manual.

Extreme temperatures are tough on machines. Protect your biggest assets with a little preventative maintenance. Your bottom line will thank you in the long run.

Keith Kramlich is the national service and warranty manager of Takeuchi-US.