Posted on: February 2, 2016 2:39 pm
When you live in the Mid-Atlantic, you know just how unforgiving the winter months can be. Dropping temperatures, heavy snowfall and icy roads — if you’re unprepared, all three can spell trouble for your heavy equipment.
At Alban CAT, we’re ready to help you prepare for winter’s worst. With our industry-tested best practices, you can rest assured knowing your Cat® equipment is prepared for whatever Jack Frost has in store.
While our Cat equipment is built to handle your toughest jobs, it still needs a little help when it comes to preparing for the winter season. Just as you would prepare your home for the colder months, winterizing your equipment means preparing your machinery to sit dormant in low temperatures for months at a time. Skipping this step could result in serious maintenance issues come springtime, affecting your work schedule and your wallet.
Where to Focus
Your first step should be creating a checklist for you and/or your team to follow. Creating a checklist not only keeps you organized, but it also ensures that the appropriate attention is being paid to your machinery on a routine basis. Here are a few general items you may want to consider adding to your list:
- Check all lights.
- Check windshield wipers.
- Check all fluid levels.
- Ensure heater is operational.
- “Grease” the entire machine.
- Check for general damage.
- Check all mirrors and windows.
- Check brakes and parking brakes.
- Lube all doors and joints.
While the above are general items that should be included on your checklist, we want to drill down into the more focused areas for winterizing your equipment. Those areas include the following:
- Engine Oil
- Conveyor, if applicable
When the temperature drops to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 degree Celsius), it’s time to switch to Number 1 diesel fuel, or 1-D. In normal conditions, your machinery is operating with Number 2 diesel fuel, or 2-D. When cold temperatures hit, your 2-D fuel begins to thicken, causing a gel-like substance in your fuel lines and fuel filters. Additionally, colder temperatures cause fuel particles to freeze, especially if moisture is present. Depending on the weather conditions, you can utilize a winter fuel blend — a 40:60 mix of 1-D and 2-D — or you can opt to use fuel additives like pour-point depressants, which will decrease the likeliness of wax crystals forming.
Here are a few other factors to consider when dealing with your fuel:
- Fill the fuel tank at the end of each day to decrease the amount of moisture and/or water build up.
- Drain the water from your water separator daily to maintain a clean fuel tank free of water and/or other debris.
- Maintain a minimum fuel rating of 40 centane. If temperatures drop between -4 degrees and -20 degrees, upgrade to a 50-centane rating.
- Add a fuel warmer to your diesel-powered equipment to prevent filters from plugging if wax builds up.
- Drain the tank while running the engine. Diesel fuel spoils as it gets old, so running the engine can help clean the tank of any residual fuel and decrease the chances of contaminants.
- Never blend gasoline, gasohol or alcohol with diesel fuel. These will lower the flash points, causing the risk of explosion. Additionally, using these fuels could damage the fuel system because of the lack of lubrication.
Changing your engine oil should already be a part of your regular maintenance practices. For those operating 4-cycle engines, we recommend changing the engine oil seasonally. Unlike in your fuel, microorganisms won’t affect your oil, and thus biocides are not necessary to protect your machine.
The warmer your oil is, the easier it will flow through your system. Consult an Alban Cat professional on whether or not engine heater blocks are required for your equipment. For temperatures below -22 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 degrees Celsius), synthetic base stock multi-grade oil with a pour point lower than -58 degrees Fahrenheit (-50 degrees Celsius) will perform best.
Ask any one of our team members what the most important rule is when using your engine in the winter and they’ll all say the same thing: Always run the engine until it reaches operating temperature. Your engine is the heart of your machine. Keeping your machine’s RPMs low until your engine warms up will prevent the intake and exhaust valves from sticking. For a quick trick to heat up your engine, try blocking the radiator. This will prevent air from reaching the fan. Never use ether in combination with glow plugs to start a diesel engine. This could result in the engine exploding.
The following are other factors to consider when checking your engine:
- Check the V-pulley belts to ensure they’re free to turn before starting your engine.
- Check fan belts’ condition and alignment before starting up your engine.
- Extend the engine’s life by restricting its idle running time — no more than 10 minutes.
Just as changing your oil is an important part of your machine’s routine maintenance, so is changing your filters. As mentioned above, when changing out your 2-D fuel for 1-D fuel, make sure to check that your fuel filters aren’t clogged or restricted by residue. Additionally, make sure your fuel water trap has been emptied before temperatures begin to drop. Whenever possible, keep extra fuel filters on hand.
If the engine is the heart of your machine, then the battery is the heart of the engine. While winter weather can take a toll on all of your equipment, your battery is arguably the most sensitive to dropping temperatures. Together with the engine, your battery is most efficient at 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius). As the temperature drops, so does your battery’s efficacy. At 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius), a fully charged battery only has a 65 percent cranking capacity. Conversely, your engine’s starting requirements increase from 100 percent to 155 percent. If temperatures were to drop to -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-28 degrees Celsius), your fully charged battery is now only operating at an 18-percent cranking power while your engine’s starting requirements have now increased by 268 percent.
In order to maintain your battery’s life, consider the following tips:
- Always store your fully charged battery in a warm, dry climate — preferably around room temperature, which is between 40 – 60 degrees Fahrenheit or four – 15 degrees Celsius.
- Always fully charge your battery before storage. Uncharged batteries freeze at 19 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius).
- Recharge your battery when its capacity drops below 75 percent.
- Conduct a visual inspection of your battery. Check for signs of corrosion, dirt or moisture, as these will drain the battery’s life.
- Disconnect the battery’s ground cables when storing your battery for more than 10 days.
- Maintain electrolyte levels between the top of the battery plates and below the vent well cap opening. If levels become too low, sulfate crystals can form. These crystals can cause permanent damage to your battery’s ability to recharge.
- Always place batteries upright, single file. Never stack batteries as damage could occur.
- Check the state of your battery every 30 to 45 days when storing.
With your engine running, make a point to check your coolant for bubbling. Your coolant level should be one inch over the top of the radiator core and free of any contaminants. Additionally, ensure that the coolant you’re utilizing has a freeze point low enough for the type of climate you’re facing.
If not maintained properly, your belt scraper can cause serious issues to your conveyor, including:
- Extreme build-up on rollers and pulleys.
- Damaging wear on rollers and pulleys.
- Misalignment of the belt caused by artificial crowning on rollers.
- Mistracking of the belt.
- Conveyor belt wear.
An assessment of your belt scraper’s condition is highly suggested to ensure your conveyor is free of damage. When assessing the condition, make sure to check the following:
- Belt scraper blade
- Conveyor belt surface
- Tension of belt scraper
- Belt scraper material
- Type and condition of belt slice
- Speed of conveyor belt
Especially with freezing temperatures, it’s important to check that the conveyor’s skirting rubber has not frozen to the belt, nor that the conveyor head section or plough scraper at the tail are frozen to the belt. As the belt contracts from the cold, there is an increased chance of failure. Additionally, the more snow that piles on top of the belt, the harder it will be for the belt to function at its most efficient. Generally, if you can store your equipment out of the elements, it’s best to do so. If possible, detach any attachments and store separately in a warm climate to avoid damage.
The best time to check/maintain your hydraulic lubricants are before temperatures begin to drop. Make sure that your equipment’s fluid levels are enough for proper flow. A general rule for checking your fluid levels is to pull each dipstick and see if the oil drips. If it drips, you have enough. Pay special attention to the suction filter and hydraulic chamber, as these should be tested and lubricated.
When selecting hydraulic oil, make sure to incorporate the start-up and operating temperatures of the hydraulic system. As with lubricating fluids, hydraulic fluids have limits on the acceptable operating temperature range for high and low temperatures. Incorrect hydraulic oil will only result in future performance failure of your machinery equipment.
When assessing your hydraulic fluids/oils, it’s also important to factor in the state of your hydraulic hoses. In colder temperatures, the outer wrapper of the hydraulic hose flexes, which can cause cracks in the hose. While a crack in your hydraulic hose won’t necessary stop your machine in its tracks, it’s best to prepare your hose for colder temperatures ahead of time. To accomplish this, simply run your machine for as long as it takes for the hydraulic oil temperature to reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees Celsius). Once it reaches this temperature, continue to run the machine for another hour. If your region experiences extreme temperature drops, you can apply arctic hydraulic oil paired with normal machine use to help condition your hydraulic hose.
Additional Areas of Focus
While we’ve focused on eight core areas, there are additional best practices out there to be aware of. Keep in mind the following when working through your winterization checklist:
Make checking your tires during the colder months a daily routine. Cooler temperatures cause tires to lose air more quickly than in warmer weather. When inflating your tire, do so in a heated area if possible. This will help improve the tire bead seal. Additionally, Caterpillar® recommends utilizing dry nitrogen gas for inflation, as this helps eliminate ice crystals. When ice crystals form on your tires, they force the valve stem open and cause unnecessary deflation. Check your local Alban CAT for dry nitrogen availability.
The simplest step is usually the one that’s overlooked. While you can use the steps outlined in these best practices to prepare your machine, there’s nothing easier than taking a minute to walk around your machine and do a visual inspection of all its parts.
As you make your way around your machine, stop to check your electrical wiring, attachments and hoses before operation. Pay special attention to hydraulic hoses, belts and tires: Are there any visible cracks, cuts or worn spots? While you conduct your inspection, make sure to wipe off or remove any snow, dirt or debris that has built up from the daily operations. Finally, before winter temperatures set in, schedule an undercarriage inspection at your local Alban CAT service department to ensure you won’t run into any issues once snow and ice are a factor.
To ensure that your hoses are in proper working condition, take one in your hand and squeeze firmly. If the rubber is soft, lifeless, hard or brittle, you have an issue. If your hose is too soft, it could mean that it has been exposed to oil or grease and has the potential to rupture under pressure.
Conversely, if your hose is brittle or hard when you squeeze it, that could mean that the hose has been “over cooked” by the engine’s heat and has the potential to crack under additional exposure. In both situations, soft or brittle, a replacement hose is required. Once a brittle hose has been replaced, try to reroute it to a cooler area of the engine to decrease the chances of it over cooking again. Be sure when rerouting that the hose isn’t rubbing against other engine or under-hood components.
Antifreeze and Water
It’s important when premixing antifreeze to get the correct percentage blend, especially to ensure consistent performance throughout colder temperatures. In order to protect against freezing to -34 degrees Fahrenheit (-36 degrees Celsius), use a 50-percent mix with good quality water. Depending on the situation, you can increase the mixture to a maximum of 60 percent antifreeze.Exceeding the maximum of 60-percent blend of antifreeze would cause the
Exceeding the maximum of 60-percent blend of antifreeze would cause the freeze point to rise. As an example, using a 100-percent solution of antifreeze will only protect to 0 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius). For our Mid-Atlantic clients, and certainly for our clients utilizing their construction equipment here in Maryland, coverage for 0 degrees Fahrenheit simply won’t cut it.
Taking it a step further, if you were to use an 80-percent mix, the resulting issues can include a decrease in heat transfer, which can further lead to ring wear, bearing problems and lube-oil breakdown.
When it comes to water, the better the quality, the better the outcome. If at all possible, avoid using water that carries an abundance of grit or sand. Additionally, water that is hard or high in mineral content should be avoided. A general rule of thumb for water hardness is to keep levels below 300 ppm of chloride and 100 ppm of sulfate.
Separate from your conveyor belt, if applicable, you will also need to check your fan belts for condition, tension and alignment. More often than not, the most common issues with equipment fan belts are that they have been incorrectly signed or are over/under-tensioned. While over-tensioned belts are not ideal, under-tensioned belts actually pose a worse threat, as they have a tendency to slip.
To check belt-tension, use a belt-tension gauge, looking for a deflection of 0.016 inch for every inch of belt. As you’re checking your belts, make sure to run your engine at full load. After a short period of time, shut off your machine and touch the belt. If it’s hot to the touch, there’s an issue. Additionally, if a belt needs to be replaced, replace it in matched sets.
Regardless of your efforts, there’s a good chance you’ll generate some hazardous wastes. Some of the equipment that can generate waste includes:
- Engine oil
- Diesel fuel
- Paints and paint solvents
- Cleaning solvents
When dealing with hazardous waste, follow the appropriate disposal instructions provided by your local U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as each state has its own requirements. If you’ve only produced a small amount of waste, it may be advantageous to work with the companies that supplied your products. Contact your local Alban CAT to understand the best way of recycling/disposing of your CAT purchased products.
In general, petroleum suppliers often take back used oil and fuel, as do tire dealers. For antifreeze, you may be able to sell to recyclers, depending on your location. For oil and coolant filters, draining and crushing them before disposal is the best practice.
Best Practices for Winter’s Worst
With our industry-tested best-practices, you can rest easy knowing your equipment will be prepared to handle winter’s worst. When winterizing your heavy equipment or searching for new construction equipment in the Maryland or Mid-Atlantic region, our Alban CAT service representatives are available and ready to help you fight back against Jack Frost, Mother Nature and whatever else winter has in store for you.