9 Tips to Keep Your Construction Equipment in Good Shape During the Cold Winter

SOURCE: Volvo CE | January 28, 2021

The winter cold is good reason to make sure you and your operators are inspecting machines thoroughly each day and following proper operating procedures to prevent accidental wear and tear, or even downtime. If you plan to store machines during the winter, there are preventive measures you can also take.

If you work in the colder northern states — or if temperatures are expected to drop significantly for a period of time — these construction equipment winter maintenance tips can save you money and keep you up and running more efficiently and safely. Volvo CE has ten tips for making sure your construction equipment is maintained all winter while maintaining uptime efficiency.

1. If temperatures are below freezing, keep an eye on your diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). DEF fault codes that you get via telematics programs like CareTrack® — or even ones that pop up on an operator’s screen — should be addressed immediately. AdBlue®/DEF freezes at 12° F (-11° C) and it may not thaw in the predetermined time set up by your machine’s software. When that happens, you’ll likely get a fault code to address it. It’s important that your operators either get these codes or are properly trained to wait the preset amount of time for it to warm up before operation.

Systems are built to know when the DEF is frozen or not frozen. Operators can actually run their machines after they spend a few minutes to warm up the engine and oils. Machines are designed to run with frozen DEF for a determined amount of time before it takes a new reading to see if it’s thawed. If it’s still frozen and cannot dose, it will set a code and/or derate the engine. Check with your dealer to see what that determined amount of time is, and if the DEF hasn’t thawed yet, shut the machine off before the engine derates or codes up. When you restart the machine, it will reset the clock on when the ECU will check the DEF temperature again. This will help to get you out of a predicament until the root cause can be found and repaired.

If you’re storing equipment for the winter, we recommend draining your DEF tank before storage. Check out this related blog post for additional tips for storing and handling DEF. After winter storage, remember to flush the tank with distilled water or fresh DEF before filling with new DEF if the machine was shut down all winter.

Note: Freezing won’t hurt your DEF, as it’s 66% distilled water — it’s more hot temperature and sun sensitive than it is freezing sensitive.

2. Load up the engine to create enough heat for regens. Your operators may have to do some heavy or hard work with the machine if they’re typically only running light or short cycles. Sometimes normal operations just aren’t enough to heat the exhaust so it’ll perform a regen — excessive idle times can prevent proper heat up as well.

If the machine never gets warm enough to actually get passive regeneration, pretty soon you’ll be in a fault situation. You’ve got to work the machine to get it hot. Your emissions system loves the heat.

3. Use the seasonally correct fuel in colder months. You may see different fault codes pop up if your fuel starts to gel — using an incorrect fuel during the winter is usually the culprit. In the summertime, a lot of contractors prefer to run No. 2 diesel fuel — it’s cheaper and better for their machines. But No. 2 diesel at -20 or -30° F starts to gel up unless you put additives in it (and too many additives can also cause issues). No. 1 diesel performs better than No. 2 in cold temperatures because it has a lower viscosity, making it less prone to gel in freezing temperatures. Be sure to change or run out your No. 2 fuel before it gets cold so you can avoid these issues.We also recommend that you fill fuel tanks after shifts or when stored for a period of time to prevent condensation in the tank.

4. Use seasonally appropriate oils, greases and fluids. The grade of oil in your machines matters. A machine that comes from the factory, for example, might use an ISO 46 hydraulic oil for the wheels. This isn’t a great low-temperature oil because when if it gets extremely cold, it gets thick and doesn’t move well. For functions that don’t get a lot of circulation, it’s like molasses in the line.

Brakes are another great example. Extreme cold can freeze machine brakes and prevent them from releasing. If you’re running a machine in the wintertime, you have to preemptively change the fluid out with an arctic grade or lower-temp oil/fluid. Freezing temperatures can also break reservoirs, pumps and hoses if the wrong fluids are used, causing unnecessary downtime.

For greases, if you don’t have an auto greaser, you have to grease the lines. You most likely won’t get normal grease to push through the line at low temperatures, so it’s important to prime your system with low-temp grease.

5. If you work in extremely cold regions, properly idle your machines overnight. Operating in places where it can reach -40 or -50° F means you could spend all day warming a machine up just to get it started. That’s why in some regions, machines actually never shut off. They’re left to idle all night — for days or months at a time — because the cold can make them too difficult to start the next shift.

It’s important to know that if you leave machines idling unattended, you can’t just leave them at idle — you have to increase the exhaust temperature because you can destroy an engine idling at 700 or 800 rpms. You need to idle machines overnight at around 1200 rpms.

The reason is because the air is so cold, you won’t get complete burn of your fuel and it will wash the cylinders (i.e., wash the lubricating oil from your rings and liner walls). It will actually eat an engine up. If you idle at 1100 or 1200 rpms, however, you can prevent unnecessary maintenance costs down the road.

Note: We don’t recommend overnight idling unless you operate in regions with extremely cold temperatures over an extended period of time. Long idling burns fuel, adds hours to your machines, elevates soot load and more. But in these types of environments, overnight idling can actually be more efficient than trying to restart machines from the cold. It’s the lesser of two evils, so to speak.

Auto-start systems, block heaters and air heaters are a good alternative. Instead of having a machine run all night, auto-start monitors the engine temperature and battery voltage and automatically starts the engine to bring the temperature and voltage up, and then shuts the machine back down. Block and air heaters use the machine’s fuel to keep vital components warm.

6. Clean your machines at the end of the day. This includes the track, undercarriage, driveline, articulation joints and steer cylinders. If they get muddy and it’s below freezing, they’ll freeze overnight. Frozen mud is a lot like concrete — it’s much more difficult to chisel and pry out than ice. Frozen mud in the tracks can easily damage the tracks, pins and rollers if an operator tries to run the machine.

7. Service your fire suppression battery monthly. Also, the fire suppression extinguishing agent function temperature is -22° F to 140° F (-30° C to 60° C). If your machine was in a warmer climate and now works in a cold climate that reaches -22 °F (-30° C), you’ll have to use a different system for fire suppression.

8. Protect exposed cylinders with protective spray to prevent corrosion. This applies if you have a machine you intend to store all winter. If it’s frozen and it’s not being run every once in a while, the chrome on the cylinder rods may become rusty and cause pitting which will damage the cylinder seals and cause oil leaks when the machine starts to operate again.

9. Protect yourself. Winter months mean darker jobsites, so be sure to check that all lights are in working order and your operators can clearly see everything around them. Also keep your stairs and walk areas clear of snow and ice to help prevent accidents.

If you run equipment in extremely cold regions, telematics monitoring programs like Volvo’s ActiveCare Direct can help you and your dealer proactively spot potential issues before they become major machine down issues. Visit our ActiveCare Direct web page to learn more about the benefits customers are experiencing to lower costs and improve uptime during the wintertime, or any time of year.

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