Though construction slows in colder climates when the temperature dips, winter is when municipalities 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, public works directors 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, compact equipment owners should refer to their manufacturer’s owner’s manual where they’ll 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 skid-steer loader. As weather turns colder, items that should be checked include fluids, oils and fuels, tire pressure, battery life and cold-climate comfort features such as heating, defrosting and defogging systems.
“Cold temperatures can affect the machine in different ways,” says Mike Fitzgerald, loader product specialist for Bobcat Company.
Fluids, Oils and Fuels
Some of the most important winter checkup items are a skid-steer loader’s fluids. If a skid-steer loader doesn’t have the proper engine oil, engine coolant, hydraulic oil and fuel for operating in colder weather, an operator will find that his skid-steer loader’s performance isn’t up to par. Fitzgerald says municipal 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’s 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, Fitzgerald says.
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’s typically not required to use anything other than normal No. 2 grade diesel fuel, government operations in far northern regions may want to consider an alternative diesel fuel. In extreme cold weather conditions, diesel fuel can gel.
Pair advanced fluids to Tier 4 machines
Today’s skid-steer 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 fuel and oil selection to prevent downtime issues. “Interim Tier 4 and Tier 4 engines require ultra-low sulfur diesel that burns cleaner in the new exhaust treatment devices and systems designed to lower engine emissions,” Fitzgerald says, pointing out that CJ-4 oil is required for these engines as it is formulated to reduce ash. Additional filters on storage and transfer tanks will also help ensure clean fluids.
Treat attachments equal
A skid-steer 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, auger flighting and teeth, 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’s 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 skid-steer loader’s sagging tires. Low tire pressure can translate into lower lift and push capabilities, especially for those rental customers who intend to use the loader for clearing snow. Those responsible for government fleets should check the owner’s manual for the proper psi and inflate the tires accordingly.
“If the tire had a small leak or a nail stuck in it, and you filled it up once or twice a week in the summer; in the cold weather, you’ll be filling it up once or twice a day,” Fitzgerald says.
Downtime is unavoidable if you have a dead battery. There’s nothing worse than needing to quickly respond to a snow or ice storm in which the public depends on clean public walkway or roadway, only to find that it won’t 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 over and deliver oil to the engine. That’s why government fleets in colder climates go through batteries faster than those in warmer climates. So, it’s 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 amps.
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, defogging and defrosting systems. To keep operators comfortable and productive, inspect each system and perform routine maintenance as specified in the owner’s manual, Fitzgerald says.
Also, inspect the cab’s door and window seals to ensure heat won’t 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 a skid-steer loader, so it’s vital that they stay warm and comfortable.