Winter may not be the end of the construction season, but without sufficient preparation, continuing to work once temperatures begin to drop and winter weather creeps in can be damaging to the heavy equipment fleets that keep the construction industry moving forward.

Instead of putting a halt to jobs during the cold season, follow these tips to winterize heavy equipment fleets so they’re ready to continue operations regardless of the weather.


Conduct Frequent Visual Inspections

Frequent visual inspections should always be part of a vehicle’s maintenance schedule, but once the temperatures start to drop, they become even more important. Cold and dry weather can be particularly detrimental to rubber components — including hoses, belts, gaskets, and more. The lack of ambient humidity can make these elements prone to dry rot and eventually failure. Rubber fittings on pressurized systems are particularly at risk because they are under additional stressors.

In cold weather, leaks that might not be apparent on a cursory inspection become much more obvious. The heat of the engine will condense water vapour from the air — similar to seeing one’s breath when exhaling in the cold — making it easier to follow the leaks to their source and complete any necessary repairs.


Protect Batteries From the Cold

Vehicle batteries are among the most vulnerable components in a heavy equipment fleet. As the temperature drops, batteries begin to lose their starting capacity. Lead-acid batteries, like the ones used in most vehicular applications, lose around 20% of their starting power when the temperature drops to 32°F (0°C). Once temperatures drop to -22°F (-30°C), that number climbs to more than 50%.

There’s a variety of different ways to prevent vehicle batteries from losing that starting capacity, from insulating them against the cold to installing battery warmers or even removing the battery when the vehicle is stored for the night and keeping it in a climate-controlled space. The goal is simply to keep the battery above 32°F (0°C) to prevent it from leaving operators stranded.


Check and Replace Oil

Not all oils are created equal, especially where the outdoor temperature is concerned. High-viscosity oils are valuable during the warm summer months, but they aren’t as functional in cold weather. Take the time to sample the oil in each vehicle to test its viscosity.

If it is above the recommended viscosity for the expected temperatures, then it’s time for an oil change. Opt for a thicker, lower-viscosity oil better suited to cold temperatures. These flow more smoothly when it’s cold and don’t take as long to warm up once the engine is started.

It goes without saying that when changing the oil, it is also a good idea to change the oil filters and air filters to ensure everything is functioning properly no matter the exterior temperature.


Check and Replace Antifreeze

Antifreeze is another fluid that needs to be inspected before cold winter weather starts cropping up. The antifreeze, or coolant, is necessary to prevent the engine from freezing up, as well as cooling it during operation. Once the temperature starts to drop, using the proper ratio of water to antifreeze is essential, especially if operators have been topping off the coolant system with water throughout the warm summer months.

Test the antifreeze within the cooling system reservoir with a hydrometer to determine whether the proper ratio exists. If it does not, the solution is as simple as draining the cooling system and refilling it with the proper water to antifreeze ratio, based on manufacturer recommendations.


Protect Against Rust

Rust is always a threat for equipment that operates outdoors, but during the winter months, the risk is even greater. Sleet, ice, and snow — especially when mixed with salt or other deicing chemicals designed to keep the ground from dangerously icing over — all contribute to the development of rust. This can be especially challenging on large pieces of equipment that don’t often have their undercarriages inspected or washed.

The easiest way to protect against rust is actually two-fold. Start by treating the undercarriage of each vehicle with rust protectant or preventative. Then, once the cold season starts and the roads are salted, ensure the undercarriage of each vehicle is cleaned well at least once a week, or once every two weeks.


Winterizing for Winter Home Construction

Winter may not be peak season for construction professionals, but that doesn’t mean work needs to stop entirely. Winterizing heavy equipment can help keep things moving even as temperatures begin to fall. Incorporate winterizing maintenance into a regular maintenance schedule to ensure cold weather won’t throw a wrench into any plans.


By Evelyn Long, Editor-in-Chief of Renovated.