How to Prepare Skid-Steer Loaders for Winter
When the project calls for winter work, contractors count on skid-steer loaders to keep the operation running smoothly. Skid-steer loaders are tough enough to make the transition to the cold and snow. And they have the versatility to move from general construction work to snow and ice removal and back with ease.
To ensure equipment stays in peak operating condition, fall is the best time to begin thinking about winterizing your skid-steer loader. Follow these seasonal maintenance tips to keep your machine in top shape through the long winter.
Change Fluids With the Season
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, grease and fuel for operating in colder weather, an operator will find that performance isn’t up to par. Fill up with the proper cold-weather fluids to minimize maintenance problems.
You’ll need an engine oil viscosity that matches the temperature outside. A 10W-30 is a common factory fill that performs down to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. For better cold-weather starting and lubrication, use a 5W-40 synthetic oil. They typically protect down to 40 below.
Antifreeze is just as important for your skid-steer loader as it is for your car or truck. Test it and top it off before the weather turns.
Synthetic blends provide good cold-weather performance. Depending on where you live, you may need a high-performance hydraulic lubricant. They’re custom blended to give you peak flow in subzero temperatures.
Many machines require grease as a lubricant in pivot points where pins and bushings are located. The lubrication points need to have grease added at various intervals specified by the machine manufacturer. If used correctly, the right type of grease will help extend the life of components. There are various types of grease available as classified by the National Lubricating Grease Institute (NLGI), and their different properties should be properly matched to your application:
- Multipurpose #2: Developed for normal applications, it provides lubrication to prevent rust and corrosion and protection under heavy and shock loads.
- Heavy duty: Containing moly for better adherence to all surfaces, it offers water resistance, extreme pressure capabilities, pumpability in cold temperatures and good seal compatibility.
- High performance/synthetic: Formulated to provide high and low temperature performance in severe operating conditions, it’s intended for lube points with sliding and pivoting movements.
Make sure to keep the fuel tank topped off to minimize condensation buildup in the tank, and routinely remove water from the fuel filter. Additionally, use only clean, high-quality diesel fuel that is grade number 2-D or 1-D. Reference the table for specific recommendations based on temperature.
Your compact equipment manufacturer likely has a recommendation for the oils, fuels and fluids specific to your skid-steer loader and cold weather conditions. Double-check your operation and maintenance manual before you transition to cold weather fluids.
Fill Cold Tires
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. Cold weather also makes the rubber go stiff. If you notice your tires sagging after a dip in temperature, fill them to capacity. Repair any leaks suffered in the busy season. A small leak or nail in the tire is easy to put off in warmer weather – you may only have to fill your tire once a week. In winter, once a week can turn into once a day. You’ll eliminate a lot of wasted time and ensure that low tire pressure doesn’t sap your pushing and lifting power throughout the day.
Charge the Battery
Freezing temps force the battery in your skid-steer loader to crank twice as hard to turn over, deliver fuel to the engine and start. To avoid the possibility of a dead battery, run a load test and check wires and connections for wear or corrosion. Even a small defect can result in a loss of cranking amps, leaving you with a dead battery and unavoidable downtime.
Check the Cab Comfort Features
When it comes to safety and comfort, freezing temperatures are nothing to fool around with, especially if you spend up to 12 hours a day inside the cab of your skid-steer loader. Don’t let your skid-steer loader leave the garage without checking everything that keeps the cab warm. Inspect the door and window seals to make sure heat won’t escape. Test the heating, defogging and defrosting systems to ensure they are working properly. If any of those systems go out on the job, it will make for a long, uncomfortable day for you or another operator.
Prepare Commonly Used Attachments
A skid-steer loader’s attachments are the tools that deliver the versatility needed to remove snow and ice.
Attachments deserve the same attention as the skid-steer loader. Inspect the hoses, cylinders and guards, cutting blades, and edges for signs of wear or damage. If the attachment requires hydraulic fluid or lubrication, check the levels before you head out into the cold. This is especially important for snow removal attachments that have been collecting dust in your garage since spring.
If you can’t justify the investment in owning seasonal attachments, another option is renting a seasonal attachment from your local compact equipment dealer. A low-cost attachment does more than lighten the load of manual labor. It takes the place of a dedicated snow-clearing machine or subcontracting the work, saving you thousands of dollars. Invest in a variety of snow attachments to clear away snow and ice. The most popular attachments include:
- Angle brooms: Push snowfalls of six inches.
- Buckets: Handle large volumes with a high back for pushing and straight sides cutting through snow piles.
- Blades: Remove light to moderate amounts of snow cleanly with a sharp cutting edge. V-shaped blades plow deep drifts and push large piles in bigger areas like parking lots, driveways and roads.
- Pushers: Clear snow from uneven surfaces without damaging the hardscape or a sloped sidewalk.
- Snow blowers: Throw and blow snow wherever the job demands with a directional, rotating chute. Some models have a truck-loading chute for moving snow off-site.
- Spreaders: Apply salt and sand to give compact equipment the traction to work in winter and for people to walk safely.
- Scrapers: Break up hard-packed snow and ice from the pavement.
Construction projects don’t shut down for three months just because it’s winter. Many jobsites move along as if winter never came. As summer transitions into fall, make the time to ready your skid-steer loader for the winter season. It only takes a handful of preventive steps and a stock of the right snow removal attachments to ensure you don’t lose productivity and efficiency this winter.