With winter just around the corner, it’s time to start preparing your vehicles for cold-weather operation. Here are some points you may want to consider now and in the months ahead.
Antifreeze. All vehicles need antifreeze in their engine coolant systems, no matter how warm the climate. Not only does antifreeze provide freeze protection, but it also lubricates the water pump, helps prevent internal corrosion and prolongs the life of seals. Follow the engine manufacturer’s recommendations for the type and concentration of antifreeze mixture. If the coolant system hasn’t been drained in several years, consider taking the vehicle to a qualified shop to have the system flushed and new antifreeze added.
Fuel. Most fuel distributors automatically switch to an appropriate blend for cold-weather operating conditions in specific areas. If you store and dispense your own fuel, consult the engine manufacturer’s manual for fuel requirements and additive recommendations. Installing heated fuel/water separators on vehicles can help prevent damage to fuel injectors.
Oil. Engine manufacturers have very specific recommendations for motor oil usage in cold weather. Most users simply pick the appropriate multi-viscosity oil grade to provide year-around protection.
Hydraulic fluids. Some hydraulic systems require special fluids when ambient temperatures drop below freezing. The cab tilt system is one of them. Consult the apparatus manufacturer’s operation and maintenance manual for specific recommendations to prevent inadvertent lockup when raising or lowering the cab.
Winter fronts. Most apparatus do not need winter fronts except in extremely cold conditions. Follow the apparatus manufacturer’s recommendations and always install the winter front on the cab grille, not the radiator face. Older-style winter fronts with V-shaped openings at the top and bottom cause uneven flow patterns that can damage the fan blades. Always use a winter front with a single round opening in the center.
Tire chains. Some custom apparatus do not have sufficient clearances around the tires to allow the use of wraparound chains. This determination depends on the tires, suspensions, bodies and other components. Automatic tire chains don’t have this problem, but require operation under specific conditions — including the speeds at which they can be engaged and disengaged. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and advise all drivers of the proper operating conditions and restrictions.
Air dryers. Air dryers are designed to remove moisture from the incoming air before it can clog or freeze brake valves and other air brake system components. During cold weather, the water in the air dryer can freeze up if it doesn’t have an internal heating element. Retrofit one, if needed. If the air dryer does not have an automatic drain valve, activate the manual drain once a day. Drain all the air tanks periodically as well — not just the wet tank.
Batteries. Keep the water level above the level of the plates in batteries equipped with removable fill caps. Never attempt to jump start a frozen battery because it could explode. Instead, remove the battery from the vehicle, bring it into a warm room, and let it thaw before recharging.
Engine heaters. Vehicles stored in unheated stations should be equipped with engine block heaters to keep the coolant warm. Follow the engine manufacturer’s recommendations and provide a device or procedure to disconnect the shoreline power cord before the vehicle is moved.
Pumps. Pump manufacturers may have specific recommendations for storage and operation of pumps under very cold conditions. Consult the pump operation and maintenance manual. In most cases, the auxiliary pump cooler should be shut off permanently during cold weather.
Other components. Winter also brings reduced visibility, poor road conditions and the potential for power outages. Now would be a good time to check the operation of your vehicle warning lights, perimeter lights, hydraulic rescue tools and generators. Install reflective striping inside cab doors as required. Purchase reflective vests and traffic cones to improve safety at roadway incidents.
Winter brings special hazards and requires special preparations. Checking equipment and performing maintenance now is easier than when the cold winds start to blow.