By Mark Hall
Like it or not, it's time to start thinking about winter again. Even if you're ready for the coming season, it's important to make sure your winter-maintenance equipment is too. Nothing good can come from sending a spreader into battle at less than 100%. The following are tips to help keep your spreader winter ready.
1. READ THE MANUAL
No single article could adequately address everything there is to know about spreader maintenance, simply because there are so many equipment variations and options available. Clearly, a spreader built with polyethylene requires a different maintenance approach than one constructed of steel or stainless steel. Procedures also vary based on whether the spreader is powered by gas, hydraulics, or electricity. The unit's material delivery system — whether gravity-fed, auger-fed, or conveyor-fed — also impacts maintenance needs.
With so many differences in spreaders, the best solution is to follow the suggested procedures outlined in the maintenance section of the owner's manual. A good manual includes specific details such as proper belt and chain tension settings, and identifies common grease points. Engine-powered spreaders should also have an individual manual from the engine manufacturer providing maintenance details for the engine itself.
It's in spreader manufacturers' best interests to keep customers satisfied with equipment performance. That's why they take the time to provide a manual to help users keep their spreaders in optimal condition from one season to the next. And with the productivity of their fleets on the line, it only makes sense for municipalities to take advantage of this information.
2. KEEP IT CLEAN
There are some universal maintenance practices that should be used for any spreader. One of these is a simple cleaning.
A thorough cleaning is particularly important for spreaders with metal hoppers because residual salt will corrode the surface and eventually lead to rust. Since so many de-icing materials are corrosive in nature, metal hoppers should be cleaned out after every use. Even if the spreader was cleaned before storage, it's still a good idea to clean it again as a new season approaches — to ensure that any caked-on salt has been completely removed from the surface.
Water is generally all that's needed to clean the hopper and other spreader components. Just prop the spreader up on its side and hose it out. The water will carry any dust, dirt, or de-icing material with it as it flows from the hopper. Some people like to use chemicals during the cleaning process, but it's worth noting that alkaline-based cleaners like those containing acetone, benzene, leaded gasoline, or brake cleaner should not be used when cleaning hoppers made of polyethylene. These chemicals can damage poly and hurt its structural integrity.
Cleaning also presents an opportunity to check equipment for areas where paint or finish may have been scratched or chipped off to expose metal below. These areas should be touched up to reduce the possibility of corrosion and rust. You should also look over components to see if any need to be replaced or repaired.
3. TIME FOR GREASE
After cleaning and perhaps a few touch-ups or fixes, the next step is to grease all necessary parts. Components vary from one spreader to the next, but every unit has at least some moving parts and connectors that require lubrication.
For electric-powered spreaders or other units with electrical connections for components, such as lights, apply a coat of dielectric grease to all terminals to prevent corrosion and ensure easy reconnection. Also, apply dielectric grease any time these terminals are disconnected.
Lubricate all moving parts (bearings, chains, conveyors, rollers, augers etc.) with a good-quality multipurpose grease or oil. The same applies for integrated grease fittings. How much time, effort, and grease is needed will differ depending on the type of spreader. Conveyor-fed units and some other models have more moving parts and therefore require more lubrication. Conversely, some auger-fed spreaders operate without pulleys, chains, and conveyors, so they only need grease in a few areas to facilitate auger articulation. Check your owner's manual to determine where and how much lubrication is necessary.
4. TIGHTEN THE BELT
If you're using a spreader with belts, chains, or conveyors, be sure to adjust the tension before the season starts. You should also do this throughout the winter to reduce the chances of slippage or other performance issues. How tension is adjusted will vary depending on the spreader, so consult the owner's manual before making modifications.
Some aspects of tension adjustment are universal, however. For example, the drive belt or chain should never be over-tightened, as it could damage the motor or gearbox bearing. Additionally, before attempting to adjust conveyor belt tension, check to make sure that no sand or de-icing material is trapped underneath the belt.
5. PERFORM ENGINE AND HYDRAULIC CHECKS
Engine- and hydraulic-powered spreaders will need to undergo some additional pre-season maintenance.
An engine, like the spreader itself, should be cleaned before returning to work, especially since users may not get around to it once the season begins. This can be done simply by spraying with water to remove any residual salt to guard against corrosion of metal engine components. After that, keep track of the service intervals for oil and air filter changes, spark plug inspections, and other maintenance checks suggested by the engine manufacturer in the manual.
For hydraulically powered spreaders, be sure to change the hydraulic fluid, unless of course it was already changed prior to being stored for the off-season. Use a new hydraulic fluid of the type and viscosity recommended by the pump manufacturer. Then inspect all hoses and fittings for any signs of damage or leaks and take care of any problems you come across.
READY FOR ACTION
It can be easy to forget your spreaders when there are plenty of larger machines to maintain, but your spreaders are subjected to such harsh weather and corrosive materials that it's important to dedicate some time and attention to preseason preparation. The snow isn't going to slow down this winter, and chances are your budget doesn't have room for your spreaders to slow down either.
— Hall is director of marketing and sales for TrynEx International in Warren, Mich.