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In Iowa, the Des Moines Fleet Services Division has reduced the time it spends on seasonal preparation with a scheduled preventive maintenance (PM) program and by using synthetic fuels. “During each PM, we perform a complete inspection of the machine and replace fluids based on recommended intervals,” says Bob Kraft, fleet services operations manager. Photo: Bobcat Co.

By Christina Schave

Of all the equipment in their fleets, public works directors say skid-steer loaders are the machines most commonly used in wintertime. Crews use machines for general construction work during warm months, then repurpose loaders with attachments for snow removal. To keep compact equipment in peak operating condition, equipment managers must begin thinking about winterizing as soon as the first leaves hit the ground.

Mike Fitzgerald, loader product specialist for Bobcat Co. , offers the following checklist of procedures and inspections that should be performed as weather turns colder, to prepare for the different ways cold temperatures can affect machinery.

1. Fluids, oils, and fuels

Without the proper engine oil, engine coolant, hydraulic oil, and fuel for cold weather, a skidsteer loader's performance won't be up to par. Refer to the operator's manual for instructions on filling machines with the correct fluids for winter conditions.

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.

Change fuel and hydraulic oil filters, as they may have collected water and debris over the spring and summer. This will help minimize future maintenance problems.

As with any automobile, the engine coolant — or antifreeze — in compact equipment should be tested according to manufacturers' specifications prior to the weather turning chilly.

The wrong fuel can also cause maintenance problems. In cold weather conditions, typical No. 2 diesel fuel can gel. Fleets in far northern regions may want to consider a cold-weather-rated No. 1 or blended diesel fuel.

Using approved anti-gel additives can minimize fuel-related problems.

2. Pair advanced fluids to Tier 4 machines

Today's skidsteer engines burn cleaner and run hotter, even in cold months. As the EPA's engine emissions standards take 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, which burns cleaner in the new exhaust treatment devices and systems designed to lower engine emissions,” Fitzgerald says. Advanced oil, called CJ-4, is required for these engines, as it is formulated to reduce ash. Delivery filters on fuel storage and transfer tanks will also help ensure clean fluids.

3. Treat attachments equally

Skidsteer loader attachments such as snow blades, snowblowers, angle brooms, and spreaders are some of the most popular and hardest-working tools during winter months, and deserve the same attention as the machine itself.

Visual checks of attachment components such as hoses, cylinders and guards, broom bristles, cutting blades, and edges can help determine if wear is developing or damage has occurred. Some attachments also require fluid-level checks and lubrication.

4. Tires and batteries

One of the first signs of cold weather may be a skidsteer loader's sagging tires, as their air pressure drops with the temperature. Low tire pressure can translate into unwanted down-time when you need a machine most. Check the owner's manual for the proper pounds/square inch (psi) and inflate tires accordingly.

Downtime is unavoidable, however, if you have a dead battery. There's nothing worse than needing to quickly respond to a snow or ice storm to clear public walkways or roadways, only to find that your machine won't start.

Cold weather plays havoc on batteries because it requires them to generate nearly twice as many cranking amps to turn over and deliver oil to the engine. That's why fleets in colder climates go through batteries faster than those in warmer climates.

It's imperative to have a load test performed on compact equipment batteries before the first snow hits the ground. Also, check the battery cables and connections for any wear or corrosion because such defects could result in hard starting.

5. Don't forget your operators

Once you've made sure your skidsteer loaders will perform at optimal levels in winter, you'll want to focus on operator comfort features, such as heating and defrosting systems. Inspect each system and perform routine maintenance — like changing cab air filters — as specified in the owner's manual.

Also, inspect the cab's door and window seals to ensure heat won't seep out, and install a new windshield wiper blade and cold-weather washer fluid.

Snow removal operators can spend as many as 12 hours a day inside the cab of a skidsteer loader, so it's vital that they stay warm and comfortable.

— Christina Schave (christinas@2rm.com) is responsible for Bobcat Co. public relations through Two Rivers Marketing, based in Des Moines, Iowa.