Now that winter's over, it's easy to forget that salter/sander while your attention turns to mowers, skidsteers, and other warm-weather tools.

But try not to. Give that winter-weather hero a bit of TLC.

1) Read the owner's manual. With all the spreader configurations on the market, you can't afford to take a cookie-cutter approach to maintenance.

Spreaders can be made of steel, stainless steel, or polyethylene; they can be gas-, hydraulic-, and/or electric-powered; and their material delivery systems can be gravity-fed, auger-fed or conveyor-fed with and without chains and pulleys. Each has a unique variation that requires a different maintenance plan.

The manual of any manufacturer worth its salt (no pun intended) includes a section addressing all suggested procedures. This includes more than just basic bullet points, but specific details such as proper belt and chain tension settings and identifying common grease points. If the spreader is engine-powered, there should be a separate manual from the engine manufacturer that includes maintenance details.

Manufacturers spend hours assembling this information with one purpose in mind: to keep spreaders working in prime condition from one season to the next so customers keep praising their equipment. So break open that spreader manual and reference the wealth of material within.

2) Clean the hopper and touch up damage. A good cleaning reveals worn or damaged components that require repair or replacement.

This step is most important with metal hoppers to prevent residual salt from corroding the surface and leading to rust. (In fact, metal hoppers should be cleaned after each use.)

But even corrosion-free polyethylene should be thoroughly cleaned to remove caked-on salt and reveal damaged components. Don't use abrasive or alkaline-based cleaners such as those containing acetone, benzene, leaded gasoline, or brake cleaner. These chemicals compromise the hopper's structural integrity by damaging the polyethylene.

For the most part, water's all you need. Simply prop the spreader on its side and hose it out, allowing the water to naturally flow from the hopper and carry away any dust, dirt, and de-icing material.

Once the spreader's clean, touch up areas where paint or some other finish has been scratched or chipped off to expose the metal below. This will minimize rust and corrosion.

3) Grease all necessary components. All spreaders have moving parts and connectors that need to stay limber and receptive.

For any electric-powered spreaders or those with electric connections for components, such as lights, all terminals should be applied with a coat of dielectric grease. In fact, because this activity prevents corrosion and ensures easy reconnection, grease the terminals any time they're disconnected.

Lubricate moving parts such as bearings, chains, conveyors, rollers, and augers with a good-quality multipurpose grease or oil. The same goes for any integrated grease fittings.

Once again, though, this step varies based on the type of spreader being maintained.

Some models, such as those that are conveyor-fed, require more lubrication because they have more moving parts. On the other hand, some auger-fed models don't have chains, pulleys, conveyors, etc., and therefore only require a couple of areas to be greased to facilitate articulation. Refer to the owner's manual to identify lubrication points and appropriate amounts.

4) Adjust belt, chain, and/or conveyor tension. And not just at the end of the season, but throughout the year to reduce slippage and performance problems.

How, and to what degree, to adjust tension is unique to each spreader - again, refer to the owner's manual before attempting any modifications - but some points are universal.

Be careful not to over-tighten because this could lead to damaging the motor or gearbox bearing. Before making an adjustment, make sure there's no de-icing material or sand trapped or frozen between the conveyor belt and the surface below.

5) Clean the engine and/or change hydraulic fluid of units powered by engines or hydraulics.

Spray the engine with water to remove residual salt and protect metal components from corrosion. Next, drain the fuel tank or provide an additive to keep gas fresh during storage. Beyond these simple steps, conduct other maintenance procedures and service intervals - i.e., changing the oil and air filter, inspecting and cleaning spark plugs - based on the manufacturer's recommendations.

Replace used hydraulic fluid with new fluid of the proper type and viscosity as recommended by the pump manufacturer. Then check the hoses and fittings for possible damage or leaks and repair/replace as necessary. Finally, cap hydraulic connectors to prevent system contamination during storage.

6) Put it to bed. Cleaned, touched up, lubricated, and adjusted, the spreader is ready for storage. But even this step comes with manufacturer suggestions.

First, pick a location that's dry and protected from the elements. This is particularly important for steel-hopper spreaders because moisture leads to corrosion and rust. Otherwise, keep the unit out of the sun as much as possible to reduce paint fading - even those made of high-density, UV-stabilized polyethylene hoppers.

Tip V-box-style spreaders up on one end, preferably against a wall or solid structure so it can be secured with straps or bungee cables. This frees up space for other equipment and reduces the chance of service vehicles running into and damaging the unit.

Some spreaders have a removable spinner assembly to provide access to the vehicle's trailer hitch during maintenance. But a secondary benefit is the ability to remove and store this more sensitive component in a protected location.

Spreader maintenance is far from sophisticated, so it isn't always a fleet manager's top concern. But it's important to remember that a good spreader is no small investment, and proper care now will lead to years of use. PW

- Mark Hall (mark.hall@trynexfactory.com) is director of marketing and sales for SnowEx in Warren, Mich.