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10 ways to keep winter from winning

Friday, November 13, 2015

While some of you will bask in a relatively mild winter, others will share a collective grimace with me when we see the flakes start falling. I have already worked in snow a couple times this fall. Unarguably, the winter weather makes our job more challenging. However, there ARE things we can do to keep our customers rolling, and our jobs a bit easier.

There are 3 main areas of concern are:
Starting, operability, and traction.
Deficiency in any of these will mean compromised useage, higher costs, and potential danger to operators.

Let’s run through a basic winter check.
Performing these now will help you avoid a chilly callout when the mercury drops.

1. Start with the starting & charging system.
Test the battery with a load tester. Any battery that is “borderline” is going to be problematic in the cold. Plus, it is cheaper to deal with it now, rather than risk a service call and downtime when the frosty mornings start. Make sure the terminals and cables are tight, clean, and sealed.

Next item is doing a test for excessive starter draw and sufficient alternator output. Again, if it is questionable, advise your customer and let them make the decision based on the possibilities. Some customers will be proactive, some will pinch pennies… But they won’t be able to blame you when the truck won’t start and they have an urgent cargo to move!

2. Cooling system and heater
I like to start with a pressure test. Use the pressure the cap is rated for, and then inspect for leaks at the hoses, radiator, water pump and LPG system.
Confirm the level is good and that the coolant is in good condition. Check concentration(to avoid freeze-up) and ph level (to avoid head and gasket damage). Grab the hoses and make sure they are not spongy (usually indicates contaminated or acidic coolant) or hardened (indicates excessive temperature). Then run the unit for 5 minutes. Check to confirm unit is warming up properly. A thermostat that isn’t working properly will keep the unit from working efficiently, and in cold climates, may cause regulator freezeup.

3. Tuneup. If the ignition system is out of adjustment or in worn condition, it will often begin to show up as a hard start when the temperature plummets. Check plug condition and find out when tuneup was last due. Keep in mind that plugs that look good don’t mean the wires and cap are good. Be thorough, it really doesn’t take long. And change the LPG filter when you perform a tuneup.

4. Block & hydraulic heaters
In truly cold areas (like here in Northern Canada… I have worked in -55 degrees Fahrenheit! Yes, below zero) it’s a good idea to use heaters for the engine coolant (and oilpan heaters for diesels) and the hydraulic tanks. If you have these installed, check the cord prongs with an ohmmeter. There should be between 15-50 ohms resistance when testing between the main prongs, and it should be open circuit from either prong to the ground prong.

5. Tires
Tires need to have good tread depth, and siping will help quite a bit on icy surfaces. I used to maintain a fleet for a large warehouse grocery store, and the tires were identical in all except that one unit had siping. It outperformed everything else on ice, snow, or slush. If you operate in an unpaved area, chains are an option. Be aware that many forklifts do not have enough clearance for regular chains, but cable-type chains work very well as long as you don’t have operators with more boot than brain.

6. Lights Good lights are a big factor in safe and efficient operation when the days are darker. They also help in snowy or rainy conditions. There are some really good LED options now that outshine and outlast conventional lighting, without breaking the bank. I have had nothing but positive feedback from customers who have upgraded to LEDs.

7. Fuels & Oils
LPG units are more prone to tar issues in the winter weather, so clean or replace the regulator as required. Diesel units will need the water separator drained. Be aware that diesel fuel is temperature sensitive. Very cold temps will cause wax particles to cloud and congeal. Use a high quality additive like Howe’s to avoid clogged filters and injectors. Engine oils need to be changed to manufacturer spec for the temp range it will be operated in. I recommend reading this article about oils.

8. Starting aids
Confirm proper operation of chokes. Test glow plug and manifold heaters to make sure they are working well.

9. Accessories
There are many devices available to enhance utility in the winter. Consider a snowplow for light duty clearing needs, and a gritbin for icy conditions.

10. Operator Education This is probably the most critical, and most overlooked of all. Operators new to know how to warm up a cold unit properly. Start and idle for 5-8 minutes with no load, then lightly operate each function to allow hydraulic oil To circulate. I have seen very expensive repairs required because of operators firing up and launching without warmup.

What tips or questions do you have about winter operation? Share with us below.

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Contributed by Jason Fancy, email

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