Winter Ready: Getting Your Excavator Prepped for the Cold Season

Preparing Your Excavator for Winter

You may not want to hear it, but winter is just around the corner, and for much of the U.S. and Canada that means subzero temperatures, ice and snow are on the way. It also means that now is the time to start thinking about what you need to do to prepare your equipment for the harsher conditions ahead. So, whether you have a wheel loader, mini or large excavator, what does that mean for your machines?

We sat down with Joe Duplessis, district sales manager for SANY, to get some insights and tips on how to make sure your SANY excavators are ready to get work done all winter long.

Joe Duplessis, District Sales Manager for SANY

What Is Important to Get Done this Fall?

JD: As you start thinking about preparing for cold-weather operations this fall, the best tip I can offer is to be sure you are using good quality fuel that, if stored, is kept in clean containers. Additives are another line of defense to stock up on. Fuel additives are a critical component in cold weather and prevent your fuel from gelling, which can quickly stop your operations and leave your excavator inoperative and stuck in the cold.

Most, if not all, stations and end suppliers will switch to a winter blend in the cold, but it’s best to be prepared because if you can’t get your excavator started due to fuel issues, it’s a lot of work to get your fuel ungelled. A gelled excavator isn’t going anywhere, and you’re definitely not going to be able to get it inside to thaw. Keep the additive handy and make sure your fuel is ready to work when you are.

What Other Aspects of the Fuel System Require Attention?

JD: Consider just starting with routine maintenance. That’s something that should be done year-round anyway. For example, take time this fall while it’s still warm to drain the bottom of the fuel tank to remove any water that may have accumulated at the bottom of the tank. With freezing temperatures ahead, it’s critical to remove any water inside to prevent issues with ice and freezing.

Similarly, now is the time to check and change your fuel filters. The position of fuel filters on most excavators can leave them more exposed to the elements and further away from the heat of the engine, meaning that they can get colder first and lead to freezing or gelling issues. I also suggest using an OEM filter. It’s tempting to use the low-cost alternative, but bargain filters aren’t always the best quality. I always tell equipment owners that it makes no sense to me that you would buy equipment worth thousands of dollars but skimp on a simple filter to protect it.

Beyond Fuel, What Other Fluids Should I Check on My Excavator?

JD: First, check that your oil is the correct viscosity. This applies to both your engine oil and hydraulic oils. Make sure that the rated viscosity range for oil falls into the temperature range that you expect to be operating in during the winter season.

Fall is also a good time to check your antifreeze to make sure it is rated for use in freezing conditions. Finally, take time to grease up your machine in the fall – and all throughout the winter months. Keeping your excavator properly greased helps keep components moving as they should and prevents water from getting into different parts of the excavator. Nobody wants to get out the grease gun when its freezing cold, but just remember that it’s easier to grease up an excavator to keep it working than to deal with repairs and breakdowns when failure to grease leads to problems. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

What About Excavator Electrical Systems in Cold Weather?

JD: Your electrical system will be strained, especially in extreme cold weather, so make sure to check your electronics now before the temperatures drop. Test the health of your excavator’s battery and make sure that it’s healthy and retaining a charge well. Older batteries do not hold a charge as well when the weather is cold, so if you have any concerns with your battery, replace it in the fall to make sure you have the power you need to start your excavator this winter.

SANY Excavators in Winter

What Do You Suggest for Starting an Excavator in the Cold?

JD: Modern diesel engines include some kind of cold start aid. For most machines this will be a grid heater or glow plugs. Most machines also have block heaters, so consider plugging these in before you leave at night. An outlet with a timer works great to turn the block heater on a few hours before you arrive.

When you first arrive on the job site, turn the key and watch for the indicator light to let you know that the aid is working. When it goes out, crank the engine over. You don’t want to rush the starting process and risk damage or other problems from trying to turn over the engine cold.

Once running, allow the excavator to run for a few minutes. This gives the machine a chance to warm up and get fluid circulating through each system. In winter weather, I recommend a minimum of five minutes of idle before starting work – longer if it’s extremely cold, but five minutes is a good start point. Even then, keep operations on the light side until the engine has had a chance to reach full operating temperature. Don’t push the excavator to any extremes until it has fully warmed up to reduce any potential of equipment failure or putting undue stress on the engine or hydraulic components.

What Are the Concerns When Operating an Excavator in Ice and Snow?

JD: When you’re working on icy or snowy surfaces, your biggest concern becomes traction. Sure, your excavator is heavy and that normally helps keep stability and traction, but when you combine a steel track with packed snow and frozen ground, you end up with an excavator on ice skates. You can’t bite into the soil when the ground is frozen, which means that maneuvering uphill and downhill become much more difficult. Move slowly and as perpendicular to the slope or the incline as possible to minimize slippage. Be careful operating on bridges and roadways, as well, as these surfaces can also freeze over with black ice and become hazardous when working.

Also, at the end of any days spent working in snowy conditions, make sure to spend time cleaning out the undercarriage before shutting down operations. All that soft snow, mud and dirt that gets caked into the undercarriage will freeze when night falls. If you don’t clear it out, it could lock up your tracks, leading to issues with getting to work the next day or even causing damage to drive systems. Clear it out at the end of each day to make sure you’re ready for work tomorrow.

Get Winter Ready with Your Local SANY Dealer

Looking to stock up on fuel additives or need to tackle some maintenance work ahead of the cold weather ahead? Turn to your local SANY dealer. Our partners across the U.S. and Canada offer More than Machines. SANY dealers offer in-shop and on-site service to help you stay ahead of failures and a team of friendly, knowledgeable staff members who are standing by to help you make sure you’re ready to take on tough work in any weather. Find the dealer nearest you today by using our online dealer locator or call SANY at 470.552.SANY (7269).