As colder weather blows in, now is the time to prepare your wheel loader for winter operation. Follow these five tips to ensure your machine is properly maintained and prepared to take on the snow.
Review the Operation & Maintenance Manual
It may seem like common sense, but it can’t be overstated. Review your wheel loader’s Operation & Maintenance Manual for recommended intervals and a checklist of seasonal maintenance items, as well as oil and fluid recommendations. You and your operators should request maintenance training and assistance from your local equipment dealer on proper techniques and familiarize yourself with decals and key maintenance points on the machine.
The Operation & Maintenance Manual should instruct you on what machine components should be inspected regularly. They include the following:
Fluids and filters
Heating and defrosting systems
Check fluids and filters
Colder temperatures can affect your wheel loader’s ability to run efficiently, especially if it does not have the proper engine oil. That is why you should match wheel loader fluids to the proper ambient temperatures. Most wheel loader manufacturers recommend CJ4 engine oils to protect the machine’s vital engine components.
Using the incorrect diesel engine oil can cause costly damage to your machine’s internal components. These components can become plugged, corroded and, ultimately, not work efficiently. Make sure to refer to your Operation & Maintenance Manual for instructions on filling your wheel loader at the recommended intervals with the appropriate fluid in the correct increments.
Also, verify the quality of fuel you are using from your provider, checking to make sure water and other contaminants are not present in your fuel.
Switching to a special winter-blend fuel — typically No. 1 and No. 2 diesel — can help you prepare for cold temperatures. Investing in quality fuel that is blended appropriately for the climate and season may give you better peace of mind, lower your consumption, provide fewer filter changes and deliver long component life.
Another item to consider is the type of aftertreatment system, especially those machines equipped with Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR), to meet Tier 4 emission standards. SCR components require diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). This aqueous solution is susceptible to variations in hot and cold temperatures.
In very cold temperatures, DEF can freeze so make sure you keep DEF in storage during the winter months. Purity and concentration are critical with DEF, so make sure to work with a local dealer to better understand how to store and handle DEF.
In addition, inspect the air filtration system and to always use the correct replacement filter to reduce the risk of premature engine failure.
Inspect tires, batteries and components
Winter maintenance also means checking the tires, batteries and other wheel loader components before using or storing your machine. Undetected leaks or improper inflation can lead to premature wear and potentially tire failure over time.
Low tire pressure can decrease push capabilities, which is not ideal for snow removal applications. Using L3 radial tires may be best during winter because they provide good traction in snowy conditions. Inflating tires with Nitrogen gas is a good alternative to assist in maintaining proper tire pressure.
You and your equipment operators should become familiar with the manufacturer’s Operation & Maintenance Manual for proper psi and inflate the tires accordingly.
Before cold weather hits, it is also important to inspect the wheel loader’s battery and charge it if needed. There is always a draw on the battery, so unless the battery has been maintained or disconnected while stored, it will slowly run down and will need to be charged before use.
For batteries that need to be charged, a trickle charger can be connected to help build the voltage at a slower rate, improving the battery life. Battery connections should also be inspected and cleaned at this time. Corroded terminals can cause hard starting and charging issues.
Additionally, check the cab door and window seals to ensure there are no leaks or cracks, and install a new windshield wiper blade and add low-temperature washer fluid. Be sure to replace any burnt-out bulbs to ensure your operators have the appropriate lighting when working in low light or at night.
Store the wheel loader inside
In extreme cold, when the temperature falls below zero degrees Fahrenheit, keep your wheel loader in a heated facility; it’s easier on the machine. If you are not able to keep wheel loaders inside, park the machine out of the wind and out of direct sunlight.
If you are unable to keep your wheel loader inside a building, at least plug in the block heater – available as an option. A block heater will help keep the machine’s engine warm, making it easier to start while reducing wear on engine components. If you do not have a block heater, consider purchasing and installing one in the fall.
Attachments such as quick couplers, buckets, pallet forks and snow pushers deserve the same attention as the machine to which it is connected. Perform visual checks of attachment components such as hoses, cylinders, guards and cutting edges for damage. Make sure snow pusher attachments interfacing with a bucket are properly secured with chains.
By following these five tips, you can be better prepared to tackle snow piles and help keep your machine running strong all winter.