Do you feel sudden dread when snow starts falling? Winter weather inevitably makes our job more challenging. Thankfully, there are things we can do to keep our customers rolling, and our jobs a bit easier. The 3 main areas of concern are: Starting, operability, and traction.
Deficiency in any of these will mean compromised usage, higher costs, and potential danger to operators. Let’s run through a basic winter check. Performing these now will help you avoid a chilly service call when the temperature drops.
1. The starting & charging system. – Test batteries with a load tester. Any battery that is “borderline” is going to be a problem in the cold. It is cheaper to deal with it now, instead of risking a service call and downtime when the chilly mornings start. Make sure the terminals and cables are tight, clean, and sealed.
Next, do a test for excessive starter draw and sufficient alternator output. Again, if it is questionable, advise your customer and let them make a decision based on the possibilities. Some customers will be proactive and 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 – 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). It’s beneficial to run the unit for 5 minutes. to confirm it is warming up properly. A thermostat that isn’t working correctly will keep the unit from working efficiently. In cold climates, this may cause regulator freeze-ups.
3.Timely Tuneups. – Hard start when the temps plummet? If the ignition system may be out of adjustment or in worn condition. Check your plug condition and find out when the tuneup was last due. Keep in mind that though plugs may look good, the wires and cap may not be. Change the LPG filter when you perform a tuneup and always be thorough, it really doesn’t take long.
4. Block & hydraulic heaters – In really cold areas it’s a good idea to use heaters for the engine coolant (and oil pan heaters for diesel) 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 an open circuit from either prong to the ground prong.
5. Tire Treads – Do you struggle with sliding on ice? Tires need to have good tread depth. Siping will help quite a bit on icy surfaces. In our experience, siping outperforms everything else on ice, snow, or slush. If you operate in an unpaved area, chains are an option… but be aware that many forklifts do not have enough clearance for regular chains. However, cable-type chains work very well as long as you don’t have operators with more boot than brain.
6. LED Lights – Winter brings darker days, so good lights are a big factor in safe and efficient operation. They also help in snowy or rainy conditions. LED lights will outshine and outlast conventional lighting. There are some really good LED options now that won’t break the bank!
7. Fuels & Oils – Cleaning and replacing your regulator as required is extra important during the winter months as LPG units are more prone to tar issues in the winter weather. 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 to avoid clogged filters and injectors. Engine oils need to be changed to manufacturer spec for the temp range it will be operated in.
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 grit bin for icy conditions.
10. Operator Education – Last but certainly not least, this is probably the most critical, and most overlooked of all. Operators need 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. Operators firing up and launching without a warmup can lead to very expensive repairs.
Why dread the winter months? With these 10 simple tips keep your operators safe and prevent customers from costly repairs. A win-win for all! Remember that with a little extra precaution and care, the cold season can be enjoyable and prosperous.