Chilling Maintenance

Dec. 1, 2020

The criticality of properly winterizing a fleet underscores the point that spending money and time doing so now saves resources down the road. 

For equipment operating in cold winter conditions, not considering the effects of cold temperatures could lead to expensive problems, points out Darryl Purificati, OEM technical liaison, Petro-Canada Lubricants. 

The lubrication of vital engine components is crucial throughout the year but in colder weather, they are exposed to conditions that put equipment under more stress,” he adds. “That can have a detrimental impact on the engine’s wear rate.”   

In cold conditions, the lubricant’s viscosity is affected as it takes longer to warm up and when temperatures drop into the critical zone of the lubricant’s operating range, the lubricant can thicken or become overly viscous, notes Purificati. 

This can have a significant impact on engine hardware, and if lubrication flow is negatively impacted, the engine could seize up or fail,” he adds. “This could lead to significant unplanned downtime and expensive repairs, which have a detrimental impact on the business’ bottom line. 

Stede Granger, OEM technical services manager for Shell Lubricants, cites a case in which he had been called out to a contractor’s location to investigate extreme damage on an engine.  

The contractor had run out of antifreeze as it wasn't needed for freeze protection in the summer months but lost its ability to protect against corrosion. 

“They just started adding water and had diluted the existing additives in the antifreeze to a point where it could not protect against corrosion and specifically could not protect against liner pitting,” Granger says.  

“They literally in this real heavy-duty diesel engine in this off-highway dump truck punched a hole through this liner about a half an inch thick. It was unbelievable.” 

The contractor was visibly upset about the cost of having to rebuild the engine, he added. 

“In the old days, they used to add extra additives to the coolant, so you could maybe get away with adding the water because you're also adding additives,” says Granger. “But now with these new extended life coolants, the additive technology is so good you don't have to add the additives anymore. 

“When you do start adding water, it reduces the coolant’s ability to protect against corrosion. It turned out to be a complete engine rebuild and a very expensive repair and downtime for the equipment when they took a shortcut by just adding water to this system.” 

Industry studies have shown as much as 40% of engine failures are due to the cooling system and wintertime is not a good time to conduct repairs, points out Dan Holdmeyer, industrial sector manager, Chevron Lubricants, North American Region. 

Thermostats that don't function properly can result in overheating, or lack of heat in the cab and the Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) tank,” he says. “Frozen DEF could shut down your equipment.”  

Holdmeyer points out that winter starts are challenging enough, but without enough battery power or oil too viscous in your engine means delays in getting productive in the winter. 

An additional frustration of not getting work completed is that tasks take longer to complete in the winter, he adds. 

“Things have to be thawed and cleared of snow and salt before you can work effectively on it,” notes Holdmeyer. “Also, that doesn’t taste so good and stings your eyes if you have to crawl under your equipment during winter. 

All of the oils on the equipment should be checked or changed out, industry experts note. 

Certain systems tend to collect water that leads to corrosion and in the winter it may freeze and prevent lubrication,” says Holdmeyer. 

Check oils and greases for low-temperature operation ranges. 

Lower viscosity oils, or synthetics, will help with faster starts and better fuel efficiency during the cold winter days,” he adds. 

While a contractor may not be too concerned about equipment that won’t be operated in the winter, Granger says he suggests changing the oil. 

Prioritizing which equipment is winterized and in what manner depends on how it’s going to be used, Granger says. 

Special attention should be paid to the hydraulic systems and engines to ensure they will start again, he adds. 

“There’s a school of thought that while you’re storing the equipment in the wintertime, it might be good to start it up periodically to get the oil splashed around and getting it up to operating temperature,” says Granger. “The longer it sits without being run, the harder it is on it. 

“When an engine is running, it's splashing oil all over the inside of the engine. The oil is pumped up to the top of the engine. It gets all splashed around the top of the engine. While there is a film of oil coating all the metal surfaces inside the engine, the engine is protected against any type of corrosion. 

The longer an engine is not run, the oil is affected by gravity and will have a tendency to drip off and eventually go away from the upper surfaces, Granger adds. 

“When you reach that point, some of your high surfaces are then possibly subject to corrosion, especially if ambient temperature changes are significantly lower,” he says. “Some of the air that contains water vapor can get below the dew point inside the engine. Then you have condensation and that condensation can come out on surfaces to cause rusting and corrosion. 

“Running the equipment regularly would be a good idea in circulating that oil, getting that oil splashed all around inside and even coming up to operating temperature, which will help vaporize any condensed water so it won't create problems. 

Start the winter season with a well-formed plan, Granger suggests. 

“Are you going to be using your equipment during the wintertime or is the equipment just going to be sitting? It could be used during the wintertime for snow removal or something like that. In some areas of the country, they work all year round,” he adds. “Part of the plan is what fluids are appropriate for use in the winter or winter storage. 

Equipment manufacturers have specific fluid recommendations depending on ambient conditions, he adds 

“We suggest they check—depending on their location in the country—what fluids are appropriate for the wintertime and expected ambient temperatures during the winter,” notes Granger. 

That could entail changing out an engine oil to a lower viscosity engine oil or using a synthetic-type engine oil offering a wider temperature range that could be used in the summer and winter. 

Granger says some product examples with lower viscosities or multi-grade include Shell Rotella T5 synthetic blend diesel engine oil such as 10W-30 and Shell Rotella T6 full synthetic 5W-40, which have an inherently better performance in colder weather compared to 15W-40 oil, Granger says 

Purificati agrees that fleet owners and operators working in colder environments and climates should change to a lower viscosity oil that can maintain its flow in lower temperatures. 

By using the lower viscosity grades accepted by the OEM’s ambient temperature requirements, the engine will remain lubricated and operate with improved efficiency,” he adds.   

Multi-grade heavy-duty engine oils such as SAE 10W-30 are popular with equipment owners and operators as they operate in both hot and cold environments and offer the added benefit of fewer products needing to be stocked in the workshop, says Purificati. 

“This also means that technicians don’t need to conduct any unnecessary oil changes when preparing for the winter months,” he adds. 

Petro-Canada Lubricants’ DURON heavy-duty engine oils are designed to offer solutions for fleets operating in the most extreme hot or cold environments to ensure superior lubrication and protection of engine hardware.  

In more extreme cold temperature applications, it may be suitable to use an SAE 5W-40 or 5W-30 engine oil or possibly even a 0W-40 or 0W-30 engine oil, notes Purificati, adding that contractors should always use engine oil that is recommended by the OEM in the equipment owner’s manual. 

Holdmeyer notes that some contractors have switched their hydraulic fluids to high viscosity index (VI) fluids that provide a wider operating temperature range similar to using multi-grade engine oil.  

The high VI fluids not only operate at lower temperatures and provide better protection at a higher temperature, but some will provide better fuel efficiency throughout the year—although it isn’t as easily measured as miles per gallon, but may be noticed in more loads moved in a day, or even may mean not having to do a mid-day refueling for the same workload. 

Besides the engine oil and coolant, which most people think of when preparing for winter, I find adjusting the grease is just as critical.”  

A greased system doesn’t have coolant running through it to warm it and is very exposed to the winter temperaturesHoldmeyer points out.   

It also has to fight corrosion due to the snow, sludge, and salt contamination,” he adds. “Therefore, it is important to use a grease that will function at the lower temperatures, which usually means an NLGI Grade lower, such as using an NLGI Grade number 1, or possibly even 0Another good practice is to re-grease more frequently to remove those winter contaminants. 

When it comes to winterizing in the EP2 systemsmany places will use an EP0 or EP1 grease in the pumps during the winter months in cold climates, says Ryan Douglas, inside sales representative for Lubecore. 

To prepare for winter, one should check the coolant for the proper antifreeze concentration for freeze protection, says Holdmeyer.  

50% glycol and 50% water provide freeze protection down to -34°F (-37°C). For extremely cold conditions, 60glycol and 40water provide freeze protection down to -62°F (-52°C).  

The thermostat should be checked for proper operation. Check hoses and connections for leaks and correct any issues, Holdmeyer advises.    

Granger points out it’s also a good idea to ensure the antifreeze has not been mixed with another antifreeze. 

Shell Lubricants provides testing strips used to ensure the coolant has the correct amount of additives. 

“Our coolant has a long additive life, but if it gets mixed with some other coolant, that doesn't mean they have a long additive life—the long additive life won't apply because it's contaminated,” says Granger. 

Shell also offers products giving contractors an easy way to bring an additive back up to its normal expected life performance, he adds. 

For winter operations, contractors should consider ensuring that the fuel they are utilizing is winterized or appropriate for cold ambient conditions, Granger notes. 

“There are additiveavailable that can make the fuel provide better cold-temperature performance,” he adds. “Part of the plan is to make sure they're using the right fuel. Some fuels used in the summertime do very poorly in the wintertime and the engine won't start up and run with those fuels.”  

Another important notation on the winterization checklist is the battery power, which will be required to start the engine in extreme coldsays Holdmeyer, adding that the terminals should be cleaned and the cables checked to ensure they are in good condition. 

Don’t forget the tire pressure, as lower temperatures result in lower tire pressure. 

With spring just around the corner, it’s not too early to start thinking about winterizing for the next season.  

Along with preparing for the cold winter environment, it’s also important to evaluate what impact the summer months and warmer temperatures may have had on your equipment’s engines,” says Purificati.  

The potential damage caused can be identified and addressed with a used oil analysis program before it gets too serious or expensive to repair, he adds 

By incorporating a used oil analysis program into a proactive maintenance schedule, impurities in the oil can reveal how and why machinery is wearing down,” says Purificati. “It also will present the opportunity to extend oil drain intervals, which should always be undertaken in conjunction with an oil analysis program.” 

Identifying any damage caused during the summer through such an analysis would allow problems to be rectified before heading into the harsh winter months and offer insight to help predict future maintenance requirements, he adds.  

“When you’re adding coolant, it's not a winter thing anymore, although good practice is really helping in the winter,” says Granger. “You should be winterizing your coolant all year long. Contractors should be maintaining that piece of equipment at -35°all year round.  

“In July, you need additives. In January, you need freeze protection. But it also goes together. It’s still a factor that some folks don't realize how important it is for freeze protection in the summertime.