Heavy construction equipment is extremely expensive to own, operate and maintain and the cost of ownership to contractors and subcontractors alike substantially increases during the winter months.  These increased costs are due to a number of factors including additional start up procedures that must be observed, additional maintenance and decreased production.

 Often during the winter months, it is necessary to use various techniques to facilitate the start up of heavy machinery.   These techniques can include the use of jumper cables to jump dead or weak batteries, as well the use of ether starting aids.  While effective, it is critical that the operator and the person assisting in the start up review the procedures in order to avoid and damage to the machinery or injury to the worker.  Common mishaps include reverse polarization hookup on jumper cables, which can cause significant damage to the equipment’s electrical system and trying to charge a frozen battery, which can cause the battery to explode.  The improper use of ether can lead to the engine seizing as it is cranking, which can cause significant internal damage to the machine’s engine.

Proper maintenance of the machine’s fuel, air and hydraulic filters is required in order to aid in starting of the machinery and the loss of power when the machine is being operated.  One of the most common issues equipment operators deal with is a loss of power due to water in the fuel.  During severe cold weather this water can freeze in the machine, which interrupts the flow of fuel into the machine’s engine.  The best way to avoid this common problem is preventative maintenance by making sure that the fuel supply does not become contaminated in the first place.  One way to achieve this is to use fuel caps with seals that prevent water from getting in with the fuel.  The fuel should be tested for the presence of water periodically as well.

 Like it or not, decreased production during the winter months is a fact of life and must be factored into the projects schedule and budget.  One of the reasons for decreased production is due to the time every morning to warm up the machinery.  Hoses, cables and wires become brittle in the cold weather and by allowing time for the machine to warm up, these items become more flexible and pliable, decreasing the likelihood of failure.  In addition, at the end of the day steps must be taken to prevent the machine’s tracks or treads being in direct contact with the ground, as it is possible for the machine to become frozen to the ground.  Finally, digging in frozen ground is difficult on the machine and the amount of material moved per day will be significantly lower during the winter.

 The operation of heavy equipment during the winter can be challenging and expensive, but by following proper start up procedures, performing regular maintenance and setting realistic production expectations, it can be done successfully.