Prepare for Winter’s Effects on Fluids

Sept. 23, 2021

The winter months can be challenging for construction equipment operators as temperatures can plummet to extremes, endangering equipment and potentially causing increased downtime. The stressful conditions caused by colder temperatures are even more acute for construction vehicles due to the nature of the equipment, the likelihood of it being left outside, and its constant exposure to harsh conditions.

Purificati is OEM technical liaison at HollyFrontier Lubricants & Specialties, which includes the Petro-Canada Lubricants brand.

The lubrication of vital engine, hydraulic, and other components is crucial throughout the year but even more so in the colder months. Construction operations are exposed to conditions that put equipment under more stress, which can have a detrimental impact on wear rates. In cold conditions, a 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 stiffen or become overly viscous. This can result in delays to the proper lubrication of crucial equipment and components and if lubrication flow is negatively impacted, the equipment could seize up or fail.

How to choose cold weather lubricants

To help the lubricant remain viscous and maintain its flow in the colder months, it is recommended that equipment owners use a lower viscosity engine oil. Lubricants with a lower viscosity can move around the internal components quicker, maintaining an adequate flow to ensure that the engine is lubricated and protected. When selecting a low viscosity lubricant, the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) manual should be consulted for the lowest viscosity grades accepted by ambient temperature requirements. Selecting a lower viscosity solution also enables the whole powertrain and hydraulic system to operate with improved efficiency. In addition, matching a proper grade of multi-viscosity, all season hydraulic fluid can improve fuel economy and power requirements at cold start-up.

Multigrade engine oils such as SAE 10W-30 are a popular choice for equipment owners and operators that work in extreme temperatures. Choosing a solution like this means fleets only need to stock one product rather than two to meet both hot and cold temperature requirements and avoid seasonal oil changes. However, it’s important that the choice of engine lubricant is only made after consulting the OEM ambient temperature recommendations provided in the owner’s manual.

How to measure cold weather lubricants

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 construction fleets. Potential damage caused in these months can be identified and addressed with a used oil analysis program. By incorporating a used oil analysis program into a fleet maintenance schedule, variations in the oil analysis can reveal how and why machinery is wearing down. Implementing a used oil analysis program also provides the opportunity to extend oil drain intervals. In fact, any move to extend intervals should always be coupled with oil analysis. Identifying issues before equipment is exposed to the stressful conditions caused by colder temperatures means that they can be addressed before they become too serious or expensive to repair.

Construction operations don’t stop in the winter and equipment doesn’t need to be put at a greater risk from the increased wear of cold starts. Although the colder temperatures may pose a challenge, by selecting an appropriate lubricant and implementing a used oil analysis program, engine components can remain in top operating condition and operators can run their construction sites smoothly during the colder months.