Have you thought about winterizing your skid steer this year? We have a step-by-step guide you can follow, and we answer some common questions our Finning Service Techs receive.
As summer’s construction and landscaping jobs come to an end, this is the perfect time to start thinking about winterizing your skid steer. This will open you up to take on construction jobs that last year-round, and you can add snow and ice removal services to your landscaping jobs.
If you already service your own skid steer throughout the summer, you should be able to follow these simple steps to get it ready for winter:
- Drain your sump and re-fill with a cold temperature engine oil
- Drain your hydraulic system and re-fill with a cold temperature hydraulic fluid
- Inspect your hoses and fittings
- Inspect your belts and pulleys
- Do a. visual inspection of your undercarriage, tracks, and tires
- Check your battery's CCA rating
- Check your CCV heater elements
- Test your cab heater
- Re-grease all grease points with a cold temperature grease
- Check the freezing point of your coolant
- Keep your fuel tank topped up with a winter fuel
- Keep an eye on your DEF
- Make sure your skid steer has a strong visibility for dark and snowy conditions
For more information, you can always call your local Finning Service Branch if you want to bring your Cat® skid steer in for our winterizing service.
1. Drain your engine oil and re-fill with a cold temperature engine oil
The most important part of winterizing any machine begins with the fluids. Just as if you were performing any other regular service interval, we begin by draining the engine oil. To begin the winterizing process, you’ll want to make sure you’re adding in an engine oil with a low viscosity that will pump and flow in cold temperatures.
For recent generations of skid steer models, we typically recommend using an SAE 0W-40 Full Synthetic engine oil throughout the winter. This viscosity of engine oil has an ultra-low pour point with excellent fluidity in low temperatures, so you can rely on your skid steer starting up on an extremely cold winter morning.
With a temperature range of -40°C to +40°C (-40°F to 104°F), 0W-40 Full Synthetic engine oil can also be used year-round, as it’s able to maintain the high viscosity required for hot, summer months. Whenever you purchase any fluids, always refer to your skid steer owner’s manual to confirm what viscosity range you can use, and make sure you check that your engine oil packaging lists the engine spec that matches your skid steer model.
2. Drain your hydraulic tank and re-fill with a cold temperature hydraulic fluid
The hydraulic pumps are the heart of a skid steer, allowing it to scoop, lift, dump, and do anything else you need it to. Make sure to keep the hydraulic hoses and fittings clean from any dirt or debris during this stage, and keep them capped until you’re ready to reattach them.
Just like with the engine oil, you’ll want to re-fill your hydraulic system with a low viscosity, cold temperature hydraulic fluid. If you wait too long to change your hydraulic fluids before the temperature drops, you run the risk of having your fluids thicken into a gel, which can clog your hydraulic lines and lead to a system failure.
For recent generations of Cat skid steers, we recommend using Cat Hydo Advanced 10 in temperatures as low as -18°C (0°F), or Cat TDTO Cold Weather 0W-20, which can be used in temperatures as low as -40°C (-40°F). In all instances, we recommend you always refer to your skid steer owner’s manual to make sure that you’re using a hydraulic fluid that will work in your temperature range and that matches the spec of your skid steer model.
3. Inspect your hoses and fittings
As you drain and re-fill your engine oil and hydraulic fluid, you’ll want to check to see if there are any leaks to any of your hoses or fittings. Especially after putting in long working days on your skid steer all summer, now is the time to check for cracks and breaks on all your hydraulic and coolant lines.
If you expect the temperature to dip below -40°C (-40°F) at any point in your area, then you should condition the hydraulic hoses. This involves submerging the hose assembly with couplings attached in kerosene for at least 12 hours, at a temperature of 22°C (72°F).
Inspecting your rubber hoses is something you should also be doing on a weekly basis throughout the winter months. And always be careful when you run your hands along the hoses when you complete your inspections. As hoses begin to wear, there’s a chance some of the inner wiring could become exposed and it could puncture your skin.
4. Inspect your belts and pulleys
While you’re checking for leaks, check to make sure that your belts aren’t cracking, and that the ribs aren’t wearing down unevenly. You’ll also want to inspect the pulleys for any buildup of rubber deposits and check that the tension isn’t too loose or too tight.
All rubber belts should be inspected on a weekly basis throughout the winter as well.
5. Do a visual inspection of your undercarriage, tracks, and tires
Remove as much dirt and mud as you can at this stage, because you’ll want to make sure you have the tread and clearance needed to properly grip your skid steer to the frozen ground conditions. This is something you’ll also want to do regularly throughout the winter, to clear any snow or ice buildup.
And you’ll want to keep your tire pressure properly inflated for cold weather, and that your track has proper tension.
6. Check your battery’s CCA rating
If you live and work in a cold climate, you’ll want to check your battery’s cold-cranking amps (CCA) rating to make sure it’ll start your skid steer’s engine in cold temperatures. Depending on how mild or freezing the temperature drops in your region, you’ll want to make sure you have a CCA rating of 850 or higher.
At this stage, you’ll also want to make sure your battery is clean of debris and showing no signs of corrosion. And depending on how cold it gets, you may also want to look into a battery blanket. This will keep your battery warm so it increases its reserve capacity, which will help keep your battery running longer.
7. Check your CCV heater elements
At this stage, you’ll want to make sure that your heater is physically warming up. In freezing temperatures, there is a possibility that moisture could build up in the closed crankcase ventilation (CCV) filter, which would freeze and restrict air movement throughout the skid steer engine, leading to engine failure. You might also want to consider using an engine block heater to help start your skid steer once the overnight temperatures begin to drop below freezing.
If you’re unfamiliar with where the CCV heater elements or the block heater is located on your skid steer, we recommend contacting your local Finning Service Branch for assistance.
And as the temperature drops below freezing, if you plan to store your skid steer in a heated shop, you’ll want to be aware that a warm frame could lead to ice buildup when it re-enters a freezing environment, which could damage your machine.
8. Test your cab heater
And while it’s important for your skid steer’s engine to have fully operational heating elements, you also want to make sure your cab is properly prepped for winter, so you’ll remain comfortable and warm as the temperatures drop below freezing.
You probably haven’t used the heater in your cab throughout the summer, so you’ll want to make sure your coolant level is topped up before the winter months set in. You’ll also want to check to make sure that your windows are able to close and lock properly, that your cabin filters are clean, and that your weatherstripping isn’t worn away.
9. Re-grease all grease points with a cold temperature grease
As the cold weather settles in, you’ll want to keep all grease points well greased with a cold temperature grease. When choosing the right grease to use for winter, it’s important to consider the base oil viscosity and other performance additives.
For recent generations of Cat skid steers, we recommend using Cat NLGI-0 Arctic Platinum Grease which can be used in temperatures as low as -50°C (-58°F). Ideal for severe cold and wet winter climates, this calcium sulfonate synthetic base with 5% moly grease is water-resistant, can withstand extreme pressure, and pumps in cold temperatures.
Re-greasing your skid steer with a cold temperature grease will be an important part of your daily routine throughout the winter months.
10. Check the freezing point of your coolant
As the cold weather begins to settle in, you’ll want to monitor your fluid levels on a daily basis. Check your coolant in the overflow reservoir at the start of your shift and make sure it is topped up to the proper level. You’ll also want to check that the freezing point of your coolant is -37°C (-35°F), to make sure it doesn’t gel at extremely cold temperatures. And remember to always pre-mix your antifreeze solution before adding it into your cooling system.
At this stage, you should also be checking your radiator levels daily, making sure not to overflow the tank in cold temperatures. This daily check is also helpful for spotting any early signs of oil contamination.
11. Keep your fuel tank topped up with a winter fuel
Once winter sets in, you’ll want to begin topping up your fuel tank with a winter fuel after every shift. If you don't, you could see your fuel start to gel at colder temperatures. Winter fuel has more kerosene added to its formula, which helps it flow better in cold climates.
Topping up the fuel tank with a winter fuel will also help to prevent condensation from forming in the tank, which can lead to water in a fuel line. Check to make sure there is no clouding or ice buildup in the fuel filters.
12. Keep an eye on your DEF
Your diesel exhaust fuel (DEF) will freeze at -11°C (12°F), so you should make sure that there is a way to warm and thaw frozen DEF to keep your machine running in the cold winter months. Skid steer engines are designed to thaw frozen DEF without degrading the quality, but you should consider storing a small amount of DEF indoors in case you need to run your machine in freezing temperatures. We recommend topping up your DEF before you begin your shift, so the warm DEF you pour in helps speed up the thawing process.
And make sure your store your DEF in a dark or shady area. Storing or thawing your DEF in direct sunlight could cause it to decompose and become ineffective.
13. Make sure your skid steer has strong visibility for dark and snowy conditions
A lot of the skid steer jobs you’ll likely want to take on throughout the winter involve clearing snow from parking lots, driveways, and residential streets. One thing that most operators need to consider is the fact that many of these jobs will likely take place overnight, and in snowy or blustery conditions.
To make sure you’re ready for dark and snowy winter conditions, you’ll want to check that your wiper blades are working properly and not leaving any streaks and that they aren’t brittle or cracking. You’ll also want to keep them clear of snow and ice buildup regularly.
You should also check that your headlights and backup lights are in good working condition and that your backup alarm is working when you drive in reverse. These are important safety checks so that your skid steer can be seen and heard by anyone who may be walking nearby in low-visibility conditions.
Common questions skid steer owners ask our Finning Service Team:
How do I know if I need to winterize my skid steer?
It all depends on how cold it gets in your area, and what the temperature range is of fluids you have in your skid steer. Generally, we’d say that once the weather gets below 9°C (48°F), it’s time to consider winterizing. How do I know if I need to winterize my skid steer?
When should I begin to winterize my skid steer?
It’s all based on the temperature in your area. As soon as you can see in your weather forecast that the temperature is going to dip below 9°C (48°F), you should consider winterizing your skid steer.
How long does it take to winterize my skid steer?
It depends on the condition of your skid steer and the experience of the people who are working on it. If you are already regularly servicing your skid steer, it should take roughly the same amount of time as a normal service interval, as you should already be familiar with many of the steps listed above.
If this is your first time winterizing a skid steer, we recommend you spend the time researching which fluids you’ll need ahead of time, and schedule a few days between your seasons to complete the winterizing service. How long it takes will ultimately depend on your skill level and experience, but also in case you need to replace a worn hose, filter, or belt.
When should I plan to de-winterize my skid steer?
De-winterizing also depends on the temperature in your area. You’ll want to think about it at least 1 week ahead of when your weather forecast is expecting temperatures to warm above 9°C (48°F). It’s important to de-winterize your skid steer before the weather gets too warm since low viscosity fluids will thin out as the temperature rises, losing their lubrication qualities.
What will happen to my skid steer if I don't winterize it?
You either won’t be able to start it, or it’ll seize up on you in the middle of a job site. The biggest issue is related to the oils, fluids, and grease not being able to pump or flow as the weather gets colder. This can cause a lot of damage to your skid steer’s parts and components.
And if you still have concerns about whether your skid steer is safely and properly prepped for a busy and cold winter season, you can always contact your local Finning Service Branch to schedule an appointment for our skid steer winterizing package.