5 tips to get your wheel loader winter-ready

winter snow removal

With winter approaching, it is important to think about preparing your wheel loader for winter operation, specifically snow removal. 

Before the first snowfall arrives, it is important to ensure your wheel loader is properly maintained and prepared to push, lift and dump snow. 

Bill Zak, Doosan’s wheel loader product specialist, provides five tips to help operators get the most out of their wheel loader this winter.

1. Review your manuals

It may seem like common sense, but it can’t be overstated. Review your machine’s operation and maintenance manual for recommended intervals and a checklist of seasonal maintenance items, as well as oil and fluid recommendations. 

Ideally, you and your wheel loader operators should request maintenance training and assistance from your local equipment dealer on proper techniques, and familiarize yourself with decals and key maintenance points on the machine.

Your wheel loader operation and maintenance manual should instruct you on what machine components should be inspected regularly. 

They include the following:

  • Fluids and filters
  • Battery
  • Tire pressure

Heating and defrosting systems

2. Check fluids and filters 

Cold temperatures may affect a wheel loader’s ability to run efficiently, especially if it does not have the proper engine oil. This is why it is important to match wheel loader fluids to the proper ambient temperatures. Most wheel loader manufacturers recommend CJ4 engine oils to protect the machine’s vital engine components.

“If you use incorrect diesel engine oil, it can cause costly damage to the machine’s internal components,” Zak said. “These components can become plugged, corroded and ultimately, not work efficiently. Make sure to refer to your owner’s manual for instructions on filling your machine at the recommended intervals with the appropriate fluid in the correct increments.”

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As well, verify the quality of fuel you are using from your provider, checking to make sure water and other contaminants are not present in your fuel. 

“Switching to a special winter-blend fuel — typically No. 1 and No. 2 diesel — can help you prepare for cold temperatures,” Zak said. “Investing in quality fuel that is blended appropriately for the climate and season may give you better peace of mind, lower your consumption, provide fewer filter changes and deliver long component life.

“It’s a good idea to top off the diesel tank at the end of the day or shift,” he said. “Overall, it’s a good practice to follow year-round. It reduces the air in the tank. The wheel loader heats up during the day. When the operator turns it off, it cools down, and no matter what, you start getting condensation in the tank.”

Another item to consider is the type of aftertreatment system, especially machines equipped with Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) to meet Tier 4 emission standards. SCR components require diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). This aqueous solution is susceptible to variations in hot and cold temperatures.

“In very cold temperatures, DEF can freeze, so wheel loader owners should make sure they keep DEF in storage during the winter months,” Zak said. “Purity and concentration are critical with DEF, so make sure to work with a local dealer to better understand how to store and handle DEF.”

As well, Zak recommends inspecting the air filtration system and to always use the correct replacement filter to reduce the risk of premature engine failure.

3. Inspect tires, batteries and components 

Winter maintenance also means checking the tires, batteries and other wheel loader components before using or storing the machine. Undetected leaks or improper inflation can lead to premature wear and potentially tire failure over time. 

“Low tire pressure can decrease push capabilities, which is not ideal for snow removal applications,” Zak said. “Using L3 radial tires may be best during winter because they provide good traction in snowy conditions. Inflating tires with nitrogen gas is a good alternative to assist in maintaining proper tire pressure.”

He also recommends all contractors and their operators become familiar with the manufacturer’s operation and maintenance manual for proper psi and inflate the tires accordingly. 

Before winter arrives, it is also important to inspect the wheel loader’s battery and charge. 

“There is always a draw on the battery, so unless the battery has been maintained or disconnected while stored, it will slowly run down and will need to be charged before use,” Zak said.

For batteries that need to be charged, a trickle charger can be connected to help build the voltage at a slower rate, improving the battery life. Battery connections should be inspected and cleaned at this time. Corroded terminals can cause hard starting and charging issues.

Furthermore, check the cab door and window seals to ensure there are no leaks or cracks, install a new windshield wiper blade and add low-temperature washer fluid. Be sure to replace any burnt-out bulbs to ensure your operators have the appropriate lighting when working in low light or at night.

4. Store the wheel loader inside

Cold weather requires batteries to generate nearly twice as many cranking amps in order to turn over. 

If possible, in extreme cold, when the temperature falls below -18 Celsius, keep your wheel loader in a heated facility, as it is easier on the machine. 

“If owners are not able to keep wheel loaders inside, it is important to park the machine out of the wind,” Zak said. “It is also advantageous to keep the equipment out of direct sunlight, if possible.”

If you are unable to keep your wheel loader inside a building, plug in the block heater, which is available as an option. A block heater will help keep the machine’s engine warm, making it easier to start while reducing wear on engine components. If you do not have a block heater, consider purchasing and installing one in the fall.

Zak added a cool down procedure after a shift is a good practice to follow. 

“If you’re working hard, even in very cold weather, everything heats up. If you let it cool down, it benefits the engine life. A lot of people immediately stop the machine when they are done working. Wait a few minutes before you shut off your engine.”

5. Prepare attachments

Wheel loaders are valuable fleet assets during winter for a number of reasons, but one of the most prominent is their ability to be fitted with application-specific attachments, which can be made easier with the use of optional quick couplers.

Attachments such as quick couplers, buckets, pallet forks and snow pushers deserve the same attention as the machine to which it is connected. 

Perform visual checks of attachment components such as hoses, cylinders, guards and cutting edges for damage. As well, make sure snow pusher attachments interfacing with a bucket are properly secured with chains.

By following these five tips, you can be better prepared to tackle snow piles and help keep your machine running strong all winter.