Are you Ready for Winter?
Yes folks, that terrible 6 letter word – Winter. Old Man Winter will be rearing his ugly head for most of us soon and settling in for a few months making Hydrovaccing all the more difficult and miserable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not ALL bad!
Some of us actually like working in the winter. Less mud, no bugs. So, maybe there are only 2 valid reasons to like winter. Regardless, it’s coming and we need to be ready for it!
There are many schools of thought on how to prepare both your truck, and yourself for winter. These following tips have worked for me and maybe some of our new operators will gain value from my experiences.
Many companies have in-house mechanics that can look after the physical maintenance of your unit and have good preventive maintenance programs. If so, a lot of this may be part of your program and already well underway in your fleet. Personally, I have come from a background where I did most of my own maintenance and taking care of the day to day needs of my unit(s). Whatever situation you find yourself in, the requirements for winter readiness are the same.
If you haven’t already done so, now is a good time to go through your unit bumper to bumper. Wash and clean the outside. Polish what you can to protect the chrome and paint. Clean your interior and get the mud and gunk out from under the pedals. Mud build up under your pedals can be a hazard as well as cause you issues with things like throttle response, cruise control features, etc. Pressure wash the engine bay and undercarriage. If you are going to take the time to go over everything, it might as well be clean! Check all belts, hoses, electrical connections, and fluid levels. Test your engine coolant and make sure it is good for the temperatures you see in your area. Grease the truck and use some silicone spray on hinges and doors. It can help prevent moisture from getting into those areas.
Check your oils. Both engine oil and hydraulic oils act differently in colder temperatures.
Maybe you need to look at using winter grade oils in your area? Going to a lighter AW22 in the hydraulic tank makes sense. Synthetic oils in the engine can help reduce wear and make cold weather starts easier. Your Owner’s Manual will again be a big help here.
Do not forget your air system! Drain all the tanks and fill them up again. Maybe repeat this a few times to make sure all the moisture is out. If you park inside a warm shop at night, drain them every night. Some people will run some Air Brake Anti-Freeze through the system on a regular basis. Determine what your needs are and consult your owner’s manual if in doubt.
Take the time to stock up some personal items like chap stick and hand cream. It can be a lifesaver after a day of digging in frozen ground. Have a small bag containing extra socks, glove liners, bama socks for inside your boots. An extra hard hat liner or balaclava can come in handy if you get wet. Each of us knows what works for us, so gather what you need. Don’t wait until it’s too late!
The ever important water system of our hydrovacs – the cause of MOST winter issues! Check it NOW!
Most trucks are equipped with some form of “glycol” system for winterizing the back end of the unit. Again, please refer to your owner’s manual for your particular unit. Some common rules of thumb are, at the very least, to flush out ALL old glycol from the holding tank. This is a pretty small cost to ensure your product is rated for the temperatures in your area. Over the summer, the glycol can easily be diluted with water in various ways. Don’t just look at it and assume it is good! Most people will use Propylene Glycol or RV Anti-Freeze for this. Some use windshield washer anti-freeze as well. Either is fine. Drain your tank and flush the system. Refill the tank with new glycol. It’s as simple as that.
Next in line is the boiler. Fire it up now and make sure it works. Check your electrode gaps and fuel nozzles. Make sure the air damper on the side of the motor hasn’t moved over the summer and you are getting the correct air/fuel mixture. Does your unit have a fuel filter on it? Replace if needed. Acidizing the coil is another topic that will start arguments. There are pros and cons so I suggest you again consult your specific Owner’s Manual or go see your local boiler/pump repair shop. They will be glad to help. Personally, I did mine approximately every second year. It is a simple procedure and does give you piece of mind that you are getting maximum flow through your coils.
Inside the doghouse/cabinet is another place where you might want a few winter specific items. Extra rubber bungees for tire chains. Check you have some extra hooks and locks as well as your chain key for tightening them up. Batteries for flashlights, propane torch, a bag or pail of sand/rock chips to lay down if you get a sidewalk wet working in urban areas. I used to carry a jug of Methanol with a small hole drilled in the cap so it would work like a squirt gun. Spray your camlock fittings before and after use to prevent them freezing together. Make sure you have extra oil, coolant and windshield wash fluid, especially if you are working in remote areas. Blower maintenance is also a key topic. That is one expensive piece of steel and anything you can do to protect it is well worth it. First and foremost, check the oil in the end cases and make sure it is clean and at the fill line. Most blowers have a drain plug on the bottom of the impeller case. Have a look and open it up to drain any moisture already there. If you park inside at night, remember that condensation formed inside the blower will settle as water in the bottom of the case. A good practice is to engage your blower and run it in a lower gear while your truck warms up. This will pull cold air through the system and “freeze” everything while it is in motion.
This way, when you travel to site your impellers will not freeze in position.
I have seen a few blowers destroyed from this. Consequently, if you are going to be parking your unit outside at night, do the reverse and run the blower at low RPM for a few minutes after you have washed the tank out. This will pull all that steam through the system and “freeze” everything while in motion so no condensation settles in the blower case after you park.
Last but not least, the filter and cyclone. I cannot stress this enough – drain the cyclone every time you dump at the end of each day. This will help keep your filter clean and prevent the water from freezing in the cyclone. This also helps keeps your unit sucking at its maximum efficiency.
Wash the filter at least weekly. Having two filters to rotate through is a big help as it can take at least a day to dry after washing.
A lot to digest, but following these few simple tips can make winter hydrovaccing a lot easier and you won’t get caught with your long johns down!