Winter weather is harsh on all construction equipment, even the trusty backhoe. Last year, low temperatures and treacherous weather across the nation led to an increase in calls from customers who could not start their machines. In order to avoid damaging the equipment and experiencing downtime, it’s important for contractors to properly prepare their backhoes for the cold months.
Pre-Work Walk Around
When gearing up for a day of work in frigid temperatures, operators must remain dedicated to a daily walk around, particularly in cold weather. Operators should refer to their owner’s manual for proper maintenance. It is important to make sure you are using the correct diesel fuel and stock up on extra fuel filters in case they are needed. The proper hydraulic fluid and engine oil must also be used to maintain machine life.
During the daily walk around, examine the tires, looking for tread wear and any cuts. Study the tires for any leaks and make sure the tire pressure is correct. Test the battery and examine the wiper blades. There’s nothing worse than driving a backhoe in a snowstorm without working wiper blades. After inspecting the machine, properly lubricate the joints. You should also inspect all hoses for leaks. If you’ve ever changed a hydraulic hose in near or subzero weather, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Before heading out for the day, look at the teeth on the backhoe bucket and cutting edge on the loader bucket to see if they are worn out or need to be changed. If you will be dealing with frost, consider frost teeth or ripper buckets. Finally, test the four-wheel-drive, wipers, work lights, emergency flashers, the park brake and service brakes to make sure they are working properly. The inspection process is important to maintaining a dependable machine in the field. It is easier to check the machine inside a nice warm shop than later that day out in the unforgiving cold.
One last thing to consider is if your backhoe is equipped with an onboard monitor and remote telematics monitoring, the winter months are when machine monitoring should be done more frequently. This very important technology in today’s construction equipment could make the difference in your dealer making one trip to repair a machine rather than multiple trips that could cost you valuable dollars and extended downtime. It’s important to talk to your dealer about this.
Proper Warm-Up and Cool Down
It’s vital to properly warm up the engine prior to starting work. Because hydraulic fluids in cool conditions take longer to heat up, operators may need to start the machine up to an hour before putting the backhoe through its daily tasks. The operator should remove any ice, snow and mud from the machine before operation. To warm up the engine, run it at half speed for 15 minutes.
Once the backhoe is ready to go, operators should check the function of the front loader and rear bucket. Raise the loader lift arms to hood height, then cycle the bucket from stop-to-stop three times minimum. Cycle all remaining hydraulic functions to distribute warmed oil until they all operate freely.
Before leaving the worksite for the day, run the machine at idle for a period of time to allow the engine to cool down. If the machine has a turbo cool down feature, look to the machine monitor for it to timeout before shutting down. Make sure to fill up the fuel tank to prevent condensation. Park the equipment on a hard surface to prevent tires from freezing to the ground and lock all covers and doors. Know where the jumping posts are located and keep jumping cables nearby in case they are needed the next day. If a block heater is equipped on the machine, be sure to plug it in for the night.
Preparing for Storage
If the winter months mean business is closing down until spring, you’ll need to prepare your backhoe for storage. Every manufacturer is different, so contractors should refer to their owner’s manual for proper care tips.
Before winter weather hits, drain the water and sediment from the fuel/water separator when the air temperature is above freezing. A walk around should be performed, checking fluid levels, belts, the condition of all hoses and connections and the battery electrolyte level. Refill any low fluids, replace any leaks or damaged parts and charge and install the battery if necessary. Tire wear and proper pressure should also be checked.
The backhoe should be parked on a hard surface to prevent wheels from freezing to the ground. Fill the fuel tank and pre-lubricate the turbocharger bearings, if equipped. Inspect the engine compartment and remove any foreign material that may have accumulated since spring. You’ll also want to take a closer look at the condition of all hoses and connections.
Now you can get inside the cab and start the engine until it reaches the operating temperature and run at half-speed for five minutes. If the engine fails to start or runs poorly after starting, change the fuel filters. Once the backhoe is up and running, test all controls and levers. Make sure no one is around or within a safe distance and cycle all hydraulic functions several times. When you’re finished, park the machine with cylinder rods retracted, if possible. Operators should apply LPS 3 Rust Inhibitor to exposed cylinder rod areas and make sure the backhoe is stored in a dry, protected place.
Whether the winter means business is in full swing or that things are closing for the season, proper preparation is key. These important steps will keep your backhoe loader up and running all year long.
Norman Blair is a Product Consultant for John Deere.