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Operating Heavy Machinery In the Cold: Safety and Maintenance Tips

April 26, 2023

Operating Heavy Machinery In the Cold: 11 Safety and Maintenance Tip

drive motorsOperating excavators and other heavy machinery requires a lot of knowledge, maintenance, and, most importantly, an emphasis on safety. In addition, your company has invested a lot of money in excavators and other machines, so taking care of your heavy equipment is always a smart move and is even more important during cold weather when extreme temperatures can negatively affect the lifeblood of your business. Construction equipment downtime, and its impacts to your bottom line, can be avoided by keeping these tips in mind.

Frigid temperatures can ruin a machine’s traction, tire pressure, oil and travel motors, and more. It’s important to change the oil in final drive motors at least once a year, but during long periods of cold temperatures, you might need to have your drive motors and oil inspected or changed more often. Prevention is key because the life of construction equipment can be shortened by cold weather, even high-quality brands like John Deere, Volvo, Yanmar, and Hitachi.

Extremely cold temperatures can cause all sorts of problems for the machines in use but can also lead to serious health concerns for heavy machine operators. Winter dehydration, immersion foot syndrome, frostbite, exhaustion, and so much more can occur in operators working in icy, snowy, and frigid conditions.

Here are some maintenance and safety tips for heavy equipment operators to keep in mind during the winter months:

1. Keep Machinery Inside

Keep your heavy equipment out of the elements, even on a job site. If a temperature-controlled setting is out of the question, then look for a storage solution that at least prevents snow and sleet from accumulating on the equipment. The time savings from having to clear off the snow will add up. At the same time, less exposure means a lesser chance of weather-related damage to essential components.

If you can’t keep machinery inside — or even if you can — get a block heater to pre-warm your engine before start-up on those frigid mornings. These devices will warm up engine coolant and oil as well as hydraulic fluid and reduce the mechanical stress of a cold-weather start. Along the same lines, consider temporarily blocking the radiator to restrict cold-air flow from the fan.

2. Get plenty of rest

Working in the cold and snow can be even more exhausting than normal. Schedule breaks for yourself and your entire team time to regain keep up your energy. Since tired machine operators are extremely dangerous, it’s imperative that everyone is well-rested and capable of full concentration.

3. Use the Correct Lubricant

Proper lubrication is the key to your heavy equipment’s regular operation, especially when cold temperatures can reduce oil’s normal flow. As part of a regular maintenance schedule and before the onset of cold temperatures, ensure that fluid levels are correct for engine oil, hydraulic and transmission fluids, and final drive lubricants. Check your equipment manual to see if you can use multi-viscosity lubrication that may perform better in the winter.

4. Pay Attention to the Batteries

The engine may be all set for the winter, but a discharged or frozen battery will literally stop your excavator in its tracks. A battery needs double the typical cranking amps in cold temperatures, so storing the battery in a warmer setting can help when it’s not being used.

5. Prepare the Fuel Supply

At temperatures below 40 degrees, the hydrocarbons in diesel fuel begin to gel. This gelling effect reduces the fuel’s viscosity and impedes engine start-up. Before wintertime, add a low-temperature anti-gel additive to the fuel supply. Then, run the engine, so the additive is dispersed and protects the supply hoses and filters.

6. Warm-Up Before Work Begins

Daily winter weather operations should include an equipment warm-up time. Allowing your machinery to reach the ideal operating temperature—before work begins—can help prevent engine intake and exhaust valves from sticking. At the same time, gently engage other systems to get them warmed up for the day.

7. Pay Attention to the Tires and Tracks

Keep in mind that every ten-degree drop in temperature means a tire pressure reduction of one psi. So proper tire inflation is part of the maintenance required to keep your heavy equipment functioning, especially at colder temperatures. Try to inflate tires in a warmer setting so the tire bead sets better on the rim.

Also, inspect tracks for a build-up of mud, snow, and ice to avoid reduced functionality and possible failure. For both tires and tracks, ensure that these components are not frozen to the ground to prevent equipment damage.

8. Pack Plenty of Extra Clothing

Dressing warm during freezing temperatures is a given, but wearing the same clothes during an 8-hour day won’t cut it. You’ll need to change your gloves, socks, and more every few hours to keep your body temperature warm.

9. Manage Diesel Exhaust Fluid

Diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) can freeze when the temperature drops to 12 degrees, so be sure to store this liquid in a warmer setting. You can also use a heated blanket to prevent DEF freezing. Note that DEF expands when frozen, so be sure that storage containers accommodate this extra space requirement.

10. Perform a Daily Visual Inspection

Daily heavy equipment operations should always begin with a visual inspection; this is even more essential during harsh winter months. Check out the wiring to ensure the proper functioning of the electrical system. Look for cracks and cuts on the tires, belts, and hydraulic hoses. Clean off mud, snow, and ice accumulations from tires, tracks, and the undercarriage. Neglecting to inspect equipment prior to use could result in serious injuries or damage to equipment.

11. Fill the Fuel Tank at the End of the Day

Filling up after work reduces the likelihood of remnant water freezing overnight and avoids the significant hassles resulting from a frozen fuel tank. Be sure to check the fuel/water separator and drain as needed.


Our family at Mini Final Drives has been providing excellent Quality, Value, and Service for over 50 years to heavy equipment operators and companies, and you can continue to count on us for a lifetime of friendly, helpful support for all your final drive and travel motor needs. Call us today at 877-483-2806 or visit our online store at to find and order what you need today for fast and free delivery to your door.

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