Whether you store equipment over winter or operate in cold climates, fluid maintenance prior to the winter chill can save a lot of headaches. Large temperature fluctuations impact the performance of virtually every fluid in your equipment, and acids built up in used motor oil can damage internal components.
"Contamination and moisture are the bad guys," says Shawn Ewing, technical coordinator, Conoco and 76 Lubricants brands. "They are the ones that usually cause a high percentage of failures."
Examine coolant condition
A good starting point is the cooling system. "Do a complete evaluation of the system. Pressure test it for leaks and check all of the hose clamps," says Dan Arcy, technical marketing manager, Shell. "Make sure all of the hoses are in good shape. The last thing you need to do is break a hose in the middle of the winter."
The fluid itself must also be in good condition. "Check the freeze point of the coolant to ensure it is to the correct ratio per the OEM's recommendations, as well as do a coolant analysis to ensure the coolant is in the proper condition," says Jason Gerig, marketing manager, Chevron Global Lubricants.
You can check the freeze point with coolant test strips. "For best results, test when the coolant is between 50° F to 140° F and dip the strip into the coolant for one second," advises Dave Perry, tech services & product support manager, BP Lubricants USA Inc. "Remove and shake to eliminate excess and read the percent glycol."
Most manufacturers recommend a glycol coolant to water ratio of 50/50. According to Arcy, this gives you a freeze point of -34° F. "You don't have to worry about the wind chill factor," he explains, but rather the absolute ambient temperatures. "Except in some of the Northern parts of Canada, it doesn't really get that cold in the lower 48."
If you do need protection below -34° F, you can slightly increase the glycol concentration to 60/40. "A 60% glycol and 40% water mix will provide a freeze point of -65° F," says Perry. "Glycol contents beyond 70% will actually reverse the freeze point."
This makes it critical to really track the coolant ratio, which can be difficult to do after the system has been topped off a couple of times. "A lot of times with this equipment, you are adding close to a gallon when you are topping up a system," says Arcy.
When you use concentrate, you have to add a 1/2 gal. of concentrate and a 1/2 gal. of water. "People will take a bottle of concentrate and pour it in," says Arcy. "Then they will add water on top of it. They don't actually mix it first. They guesstimate."
This works okay at first, but eventually the ratio gets way out of compliance. "You take a sample in the field and the freeze point is off," says Arcy.
This situation can be avoided. "The best option would be to purchase premixed 50/50," says Gerig. In addition to ensuring the proper ratio is maintained, manufacturers use de-ionized water in the premixed coolants. This is very important to the integrity of the coolant system.
"You want to avoid at all costs adding tap water or any other type of water that is not de-mineralized," says Gerig. "[With tap water] basically you are adding solids to your system, which can cause deposits and premature wear to the water pump."
In addition, the pH level of tap water may not be ideal. "Since the pH of deionized water is a neutral 7, the stability of the antifreeze is assured, guaranteeing optimum cooling system performance," says Perry.
SCA levels in conventional coolants also need to be checked and corrected prior to winter use. This step can be eliminated by using extended-life coolant. "With the extended-life coolant, you don't have to add SCAs," says Arcy. "There are other benefits to the product, as well. Because it has no sulfates in it, you have longer water pump life."
Match viscosity to conditions
With lubricating oil, flow properties are the main concern. "Any lubricating-type oil will be affected by cold weather since at lower temperatures the oil viscosity will increase," says Perry.