How to Protect your Tools and Equipment Against Winter’s Worst

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How to Protect your Tools and Equipment Against Winter’s Worst

How to Protect your Tools and Equipment Against Winter’s Worst

The #1 Rule

No set of rules can possibly cover all eventualities for different brands and types of equipment, mobile, stationary, rubber tires, tracks, low and high horsepower, diesel, gas, hybrid or all-electric. So the #1 rule is to consult the dealer or OEM of the equipment or the manual first.

Also, don't do this lightly, or whenever you get around to it. Use our list as a starting point, but then study your equipment and needs, develop a plan of action, and then implement it - before it's too late.

Power Tools

The rechargeable batteries for saws, drills, flashlights and even some demolition tools should never be left outside in cold weather. Below 40 degrees, lithium-ion batteries don't hold their charge any longer, and leaving them in freezing temperatures can permanently shorten their working time. Don't store them in an unheated workshop, or in your truck's toolbox when it's freezing.

If you build a charging station for these tools, batteries and chargers, make it portable so you can bring it inside when needed, and always keep the batteries and tools within the temperature range recommended by the manufacturer.

Pneumatic Tools

Air-powered tools such as DA sanders and nail guns depend on seals, O-rings and lubrication to function properly. When these materials become brittle at low temperatures or the lubricant gels, they no longer function properly and can be permanently damaged. Always store them indoors at recommended temperatures.

If you use them outside in freezing weather, follow the manufacturer's guidelines. If necessary, run tools from outside to inside throughout the day to keep them functioning properly. Also consider using a cold weather lubricant/pneumatic tool oil.


Air compressors accumulate moisture with repeated exposure to rising and falling temperatures. Be sure to drain the compressor at the end of each day. Use air hoses that remain flexible in the cold and consider using an in-line antifreeze product such as Kilfrost Pneumatic Tool and Antifreeze lubricant to prevent clogging.

Store heating

Stores without their own HVAC systems sometimes use gas or propane heaters to warm up the work environment. Be sure to follow all manufacturer's instructions on ventilation when using them. And keep in mind that these sometimes create a thin film on many surfaces. You will not be able to see this film and it will not affect most operations, but it may prevent spray paint from adhering to surfaces, should you wish to paint something that has been stored in the store. Additional degreasing of metal surfaces should solve the problem.

Electric heaters are sometimes used for small spaces, but keep in mind that this will significantly increase your electric bill.

Gas Engines

There is much debate among construction and landscaping professionals about how gasoline-powered tools should be stored for the winter. One camp says to drain the tank completely, squirt a small dash of lubricating oil into the spark plug hole and pull the starter cord a few times to lubricate the inside of the engine with oil. Others say to fill the tank with gasoline treated with an additive.

Our advice: do what the manual says. If you don't have the manual, you can find it online from most manufacturers.

Lighting the equipment

As the days grow shorter in winter, operators and foremen are tempted to work into the twilight hours. Before this happens, check all the lights on your machines to make sure they are in good working order.

Consider adding auxiliary lighting packages - today's new LED lights can provide amazing illumination while saving the battery. And put a towel in each machine so drivers can clear the windshield of any condensation.

Diesel Engines

Long ago, contractors would start their diesel engines early, then do something else for five or ten minutes to let the engine warm up before driving off or starting work. And in cold weather, they also left their diesels running for fear that they would not catch on. This is no longer the case.

Today's diesels take only a minute or so to warm up and have enough battery power to restart even in the coldest temperatures. If you let a diesel engine idle for a long time, carbon can build up in the engine because the exhaust aftertreatment process does not get hot enough to burn off the carbon.  Get started within 60 seconds of starting. Your engine and its DPF and/or DOC systems will thank you for it. For extremely cold weather (states bordering Canada), you may need a cold weather starting kit that your OEM dealer can provide.

Newer machines and trucks generally use low-viscosity lubricants to improve fuel efficiency. The new synthetic 5W-40 and 0W-40 perform well down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. But if you use thicker oil in your older machines, check with the OEM before switching to low-viscosity oil.

Keep it clean

As long as it's still freezing, wash your equipment under high pressure, paying extra attention to tracks and undercarriages. If ice or frozen mud remains on them, the entire undercarriage will lock up and you won't be able to move the machine until it thaws. And even if you do get the machine moving, you can damage the pins, bushings and rollers unless all frozen gunk is removed first.

Dirt and frozen gunk also hide leaky seals and parts that, if not maintained, can cause maintenance problems later. Salt and other chemicals used to clear the road of ice can also cause rust and corrosion if left on the machine for a long time.


Even if you park your machines for the winter, it's a good idea to start them regularly, move the joysticks and travel a short distance. This keeps seals and fittings lubricated and prevents ice build-up that can compromise operation when you need the machine.

By pushing fluid through the hydraulic system, you keep valves and seals lubricated and in good condition. Also lubricate door hinges and other metal-to-metal parts to keep them moving freely, repel moisture and prevent rust.

Tires and hoses

Repeated cycles of cold and thaw can cause small, temporary air leaks between the rim and sidewalls of your truck and equipment tires. Over the course of a few days, this can lead to a loss of as much as 20 to 40% of the air pressure in your tires. Check your tires after the first cold snap and correct tire pressure if necessary. Cold weather can also make tires brittle and more susceptible to damage, so walk with care.

Rubber hoses can also become brittle in cold weather and crack or detach from their fittings. Be sure to inspect them carefully before use.

DEF Maintenance

Diesel exhaust fluid is mostly water, and it can freeze at 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Current Tier 4 and Tier 4 Final engines either have preheaters for the DEF system, or you can run them for a few minutes until the DEF in the lines and reservoir thaws. But keep an eye on it. If it doesn't thaw, the engine may derail. If problems occur, call your dealer's service department.

If you plan to store your machine below freezing, drain the DEF reservoir. In warmer weather, flush the DEF system with distilled water. And be sure to store your bulk storage of DEF somewhere it can't freeze. Otherwise, you won't be able to distribute it.


Number 2 diesel works fine in the warmer months and is less expensive, but the hydrocarbons in diesel fuel can gel when it gets below 40 degrees. Number 1 diesel (which you can buy at truck stops or order from your fuel supplier) has a lower viscosity and is less likely to gel.

At the end of the day in any cold temperatures, it’s wise to top up your fuel tanks to avoid condensation and water. Use cold weather fuel additives when necessary but always make sure to check with the OEM or dealer on what additives to use. There’s a lot of snake oil out there. An engine block heater can alleviate some of these gelling problems by keeping the engine, fuel lines and injectors at a more favorable temperature when the machine is not running.

Lubricants, greases and fluids

Prolonged cold temperatures can adversely affect engine oil, grease and hydraulic fluid, making them less viscous and more difficult to pump. Ask your OEM dealer about best practices in your area and change these fluids before problems arise.

If your regular grease gets too cold, it can block the lines and make it impossible to push low viscosity/low temperature grease into the lines. Conversely, when temperatures begin to rise, switch back to your normal fluid regime to prevent low viscosity fluids from damaging your equipment.

Hydraulic Cylinders

If you plan to store a machine for the winter, spray a protective coating on the chrome to prevent rust. Even a light coating of rust on the surface causes enough pitting to cause cylinder seals to leak when you restart the machine.

Battery Maintenance

Batteries for heavy equipment and trucks don't like cold weather. Check the terminals and connections to make sure they are tight and free of corrosion. Lubricate battery terminals with dielectric grease to prevent mineral deposits or corrosion.

Batteries left outside can freeze and take up to 30 hours to thaw. If this is a risk, use a battery blanket to keep your battery above 32 degrees. Have your battery and alternator tested before the cold season begins to make sure they can both perform to specifications.
Was this article helpful? Yes -0 No -06 Posted by: 👨 Daniel C. Nealy
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