Critical Equipment Preparation Tips for Long-Term Winter Storage

Winter conditions can be harsh on construction equipment, tools, and machinery. Even gear that was designed for use outdoors, capable of withstanding the elements, can be affected. Temperatures are unpredictable, sometimes dropping to below freezing levels in a matter of hours, with added conditions like rain, snow, sleet and ice causing quite a mess. After placing equipment in storage, those conditions and temperatures can still have a significant impact.

Regardless of its weather rating, all equipment should be properly handled and protected during long-term storage, to ensure it will once again run at optimal performance levels when spring finally returns and the snow thaws.

Here are some ways to prepare and protect construction equipment that’s put in storage during the winter months:

Provide Effective Cover

Leaving vehicles and equipment out in the open during the winter is never a good idea. The ideal solution is to park or store it in a shelter of some kind, whether that’s a garage, shed or warehouse. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible, but the equipment in question should still have suitable cover.

Waterproof tarps, insulated blankets, and other unique wrappings can be used to provide a measure of protection. The idea is to cut down on exposure as much as possible. Constructing a temporary shelter is also an option, although, in a remote location, it must be durable enough to withstand wind, snow and related burdens.

Clean All Gear

Before putting anything away, it must be cleaned thoroughly. Leaving dust, mud, debris, and other contaminants on a piece of equipment or hardware can cause lasting damage over time. Rust isn’t the only concern, as mud and dirt can harden and ruin the materials underneath. For large machines, that means inspecting and cleaning the undercarriage, as well as all fittings, fastenings and components.

Rinse and properly dry equipment before parking or stowing it. Even so, it’s a good idea to wash down the gear when it’s time to take it back out again, as well.

Prepare the Fluids

Fuel, oil, lubricants, and other fluids can have quite the experience during the winter, brought on by cold or freezing temperatures. In some cases, the fluids may freeze — diesel exhaust fluid is guilty of this — reducing its efficiency later, or outright damaging surrounding components like a tank or line.

There are two ways to deal with it. The fluid can either be drained completely, which is often more difficult, or it can be filled to near bursting. With fuel and oil, even diesel, extra room in a tank can mean the build-up of condensation, which is largely responsible for freezing and dilution of the said fluids. By completely filling up the tanks, before placing them in storage, it reduces the impact of shifting temperatures, but most importantly, it limits the build-up of condensation.

Disconnect or Remove the Battery

Cold temperatures cause batteries to drain much faster than normal, so leaving them connected during winter — even with minimal power draw — can be damaging. For machinery that’s going to be sitting unused, power tools and similar gear, it makes sense to disconnect the batteries, at the least.

The best practice is to completely remove the battery and store it in a warmer, more insulated location. If the equipment is stored in a temperature-controlled garage, then moving it away is less of a concern. If possible, batteries should also be connected to smart chargers or slow chargers throughout the winter.

Remove Attachments

It’s tempting to leave attachments on equipment because when it’s time to use the gear again, leaving the pieces on can shorten the preparation period. It can also damage the equipment, the add-ons, or introduce other concerns — the cold weather may shrink fittings causing attachments to become nigh impossible to remove later.

So, it’s always a good idea to remove attachments from modular equipment and store them separately. As with any piece of gear, the attachments should be stored inside, whenever possible, and protected in some way from the elements.

Don’t Neglect Winter Maintenance

Understandably, many want to park or store a piece of equipment and then forget about it until it’s needed later. Some equipment may need to be started occasionally, which might also mean attaching the battery and then detaching it again when done. Filling fluids may also be necessary, especially fuel or oil after a long period of time. Moreover, filters may need to be changed, even if they were relatively new before the gear went into storage.

Just because a piece of equipment has been at rest, does not necessarily mean it requires no care. Be sure to plan and schedule the appropriate maintenance sessions throughout the winter to keep all hardware in good shape.

Give It a Slow Start

When winter has passed, and it’s time to take the equipment back out of storage a rookie mistake is to do so hastily. Just as it required preparation to safely stow equipment, it also requires the same care when recommissioning the gear.

Always be sure fluids are topped up, filters have been swapped out, the equipment is clean, and above all, give it time to warm up. Instead of using the equipment right away, for long, all-day sessions, take some time to start it up, and get it back into the swing of things. Let the motor and engine warm-up, have some time to run, and then leave it to rest for a little while. Rinse and repeat until the equipment is ready-to-go.

Optimal Hardware Is Well-Managed Hardware

It’s no secret that there’s a huge correlation between the maintenance and care equipment receives and its long-term performance. That includes how any piece of equipment or hardware is treated, stored, and protected during the cold winter months.

Luckily, there are some ways to ensure that equipment is properly stored, the most important of which involves keeping it safe from the elements. That may include storing the gear inside, in a warm location, or covering it up with all-weather tarps or blankets. Other steps can be taken to protect the internal components, engine, attachments and more.

One thing is certain, with the proper planning and preparation, all gear will perform just as optimally, come spring.

Megan R. Nichols is a technical writer and blogger who covers industrial and scientific topics. Subscribe to her blog here.