Keep Your Lift Equipment Operating in Cold Weather

Keep Your Lift Equipment Operating in Cold Weather

preparing your lift equipment for cold weather

Winter is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you have to experience problems with your aerial lift equipment in cold weather. By taking a few common-sense steps before the weather turns cold and adding a few daily maintenance steps while working during the frigid season, you can ensure your equipment will be as dependable as always.

Prepare Lift Equipment for Cold Weather

Before winter begins, be sure you have added the proper lubricants in the engine, hydraulic system and transmission of your machine, and confirm they are at the proper level to provide the necessary flow. Check the level by removing the dipstick to see if the oil drips.

Genie provides a complete list of suggested fluids based on the ambient temperature range the lift equipment will be operating in. These charts are available in your Genie service manual or maintenance manual. If you prefer, you can access Genie manuals online and find the manual for your specific model of lift. If you will use your lift in a variety of environments and need guidance on which fluids are your best options, contact Genie Product Support.

clean lift filters

Keeping the filters clean and in good condition can also help you avoid cold-weather starting issues and prevent your equipment from losing power. Examine the fuel, air and hydraulic filters and perform necessary maintenance or replace them before it gets too cold.

Extreme weather can be especially tough on hydraulic hoses, causing the wrapping on these hoses to crack. Cracking shouldn’t disrupt the performance of hydraulic hoses, but it can eventually shorten the life of the hose. Examine your hydraulic hoses for wear, and if they are leaking or otherwise appear to be near the end of their useful life, replace them to prevent equipment failure. If the machine will be used in extremely cold weather, consult your manual to see if it recommends switching to arctic hydraulic oil.

Store Lifts Properly in Winter

When aerial lift equipment isn’t being used in cold weather, it’s best to keep it in an enclosed storage facility. A storage facility offers several advantages over leaving machinery out in the open:

  • Storing the equipment inside protects your equipment from being covered with snow or ice, which means it will be ready to go when you need it, without the crew having to waste time cleaning off accumulated precipitation.
  • The machine will start faster and easier if the fluids are at a warmer temperature. Your battery will also last longer if it is not kept sitting in extreme cold.

Consider using an engine heater in extreme climates. There are plenty of options available for engine heaters, including oil pan heaters, stick-on heaters, engine block heaters and heaters that are installed in the hose system. Engine block heaters are generally considered the most efficient and reliable of these options. Whichever you choose, purchase one with a rating that matches the size of the engine on your lift so that it will be able to adequately heat the engine.

Using an engine heater will require access to electricity and an extension cord. Use a heavy-duty extension cord designed to carry the wattage the heater needs. If you don’t want the heater to be on all night long, you can use a timer to set the hours when the heater will turn on and operate. Such a timer can be especially beneficial on milder nights, allowing you to cut electricity costs.

Battery-Powered Lifts in Cold Weather

Some battery-powered lifts, including many made by Genie and JLG, are designed to be used in cold environments — whether that means a refrigerated warehouse or outdoors in the winter. However, cold weather can affect the performance of the battery, which can result in slower functioning of battery-powered lifts. Cold temperatures can also reduce the life of the battery charge by half, meaning you will need to charge the battery much more frequently. For best performance, keep batteries fully charged and warm.

In some cases, an absorbent glass mat, or AGM, battery might be a good option if you do a lot of winter lifts. The AGM is a sealed lead-acid battery that uses a fiberglass mat to absorb the sulfuric acid, making it spill-proof. AGM batteries have several advantages:

lift batteries

  • They are lightweight, so you get equal or better performance with less weight than with a standard battery.
  • They offer a longer service life because they have low internal resistance but they deliver high currents when needed.
  • AGM batteries can be stored for a longer time without needing a recharge compared to standard batteries, which need to be charged twice a year to prevent sulfation buildup. Sulfation occurs in batteries when the sulphuric acid, or electrolyte, starts to deteriorate, forming crystals that cover the lead plates. That limits the battery’s efficiency and ability to store power.
  • They perform better in cold environments than standard batteries do, and they have a lower rate of self-discharge.
  • Their charge is up to five times faster than a standard battery and they have a good ability to deep cycle.
  • The sealed design means there’s less concern about acid spills should an accident occur.

AGM batteries cost more than standard batteries because of higher manufacturing costs, but you can decide if the advantages outweigh the extra cost.

Batteries: Charge or Change?

Cold weather can result in a 50-percent reduction in the life of a battery charge, so you need to recharge batteries far more frequently in the winter. When charging batteries, remember:

  • Never charge a frozen battery. This could cause it to explode.
  • Move your battery-powered lift out of the cold weather before you charge the batteries. Batteries might accept a charge when it’s cold, but it’s likely to be at a lower rate. You’ll get better results when you charge the battery indoors, in a garage or heated warehouse. Room temperature is the optimum charging environment for a lead-acid battery, although it will charge in cooler temperatures.charge length of lift equipment batteries
  • Charge the battery overnight if possible. Lead-acid batteries typically require up to 16 hours to get a full charge. They can be charged to roughly 70 percent in half that time, and you can use them when they have reached that level. However, it is best to allow them to reach full saturation, at least every couple of months, which helps prevent the build-up of sulfation.
  • Use caution if you are attempting to jump-start machinery. If two people will be involved in the process, they should review the manual and discuss the process in advance so they know who is doing which steps and in what order. Agreeing on hand signals to use is a good safety precaution as it can be hard to hear each other when you’re on different sides of the machine.

Following the battery service guidelines in your lift’s manual will help you get the most life out of the batteries. However, as batteries age, you might see they are not performing as well as they had been. Consider replacing a weak battery before cold weather sets in so you can be assured it will be performing at maximum strength and less likely to die when temperatures drop. Being proactive before the weather turns really cold can prevent downtime resulting from a dead battery later in the winter.

Equipment Startup in Cold Weather

Your startup routine may vary, depending on in the style lift you use, but when starting heavy equipment in cold weather, bring it up to operating temperature before you start using it. Run the engine until the machine warms up, which could take 10 minutes or more. Such a warmup will benefit many parts of the machine beyond the engine. Exhaust valves and intake valves will be less likely to stick, and wires and hoses will lose some of the brittleness that results from being cold.

Just like you want to stretch your body before exercising, you also want to stretch the lift’s functions by slowly cycling through them, helping to move the warmed-up fluids through the machine. The engine doesn’t warm hydraulic fluids, so get in the habit of slowly moving the hydraulics in a warm-up routine. Allow all the cylinders to move and get the hydraulic fluid flowing. Rotate the hydraulic drive motors slowly in both directions.

The drive system needs a slow warmup as well, so move the machine gently forward, then in reverse. Gradually increase the speed of the movements until the machine is operating at normal speed, helping to warm all parts, including the fluids and metal components. Giving your machines this gentle warmup reduces the chances of leaks and hose failures by eliminating the stress caused when you operate from a cold start. That should result in less downtime.

start up lifts in cold weather

Before each shift, conduct a visual inspection of the lift equipment by doing a walk-around:

  • Check components such as hoses, wiring and attachments for cracks, tears or other signs of wear. Make a note of any concerns and have them taken care of as soon as possible for maximum uptime.
  • Check your tires to make sure they are properly inflated. Cold air can cause tires to lose air faster — for every 10-degree Fahrenheit drop in temperature, a tire can lose 1 psi because air contracts as it gets colder. If the pressure is low and you need to add air, be sure to fill the tires in a warm location. Properly inflated tires increase operator safety and comfort, fuel efficiency, vehicle productivity and the life of the tire. A tire that’s underinflated by just 10 percent could lose up to 15 percent of its expected life.
  • Check the treads, keeping an eye out for punctures, signs of tread wear or indications that the material is separating. Knock mud, snow and other debris off each tire during the inspection to make sure no potential problems are hidden under dirt or ice.

Additional Best Practices for Lift Equipment

At the end of the workday, operators should perform a few tasks to ensure the aerial lift equipment will be ready to go the next day:

  • Fill the fuel tank at the end of the shift. Do this especially if the machine will be sitting in the cold. Keeping the fuel tank full helps prevent the fuel from freezing.
  • Park the lift on planks or a similar raised surface. Raising the lift keeps the tires or tracks from freezing to the ground if lift equipment is kept outdoors overnight. Keeping the tires from freezing prevents damage to the tires and to more expensive components, including the drivetrain.

Keep the Job Moving

One of the best ways to ensure you always have lift equipment available in cold weather is to have a backup unit on site. With two units at the jobsite, you can continue to work even when one of the lifts is undergoing maintenance, is having its battery charged, or is otherwise unavailable. Depending on your needs and finances, renting lift equipment might be a good way to have a backup lift available during the winter if you’re not ready to purchase an additional lift.

renting lift equipment

Cold weather doesn’t have to slow your operations or compromise operator safety or productivity. Instituting sensible precautions on the jobsite ensures that your employees can safely go about their work despite the cold. To ensure safe operations, take these steps:

  • Test heaters, defrosters and similar devices. Do this in all equipment before winter arrives.
  • Train workers to check for snow, ice or other slipping hazards when entering and exiting equipment. Steps, grab bars and grip plates can be dangerous when snow or ice is present.
  • Clear obstructions from the jobsite so they don’t get covered by snow, creating hidden hazards for operators. If possible, remove snow from the jobsite so operators don’t accidentally drive over an object that could rip a lift’s tires or damage the undercarriage. Removing snow and ice also lessens the chances of a worker slipping and falling while on foot or of operators losing control of machinery that skids on ice.
  • Encourage workers to dress for cold weather, including wearing layers of clothing and insulated gloves. Allow them to take breaks as needed to warm up or get a hot drink.

Talk to the Experts at Access Lift Equipment

Whether you are interested in buying a lift for your business or are thinking about renting an additional unit as a backup for the winter, we understand your needs. We’d be happy to help you find the right scissor lift, towable boom lift or telehandler among our inventory of Genie, JLG, Lull and Sky Track industrial lifts. We have two locations, in Pennsylvania and California, that allow us to serve the needs of industrial lift customers throughout the United States. Contact us today or call 866-709-2446 to speak directly to us. We’d be happy to answer all your questions and help you locate the right lift for your operations.

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