By Ben Schmitt, Product Manager, Vactor Manufacturing
In the winter months, when cold weather conditions set in, regular maintenance and a heightened awareness of how to keep vacuum excavation equipment operating properly is required to avoid costly repair expenses.
- Check coolant and use recommended antifreeze/water mixture for the lowest temperature expected during operation.
- Make sure the water heater works properly.
- Use hydraulic oil and lubricants designed for the cold weather.
- Maintain the battery by removing and cleaning cables, cleaning cable ends and posts, and cleaning and tightening the terminals.
- Change fuel filters routinely. You can also get some helpful advice from the service technicians at your equipment dealer.Beyond the basic winter maintenance tips, Vactor Manufacturing offers some additional recommendations to keep your vacuum excavation equipment operating throughout the winter. Consider cold weather truck options. Make sure equipment is designed to operate in cold temperatures. Vactor vacuum excavation trucks are designed to operate in temperatures as low as minus 40-degrees F (minus 40-degrees C). Vactor Manufacturing offers a number of cold weather options, including heated storage, heated water pump and water heater cabinets, and heated warming cabinets. Vactor vacuum excavators featuring the new Kenworth T880 chassis can be equipped with an arctic package including a block and pan heater, heated fuel water separator, coolant tank heater, battery pad heater and arctic hose options for colder extremes.
Before, during and after the job
- Make sure all water lines are heated and insulated – including the water pump cabinet.
- Allow hydraulic fluid and transmission
fluid to warm up before operation.
- Before heading out on the job, check airline hoses for cracking, make sure air dryer is functioning properly to prevent lines from freezing (alcohol can be added to the system to prevent freezing).
- Make sure all lights are operating and free of snow, ice or dirt. Use a recirculator to circulate water through the water system during transport. Check the recirculator each day to ensure that it is operational.
- Keep tires inflated to the proper pressure rating. Tire pressure decreases over time, especially when winter temperatures fluctuate.
- Regular washing of the truck, especially during the winter, will help prevent buildup of salt and other corrosive material that can cause rust or wear.
- When shutting down for the day, it’s essential to drain and purge all water – or run glycol through the line with a glycol injection system to prevent water from freezing. Vactor vacuum excavators feature an air purge option that uses chassis air to blow out the water line at the end of the day.
- Some contractors and municipalities have indoor garages where they can park their vacuum excavators at night. For any trucks parked outside overnight or for any extended period of time in the winter, block heaters should be used.
The truck chassis can also be spec’d for cold weather options such as:
- Wind front on grill to maintain heat in the cold
- Battery heater
- Fuel line heater
- Arctic package
Visibility is important
For the safety of the operator – and any others on the jobsite, or on the road when traveling to and from the job – good visibility is essential. Keep the windshield wiper fluid tank full with a winter blend to prevent freezing, and install winter weather wiper blades to help keep snow and ice off the windshield. Proper lighting is also important for enhanced visibility, especially during the winter months when days are shorter and sunlight is minimal. When driving in snow, vacuum excavators and other vehicles can be hard to see, so it’s important to include additional DOT lighting on the truck beyond the standard DOT clearance lighting to increase visibility. Additional work lights should be installed on vacuum excavators to enhance visibility to the site when working in the early morning or evening hours and when working in snowy conditions. For added visibility and safety, operators should also wear reflective gear over their clothing.
Stay warm on the job.
Human skin begins to freeze when the temperature drops below 32 degrees F (0 degrees C), resulting in frostbite. Exposure to extreme cold can also lead to hypothermia and trench foot. Vactor vacuum excavators feature optional warming boxes to allow operators to warm up in cold weather.
Always be prepared.
Depending on the job, a vacuum excavator operator might be working out in the middle of nowhere, with miles and miles between them and the closest town. They might be facing poor mobile phone reception and steadily dropping temperatures, with snow and ice in the forecast. With this scenario in mind, we recommend keeping an emergency survival kit in the truck that includes extra hats, gloves, gaiters and other winter clothing, blankets, food, water, flashlight, batteries, matches, emergency flares and first-aid items.
Vacuum excavators require proper, thorough maintenance – especially during the winter – to run smoothly year-round. Winterizing equipment – and taking the proper steps before, during and after operating the equipment in winter conditions – ensures efficient performance and maximum uptime and protects your investment.