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Making the best of idle time

  • Dale Keep
- Posted: February 8, 2016
As I write this article in early January, for far too many of us, it has been mostly a waiting game with minimal billing hours. During this downtime, it’s wise to take action to be prepared for winter weather when it finally arrives and to positively impact the bottom line. After all, going into a storm with well-prepared equipment always ensures better overall results and profit margins. 

Even though your equipment maintenance was likely completed prior to the season, repeating the following steps with an eye for the small details can have a major positive effect on equipment operations and typically at a minimal cost. While going through this detailed inspection process, consider the maintenance history for each piece of equipment. Recall previous maintenance needs or mechanical repairs to point out areas of priority to check. Equipment that has been stored and/or has sat for a long period may need repairs that can make a difference in dependability. If your team has time, review the following:

Detailed pressure washing. When washing equipment, clean the plow and wash the underside of the vehicle, too. If applicable, raise dump beds and block them open for washing. Make sure to hit the hard-to-reach places such as connections on frame rails where dirt and chemicals can accumulate. Deicers, dirt or a combination living in such locations can start the corrosion process while hiding it from view. Eliminate these unwanted riders by cleaning. When this is done, note these locations on each truck or piece of equipment so that the process can often and easily be repeated. Wash the wheels and lug nuts and inspect them to make sure they are all present and tight. This is also a good time to look at tires, and check for flat or low air pressure on inside duals.   

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Check the plow and the mounting device. Look for cracks, hydraulic leaks and overall appearance. Check the cutting edge for wear.  

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Check the lights and electrical system
. Make sure the battery is fully charged and in good repair so it will start when needed. Slow responses and the extra hassle of a vehicle that won’t start is costly. Check all lights for operation and adjustment. Remember, just because they come on doesn’t mean they are aimed correctly to provide good visibility and safety. Inspect and repair fittings, sockets and connections, always looking for the telltale bluish-green powder (corrosion) as an indicator of work needed. When repairs are completed, coat the connection with grease or even Vaseline as an added benefit. 

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Inspect fluid systems. Inspect all reservoirs and hoses that carry any kind of a fluid, including the windshield washer system. Look for leaks, cracks, kinks in lines that can restrict flow and corrode fittings. At times simply rerouting an existing hose to enhance fluid flow can prevent failures. 

Check liquid deicer equipment. Make sure the pump is operating properly. If it has a gas engine make sure it is newly serviced, full of fuel and that it will start and run. Test run for a short time and make sure all is working as required. Use a very small amount of deicer for this step. Do not run the pump dry! With some thought and typically very little effort the material can be pumped from one system to another for reuse or back into itself for testing purposes. Thoroughly inspect and clean the spray bar and nozzles. Unless you are testing the nozzles to ensure they aren’t plugged, the system can be tested without pumping material through the spray bar and having to waste or catch it. Disconnect the line from the pump to the bar and add a temporary longer hose to pump material through. Using water for testing this time of the year is not recommended. Spray material through it if after the inspection you feel it’s necessary to assure correct operation.   

Check gearboxes. Check the lubricant and oil levels in gearboxes, but also look for moisture. If moisture is present, the cost of changing it is minimal compared to the potential cost of not having done it.  

Equipment failure is frustrating and costly - in terms of non-productive, non-billing downtime and the cost for the required repairs. There is never a good time for an equipment failure to occur, but the start of delayed winter operations may be the worst time. By turning this waiting time into detailed equipment care time, productivity may run more smoothly and increase your bottom line. 

Dale Keep owns Ice & Snow Technologies, a training and consulting company based in Walla Walla, WA.
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