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Why Cold Weather Affects Your Machines and Equipment

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Winter has its own unique set of challenges for machinery and equipment. It can cause mechanical components to malfunction causing operational delays. Such impediments can dramatically affect timelines and profits. However, there are ways to avoid such slowdowns and stoppages.

Many equipment failures occur during the winter, especially when temperatures fall below freezing. Without proper maintenance, machines and equipment may not function optimally in such conditions. Expensive repairs are then required — or replacement of the machinery. Any company operating in sub zero climates must take extra steps to care for their machines and equipment.

Some machines must be shut down and stored temporarily during winter. If you need to store and/or relocate machines and equipment, contact a professional machinery moving company.

Proper lubrication is essential in freezing temperatures.

Lubrication and Machine Reliability

Machines always work more efficiently when lubricated. However, it becomes even more imperative in cold weather. Application of the right fluids prevents chemical degradation and contamination. Lubricants reduce premature wear, improve machine reliability, and lower your operating costs.

In the Northern Hemisphere, freezing climates can change any machine’s performance and reliability. Operating temperatures can affect the practical limits of both machines and lubricants. In freezing conditions, fluids can become congealed and no longer flow properly throughout the machine. This limit is known as the “pour point,” and affects the circulating system of the machine. When lubricant viscosity becomes high, it restricts the proper flow of oil. This reduces the ability of components to move properly, leading to premature metal-on-metal death.

Temperatures also affect other systems that rely on oil flow. Take for example, the splash-lubricated gearbox. A properly designed and well-maintained gearbox brings oil up to the gear tooth interface and shaft bearings. When the fluid viscosity is too high, the submerged gear pushes the lubricant chunks away and causes insufficient oil distribution within the housing. High viscosity can also lead to higher startup torque. This results in an increased load, causing machine failure or high energy consumption due to excessive friction.

Furthermore, extremely cold weather causes blended base oil to separate into various states. This process is known as stratification. The additives turn insoluble when exposed to cold. The base oil separates and forms deposits at the bottom of the sump. Insoluble additives can affect the performance of lubricant and cause damage to the machine.

Most machine lubricants can withstand moderate changes in temperature (i.e. from zero to negative ten degrees Celsius) without any significant reduction in performance. However, some lubricants reach their pour point at beyond negative 20 degrees Celsius. Polyalphaolefin (PAO) synthetic oil is a good alternative to regular lubricants when the temperature reaches below negative -20C. PAOs use quality, highly refined mineral oils for excellent oil flow even in freezing conditions. Unlike regular lubricants, its pour point exists at a point as low as -50C.

The quality of the base oil and the presence of certain additives in lubricants play a crucial role in pour point. To prevent stratification, the pour point should be at least 10 degrees Celsius below the lowest expected startup temperature.

A high viscosity index also helps PAO maintain optimal performance, especially in cold weather. Higher index range means less impact on the viscosity of the lubricant. Also, it enables proper oil flow throughout the machine at an extended period of time.

Understanding how winter can affect lubricant is your first line of defense in preventing potential machine damage. Before you prepare to start machines and equipment on a cold morning, be aware of how the frigid temperatures can affect your machinery.

Preseason maintenance keep machines in good shape when the snow hits.

Protecting Machinery When Temperatures Drop

Freezing air can fundamentally alter the efficiency of lubricants and how machinery operates. However, winter does not need to unnecessarily slow or delay operations — or compromise the safety of your operators. Taking necessary precautions to prevent the negative effects of cold temperature will protect your machines and equipment. Additional measures can keep them in peak working condition. Check the owner’s manual for each of your machines and contact your local dealer before making any modifications to a machine’s regular maintenance practices.

Keep these parts of all machines in optimal condition:


  • Take extra care when fuelling machines and equipment to prevent water and other particles from getting into the tank.
  • Check the fuel, air, and hydraulic filters regularly so equipment can start easily. This measure also prevents power loss during operation.


Use batteries properly to avoid damage to heavy equipment.

  • Be cautious when using jumper cables, especially during the winter. Incorrect use (reverse polarisation hookup) could potentially result in extensive damage to an electrical system.
  • Avoid charging a frozen battery to prevent battery explosion.


  • Handling, using, and storing highly volatile ether starting aids in pressurized cans is a major safety concern. If handled improperly, the engine may seize, or crank/bend the valve stems.
  • Safety measures are crucial, especially when two or more workers are involved when starting a machine. Before proceeding to jump-start any machinery, assign each person a specific role and discuss the entire process in detail beforehand.

Machine Warm-Up:

  • Freezing temperatures can make hoses and wires brittle. Take time to warm up machines before operating.
  • Warm hydraulics quickly by holding the control valve to open the relief valve.

Prep heavy equipment for winter and prevent potential accidents.


  • Before winter arrives, inspect atmospheric systems (defrosting devices and operator compartment heaters) to ensure they are in good working condition. This practice helps prevent unexpected problems that can cause operational delays.
  • Cab or machine windows can easily fog up and reduce visibility. Clean windows thoroughly so the driver can spot nearby obstacles, machines, and other workers.
  • Frozen ground makes work difficult and sometimes impossible. Wheels can easily slip on ice and snow, causing collisions with other equipment and structures — and endangering anyone in the vicinity.
  • Maintain control of each machine by reducing ground speed and lessening the shock of impact on brittle ground contact surfaces.

Winter puts more strain on every machine. Batteries work harder to start and provide power. Preseason maintenance is imperative for optimal performance. Make sure to regularly inspect your machinery to detect damage, leaks, and other problems. Fix them immediately and avoid downtime. Also, check the auxiliary hydraulic connections, hoses, belts, attachment connections, and fluid levels for any signs of damage.

Based in Toronto, heavy machinery movers can relocate your equipment.

Ready Machinery Movers has been an industry leader since 1982. We not only offer moving services, we can also stage and store machines and heavy equipment year-round. Our professional team of movers have years of experience handling industrial machinery rigging, relocation, and transportation. Whether you need to move a single piece of heavy equipment completely relocate a plant, call 1-800-211-2500 to request a quote.

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