On Thin Ice!

Bill Browningin Best of the Rest

Run your spreader through a pre-season maintenance checklist to ensure it's in good working order before the snow flies and another winter season begins

SnowEx1Imagine a musician facing an audience without ever having practised the song on his music stand. Or a professional footballer on the opening day of the season not having kicked a ball or worked out in the gym since the final day of the previous campaign. Chances are that these individuals are not ready to perform as expected.

Whether they realise it or not, winter maintenance teams may have salt or sand spreaders in a similar unprepared situation as they get ready for another season of snow and ice control. Nothing good can come from sending a spreader into battle at less than one hundred percent. That's why it's a beneficial practice to run your spreader through a pre-season maintenance checklist, to ensure it's in good working order before the snow flies and another winter season begins.

Different Needs For Different Spreaders

No single article could adequately address everything there is to know about spreader maintenance, simply because there are so many equipment variations and options available. Clearly, a spreader built with polyethylene will require a different maintenance approach from one constructed of steel or stainless steel.

Procedures will vary based on whether the spreader is powered by a petrol engine, hydraulics or electricity. The unit's material delivery system - whether gravity-fed, auger-fed or conveyor-fed - will also have an impact on maintenance needs. Therefore, consult your handbook for specific requirements peculiar to your machine, such as belt and chain section tightening settings and hydraulic system service schedules etc. If your handbook has disappeared, contact your supplier to obtain a new one.

Clean It Up

Whilst every spreader will have its own set of maintenance activities, there are some universal practices that any spreader should go through to prepare for an upcoming season. One of these is a thorough clean-up as, all too often, spreaders are left at the end of the winter season still caked in (or worse, half full of) rock salt that's been left to set rock-hard.

SnowEx2A good cleaning is particularly important for spreaders with metal hoppers, because residual salt will corrode the surface and eventually lead to rust. And, since so many de-icing materials are corrosive in nature, metal hoppers should actually be cleaned out after every use; in fact, it's a good practice to spray a light oil inside steel hoppers after cleaning to prevent rust if the machine is not going to be used for a few days. Even if the spreader was cleaned before storage, it's still a good idea to clean it again as a new season approaches, to ensure that any caked on salt is completely removed from the surface.

A pressure washer is generally all that's needed to clean the hopper and other spreader components. Hot water is best for cleaning salt from machines as it dissolves the salt more effectively than cold water, so choose a hot wash or steam cleaner if one is available. Just prop the spreader up on its side and hose it out, and even better, if possible, it's worth turning a spreader over and washing from various different angles to ensure that all material is removed - it's surprising what you can miss when looking at a machine from only one angle!

Some like to use chemicals during the cleaning process, but it's worth noting that alkaline-based cleaners, like those containing acetone, benzene, leaded gasoline or brake cleaner should not be used when cleaning hoppers made of polyethylene. These chemicals can damage poly and hurt its structural integrity.

Cleaning also presents an opportunity to check the spreader over for areas where paint or finish may have been scratched or chipped off to expose metal below. These areas should be touched up with primer and top coat to reduce the possibility of corrosion and rust. Components can also be looked over during this time to see if any are in need of replacement or repair. Any parts required should be ordered now and fitted in good time for the new season.

Don't Forget Grease

After cleaning, and perhaps a few touch-ups or fixes, the next step for all spreaders is to grease all necessary parts. Components will vary from one spreader to the next, but every unit will have at least some moving parts and connectors that require lubrication.

For electrically driven spreaders and units featuring electrical connections, for components such as lights and controls, a coat of dielectric grease should be applied to all terminals to prevent corrosion and ensure easy reconnection. In actuality, dielectric grease should be applied every time these terminals are disconnected, and dust caps that cover connections should be refitted or replaced, if missing.

Moving parts, like bearings, chains, conveyors, rollers and augers, should all be lubricated with a good quality multi-purpose grease or oil. The same applies for integrated grease fittings. How much time, effort and grease are needed will differ depending on the type of spreader. Conveyor-fed units, and some other models, have more moving parts and, therefore, require more lubrication and potential repair and adjustment work. Conversely, some auger-fed spreaders operate without pulleys, chains and conveyors and only need grease in a few areas to facilitate auger articulation. Check your owner's manual to determine where and how much lubrication is necessary.

Feeling Tension

Contractors using spreaders with belts, chains or conveyors should be sure to adjust the tension before the season starts. This should also be done throughout the winter to reduce the chances of slippage or other performance issues. How tension is adjusted will vary depending on the spreader, so consult the owner's manual before making modifications.

Some aspects of tension adjustment are universal, however. For example, the drive belt or chain should never be over-tightened, as it could damage the motor or gearbox bearing. Additionally, before attempting to adjust conveyor belt tension, check to make sure that no sand or de-icing material is trapped underneath the belt.

Engine and Hydraulic Checks

Engine and hydraulic-powered spreaders will need to undergo some additional pre-season maintenance.

An engine, like the spreader itself, should be cleaned before returning to work, especially since users may not get around to it once the season begins. This can be done simply by pressure washing with water to remove any residual salt to guard against corrosion of metal engine components. After that, keep track of the service intervals for oil and air filters changes, spark plug inspections and other maintenance checks suggested by the engine manufacturer in the manual.

For hydraulically powered spreaders, be sure to change the hydraulic fluid, unless of course it was already changed prior to being stored for the off-season. Use a new hydraulic fluid of the type and viscosity recommended by the pump manufacturer. Inspect all hoses and fittings for any signs of damage or leaks, and take care of any problems you come across.

Ready To Go

Contractors are usually far more focused on the jobs and profits aspect of getting into a new snow and ice control season. But, work will go much more smoothly if proper time and attention is dedicated to a little preseason preparation. When the brunt of winter hits, the work won't be slowing down. Make sure your spreader doesn't either.

See Pitchcare shop for Snow and Ice solutions

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