Experienced concrete contractors know weather can be their greatest ally or worst nemesis. As the days get shorter and the nights grow longer, it is easy to forget the importance of changing maintenance routines to meet the requirements of cooler weather.

Contractors in cool climates can run into issues by arriving for jobs with equipment prepared for warm weather. The following are some tips for prepping equipment that will hopefully save time, money, and a lot of headaches.

Proper engine maintenance

Regular engine maintenance will ensure performance and maximize service life.
Briggs & Stratton Commercial Power Regular engine maintenance will ensure performance and maximize service life.

The single largest equipment investment is the engine. Regular maintenance in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations is critical for maintaining performance and maximizing equipment life.

Sometimes, the decisions crews make during the busy season can cause unforeseen problems. For example, while finishing a floor during late summer, an engine may exhibit signs of overheating. To quickly address the problem, the coolant is topped off with more water. As colder weather approaches, the proper 50/50 mix is unbalanced, increasing the risk of freezing weather making the engine block crack.

Manufacturers agree most engine failures are easily preventable. It probably comes as no surprise that lack of lubrication is the No. 1 cause of catastrophic engine failures. Inspect and change the engine oil according to the manufacturer’s suggested intervals and do not forget to use the recommended viscosity for the climate.

The second most common factor for destroying engines is poor air cleaner maintenance. Be sure to check the filter element regularly and replace it as necessary. If you don’t remember the last time you serviced the engine, as the saying goes, “There is no better time than the present.” The use of additives to stabilize and dry the fuel is recommended as well if there will be periods of inactivity.

Finally, inspect drive belts regularly and carry an extra set of belts on the job. You never know when you may need them.

Truss screed maintenance

Properly grease the bearings on a truss screed to guarantee optimal operation.
Multiquip Inc. Properly grease the bearings on a truss screed to guarantee optimal operation.

Truss screeds are workhorses used regularly for flatwork and bridge deck applications. Several models are available on the market using rotating eccentric shafts, supported by pillow block bearings, to create vibration. Improper greasing of the bearings on a cold morning can create big issues when concrete arrives.

It is good practice before starting a vibratory screed to turn the eccentric shaft by hand to ensure the bearings are free and not frozen by cold grease. If it does not turn easily, start the engine and allow it to run for a few minutes so the bearing grease heats up. At that point shut down the engine, grease the bearings again and start the engine once more for a few minutes to warm up the grease. When concrete arrives, the screed should work seamlessly. This becomes even more critical for work in high altitude locations where engines do not run as efficiently.

Similarly, proper cleanup and regular maintenance between jobs is equally important. Minimize challenges by power washing the screed and greasing the bearings while rotating the shaft. Always grease after washing to chase out the water and contaminants. Then the screed should be run at full operating speed to expel the extra grease.

Power trowels

Power trowels need proper lubrication of the trowel blades, spider assembly, and control cables to prevent rusting.
Multiquip Inc. Power trowels need proper lubrication of the trowel blades, spider assembly, and control cables to prevent rusting.

As with truss screeds, many potential problems can be prevented with planning and preparation. No matter what type of trowel is in your fleet—hydraulic, mechanical riders, or walk-behind trowels—make certain the gearbox or hydraulic oil is changed annually. Clean oil will protect hydraulic systems and gearboxes, and provides low-cost insurance for equipment.

Having covered the engine and the trowel gearbox, there is one more area to inspect in order to ensure the machine will perform as required. The spider or rotor assembly is as important as the engine or gearbox, but is often overlooked. A properly cleaned, greased, and adjusted spider assembly will avoid potential headaches.

A typical experience on a cold morning is having a machine that does not respond to the pitch input. Prior to placing the machine on the slab, use a forklift to safely raise the machine and inspect the spider assembly. While the machine is raised, rotate each trowel arm by hand and make certain the thrust collar moves freely. Do this prior to adjusting the pitch, as it is much easier to move the arms individually when it is cold, than to try and move the entire assembly.

Clean up is critical as it will reduce wear and tear on the machine and prolong the service life. Retardant tanks must be drained every night to keep the tanks from freezing up and breaking. Spray a lubricant on the trowel blades, spider assembly, and control cables to prevent from rusting or seizing up between jobs.

Storing screeds and trowels

Although all contractors would prefer to store their equipment indoors, this may not always be possible. When storing power trowels, ensure the output shaft beneath the hydraulic motor or gearbox and spider assembly is coated using a silicon-based lubricant/protectant so that it is ready the next time it is needed. It is very important that trowels and screeds are stored on clean, flat surfaces, and the blades are pitched flat.

Finally, one of the simplest things to do before getting to the job is to start the equipment in advance. A machine can have clean engine oil, new air cleaner that is lubed, and be sparkling clean, yet if the battery isn’t charged, it will never leave the starting gate.

In the end, the message that should be imparted to the crew and service technicians, and especially as winter approaches, is to never assume your machines are ready to go. Take the simple steps to prepare machines for changes in the weather to save time and money, and increase productivity.

Ben Wiese is product manager of concrete placing and finishing at Multiquip Inc., Carson, Calif.