Winter is Coming - Is Your Equipment Cold Weather Ready?

Winter months in the Midwest are tough, especially in Chicagoland. If you already have a maintenance plan in place, it is still vital to carry out pre-season inspection on your equipment to avoid unnecessary repair costs, down time, or other cold related problems. If you have recently bought used equipment it may be a good idea to get in touch with the dealer to know the kind of maintenance the forklift has received. Now, is your forklift ready for extremely low temperatures? Read on for expert advice to keep your lift trucks and rail-car movers WINTER READY.


Lift Truck

Engine and hydraulics

Cold winter conditions can cause moving components to slow down or jam completely, so always check they are generously greased. Hydraulic systems and engines need a longer warm-up time in the cold. Before initiation of any task, always allow several minutes for the forklift to idle without any load. It is also advisable to skim through and check each hydraulic utility. It will permit oil to circulate freely through the system. Cold ignitions will cost you money through augmented fuel consumption and greater wear and tear on parts.

Something to keep in mind, if possible, avoid running duration less than 30 minutes. Often engines use a denser fuel composition during the first 30 minutes of ignition. That is the time when water vapor can accumulate in the oil and exhaust, because temperatures are too low to allow evaporation. To curb ice formation, clouding or crystallizing in hydraulic fluid, ensure you are using winterized fluids/ lubricants. Diesel engines will also need winterized fuel or additives to prevent coagulation.


Cold temperatures put major pressure on power, with many batteries discharging at a faster pace. However, preemptive care could save you a lot of worry, as well as money. Most importantly check the cables – ensure they are clean and validate that the battery is at maximum charge / strength with a load tester. Click here for further information regarding battery care & maintenance.

Cooling System / antifreeze

A hydrometer can evaluate if the coolant is in good condition and that the level of antifreeze is satisfactory. Hoses and other related parts can also leak and should be examined carefully for any damage.


For those areas where lift truck use is predominantly outdoors, lights need to be clean and functional due to low visibility levels and darker afternoons throughout the winter. If your forklifts still use halogen lights; consider swapping out for LED bulbs. Not only are LED bulbs brighter and longer lasting, but they brighten much better in cold temperatures and are adept at absorbing operational vibrations.


Air-filled tires MUST BE examined for adequate air pressure.

All tire types (including solid) must be checked to make sure the tramp depth will handle snow and cold conditions. Contact a Voss Equipment technician if you feel your forklift tires should have snow chains for extra grip on slippery outdoor surfaces. In addition, high traffic areas where the forklift operates must be kept free of obstacles or potential dangers. Ice, snow, and frozen mud can all hamper the safety of your forklift (and operator), so outdoor areas require higher grip and need to be snow ploughed or gritted regularly. Contact our parts department for further information on tires. 


If your forklift has an inbuilt cab, you will need to make sure the heater functions, all door fasteners are lubricated, every windshield wiper moves freely and will handle the extra demands of freezing weather. Forklift shields are also accessible for any machines that lack bounded cabs. However, it is not recommended to use vinyl wraps which can become brittle in the cold months. Corrugated hard plastic covers are more durable and better at directing rain away from the windshield. Contact Voss Equipment for more information if needed. 

General inspections / services

Apart from the above-mentioned points, one obvious, but sometimes overlooked area is to ensure your forklift has undergone all regular inspections and scheduled services. Scheduled maintenance is important since winter can be particularly ruthless to starters and chokes. A tune-up of mechanical and electrical systems is always a good idea. Before the start of each daily shift, routine checks must reiterate all equipment is operational and safe.

After every operation, the equipment must be cleaned. All wintertime debris must be removed. Snow, ice, mud, and grit can easily build up and hamper functioning.

Trackmobile Railcar Movers


Make sure you are starting to put in a winter blend of fuel by the end of November.  Keep the tanks full and always have a fueling plan in place.


Sanders are always checked during PM service but often overlooked when choosing which repairs should be made.  Changing out sanders are especially important during the cold months. If ignored, this could lead to traction and braking issues. STEEL ON STEEL will never work on damp, wet, or frozen tracks.

The winter months require sand, but not just any sand from a local hardware store; these sands have the potential to turn to cement and cause major issues trying to clean out. Contact our parts department and order TRACGRIP. This is available in 500lb drums and must be shipped to your location due to weight.

Block Heaters

Make sure you have a good cord and a working socket to plug into.  Operators should know how to do this and the importance of plugging it in.

Coding Issues

During cold weather it is possible the unit will show malfunction codes.  Most of these can be caused by cold weather.  Before adding cost by making a service call, have the operators warm the unit and exercise all functions, including the hydraulics. This practice may take 5-10 minutes to clear the hydraulic codes and alarms. Remember, cold makes the oil move slower.

If the systems are not warmed up there is cause for operation issues. 


Batteries are always checked during the PM; however cold weather can kill a battery without warning. If your batteries are over 4 years old, it is recommended to be replaced before the winter. If the unit does not start after two to three tries:  Contact our dispatcher to schedule a service call.  This will reduce the possibility of having to install a new starter or other costly repairs.

Tier 4 Engines

The DEF tank is equipped with a heater; however, this heater is a coolant heater.  If the unit is running the fluid will not freeze. If the unit sits during a prolonged period during extreme cold weather the fluid will freeze.  It is important to remember to not top off the DEF tank and only fill to ¾ full.  This will reduce damage to the tank if it freezes.


Operating any equipment does not only involve the machine, there is also a human element. The operator must be adequately equipped for extreme temperatures with clothing such as high visibility vests, warm clothing, hats, and gloves.  Drivers must keep speed under check and remember not to ignore the risks of challenging weather conditions. During the coldest winter months our bodies need more energy for any work.  Energy levels drop more quickly and cause tiredness to be a great risk. Always be sure to have operators take scheduled breaks to rest and replenish calories.