Based on a recent survey—i.e. walking around the garage and yard and outbuildings—I currently own 14 pieces of machinery that rely on some kind of engine, mainly gas engines. With so much dependence on equipment to keep things going around my rural Ozarks’ property, you can guarantee I give the change of seasons some serious attention.
I don’t know what your equipment lineup looks like, but mine includes these: one small crossover my wife drives, a 4-wheel drive pickup I drive, an SUV my college-student daughter drives, a 1947 Farmall B tractor (my grandpa bought new and has been passed down through three generations, so far), an old Cub Cadet 127 garden tractor (used regularly to plow the garden, blade snow, grade the driveway, and put in and maintain wildlife food-plots on our hunting property), a 1951 Chevrolet project truck with a more modern V8 engine and automatic transmission, a gas-powered trimmer used for trimming around the house and cutting small brush, two chainsaws for cutting firewood and trimming brush, a riding mower, a garden tiller, a power washer, a large air-compressor, and a generator called into duty every time a summer storm or winter ice brings down the power company’s feeder lines. And at times throughout the years there’s also been a boat with an outboard and trolling motor used for fishing and gigging, and a snow blower or limb chipper added to the lineup.
My approach to keeping my equipment—especially things with an engine—in optimal operable condition is a seasonal one. I have a checklist of things to do or check in both spring and fall. Sometimes by the time I get to the end of the list, it’s more like early summer or winter… but still a major season doesn’t come or go without me giving each piece of equipment the necessary attention.
Since we’re facing winter at this point and this is the second entry of a three-part series on winterization around the rural property, I’ll focus on getting things ready before the snow flies and the mercury drops.
Preparing Machinery for Winter Checklist:
- Check the coolant level and freeze point in all liquid-cooled engines.
- Clean and tighten battery cables in all equipment with battery-powered starters. Also, check battery voltage while charging and at rest.
- Check windshield wipers on vehicles and windshield washer reservoirs for proper fluid.
- In areas with extreme temperature variations from summer to winter consider changing oil and using a slightly thinner viscosity during the winter months.
- Drain or treat gasoline in tillers, lawnmowers, gas trimmers, and anything else that will be garaged or otherwise mothballed for the winter months.
- If you tend to use your ATV more in the winter than summer, change the oil an install a new spark plug now;
- Clean mower decks and sharpen blades, clean tiller tines before putting away for the season;
- Drain water out of hoses and proportioning valves of power washers.
- Drain or treat gasoline for outboard motors and drain any water from lower units of those outboards.
- Install a new spark plug and sharpen chains on all chainsaws. Start the season with fresh 2-cycle gas and oil mix.
- Sharpen all axes, splitting mauls, hatchets, and tighten loose handles if needed.
- Touch up edges on snow shovels and check handles and tighten if needed.
- Install a new spark plug, change the oil, and put fresh gasoline in the generator. Start and run for several minutes until the engine is warm and assure the unit is making electricity. (I start and run my generator every other month to assure it’s ready to go when needed any time of year.)
- If you heat outbuildings, assure adequate fuel supplies for those heat sources (I have a garage heated by a woodstove, and another heated by a multi-fuel “salamander” stove which burns diesel or kerosene).
- Check supplies of oils and other lubricants, antifreeze, and windshield washer fluid, as well as starter fluid.
- Connect trickle chargers to all equipment that relies on a battery to start.
Preparing Vehicles for Winter
This includes pickup trucks, cars, SUVs, minivans, also tractors, garden tractors, mowers, ATVs… think of anything propelled by an engine. While each one is different, in many ways they’re all the same.
Focus on cooling/heating systems, fuel, and charging.
Start by checking the coolant level and freeze point. Purchase a coolant tester (a.k.a. hydrometer) and read the directions if you’re new at maintaining your own equipment. A decent tester should only run $10 to $20 and will last for many years. Read the owner’s manual for your vehicles and know the proper coolant level. The level when the engine is cold will be slightly lower than the level when the engine is up to operating temperature. And, of course, if you’re checking fluid when the engine is warm, use extreme caution when loosening the radiator cap… or, better yet, let the engine cool down first.
Make sure you have the proper coolant for your engine. Newer automobiles may require a specialized coolant. Older engines normally take the basic blue stuff. Read the labels closely. At the parts store you’ll find full strength coolant or 50/50 mix. While the half-n-half mix is cheaper you’re better off buying full strength coolant for the slightly higher price. When you by 50/50 mix you’re paying a high price for the half of the gallon which is only water. Use the coolant tester to check the freeze point for your engine’s coolant fluid. We live in southern Missouri, so having our engines protected down to -10F is generally adequate. Adjust for your own area or places you’ll be traveling through during the coming winter months.
On any engines that’ll be sitting for periods of time, consider either draining the fluid from the tank, fuel line and, carburetor, or add Sta-bil or a similar fuel treatment to the tank and then run the engine for several minutes to work some of the fuel stabilizer through the fuel line and into the carburetor or fuel injectors. But even if you use a fuel stabilizer, if you leave the vehicle or other engine out in the elements or an unheated building, there’s a chance the fuel can freeze and cause all manners of problems. At least twice, that I can recall, I’ve purchased a piece of used machinery in the past only to discover a ruptured fuel line or fuel filter, or a damaged carb float caused by winter freezing of fuel.
In my automobiles and tractors, I’ll run a bottle of Heet or other fuel antifreeze/water remover through with a tank of fuel about every three months, especially during fall to spring. I’m no scientist, but the explanation given is that the Heet attaches itself to water molecules in the fuel and help pull them through the system to be burned up in the combustion process. If I have an engine that gets sluggish or hard to start during the winter, I’ll run a bottle of Seafoam or other fuel additive through it, then a couple of days later I’ll dump a bottle of Heet in the tank.
As for batteries, start off the winter by removing, cleaning, reinstalling, and properly tightening all battery connections. Consider using the small felt washers (red and green) that are placed on battery posts beneath the connectors to help squelch acid and corrosion buildup. A battery with a bunch of acid and corrosion on the top can fail you by losing stored voltage across the dirty surface.
Here are two simple home remedies for cleaning the top of that battery. The first is Coca-Cola, the same kind you pour over ice in a tall glass to quench your thirst. The second is to mix up a tablespoon full of baking soda in a glass of water. Now slowly pour either over the top surface of the battery. You’ll see the liquid react with the dirty surface and bubble as it neutralizes the acid residue on the battery. The only thing to be aware of is, if the battery is not “sealed” and has removable caps on the acid chambers, that the caps are tightly secured. Any soda finding its way into the chambers of the battery could neutralize the acid inside and kill its ability to take and hold a charge.
If you suspect your battery is failing, check the voltage at the positive and negative posts while not under a draw, otherwise known as being “at rest”. The “resting” voltage of a 12-volt battery should read at least 12.8 volts. With the engine running and the alternator or generator charging, the battery should show about 14.0 to 14.5 volts. If the charging voltage is reading normal, but the battery won’t hold a charge and the at-rest voltage reading is lower than 12.4-12.8, it’s likely the battery has failed. If the voltage reading is not up to snuff when the engine is running you’re looking at a fouled or loose connection, or more likely a failing charging system.
Preparing Machinery for Winter: Other Engines
For 2-cycle engines that require a fuel/oil mix, consider dumping the fuel if the engine won’t be used during the winter, as in the case of gas trimmers or 2-cycle tillers. For engines using a fuel/oil mix that will be used throughout the winter—such as chainsaws—empty the old fuel (in an environmentally-friendly manner) and start with a fresh mix. I use Sta-bil in all my fuel systems—both 2- and 4-cycle—except for vehicles I drive regularly year-round.
As a kid, a part of getting ready for every spring fishing season involved disassembling the fuel line, filter, and carb on Dad’s 9-horse Evinrude outboard to dig out the gummed up green, rancid fuel which had sat unused throughout the winter. It was a tedious task done on the evening before we were set to fish for the first time each year, and could have been eliminated if we’d simply properly drained the fuel system in the fall. But nowadays fuel stabilizers help keep those issues at bay without having to drain the systems completely.
Since all of my smaller engines are on equipment without hours-of-use counters or odometers, I make a point of doing basic tune-ups at the start of the busy season for each machine. That means new spark plugs for chainsaws, a snow blower, the generator, and the ATV I use for fall and winter hunting and hauling firewood from the woodpile to our furnace woodbox. In the spring I’ll install new spark plugs in mowers, the weed trimmer, the tiller, and power washer. Spark plugs for small engines usually run $1-$3 each… cheap insurance to keep the little engines running most efficiently.
Preparing Machinery for Winter: Other Equipment
In the fall, I’ll sharpen all my chainsaw chains, my axes and splitting maul, and the hatchet I carry in my chainsaw box in case I make the mistake of getting a chainsaw bar pinched in a limb or trunk while sawing. I’ll also touch up the edge, as needed, on my snow shovels.
In the spring, I do the same thing to the garden implements, the mower blades, and the blade I use on my gas trimmer for cutting saplings and thick brush throughout the summer months.
Invest in a couple of good-quality coarse and fine flat-files for blades, and the correct round file for the size teeth on your chainsaw chains. Another great tool for touching up sharp edges is a “puck” sharpening stone. These stones are shaped like a hockey puck and about the same size but with tapered edges. Such a stone is ideal for finish sharpening of all kinds of equipment blades.
Another necessary tool to maintain your own equipment is a good grease gun. Keeping pivot points, ball joints, and other potential friction points adequately lubed can save a lot of money over a decade or more. I also keep a tube of multi-purpose penetrating oil in the top of my toolbox for lubing smaller joints and pivot points on all kinds of equipment.
The last thing to mention on seasonal maintenance is to check belts and hoses at the start of each use season. Handle the belts and hoses and look closely for dry-rot cracks, or fraying or cuts caused by the belts or hoses rubbing against harder surfaces during use.
Admittedly the list is lengthy, but remember that’s for maintaining more than a dozen pieces of equipment with engines and several hand tools. Most of the tasks are relatively easy if done when you want to, not when you need to—while the snow is blowing and the winter darkness is everywhere and you have to get that motor started and that task completed.
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