IronPlanet Blog

Canadian Perspectives: Winter Wisdom from Canada’s Cold Weather King

Posted by IronPlanet on Sep 16, 2016 5:11:23 PM

Screen_Shot_2016-09-16_at_3.57.48_PM.pngFinning’s Spencer Smirl discusses the daily disciplines that protect your equipment investment.

By Jeff Howard for IronPlanet

It may seem early in the season, but as hearty Canadians head into the challenging winter season ahead, they’ll be looking to fine tune equipment fleets. On Wednesday, September 21, Edmonton will welcome IronPlanet’s 1.5 million registered bidders to an online only auction. Register to bid and check out more than 500 items online or at our Acheson, Alberta yard today!

The Canadian Farmer’s Almanac predicts “downright frigid” winter weather over parts of the Rockies, Prairies, Great Lakes, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. What else is new?

But for Canadian equipment owners, the Almanac’s August forecast means it’s time to prepare for that winter state of mind. To get a few heavy equipment winter operation reminders, we turned to Spencer Smirl, (pictured above on the right), Finning Canada’s fleet manager for the Site C Clean Energy project near Fort St. John, B.C.

Why Spencer? Well, he just happens to be Canada’s foremost cold weather equipment specialist, a reputation that’s well earned. Over the last five years, he’s kept machines going at both Poles — as a heavy duty mechanic at Finning’s Ekati operation near the Arctic Circle and during “The Coldest Journey”, the first ever attempt to cross the Antarctic in winter. As the lead mechanic for the expedition, Spencer successfully kept two D6Ns chugging in temperatures that reached minus-100 Celsius (that’s minus-148 Fahrenheit for you “southerners”).

These days he’s riding herd on a fleet of about 200 brand new pieces of Cat iron engaged in the development of the Site C project, a third dam and generating station on the Peace River in northeast B.C. Construction is expected to be completed by 2024.

As he readies the fleet for the tough winter ahead, we asked Spencer to share some cold weather advice, the kind that keeps machines humming amid the deep freeze and helps them maintain their vigor and retain their value season after season. Here’s a snowy sampling.

  1. Apply winter grease at the right time – Watch the weather forecast and try to be as close as you can to the optimum time to make the switchover to winter grease. If you make the switch too early, the grease will be expelled easily and won’t protect your joints. Time it right. Otherwise, you’ll confront the problem Spencer faced at the South Pole. “Our expedition began in January with an ambient temperature at about minus 15 celsius,” he recalls. “We couldn’t get our winter grease squeezed in because the machines were new, the tolerances were so tight and the summer grease had solidified. We certainly did some damage as a result.”

  2. Limit idle time – Idling is bad for diesel, particularly in cold weather, because you can produce cylinder wall glazing from low temperature combustion. Ultimately, glazing diminishes engine compression ratio and reduces performance. So when you start up, let your engine idle only for a brief moment before you upstroke, depending on temperature, to anywhere from 1000 to 1400 RPM.

  3. Warm up slowly, run them hot – “When we were in Antarctica, we never had to fix anything on either of our D6Ns. We just made sure that we performed a proper warm up and cool down every day. We warmed them up gingerly and that could take up to four hours, but once they were at temperature we worked them as hard as we could in order to maintain that temperature.”

  4. Cool down slowly – Although this isn’t as important as warm up, giving your diesel engine time to cool down by idling prior to shutdown will contribute significantly to the longevity of your machine. It’s equally important in the summertime. The reasoning behind this is metals in your powertrain cool down and contract at different rates. “By shutting the machine off immediately without an idle period, you can break seals or damage systems at a microscopic level. Over time this continued habit will create problems you don’t want like excess fuel consumption, less power, reduced speed, harder starts and other little glitchy issues.”

  5. Use auxiliary coolant heater systems from companies like Proheat, Espar or Webasto. These units pre-heat engine coolant so you get safe, warm starts and reduce engine wear. They burn minimal fuel and today, you can set them up with an app on your phone. “Up here they work very well. I put one on my pickup truck when I go sledding in the mountains. When it’s minus 25 and there’s nowhere to plug in my truck, it’s very unhealthy to go through those cold starts. So while we’re loading our sleds on the truck, I just flip on the Proheat and very soon it’s blowing hot air in the cab. Perfect!”

  6. The DEF routine – If you’re operating a Cat machine with a Tier 4 final engine, it will require diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). But if your DEF isn’t available because it’s frozen solid, your engine will be de-rated or will shut down due to a lack of DEF. “What we encourage Cat owners to do when it’s minus-40 celsius is to routinely bring a frozen jug of DEF into the machine cab with their lunch kit each day,” advises Spencer. “Then, by the end of the day, the DEF jug will be liquid and available to top up the DEF tank when it’s time to shut the machine down.”

Keeping your machine healthy in the cold is mostly about simple routines, but each practice adds up to big gains in the end. Sometimes the application of a daily discipline can spell the difference between a powertrain that gets 10,000 to 12,000 hours and one that gets just half that.

“It’s something I picked up in Antarctica where life and the glaciers moved so slowly,” Spencer reflects. “If you just slow down and look at things from a larger time scale, you can make the adjustments and build a more mindful routine that will protect your investment.”


IronPlanet's Edmonton, Alberta Cat Auction Services sale is all online this quarter. If you are in Edmonton, go visit the yard. If you're somewhere warmer, preview the equipment online.

Topics: Equipment Maintenance, Canada, In the News

Follow Us IronPlanet on TwitterIronPlanet on FacebookIronPlanet on YouTubeIronPlanet on LinkedInIronPlanet on Instagram

Subscribe to Receive Blog Notification Email Updates

Recent Posts