In Green Bay, WI, fleet manager Nathan Wachtendonk is readying the fleet for winter. He oversees more than 700 pieces of equipment from trailers to solid waste trucks, including four ACX XPEDITOR 6X4 cabs from Autocar.
He and 13 mechanics work out of two maintenance facilities. The solid waste collection crew covers 46 square miles.
Preparations include applying tire chains for maximum traction and ensuring the air driver is serviced. Diesel particulate filters are serviced.
While Wachtendonk makes sure all systems are go for the winter, maintenance is essentially done year-round. “It makes it easier,” he notes of what he calls his department’s “four seasons repair” approach.
Wachtendonk always seeks to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“We had 2.5 feet of snow at the end of April,” he says. “We were out snowplowing and doing some collection of garbage, but not a full one; it depended on the routes.”
As cold weather begins to set in for most areas of North America, there are many measures solid waste operations can take to maintain efficiency and avoid injury to persons or equipment.
Craig Teune, director of sales application and specifications for refuse at Autocar Truck, agrees that air and fuel are the most significant factors in winterizing a solid waste fleet and not tending to them properly “can give you the biggest headache in cold weather operation.”
A bumper-to-taillight inspection of the truck is in order prior to cold weather setting in, notes Curtis Dorwart, Mack Trucks refuse product manager.
Key factors to consider:
- Service the air dryer with a new desiccant, drain air tanks, and check operation and condition of automatic purge valves. Moisture in the system could freeze and cause issues with the brake systems or even emissions control devices like DEF pumps that use chassis air to operate, notes Dorwart. It’s important to not only ensure the air dryer is serviced and the air system is working properly not just on the brakes, but in the body as well, says Teune. “The bodies use a lot of air controls as well and moisture in the air system doesn’t lend itself well for the operation of the body,” he adds. “You can get ice from the moisture freezing. Usually, it freezes in the spots in your valves or your controls as it goes in, so you have operational issues where things just won’t work properly whether it’s on the truck side or the body side.” Given the air controls that operate side and front loaders, “that’s where keeping your air system maintained becomes very important to make sure the controls still operate correctly,” says Teune.
- Check the condition and operation of the engine block heater, oil heater, or intake air preheater.
- Check the condition of all coolant hoses and clamps and test the coolant for chemical composition and freeze protection level. Service as required.
- Check batteries for a state of charge and load test to ensure that they are up to par. Check and clean all battery connections. A cold engine is much harder to crank, so the starting system needs to be in top shape.
- Check for correct viscosity and type of engine oil for the anticipated temperature range.
- Check tire pressures and make sure each valve stem has a cap on it. ”It is possible to get some ice formation and a slow leak if you leave your valve stems exposed,” says Dorwart.
- Check windshield wipers and washer fluid and be sure the washer fluid is rated for freeze protection at anticipated temperature levels.
- Service fuel filters, fuel/water separators, and DEF filters. “Any moisture in these systems can freeze and shut down your operation,” says Dorwart.
- Check the cab heater operation and service any filters in the system.
- Source fuel that contains the proper treatments from a reputable supplier,
- In choosing a truck for cold weather with operator comfort in mind, warm feet are as important as warm hands, notes Teune. “One of the big challenges on a lot of trucks, in general, is a lot of people put auxiliary fans in there to keep enough air moving and keep the windows defrosted,” says Teune. “When we went to the ACX cab in 2009, we re-did our whole HVAC system to move a lot more air and be a lot more efficient both in cooling and warm climates. More important is moving warm air in cold climates in order to keep everything defrosted. You can have the best visibility in the industry but if you have ice building up, it’s not doing any good in cold weather.”
For Cummins engines, there are specific procedures owners and drivers should follow in operating diesel or natural gas engines in extremely cold conditions:
- Verify that coolant lines and connections are leak-free.
- Use the proper coolant/antifreeze mixture of ethylene glycol concentration for route conditions and temperatures. A 50/50 mixture of ethylene glycol and water lowers the freezing point down to about -34°F. When operating in colder temperatures, a 60/40 mixture will reduce the freezing point to about -64°F. Vehicle owners’ manuals should be consulted. It should be ensured that proper filling procedures are followed and that the cooling system is purged of any air to protect the exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) cooler.
- Add starting aids such as a coolant heater or intake manifold heater and/or an oil heater wherever temperatures typically drop below 11°F (-12°C).
- Use winterized diesel or blend #1 and #2 fuels.
- Add a fuel warmer to the fuel system.
- Double-check Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) warming lines before temperatures drop.
- Modify the air intake in extreme cold (-25°F and below) to a position adjacent to the exhaust manifold.
- Check the battery’s cold-cranking capacity. Add a battery warmer in extremely cold conditions.
- For diesel-powered engines, switch to 5W-30 engine oil for normal winter conditions. When temperatures go below 5°F (-15°C), operators may need to consider switching from 15W-40 oil to a 10W-30 or lighter oil. Consider switching to 0W-30 when encountering prolonged arctic cold conditions. The oil selected must meet Cummins CES 20081 specifications for diesel engines.
- Use a dipstick oil heater to help maintain oil lubricity and improve the engine’s cold-starting capability.
- Closely monitor and drain the water/fuel separator by opening the petcock valve and releasing any water accumulated in the fuel filter/separator. It is especially critical that operators perform this function when vehicles are running on biodiesel. Biodiesel suspends a higher amount of water than diesel fuel, has a different additive package, and may require more frequent fuel filter changes than normal. For natural gas engines, customers should ensure that the fuel filter is checked/drained daily to prevent oil and/or heavy hydrocarbons from collecting in the filter.
- In below-freezing conditions in which an engine typically idles for more than 15 minutes, adjust the Fast Idle setting to 1000–1200 rpm. A normal idle setting of 700–800 rpm may not provide enough heat for regeneration events. Drivers should use the Fast Idle switch on the dash. If needed, they can refer to their original equipment manufacturer (OEM) operations manual to learn how to set up engine speeds for fast idle. When prolonged idling is required, drivers should ensure the rpm is adequate to heat the coolant above 140°F (60°C).
- If needed, add a full on/off-type fan to aid in maintaining optimal operating temperatures.
- Insulate exposed lines, filters, pumps, and reservoirs.
- Add a winter front for conditions below freezing.
- If operating regularly in conditions under 32°F (0°C), pull air from within the engine compartment. Under -2°F (-19°C), pull intake air from a compartment around the exhaust stack to preheat the air.
Cold-weather preparation/operation procedures for Cummins Westport natural gas engines are similar to those for diesel engines for the block heater, coolant heater, battery warmer, radiator shutters, or winter fronts.
Compressed natural gas (CNG) filling stations should include a dryer to remove moisture from the natural gas.
Dry fuel is an important consideration for cold-weather operations. It is important to consider minimizing load on the engine at start by turning off power take-off (PTO) accessories such as hydraulic pumps.
Natural gas fuel systems include a pressure regulator that is kept from freezing with a supply of warm engine coolant. In cold weather, allow the engine to warm to operating temperature before operating under load. Maintain intake air temperatures above freezing through the use of winter fronts and/or warm underhood air. The correct engine coolant, lubricating oil, and fuels must be used for the cold weather range in which the engine is being operated.
For ambient temperature 32°F to -25°F (0° to -32°C), use 50% ethylene glycol antifreeze and 50% water for the engine coolant mixture.
For ambient temperature -25°F to -65°F (-32° to -54°C), use 60% ethylene glycol antifreeze and 40% water for the engine coolant mixture. The owners’ manual has correct specifications for lubricating oil recommendations.
For natural gas engines, the engine oil selected must meet Cummins CES 20074 or CES 20085. Specifications can be found in Cummins Oil and Oil Analysis Recommendation Service Bulletin 3810340.
The Chelsea Products Division of Parker Hannifin puts forth the recommendation that during extremely cold weather operation of 32°F or 0°C, a disengaged Powershift Power Take-Off can momentarily transmit high torque that will cause unexpected output shift rotation.
This is caused by the high viscosity of the transmission oil when it is extremely cold. As slippage occurs between the Power Take-Off clutch plates, the oil will rapidly heat up and the viscous drag will quickly decrease.
The Power Take-Off output shaft rotation could cause unexpected movement of the driven equipment, resulting in serious personal injury, death, or equipment damage.
To avoid those consequences, be aware that driven equipment must have separate controls, the driven equipment must be left in the disengaged position when not in operation, and the driven equipment should not be operated until the vehicle is allowed to warm up.
Whether special equipment is needed during cold weather depends on whether the truck runs on CNG or diesel, notes Teune.
“As you get into cold climates, both trucks need block heaters so that they start in the morning if they’re parked outside,” he adds.
With diesel, a fuel filter/water separator with a heater helps keep the fuel from gelling, says Teune, adding that a good heater is essential in cold climates such as Canada and northern Minnesota.
That also ensures operator comfort.
“It can help maintain the heat in the cab during the day because as it starts to get below zero quite a bit, the engines just never heat up quite enough to blow heat inside the cab,” he adds.
“Tire chains may be necessary depending on the conditions, so make sure they are handy and in good shape and those that need to know will know how to install and remove them,” says Dorwart.
“Additionally, a winter front may need to be employed to avoid overcooling of the engine, so make sure that the winter front and the attachment hardware are in good condition,” he says.
“Winter fronts can be a big advantage to blow warm air into the cabs and keep them warm,” adds Teune.
When it comes to solid waste collection vehicles, there are a number of considerations that occur related to cold weather in which the heavy-duty lifting systems in the maintenance facility come to fore, notes Paul Feldman, director of marketing for Stertil-Koni, which manufactures the systems.
Solid waste operators want their trucks on the road for a full day’s work, points out Peter Bowers, Stertil-Koni technical sales support manager.
“Maintenance is very important because the truck is not making any money if it’s not hauling trash,” he adds. “When you get into the snowy climates, you need more maintenance to keep the vehicle operating more reliably.
“They want to be able to roll it through a wash bay, get it cleaned on the undercarriage, and get it cleaned on the top,” says Bowers. “The undercarriage is a manual situation, so they need a platform lift. They need to get it into a situation where they can do the required maintenance that happens more often in a severe climate like a winter climate with fluid changes putting in fluid additives, checking the wheels and the brakes and the different undercarriage parts that are accessible through using lifting equipment. It greatly increases productivity in minimizing downtime.”
Among Stertil-Koni’s lifting systems is the SKYLIFT Platform Lift, a vertical lift that requires less shop floor space and is designed to enable a technician to get quick and easy access to the entire vehicle.
“The undercarriage maintenance is very important in the wintertime because ice and snow and the aggregate that people put on the ground is very aggressive to the undercarriage of the vehicle,” notes Feldman. “They would be able to quickly get it in and assess it. It also allows them to do the DOT inspection more quickly.”
Bowers notes there are special considerations when using hydraulic equipment in the winter.
“Anything that is hydraulic moves in some function, whether it articulates or pivots,” he says. “You have to use thinner lubricants to allow the machine to move when it’s super cold.”
Because the vehicles need to work around the clock, so do the lifts, Feldman points out, adding that Stertil-Koni offers lifts with wireless capacity with about 25 cycle liftings before needing a charge.
In addition to procedures and equipment that keep solid waste vehicles on the road and safe in the wintertime, there also are measures to be taken to keep drivers safe and comfortable.
Heated mirrors are essential for safe winter driving.
“The biggest thing in the cab is keeping your windows defrosted and keeping the cab warm enough to keep the windows defrosted,” says Teune. “You’ve got to make sure your HVAC system is working properly.”
Wachtendonk urges his drivers to watch out for blind spots. He says a few of the trucks in Green Bay’s fleet have heavy-duty defrosters on the front of the windshield that acts as a “power grid, heating up the bottom half of the windshield where the wipers sit, preventing snow buildup.”
In Green Bay, employees wear ice trekkers—cleats that strap to the bottom of the boots—when there is snow and ice outside, says Wachtendonk.
Gloves and related winter apparel is essential, notes Dorwart.
“Daylight might be in short supply, so make sure reflective clothing and gear are in full use,” he adds. “It is always good to carry a flashlight and some spare batteries just in case you need some light. Operators should make sure all of the lights, strobes, and conspicuity features of the truck are in proper shape and in working order.”
In Green Bay, snow plowing is sometimes done in advance of solid waste collection to ensure the collection trucks don’t have a difficult time getting up and down the road and so that residential traffic can move smoothly on waste collection day without the two vehicle types having to navigate snowy, icy roads together, Wachtendonk notes.
Wachtendonk says he likes to ensure operator comfort by giving the drivers snacks and water so they don’t get dehydrated.
“Some of the trucks over-cool in the wintertime and don’t get up to operating temperature,” he adds. “We put the winter front on to keep them warm inside the cab.”
Winter weather necessitates a particular list of that which solid waste operators should and should not do.
Be mindful that when it is cold, “things tend to be stiffer,” points out Dorwart.
“This means taking some extra caution when starting the engine,” he says. “Turn the key to the run position for a few seconds to let the system electronics boot up, perform self-tests like gauge sweep and ABS modulators test, and let the intake air preheater or glow plugs work if the truck is so equipped.
“Then start the engine, but don’t rev it up right away so that all those stiff parts have an opportunity to warm a little and get oil flowing to all of the critical areas like main and rod bearings and turbocharger bearings.”
The same applies to the body hydraulics, notes Dorwart.
“Engage the PTO and start to get some oil flowing and warming up before heading out,” he says. “Engine block heaters and oil pan heaters can be a great benefit to helping cold starting and reducing wear on initial startup.”
As biofuels have become more popular, “make sure you’re using a good quality biodiesel if you’re using biodiesel,” notes Teune. “If you’re not getting good quality biodiesel, it can amplify cold weather issues. Fuel gets a little bit thicker in the winter and if you’re not using a good biodiesel or you don’t have your fuel filters changed, all of a sudden the fuel gets thicker and it can cause some performance issues coming through the fuel filter.”
Wachtendonk cautions his drivers to not spin the tires when they get stuck and to watch out not only for icy and hazardous conditions but also other drivers.
Workers who enter and exit the cab frequently should be aware of slippery conditions, notes Teune.
Workers also should be cognizant that trash can freeze in the collection cans and bins.
“It takes a little extra work to get them cleaned out in cold climates because the trash tends to freeze in the cans so you have to bang them a little bit in order to break the trash free,” says Teune.
Collaboration and working as a team are key attributes found in a well-run operation, notes Dorwart.
“A daily safety briefing should provide everyone with the opportunity to share experiences, including road conditions, conditions at the landfill or tipping point, accident avoidance, or situational awareness issues,” he says. “It’s also helpful for operators to share some tips on good personal cold weather gear to wear or bring along.”