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Complete guide to forklift servicing in winter

Forklift servicing in winter is key to keeping your fleet running. In early 2019, record-breaking snowfall and temperatures were experienced in many parts of the world, especially Europe. As such, many businesses suffered losses brought about by the collapse of business process and the breaking down of vital machinery such as forklifts. Operators face a unique set of challenges and hazards when preparing forklifts for servicing and use in winter. These include limited visibility, sub-zero temperatures, ice accumulation, heavy snowfall and wet, slippery conditions. You must, therefore, take essential steps to prepare your forklift for the winter season to prevent weather-related injuries, accidents or incidents.

So, what do you need to look out for with forklift servicing in Winter?

At a basic level, you need to protect your operators against the harsh climate conditions by ensuring that they are equipped with the appropriate outdoor gear. Forklift operators must wear protective gear, including gloves, water-proof boots and face masks, to protect their most vulnerable body areas against frostbite. Beyond PPE, there are several servicing steps to take to ensure the forklift equipment operates optimally without any hitches.

Outfit your forklifts

Your operators spend a considerable amount of time sitting in the forklift, so it is mandatory to install a protective windscreen, canopy or cover. Stay away from thin vinyl wraps because this material tends to get damaged easily thus creating more hassle. A corrugated hard plastic cover with gutters and ribs is better as it will dispel the accumulated precipitation away from the cabin.

Next, make sure that the forklift is safe to operate in wet and slippery conditions often created by accumulated ice and snowfall. This task begins with ensuring that the forklift has sufficient traction to navigate or stop without sliding uncontrollably or dangerously. All forklifts in your premises must be outfitted with pneumatic tyres to provide better grip and traction usually not provided by cushion tyres, which are suitable for indoor operations. Pneumatic tyres are specifically designed for outdoor use during winter.

Another additional precaution includes fitting your forklift tyres with studs or chains to enhance traction when moving on ice or other slippery surfaces. It is also advisable to regularly plough and grit your site’s yards as this will reduce the impact of ice and snow accumulation. Fortunately, this task is easily accomplished with specialised attachments that are connected to your existing forklifts.

Train and educate your operators

Beyond ensuring that your employees are using the proper equipment, it is vital to educate them on how best to manage other winter-related challenges. For optimal effect, ensure your operators observe the following steps:

Before each shift

• Conduct a detailed pre-operation inspection of the machine. Record and report all problems to superiors so that they can be addressed promptly.
• Check the outdoors and ensure that all operators adjust their driving habits to match the current weather conditions.
• Check and install all winter add-ons as required. Make sure all safety items such as tyre chains or forklift covers are correctly installed.
• Allow the forklift to properly warm-up before you start operating it to prevent cold starts, which is a crucial factor for both the hydraulics and the engine. Additionally, the cold start increases wear and tear and fuel consumption.
• Check all safety lights to ensure they are operational. If any bulbs require replacement, this should be done immediately, especially when working in areas with low visibility.
• Install ice or snow forklift chains for extra grip.

During shifts

• Drive slowly and carefully. Only travel as fast as it is permissible by the weather conditions.
• Maintain visibility when on the road by preventing snow accumulation on the windscreen. Also, switch on your beacons and safety lights for your movements to be visible to others at all times.
• All operators should be knowledgeable about company plans and regulations concerning working in adverse weather conditions. This might include what to do when the conditions deteriorate or the machine breaks down.
• Stop working immediately if the weather conditions worsen, especially when there is limited visibility or slippery driving conditions.
• Avoid run times that are less than 30 minutes as engines run a rich fuel mixture in the first few minutes of operation. During this time, water vapour will accumulate in the exhaust and engine oil systems because the low temperatures inhibit evaporation.
• Ensure all electrical components are well-covered to prevent water, ice or snow from entering into these areas. Failure to perform this step might lead to electrocution.

After each shift

• Clean the forklift by removing all salt, dirt and snow particles that usually cause corrosion and rust.
• Park the forklift in a dry and warm place when it is not in use to prevent ice accumulation issues.
• For an electric forklift, store the battery in a dry area. Keep the batteries plugged in when in storage to prevent discharge, which leads to hard starts in the subsequent shifts. Use a battery warmer in extremely cold temperatures.
• Ensure all add-ons are removed, cleaned and re-attached to their designated parts for use in the next shifts.

Maintenance needs

During winter, the propensity for more moisture and sub-zero temperatures creates additional maintenance issues when you want to operate forklifts outdoors. To minimise these problems, start by performing thorough inspections and routine maintenance regularly; pay attention to vital systems such as fuel, electrical and mast. You can effectively reduce repair costs and downtime when you train your operators on how to identify and report issues in time.

A proper tune-up is essential to prevent downtime or damages as the temperature drastically drops, and it will only get colder in the run-up to Christmas.

Get your mechanic to check the following systems:

Proper tread depth and tyre pressure

There are a wide variety of tyres used for forklifts, and the most common include cushion tyres, pneumatic, off-road, polyurethane, puncture-proof, fibreglass, foam fill, non-marking and static-resistant. Each type of tyre requires a different amount of pressure, so check with the manufacturer’s specification. The correct pressure and tread depth will ensure the forklift is safe to use and operates at the highest level of efficiency, which is why they must be checked daily.

The operation of the glow plugs, starter and ignition switch

Good glow plugs prevent cold starts, but they also function as indispensable parts of the emissions and exhaust system. Glow plugs work in conjunction with the starter and ignition switch to get the engine started and running efficiently. Proactive checks are mandatory to ensure that these parts are serviced regularly to avoid repair costs elsewhere in the forklift’s engine.

Lubricant and coolant levels

Ensure the lubricants and coolants are at the recommended levels because forklifts depend on these fluids for steering and lifting abilities. Normal operation of the machine can be affected when the levels are extremely low, but an overabundance often leads to spills and leaks. Always consult the operator manual for the correct fluid level, which is dependent on the type of forklift machine.

If necessary, change lubricants, seals and wipers

Replace wipers and seals that are broken or worn out. Lubricants should be changed after every 1,000 hours of use. Since it is impossible to track the number of hours worked in some cases, there are ways that you can use to check for signs of low fluids. These include abnormal engine noises, high fluid temperature and slow operation. However, the recommended approach entails parking the forklift on level ground, keeping the forks in a standard position and then using the dipstick to check the level.

Winterised fluids

The fluids used in forklifts can’t withstand the extremely cold temperatures in winter, which consequently creates a host of problems for the equipment. In most cases, the lubricants and fluids will become cloudy as a result of ice formation. To prevent this from happening, you must use engine oil of weight W as it will enable you to operate the forklift even in the lowest possible temperatures.

For diesel engines, you will also be required to buy winterised fuel or additives that can be introduced into the fuel system to prevent gelling up. Always use the correct amount of anti-freeze in the coolant system to avoid the formation of solid blocks of particles that may cause the unit to overheat.

Here are some more tips for using fluids correctly to enhance productivity when operating your forklift during winter:

  • Use the proper fluids, for example, use coolant but not water in the engine. The incorrect fluid can be used as a short-term solution, but this is ill-advised as it will cause long-term damage to the engine and can result in early failure.
  • Replace hoses frequently even before the damage is visible because these parts often wear out from the inside out. Damaged hoses lead to fluid leakage, which consequently lowers performance and increases engine temperature. Hose failure and spillage can cause a hazardous situation for everyone in the vicinity.
  • Keep the engine properly belted. The belts’ circulations create the required airflow for the engine to run, but they can cause engine failure when they get damaged. Belts should be inspected and replaced at the recommended periods to ensure the fluid flows as required.


The weather usually gets colder as the Christmas season approaches. Without proper training, precautions and maintenance winters can be deadly for your forklift equipment, employees and business at large. Furthermore, it is crucial to ensure that your forklifts are running efficiently to maintain productivity under challenging weather conditions. The main challenges include limited visibility, slippery roads and compromised electrical components. With regular checkups, however, you will be able to spot and repair any damages that may be potentially hazardous. Always perform service on the engine at the recommended intervals to prevent cold starts and other issues that may lead to downtime. Make safety your number one priority.

If you’re looking for a forklift this winter for sale or hire, then get in touch to talk about how we can help your business today.

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