With snow, salt and low temperatures, winter can wreak havoc on all types of equipment. If you live in an area of the country that experiences especially harsh winters, maintenance means protecting machinery—inside and out.

When maintaining equipment during the winter, don’t overlook your grease program. Grease is often the most disregarded step of a proper equipment maintenance plan. The grease you use plays a vital role in protecting machinery from harsh elements. Don’t always assume that the grease you use in the summer is appropriate to use once it gets colder. Using the wrong product when temperatures dip can lead to grease stiffening, which can result in subprime performance and potential damage – problems that will not resolve themselves.

NLGI #1 Grease versus NLGI #2 Grease

There are two basic types of grease for most equipment and machinery applications: NLGI #1 grease and NLGI #2 grease. So what’s the difference? Every grease has three parts: a base oil that provides lubrication, a thickener that determines the grease’s consistency and additives that serve various roles depending on the formulation. Less thickener makes a #1 grease more tractable and slippery, while #2 grease has more thickener, making it stiffer and great for all-purpose applications.

Preparation Before the Season

Despite what is commonly believed, grease application during the winter is not a “one and done” situation. Because #1 grease has less thickener, and is not as stiff in the cold, it generally performs better during the winter. When temperatures dip between 10 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit, start applying a #1 grease like Cenex® Blue Gard® 500+ or ML 365®. Be sure to use your owner’s manual and a grease compatibility guide to determine which grease type is recommended for your equipment.

It’s crucial to remember that compatible grease isn’t about the color in the tube, it’s about the specific components in the product that bond with your equipment to protect moving parts. Always check the label for both products – the grease currently in your equipment and the new grease you’re applying – to determine what thickeners are used in each and if they’re compatible.

What You Can Do Now

If you didn’t switch your grease program earlier in the season, monitor your equipment closely for signs of stiffening grease. If you notice a lot of friction or sluggish movements, don’t ignore the issue and take action to remove and replace the grease quickly with a winter grade #1 grease. It may be tempting to keep your machinery running and try to “warm up” the grease; however, the friction from moving parts may not be enough to loosen the grease again. Stiff grease isn’t able to lubricate the necessary components and you can be left with damaged equipment. Instead, try the following:

  • If possible, pull the equipment into a warmer building like a garage or shed. Taking the equipment out of the elements and allowing for a slow warming with the equipment in a static state may be enough to loosen up the grease in the components.
  • If a protected shelter isn’t quite warm enough, you may need to remove your old grease and apply a product that’s better suited for the cold like a #1 grease. This is best done by scraping the existing lubrication off of the equipment components and applying a compatible grease.

When temperatures dip, it’s easy to forget about the grease on your equipment. However, taking precautions today to winterize your grease program can save headaches and damaged machinery. Use the Cenex® Equipment Look-Up Tool to find the right lubricants, including greases, for your entire fleet of equipment.

Photo courtesy of FLICKR USER.

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