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Your sprayer has worked hard this season, and it’s time to give it a much-deserved rest. Before you tuck that piece of equipment away for the winter, these five maintenance tips will serve you well when it comes time for it to emerge from hibernation in the spring.
“It is important to go over the sprayer before winter so you can protect your investment from frost damage during freezing temperatures,” says Dave Sobolik, Summers Manufacturing Company, Inc. “Frost or ice can damage parts that might not be common, might be costly, or may be difficult to replace, which can all add to the amount of time needed to get a machine field-ready next season.”
1. Bathe and scrutinize the exterior
The outside of the machine should be thoroughly washed and inspected for cracks, hidden damage from use, leaks, and anything that will need to be repaired for the next season, says Sobolik. “If corrosion or rust is showing, it needs to be cleaned and repaired to prevent weakening of structures and leaks. Many times, it is best to repair a problem when it is found so you will be more prepared for next season.”
Ohio State University professor Erdal Ozkan echoes Sobolik’s recommendations and adds that cleaning the sprayer’s exterior deserves just as much attention as inspecting its inner workings.
“Be sure to remove compacted deposits with a bristle brush then flush the exterior parts with water. Wash the exterior either in the field away from ditches and water sources or on a specially constructed concrete rinse pad with a sump. Most labels recommend the same practice, which is to put the rinsate collected in the sump back in the tank, dilute it with water, and spray it in the field where there is no potential for the rinsate to reach ditches and other water bodies nearby,” he says.
Don’t forget to cover openings so birds won’t be able to build nests in your sprayer and so insects, dirt, and other foreign material cannot get into the system.
2. Clean the cab
Often overlooked, the inside of the cab also deserves some attention. Scrub the floor liner as well as the windows. Inspect air conditioning filters.
“Cabs should be cleaned of all food and edible material so rodents don’t move in and ruin interiors or chew through wiring or insulation,” says Sobolik. “Mothballs are a good deterrent, or you can set traps to catch vermin.”
3. Flush the system
Carefully rinse the entire system before storing.
“A sprayer that is not rinsed thoroughly after each use, especially after the spraying season is over, may develop several problems such as cross-contamination and clogged nozzles,” says Ozkan. “Once nozzles are clogged, it is extremely difficult to bring them back to their operating conditions when they were clean. Leaving chemical residue in nozzles usually leads to changes in flow rates as well as spray patterns, which results in uneven distribution of chemicals.”
Newt Lingenfelter of Hagie agrees and says, “Simply draining the system is not sufficient. Air locks and traps prevent liquid from being drained.”
Depending on the tank, properly rinsing its interior could be simple or a challenge, Ozkan notes.
“It will be easy if the tank is relatively new and is equipped with special rinsing nozzles and mechanisms inside the tank. If this is not the case, manual rinsing of the tank interior is more difficult and poses some safety problems such as inhaling fumes of leftover chemicals,” cautions Ozkan. “To avoid these problems, either replace the tank with one that has the interior rinse nozzles or install an interior tank rinse system.”
The plumbing system should be cleaned and triple rinsed to get as much chemical residue out as possible. “With the plumbing system properly flushed, we recommend that 100% pure RV antifreeze be run through the pump and plumbing system,” Sobolik says.
“RV antifreeze is safe and relatively cheap compared with broken fittings,” says Lingenfelter. “Filling the system with antifreeze provides peace of mind and is good protection.”
Because the pump is the heart of the sprayer, Ozkan believes it requires special care. “You don’t want one that is cracked and/or not working at its full capacity because you did not properly winterize it,” he says.
After water is drained, Ozkan recommends adding a small amount of oil and rotating the pump four or five revolutions by hand to completely coat interior surfaces. “Make sure the oil is not going to damage rubber rollers in a roller pump or rubber parts in a diaphragm pump,” he explains. “If the operator’s manual does not recommend oil, pouring 1 tablespoon of radiator rust inhibitor in the inlet and outlet part of the pump keeps the pump from corroding.”
Remove nozzle tips and strainers, dry them, and store them in a dry place to prevent corrosion. “Putting them in a can of light oil such as diesel fuel or kerosene is another option,” says Ozkan.
Be certain water, water vapor, and condensation are removed from all systems, Lingenfelter adds.
“Temperature changes cause tanks and gearboxes to breathe and condensation to accumulate. Reduce this risk by topping off the fuel tank. Drain and replace final drive oil. Check and add hydraulic oil as needed,” he says.
He also advises disconnecting the battery. “Automatic battery tenders are inexpensive. I recommend keeping the system up all winter with an automatic tender,” Lingenfelter says. “Remove the field computer and store it in a climate-controlled area.”
4. go under cover
Ozkan says it’s wise to find ways to protect your sprayer against the harmful effects of snow, rain, sun, and strong winds.
“Moisture in the air rusts metal parts of unprotected equipment. This is especially true for a sprayer, because there are all kinds of hoses, rubber gaskets, and plastic pieces all around a sprayer,” Ozkan explains. “Yes, the sun usually helps reduce moisture in the air, but it also causes damage. Ultraviolet light softens and weakens rubber materials such as hoses and tires, and it degrades some tank materials. The best protection from the environment is to store sprayers in a dry building.”
If storing indoors is not an option, he urges you to provide some sort of cover. “When storing trailer-type sprayers, put blocks under the frame or axle and reduce tire pressure during storage,” Ozkan says.
5. Think resale value
Having a well-cared-for machine goes a long way when negotiating for an upgrade.
“The time you put into properly maintaining your machine will show when you want to trade. You’ll get the best value because that machine was well taken care of,” says Sobolik.
As one of the last pieces of machinery you will use in a season and one of the first as the next season begins, how well you care for the sprayer will determine the kind of service you can expect out of it in the future.
“If your sprayer is cleaned, inspected, repaired, and serviced for winter, you will be served well by the machine in the next spray season,” say Sobolik. “If you don’t do any preparation for off-season storage, one thing is for sure: You will spend more time and money getting ready for the next spray season.”