For some areas in the United States, winter isn’t the end of the year; winter is the year. Winter is when the ponds ice over for fishing, the falls freeze for climbing, and the snow covers the ground for skiing. It’s when the hockey sticks come out of the closet, the snowshoes get tightened, and the cider and eggnog come out of the fridge. In some regions, it isn’t until winter that the roads are even solid enough to drive over.
But while winter can be a lot of fun, it’s also a highly demanding season. Especially in the northern parts of the country—like Maine, Minnesota, Montana, and Alaska—the work doesn’t stop when the snow starts to fall. Nights are long, temperatures are low, and if your vehicle breaks down, you’ll be wishing you had stayed indoors by the fire. So, whether you’re prepping up your favorite two-stroke for a backcountry patrol or tuning up the treads on your yard’s PistenBully, it’s important to take into account that effective snow vehicle maintenance requires efficient torque control.
Torque Control for Snow Vehicles
There is a broad range of snow vehicles used professionally and recreationally across the United States, and they require maintenance every year in order to ensure safety. Light, medium, and heavy snow vehicles—like snowmobiles, snow groomers, and tractors—all demand just as much care as regular land vehicles of their size. Whether these high-performance vehicles are traveling at high speeds or hauling heavy loads, they’re subject to significant, sudden amounts of stress during normal operations. The fasteners in these vehicles, which hold skids to the frames and tracks on their axles, must be torqued properly to prevent breakdowns and failures in the field.
Torque is the amount of radial force. Applied to a fastener, it’s what makes a screw turn. The turning of a screw compresses its threads so that they clamp down and hold onto the substrate material. So, basically, torque is what holds screws in place. Apply too much, and the screw or the material it’s holding together can warp, strip, or deform. Apply too little, and the fastener can rattle loose and fall out, or it can shear. If it falls out in the snow, chances are you’re never going to find it.
Losing a screw may be the least of your worries if a critical component of your snow vehicle’s engine, transmission, or carriage breaks down due to improper maintenance. If your vehicle is in the yard, grooming a runway or hauling containers, it may mean scheduling delays as the vehicle goes down for maintenance. If you’re in the backcountry, it could mean you’re miles from help in subzero temperatures and shifting visibility. Whether or not you intend to personally use the snow vehicles you maintain, it’s important to realize that errors can create costly, if not life-threatening, situations.
Changing Temperatures Require Continual Snow Vehicle Maintenance
The matter of applying proper torque to fasteners in snow vehicles is made more pressing due to changing temperatures. Plastics and metals, the primary substrate materials in snowmobiles and other snow vehicles, expand and contract as they are heated and cooled. If your vehicle is parked overnight in a heated garage or similar area, then every time it’s parked, all the materials will expand. Then, when it’s taken outside and used, the materials will contract again. That’s in addition to the regular shrinking and swelling that occurs when warming up a hot motor on a cold day.
Screws and bolts will be worked loose by the expansion and contraction cycle faster than they would be in stable temperatures. For maintenance workers, this means that snow vehicles require more frequent checks to make sure the fasteners are holding. Each time a fastener is found to be too loose or too tight, it must be adjusted to return to its proper torque value.
Choosing Torque Tools for Snow Vehicle Maintenance
Torque tools are the best way to be sure that you or mechanics under your watch apply the right amount of force to each screw and bolt. Torque tools prevent their operators from applying more force than intended, either by warning them or by physically preventing them by “breaking” or disengaging their clutch. Both hand tools and power tools can be effective for snow vehicle maintenance.
For many fasteners on snow vehicles, hand wrenches—like click wrenches and cam-over wrenches—can get the job done right. Click wrenches can deliver very high torque values and are the least expensive type of hand torque wrench. However, since they warn their operator of over-torque but don’t physically prevent it, they should be avoided for truly critical fasteners.
Break-over wrenches provide more specificity than click wrenches. These wrenches “break” on a hinge when the right amount of torque has been applied, preventing operators from over-torquing before the wrench is reset. Cam-over wrenches, however, are the gold standard for torque control. Their internal clutch mechanism slips when torque is reached, completely removing the possibility of applying too much torque.
If you’re working in a garage or shop with air compressors and electricity, certain power options will speed up your snow vehicle maintenance without sacrificing precision. Continuous drive pneumatic wrenches can apply a moderate amount of torque rapidly, and they slip to prevent over-torque conditions. Pulse tools can apply a higher amount of torque through a series of sharp, fast pulses on the head of a fastener.
Often, when we think of snowmobiling, we think of fun, freedom, and the exhilaration of a high wind on a cold day. But in order to enjoy the feeling of a fast ride over an open field or to get the runway open in time for the first cargo shipments, ensuring proper maintenance with appropriate torque tools is essential.