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When it comes to landscaping equipment, few machines have a more demanding life than the tractor loader backhoe. Regardless of the application — anything from digging to hauling rocks around a job site — they are expected to work long days in very tough terrain and extreme temperatures. While the demands placed on these machines make breakdowns inevitable, knowing how to properly check a tractor loader backhoe (TLB) for problems, and knowing how to address these problems, can drastically decrease the time and money spent on TLB repairs.


Perhaps the best way to reduce repairs is to prevent them by implementing and following a regularly scheduled maintenance routine. Because all TLBs come with a variety of different components, a one-size-fits-all maintenance schedule will not work for TLBs. For example, some units are designed with a gasoline engine while others are powered by a diesel engine. Obviously, properly maintaining the diesel unit would require different steps than maintaining a gasoline-powered machine.

With several small differences affecting how each TLB is cared for, you should consult the owner's manual to develop a maintenance regimen that is most effective for your specific model. The owner's manual will list the machine's maintenance needs, including how often you should check, clean and replace various items.


Regardless of the type of TLB, one of the most important things a mechanic, owner or operator can do to prevent large problems is to be aware of how the machine works. An individual who is knowledgeable about how a machine operates will be able to detect problems before they erupt into more extensive and expensive issues.

Hydraulic hoses are among the items that most manufacturers suggest to periodically check. As the machine ages, hoses can degrade or become damaged. When inspecting the machine before or after each use, the mechanic or operator should look for leaks or visible damage and immediately replace any hose that shows signs of wear.

TLB manufacturers usually suggest that you also check the condition of the cooling and fuel system daily for leaks. If you find any leaks, determine the source of the leak and make the necessary adjustment to stop the leak before it gets worse or replace it. Additionally, if any of the fluid levels, such as engine and hydraulic oil, are low, add fluids to meet the specifications outlined in the owner's manual. Investigate further to determine why the levels are low. When fluid levels decrease, the substances have to escape somewhere. Most often the culprit is a damaged or loose component that is leaking.

Any visible signs of damage on the exterior of the TLB are additional indications that you or a mechanic should look further for potential problems. This is particularly important when different crewmembers use the same machine, and one may not know exactly what has happened to the machine while it was on another job. Damage on the outside of the machine is often a sign that an operator hit something. The individual inspecting the machine should check for any damage to internal components that may have resulted from the force of the collision and make the appropriate repairs or before it gets worse.


In addition to being aware of unusual circumstances while performing daily checks of the machine, it is also important that operators are able to detect any sounds, smells or visual signs that are out of the ordinary and may indicate a problem when running a TLB.

Some of the most common indications of trouble include squealing belts, smoke, performance loss and uncommon engine noises such as knocking sounds. If any of these occur while operating a machine, stop the machine and find the cause of the unusual behavior as soon as possible. Quickly addressing the issue prevents larger problems that may take more time and money to fix.

After an operator or mechanic discovers a problem, appropriately addressing it is the next step in keeping the problem from becoming more severe. While operators and general mechanics can repair and replace the majority of parts, issues that involve opening components such as engines or hydraulic motors will most likely require the help of a dealer or manufacturer.


Regardless of what maintenance or repair is required, the most important thing to consider when working on a TLB is operator safety. Using common sense and reading all of the safety warnings in the owner's manual and on machine decals are the easiest ways to ensure that all safety measures are taken.

One special consideration that mechanics need to take when working with a TLB is making sure that all attachments are lowered to the ground and the hydraulic pressure is relieved before beginning maintenance. If the loader, backhoe or other attachment is not lowered and a mechanic removes a hose from the hydraulic system, the attachment can drop to the ground and hydraulic oil will spill out of the hose. This occurrence can cause considerable damage to the machine, the maintenance area and the mechanic or other individuals near the machine.

Making sure that bare skin does not come in contract with high-pressure hydraulic leaks is something else you should consider when working on TLBs. If a mechanic or operator checks for a pinhole leak in the hydraulic system with bare skin, the high level of pressure can inject the oil into the skin, causing injury. Always wear hand and eye protection when checking for hydraulic leaks.

Although manufacturers continue to introduce TLBs with components designed to decrease maintenance intervals and increase equipment durability, appropriate maintenance is still the key to keeping a machine running at top performance levels for several years. Even the best TLB can be destroyed in a short period of time if it is not properly cared for. Implementing a maintenance routine and educating mechanics and operators about a TLB will increase the life and performance of the machine to ensure that you get the most out of your TLB investment.

Doug Dahlgren is a product manager for Allmand Bros. Inc. (Holdrege, Neb.).


So what are the daily maintenance checks you should be performing on a TLB before or after each use? A machine's manual will typically include a schedule of maintenance checkpoints and when you should check them, but here's an example of a daily, or 8-hour, maintenance checklist as suggested by the manufacturer of a diesel TLB:

  • Check engine oil level, fill if needed
  • Check battery electrolyte level
  • Check fan belt for tightness
  • Check oil cooler fins, clean as necessary
  • Check radiator hoses and clamps for leaks
  • Check fuel lines for leaks
  • Check electrical wiring for damaged or loose connections
  • Check tie-rod ends for wear/tightness
  • Tighten lug nuts to 80 feet per pounds
  • Check hydraulic oil level, fill if necessary
  • Check backhoe bucket teeth, replace if necessary
  • Grease all swivel points (loader and backhoe)
  • Check hydraulic hoses for damage and loose connections

Now, do manufacturers expect machine mechanics or operators to conduct all of these checks before and after each use? The simple answer is “no.” But what manufacturers are trying to do with such substantial daily checklists is remind people what areas need monitoring on a regular basis.

A manufacturer expects that mechanics or operators will do a thorough walk around their machines before and after each use looking for telltale signs of maintenance needs, such as leaks, loose components, etc. And the provided checklist lets them know the most important areas to keep in mind during these daily walkthroughs.

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