Equipment Options: Loaders

When it comes to commercial grounds-care equipment, the phrase "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" does not apply. In fact, it couldn't be further from the truth. You wouldn't think of driving your car without performing routine maintenance--and if you own a piece of heavy-duty equipment, you know the tough tasks you put it through every day. You also know that these heavy-duty machines can require heavy-duty maintenance if not cared for properly. Whether it's a skid-steer or a front-end loader, regular and proper maintenance will greatly increase the performance, reliability, durability and ultimately the life of your machine.

To make sure that your downtime is kept to a minimum, several maintenance activities apply to all types of equipment, including skid-steer and front-end loaders. You need to check some aspects daily, while you need to check others only on a weekly or monthly basis. The best way to determine what and when to service is to follow the recommended maintenance schedules in your operator's manual for that piece of equipment. Here's a brief description of the major maintenance items to keep a close check on and ways to avoid problems down the road.

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A breath of fresh air Everyone needs a breath of fresh air and--believe it or not--so do your skid-steer and front-end loaders. If your machines don't "breathe" properly, they won't operate at full capacity, which in turn reduces your productivity.

To keep either type of machine in top operating condition, it's important to follow the manufacturer's suggested maintenance schedule. Generally speaking, you should replace skid-steer air filters after every 500 hours of use. Replace front-end-loader air filters every 1,000 hours. Of course, if you've been operating your equipment in extremely dusty conditions, you may need to replace the filter more often. Check the hour meter or air-restriction indicators to figure out when it's time for service.

Just as important as when to replace is how to replace an air filter. One of the most common errors made in air-filtration maintenance is that the user takes the filter out, bangs it or taps it on the side of the tire and puts it back inside the machine. Two problems exist with this type of "maintenance." First, each time you open the system, you run the risk of breaking the seal, which allows dirt and grime to get into the engine. Needless to say, this can cause significant damage to internal components. In addition, you can damage the filter if you take it out and bang it around. You'll never hear anybody recommend banging or tapping a filter to clean it. Thus, if you must clean rather than replace, take the filter out and gently wash it. Only a few manufacturers recommend this, so make sure to read the operator's manual first to determine if your's recommends this alternative. To be completely safe, your best bet is to replace the filter each time you service it. Filters are an inexpensive investment that can prolong the life of your machine.

A well-oiled machine never squeaks If you hear your bucket, boom, rake or pallet fork squeaking, you've waited too long to lubricate. Squeaking means that metal parts are rubbing together and that contaminants are getting into places they don't belong. Skid-steer and front-end loaders typically operate in adverse conditions, and you need to fully lubricate them for optimal performance. Because lubricants also act as cleaning agents, keeping your machine well-lubricated is one of the best methods for protecting your machine from the elements. As you push grease into a joint on one side, you push dirt out the other, minimizing abrasions that can wear parts. More often than not, these important joints get caked with mud, and it is easy to overlook them. For the components on your machine that stay buried in the dirt and debris, it's best to lubricate them daily. In addition, always remember to lubricate your skid-steer and front-end loader boom arm-pivot joints every 50 hours or about once a week. If ever in doubt, just remember that grease is cheaper than parts. It's better to over-lubricate than not lubricate at all.

A small leak will sink a ship Low or empty fluid levels can halt a tractor. Unless you're in the habit of making daily walk-arounds, leaks are easy to overlook. As with all other maintenance schedules, you need to check different fluids at different times. For skid-steers and front-end loaders, check the engine oil and engine coolant daily. One undetected leak in a hose can put you out of commission for days. Because different machines have different needs, manufacturers work diligently to develop an oil for each specific machine. Therefore, it's highly advisable that you use the manufacturer's recommended oil rather than a "will-fit" oil.

To avoid serious damage and costly repairs down the road, make sure that the drive-train case and gear-case fluids are always at the proper level. To run out of fuel is one thing, but to let these essential fluids fall to a perilous level can be disastrous to you and your machine. To be on the safe side, check skid-steer drive-train cases and gear cases every 100 hours. Check front-end loaders every 10 hours.

Spinning wheels can get you nowhere fast Depending on the machine you have and its application, tire life can vary greatly. Each product has tires designed specifically for the application, and it's important that you know the difference. Skid-steers are designed to have versatility, speed and maneuverability. As their name implies, they skid--which also means they will consume tires faster than front-end loaders. When you buy the machine, talk to your dealer about how you plan to use the equipment so that you can be sure that the tire is appropriate for the application.

No matter what brand of tires you use, correct tire pressure is essential. Checking the pressure regularly will ensure a longer tire life and reduce downtime. Tire pressure should always match manufacturer recommendations. Rotate your tires on a regular basis. Even if you check your tire pressure and rotate regularly, it's always a good idea to have a spare on hand. You wouldn't think of driving around in a car without a spare, and the same should be said for your skid-steer or front-end loader.

When in doubt, get professional help While regular maintenance is imperative, it is still important to have an overall inspection done by your dealer at least once a year. Between these yearly inspections, keep a service log on any maintenance performed. Not only will this help you remember what parts you need to service and when, but it also could help a service technician diagnose a more serious problem. While a highly trained operator can handle everything from a daily walk-around inspection to minor adjustments and oil changes, it's best to carry your service log and equipment to the dealership for more advanced service.

Checking fluid levels and tire pressure, monitoring hours of use and performing a quick walk-around inspection before every use takes less than a few minutes each day. But these few minutes spent taking care of the details can mean better performance and fewer repairs over the life of your skid-steer or front-end loader.

Bob Tracinski is business communications manager for John Deere Worldwide Commercial& Consumer Equipment Division (Raleigh, N.C.).

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