Seasonal Maintenance for Equipment
The seasons change, but your job does not — even when the grass is dormant for winter, you can't afford to be standing still.
During the growing season, there are days when you fervently wish there were four of you to get all the work done. Whether you maintain golf course or municipal sites, or if you are a self-employed contractor, spring, summer and even fall can leave you with little time for anything other than work.
There are professionals who live where the grass never sleeps, but even those who must wait out winter for the next revenue-producing day have plenty of work to fill their time during those cold days.
EXAMINE YOUR EQUIPMENT
During the busy time of year, little things stack up that are not finished. Perhaps you have paperwork that needs filing, or you need to make a minor repair on a piece of equipment. Winter is the best time for both, and there are several projects that you can take care of that will pay off quite handsomely come springtime.
Those mowers that serve you so well are in need of a good going over, no matter how often you've serviced them. Now is the time to completely look them over and perform all necessary cleanings and repairs. Start with a good bath, removing all guards from the deck and cleaning all the grass from underneath and on top of the deck. Use a quality cleanser and clean the entire machine, even the engine. Use care not to get water into places it shouldn't go, such as the transaxle and electrical parts. Let the machine dry and begin a full inspection of it.
Look for frayed or cracked belts, and replace them now instead of waiting until it is 90 degrees out and there are people waiting on you.
Release the tension from the deck belts and spin each pulley over. (Many times a bad bearing is quieter when under a side load from tension.) Listen for worn or rusty bearings — grease them and spin them again. If the noise is not gone, consider replacing the bearings now. In any case, grease all of the fittings.
Examine the blades and sharpen them if they need it. If you are working on a reel mower, do not forget to look at (and adjust) the cutter bars, and check them for damage and wear as well.
As anyone who has ever done so can tell you, disassembling a gang mower for sharpening and repair is time consuming. Do it now while time is not an issue.
Hydraulic systems, regardless of type of mower, are not maintenance free. Now is a great time to not only change the fluid and filter, but also to clean out the cooling fins on the cooler.
If the mower in question is air-cooled, now is the time to remove the blower housing and clean the cooling fins. If it is liquid-cooled, flushing the radiator and refilling it with new coolant may be in order, as well as cleaning the cooling fins on the radiator.
While keeping dust and dirt clear of this area is a daily job, it is a good idea to take an air nozzle and blow the accumulated dust and dirt from the radiator core once a year. This should be done in the opposite direction from normal airflow. Afterwards, use a water hose to flush it again. (High-pressure washers can damage radiators, so use a regular hose.) After the final cleaning, blow it off with air again, and you may see a marked drop in operating temperatures. This same rule of housekeeping applies to the hydraulic cooler as well.
Maintenance requirements vary from machine to machine, so consult the owner's manual. This is a good place to start when deciding what maintenance to do during the off-season.
SHARPEN, FUEL AND CHARGE
Different equipment has different needs, but there are maintenance needs that are best performed at this time of year for many types of equipment.
Hedge trimmers need sharpening to get them ready for spring and, unlike a rotary mower blade, it is not a five-minute job. Now is the perfect time to do that, as well as clean all the accumulated sap from the cutter blades and do any adjusting that may be needed.
Regardless of what equipment you are servicing, remember to store it away with fuel stabilizer in the tank so it will start come spring. Fuel has a tendency to break down quickly, and nothing ruins that first busy day like having equipment that will not start.
To that end, clean the terminals and connections on all batteries in your fleet of equipment, and treat the terminals with an anti-corrosion agent. Charge and load test each battery as well. A load tester applies a calibrated load to a battery, and then a needle or gauge tells you the condition of the battery. The battery must be fully charged before testing, but a good load tester can tell you if a mower didn't start just because it hadn't been moved in a month or if the battery is close to dying. With the cost of downtime and batteries these days, a good load tester will quickly pay for itself in a fleet situation. If you have one or two machines, be aware of places that sell batteries often offer free load testing. Just be sure to charge the batteries first so the test results are accurate.
Mowers come with various electrical systems installed — safety systems, charging systems, a deck lift and lights. All of these should be checked for operation as well. All electrical connections are subject to trouble, so take a few minutes to verify that connections are clean and tight. More than one mower has been stopped in its tracks by a dirty or loose connection. Check ground connections, as well as engine mounting bolts, and any other hardware that may shake loose over the course of the mowing season.
After the hydraulic system has been serviced, the oil changed, tune-ups completed and mower decks, pulleys and drive belts ready, turn your attention to the driving force behind (or rather under) any mower: the tires. Inspect the tires for tread and sidewall wear, and if you have a tire that goes flat every three or four days, now is the time to repair it. Tire stores are usually your best bet for this kind of service.
This time of year is also a good time to recondition older equipment that needs its engine rebuilt, transmission work or other major maintenance, as well as begin looking at new equipment if you are planning to add to your fleet. Buying new equipment is best done when you are not badly in need of it — and you have time to study all your options.
Finally, regardless of the type of equipment you have or what maintenance you do this winter, be sure to keep accurate records of all of it. This can help in planning maintenance and can prove helpful at trade.
Bears may hibernate this winter, but there is no rest for the landscape professional.
P.D. Peterson is a freelance writer who resides in Bristol, Va.
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