You may be wasting money if you’re not correctly preparing your compact equipment for your busy season. Something as simple as a flat tire on a skid-steer loader—easily identified and fixed before the season starts—could cost you hundreds of dollars if you consider employee wages, repairs, and project delays.
It’s not too late to follow a simple preventive maintenance checklist. Outlined below are four easy steps that you, your operator or your mechanic should review before you start working this busy season. Always follow your compact equipment owner’s manual to ensure you’re installing the correct filters and replacing the right fluid types.
In addition to following the owner’s manual, pay careful attention to your loader’s tires or tracks, battery, and fluids. Attachments should receive equal attention to your compact loader to ensure they’re ready to work properly.
Check the Battery
Inspect your loader’s battery after winter, whether the machine has been in use or was inactive.
“Today’s equipment always has a draw on the battery so unless you have maintained or disconnected the battery over the winter, the battery will slowly run down and will need to be charged before spring operation,” says Mike Fitzgerald, Bobcat loader product specialist.
For batteries that need to be charged, a trickle charger can be connected to help build the voltage at a slower rate, improving the battery life.
“If a loader has been parked during the off-season or even used for intermittent duties during winter, such as snow removal, the first step should be to make sure the battery is charged and the battery connections are clean,” says Fitzgerald. “Corroded terminals can cause hard starting and charging issues.”
Check Tire Pressure and Track Wear
Checking tire pressure is another crucial step, saving you time and money down the road.
“Making sure the tire pressure is at the manufacturer’s recommended level is a simple thing to check,” says Fitzgerald. “If the skid-steer loader sits idle for months, air slowly permeates through the rubber tires, causing the tires to lose air pressure. Be sure to inflate the tires to the proper inflation pressure shown on the sidewall of the tire. This can save you significant money by reducing downtime, which then improves your productivity and profitability.”
For compact track loaders and mini track loaders, inspect the tracks to make sure they have proper tension. Remove any dirt and debris from undercarriage components that weren’t cleaned before winter. Fitzgerald says to refer to your owner’s manual for proper track tension.
Inspect Fluid Levels and Filters
Matching loader fluids to the proper ambient temperatures and following the manufacturer’s recommendations are important to minimizing downtime. According to Fitzgerald, fuel grade must be matched to outside temperature. For instance, No. 2 grade fuels should be used at temperatures above 15°F; however, it is recommended to use a blended or No. 1 diesel fuel and/or anti-gel additives when temperatures drop below 15°F.
“Machines that have been operating in colder temperatures may have been using lower viscosity or multi-grade engine oils,” says Fitzgerald. “You don’t necessarily have to drain oil that was used during winter months as long as you make sure the viscosity meets the requirements for the current and future temperatures you will be working in.”
Filters in skid-steer and compact track loaders should also be changed annually or sooner, depending on how many hours the machine is in use, says Fitzgerald. It may also depend on the conditions where you’re operating the loader; dirtier and dustier conditions may require filters be changed more frequently. Regular inspections will help you identify when to change filters and minimize unexpected downtime.
For the proper fluid and filter increments, you should refer to your owner’s manual.
A wide variety of attachments are available for use on compact equipment. These attachments require the same attention to maintenance as the loader itself. Visual checks of the hoses, cylinders, and guards, on the attachment can help determine if damage or wear has occurred.
“Everything that engages with the ground from bucket cutting edges to planer and trencher teeth should be looked at for wear and damage,” says Fitzgerald. “If a component needs to be replaced, now would be the time to replace it.”
By connecting the attachment and operating it briefly, you can make sure the attachment will be working properly when you need to use it. Checking “attachment specific” fluid levels and changing them as needed is also recommended before starting your busy work season.
“Don’t forget to check comfort features such as heat and air conditioning systems, radios, windshield wiper blades, etc.” Fitzgerald adds. “These items may not cause you downtime, but they do improve operator productivity and should be part of normal maintenance.”Another helpful suggestion is to create a checklist for operators to remind them of the importance of daily maintenance checks. This checklist can be stored in the loader and referenced later by the owner or service department if there is an issue with the machine.