Operators know they're supposed to do preventive maintenance (PM) every day to keep a wheel loader in peak operating condition. Yet, how will they get all that dirt moved by the end of the day if they take extra time to check fluid levels, tires, grease points, etc.?
It can be tempting to skimp on these tasks to gain a few extra minutes and stay on schedule. But if you give in to that temptation and bypass daily service checks, you could end up short-changing the performance of your machine and, in the end, you may actually get less done.
"Use of recommended maintenance practices is paramount to the well being of the product," says Frank Hepner, senior product service engineer, Caterpillar. "Extensive testing has been performed on various components to determine maintenance intervals and filter requirements."
Consult the manual
As with other earthmoving machines, wheel loaders call for a simple daily maintenance routine to be set up and implemented. "Ideally, it should be performed by the operator at the start of the day," says Nick Rogers, product specialist, Liebherr. "This should begin with a check of the fluid levels (hydraulic oil, engine oil and fuel) and end with a walk-around of the machine."
While most loader models will have the same general rule of thumb as to when certain tasks should be completed, you should check the operator's manual for your specific machine since slight variations may exist. Many manufacturers also may post service intervals on stickers affixed directly to the machine and located in an easily identifiable spot, such as the door.
"Some contractors overlook the operator's manual," says Dave Pooley, Hyundai, "but that's a mistake. The operator's manual is a great source of reference. If you don't consult the manual, you can miss out on changes that have been made to the maintenance schedule since the last time you purchased a new machine."
For example, with the move to Tier III engines, many manufacturers upped some fluid change intervals. "If you haven't read the manual, you might not be aware of that change," Pooley says. "That means you could be missing out on some big savings. Since you don't need to change the fluids as often, you won't need to purchase as much product."
While this scenario isn't harmful to the machine's operation, other items that you miss could be. "It is extremely important to read and follow the manufacturer's recommended maintenance intervals," says Rogers. "These intervals have been designed to provide the most productive and efficient longevity of the machine."
For example, if you don't check filters, debris can impede the flow of air, oil, etc. "For air filtration, you want the filter to be free of clogs and dirt so you can get optimum performance out of your engine," says Bryan Evans, Doosan Infracore America, Corp. "And a clean filter reduces fuel consumption."
Many manufacturers now include a hydraulic reversible fan to blow out rear coolers. "Be sure to use it," says Evans. "It can help minimize overheating conditions with an engine."
And while bypass valves enable fluids to flow to their intended component even if the fluid filter is clogged, that lubrication will be done with a dirty product. This can lead to early wear, and eventually component failure.
When you extend fluid change intervals beyond recommendations, you sacrifice the product's ability to do its job to the best of its ability. Consider that it's not just the oil that can break down. "Fluids are really a package," says Pooley. "There are specific additives that can break down and lose their protective qualities. If the manufacturer suggests that oil be changed at 500 hours, it won't offer the same protective qualities beyond that time period."