On the specification sheets, most similar-size motor graders look much the same. "Length, width, height, weight and horsepower are all very comparable," says Bryan Abernathy, Champion Industries. The real differences can be found in the details.
Motor graders come with many different features, options and attachments. As such, you need to prioritize what is important to your operation.
"Obviously, the contractor needs to know the type of work he will be doing and purchase a motor grader to match his needs," says Keith Lee, research and development, VT LeeBoy, Inc. "A contractor can spend a lot of money on a motor grader that can do things he will never need. Conversely, he can find a low-cost motor grader that won't perform up to his expectations on the jobsite. Both choices may be costly."
Spec to conditions
Autry Grading, Fayetteville, NC, has vast experience tailoring motor graders to meet its jobsite conditions and operators. Its fleet currently includes four Volvo G930s and one G720 model.
"We didn't just buy standard motor graders," says Ken Autry, owner. "We run 13-ft. moldboards instead of the standard 12-ft. moldboards. It just gives us a little more stick out beyond the wheel and the frame." Yet, the setup is not so long that it is difficult to control excess movement on the end of the blade.
The contractor also specifies wider tires to handle the soft, sand conditions. In addition, a short cab includes windows that open in the bottom. "Some of our older operators still want to open the window when they get down to the last pass or two," Autry notes. "When they have a window in front of them, they start losing some of their depth perception. That distorts the grade."
Autry also pays attention to operator comfort. "They have the better seats in them," he says of the graders, "and they all have air conditioning."
Alpine Services, Gaithersburg, MD, is also proficient at spec'ing graders to its needs. The contractor constructs athletic fields across the country for organizations such as the National Football League and the National Hockey League. These confined-space projects require precision and speed. This is where the company's two Champion C80 motor graders and its discontinued Blade-Mor model earn their keep.
The units are equipped with hydrostatic drive. "The hydrostatic transmission is the only way to go. You don't have to stop and shift," says Grove Teates, owner of Alpine Services. "It changes speeds so quickly or you can change direction with just the simple movement of the pedal."
Power and visibility are also important. "We like open cabs so that you can see better," says Teates.
But what Teates values most is the factory support. "Champion was able to tweak everything just to suit us a little better and that helps," he says.
Clearly, selecting a motor grader goes beyond the options available. "The 'feel' of the motor grader is important," Lee says. "Key features such as operator visibility to the surrounding work area, visibility to the blade area, a quiet engine and power and traction all make a difference when it comes to safety and productivity."
Transmit power to the ground
Lugging capability through the use of a high-torque engine can be a desirable trait in a grader. According to Autry, the torque curve of the engines on its Volvo units helps his operators in fine grading applications. The really high torque at low engine speed allows them to keep the ground speed very slow, yet still supplies enough power to pull heavy loads.
Powershift transmissions are also an advantage on most full-size graders. For example, on its 120M through 16M models, Caterpillar uses a direct-drive countershaft transmission with electronically controlled shifting. "The full Electronic Clutch Pressure Control (ECPC) system optimizes inching modulation and smooths shifting between all gears and directional changes," says Wade Porter, marketing supervisor, Caterpillar Motor Grader Product Group. "This provides outstanding control and also extends the life of the transmission by reducing stress on gears."