Research Telehandlers to Prevent A Let Down

Hauling heavy loads over rough terrain can take its toll on any telehandler. So while a used model may be the most efficient solution for your equipment needs, perform due diligence to make sure the unit is fit for duty prior to the purchase.

It all starts with a careful inspection. "Perform an operator's inspection including full-cycle operation of a unit," advises Bob Bartley, director of technical services, Terex AWP.

Start the machine and run it through a few cycles. "Check for how sloppy the boom is when you send it in and out," says Brain Boeckman, global product director, telehandlers, JLG Industries. "This might lead you to some clue about how well the machine has been maintained over the course of its life."

Bruce Lafky, vice president – service and maintenance, United Rentals, adds, "It's important to conduct a thorough structural inspection and also do a fluid sampling if possible." Review the machine's maintenance history and ask questions to try to determine how it was used. "At a minimum, have a service professional perform a general inspection. That process, together with the maintenance history, can usually tell a good story to an experienced service technician."

This research will tell you a lot about potential problems. "A proper full inspection and operational check of the telehandler should provide the buyer with enough knowledge to tell if a telehandler has been properly maintained or not," says Doug Olive, senior director, pricing and valuation, Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers. "A work order and proper maintenance are also important pieces of information that should be evaluated prior to purchasing a used telehandler."

Beware of any machine that does not come with a maintenance history. "The maintenance records are very important when it comes time to sell or purchase a telehandler," Bartley explains. "Records tell the story of what the unit may have been subject to in its life and indicate whether the proper maintenance was performed to prolong the life of the unit."

"The value of the telehandler will be well supported by having solid maintenance records throughout the unit's working life," says Olive.

Maintenance records should be as complete as possible. Lafky recommends that you check the days and hours between services, as well as the types of repairs performed.

Also refer to the appropriate manufacturer's checklist during the inspection. "The best way to ensure that a telehandler is in proper operating condition is to use a manufacturer's checklist," says Lafky. "Manufacturers have inspection forms specific to most telehandler models. PDI checklists are also available. At United Rentals, we've created a comprehensive hybrid checklist that covers all of the major brand machines and has been reviewed and approved by the manufacturers."

Perform a walk-around

There is no substitute for a walk-around inspection. Take special notes of common wear items. These include boom wear pads, tires, chains and hoses in the boom section, steering joints, brakes and levelers.

"Boom sections should be examined for damage, cracks and wear," says Bartley. "Also check for damage and wear on boom chain adjustments, fork tines and fork tine bars. Always refer to the telehandler operator and service manuals for a complete list of items to inspect."

Examine how the machine was maintained. "As you walk around the machine, look at the wear pads to make sure they are all there," notes Boeckman. "Make sure they are properly greased. Look at all the pivot points on the machine. Any pivot pin should be properly secured. Are any hoses showing signs of wear?"

Then check for obvious problem areas. "Look for any structural defects in the machine — cracked wells and bent booms," says Boeckman. These are going to be the most expensive items to repair. "So you want to take a close look at the structural integrity of the machine. Check the engine over very closely. Do a compression test."

Olive adds, "The most important components and adjustments to check during a walk-around inspection of a telehandler are the engine and adjustable boom. You want to do a visual check for fluids in the engine, as well as on all the boom components for damage."

Check the engine oil and air filter restriction gauge. "Check oil for obvious reasons," says Lafky. "Restriction dust can clog filters and restrict use or cause a shutdown. It's important to note that a filter should never be removed without a replacement on hand. Cleaning a filter or removing one without replacing it can be disastrous, as even the smallest amount of dirt bypassing an air filter can dust an engine."

Boeckman also recommends checking the tires. "Tires are by far the biggest wear item on a telehandler," he states.

"Tires take a beating in typical telehandler operations, and can sustain a lot of cuts and damage," says Lafky. "They need to be monitored carefully for condition and replaced before they become a problem."

"Tires should be checked for damage, proper inflation and wear," agrees Bartley, adding, "Checking for hydraulic leaks is also crucial as these not only cause an operational issue, but can also become a hazardous spill."

Check for Abuse

"As with any type of construction equipment asset, the most common reasons for telehandler downtime are typically neglect, lack of maintenance or misuse of the machine," says Olive. Telehandlers can be more susceptible to abuse than many other types of equipment.

Operator abuse is not always readily apparent. "Telehandler applications by nature can make it very difficult to spot damage, either from abuse or general use," says Lafky. "For example, a telehandler can be used to traverse steep grades or drive long distances in remote areas with heavy loads, so broken axles and damaged transmissions are not uncommon. It's also a good idea to check for burnt fluids - another common reason for telehandler downtime."

The transmission and axle are expensive components to replace. "So if you are purchasing a used piece of equipment, you want to make some assessment of their condition," says Boeckman. "Take a critical look at both the transmission and the axles. Look for leaks and any significant damage to the outside casing. It is not a bad idea to take a small oil sample out of the transmission and out of the axles to check for oil cleanliness. That will give you some indication of how well that machine has been maintained over its life."

Also look for bent forks and damaged carriages and backrests. "These can result from the telehandler being used as a crane to lift a load above capacity," says Lafky. "We've also seen carriages bent from the operator using the equipment to dig into the ground."

Boom levelers and hydraulic cylinders are particularly prone to damage. "The most costly component on a telehandler to replace is the boom," says Olive. "Internal wear on the boom is not always easy to spot. The easiest way to identify or tell how much life is left in the boom and other components is if the machine has had a current inspection. Monthly maintenance reports are also a good reference point."

The components that need to be replaced give a clue to how a telehandler was used. "The need to replace fork tines, fork tine bars and boom sections is most often associated with misuse and not the natural life span of the component," notes Bartley.

Damage due to abuse is commonly seen on the fork tines, fork tine bars, fork carriage assembly, boom sections and tires. "You can see damage from misapplication when performing an internal boom inspection," adds Bartley. "This inspection is a part of the equipment's regularly scheduled maintenance and involves inspecting inside the boom tubes for chain, sheave and hose damage. This type of damage is usually a result of the operator using the boom to push and pull material instead of lifting material."

Often, costly repairs can be difficult to spot. "Some of the most costly components to replace on a telehandler can be tires, axles and transmissions," says Lafky. "The lifespan on tires is easy to monitor because it's basically a visual check —whereas axles and transmissions often have internal damage that is virtually impossible to detect without fluid sampling or an outright failure."

Yet, most of these pitfalls can be avoided by doing your homework prior to purchase.

"There is always a market for used telehandlers because, generally speaking, a good used telehandler will get the job done reliably if it has been well maintained and is within reasonable age in terms of hours," says Lafky. "However, it depends on the planned application or situation. Certainly, there are circumstances where it makes more sense to buy a new machine."