Are your machines overheating on a regular basis? Have your operators complained of a balky transmission? Have you noticed increased engine smoke or noise when accelerating or decelerating? Is fuel economy declining while oil consumption is increasing?
All these can be signs of forgetting to change the oils and filters on a regular basis. Eventually, such neglect can add a big repair bill to an already tight budget.
"The monetary effect of not following the manufacturer's recommended service intervals for oil and filters can be huge," says Paul W. Ewing, national accounts manager, off-highway, Luber-finer division of Champion Laboratories. "Contractors need to control and maintain fluid contamination levels to what the OEMs base their service intervals on."
Cost of neglect
"While the engine or drivetrain may not always produce definite signs that a PM service has been missed, if there's a problem with excessive fluid contamination, it's a different story," says Mark Betner, heavy-duty lubricant manager, CITGO Petroleum Corp.
For example, an engine might have a serious coolant leak that places high levels of coolant in the oil; high levels of dirt may enter via the air induction system; or the fueling system may have fuel injector problems resulting in excessive fuel dilution. "In any of these cases, missing a PM could be disastrous," says Betner. "The result could be premature engine failure. Running an engine after missed service intervals with the oil heavily contaminated, at the very least, will result in severe wear that will show up down the road in shortened component life."
Greg Ufken, product director - liquid filtration at Donaldson, sums up, "The result of missed service intervals is premature component wear, which can lead to vehicle downtime, loss of performance or other system failures."
This, in turn, can significantly impact your pocketbook. "You end up with higher repair bills as you frequently replace components or need a complete and expensive transmission overhaul," states Chuck Hamilton, a technical service engineer at CHS Inc., which markets lubricants under the Cenex brand. "You also experience more downtime."
Some not-so-obvious costs, adds Betner, can include a loss of power and drivetrain efficiency, especially in powershift transmissions. "You may also end up relying on reserve equipment, or need to retain more equipment to back up machines breaking down," he says. "Higher equipment downtime frequently leads to job completion delays and loss of future bids. It could even give your company a reputation for poor reliability."
Betner admits poor maintenance can be a result of not having enough service technicians, having equipment in several locations or bad planning. These situations stress the current service crew, eventually causing higher employee turnover, which adds further cost to the operation.
Oil analysis can help cut costs
The lubricant and filter experts agree that knowing what's actually in your oil is the best way to lower costs and reduce repairs. It's also a way to safely extend service intervals, which could save you more money.
"Oil drain intervals vary by application, load and other factors," says Wayne Mellgren, Donaldson field services manager. "The best way to determine acceptable drain intervals is through monitoring used oil analysis."
He adds, "The most quantitative information comes from used engine oil analysis. For example, you may find that abnormally high wear metal concentrations indicate a corrosive environment. You can then set service intervals accordingly."
All machine lubricants can experience harmful levels of contaminants, either from outside sources or from wear particles or combustion by-products.