Five Tips to Boost Backhoe-loader Uptime

While backhoe loaders have many of the same maintenance requirements as any machine with a diesel engine, there are unique maintenance demands.

The backhoe is the working end of the machine and deserves careful attention. “The backhoe swing system is often the most highly loaded, and it’s important to keep it properly greased,” says Kevin Hershberger, senior market professional for backhoes, Caterpillar. “Since it’s difficult to inspect the condition of specific parts, it is important to make sure that the swing system pins and bearings are getting greased. Disassembly and parts inspection will normally be driven by pin and bearing joint wear, which will normally be signaled by noise from the joint.”

Damaged or ruptured hoses account for a significant portion of downtime. “The most failure-prone items on a backhoe are probably the backhoe hydraulic hoses,” notes Dan Livezey, product specialist, New Holland.

In addition, every piece of equipment has commonly overlooked maintenance items. On the backhoe-loader, one of these areas is the front axle and trunnion bearings. “These items are put under strain as the machine spends a lot of time with the front axle off the ground,” says Livezey. “Under hard digging the front axle is bouncing a lot. It needs a coating of grease to prevent damage to the bearings.”

To really cut downtime, you need to become familiar with the suggested maintenance intervals on all of the machine systems. “Neglected machine maintenance will result in earlier component failure in virtually any system or component of the machine,” says Hershberger. “If all systems were neglected on a new backhoe-loader, the first failures would probably occur in pins and bushings which had not been greased, simply because they are highly loaded, and some require daily greasing.”

Some maintenance items will have more of an impact than others. Livezey explains that the five areas that can have the most impact on backhoe-loader uptime are clean fuel, clean oil, daily lubrication of high-use areas and inspections of the hard points of the machine.

John Deere stresses the importance of daily greasing, following all fluid and filter recommendations and following the periodic maintenance recommendations. “They are the best proactive work you can do to keep a backhoe running in prime condition,” says Louann Hausner, backhoe-loaders and tractor loaders marketing manager, John Deere. “Those areas that are in the dirt, such as pins and bushings, may be easy to overlook, but are essential to grease daily.”

1 Proper greasing tops the list

Backhoes are joint intensive machines with many pivot points. Missing critical joints can add cost quickly because you are going to gall pins, or wipe out bushings or bearings.

Not all grease is created equal. Use the right quality and specification of grease to ensure long life of major wear areas. Refer to the literature and service plates to ensure that all grease fittings are serviced. Make sure the grease is right for the region in which you work. There are a variety of different greases to match the application and temperature of your region.

Keep in mind that improper greasing procedure can create as many problems as it solves. Wipe the grease zerks off with a rag prior to greasing so you don’t pump any dirt that is already on the zerks into the joint. And you should use the right amount of grease. If you are greasing on schedule, it doesn’t take more than a couple of pumps [from the grease gun]. Overgreasing allows dust and dirt to stick to that grease and that is not a good thing.

2 The daily Inspection

“Performing daily inspections is vital to maximize uptime,” says Hausner. “Preventive maintenance can prevent unplanned downtime.”

Perform a walk-around every day before the machine leaves your yard and drain water from the fuel water separator. Manufacturers provide detailed lists of the daily check points.

Many manufacturers, such as John Deere, post maintenance checklists right on the machine. “Due to the fact that customers are entering and exiting the cab on the left side of the machine every day, the preventive maintenance checklist is conveniently located on the left side of the machine, right where the operator will easily be able to access the list,” says Hausner.

Pay special attention to anything that makes contact with the ground, meaning the loader and backhoe, bucket pins and the swing pins. Backhoe hoses also need to be inspected as they also make contact near the trench or dirt pile.

On the front of the machine, check the cutting edge on the bucket. If that starts wearing into the bucket, you need to replace that edge. Make sure all of the bolts on the cutting edge are all present and tight.

On the back of the machine, inspect the boom and stick for damage. Look for leaks and rubs. Then check the bucket teeth. Make sure they are all present and the retainer pins are secure.

Check under and around the machine for any leaks. Be sure to check the swing casting area for any damage to the structure, pins and hoses. Visually check the boom, stick and bucket structure, pins and hoses for any damage, looseness or missing parts.

Since this equipment runs in dirty environments, air filter maintenance is a must. Air filters need periodic checks. If there is not an air restriction gauge, you might need to pull the air filter out and inspect it once a week. If you have an air restriction gauge, go by it. There is no need to unnecessarily open up the filter and risk getting dust in the intake tract.

3 Keep oil clean

While clean oil helps extend engine and transmission life, it is vital to the tight tolerances of today’s hydraulic systems. Just the smallest amounts of contamination can accelerate wear. “Maintaining a clean hydraulics system is essential to the health of all hydraulic components,” says Hausner. “Fluids should be topped off using new oil that meets the specifications found within the operator’s manual.”

Then make sure you don’t contaminate the hydraulic system when topping off the system. “Clean hydraulic oil is very important to long and cost-effective operation of a backhoe,” says Livezey. Good housekeeping is critical. “Oil should not be simply carried around in a 5-gallon pail. Oil in an open barrel is already contaminated. Moisture as well as dirt are not kind to oil.”

4 Don’t neglect the tires

Tire checks should go beyond a visual inspection to make sure there are no flats.

“Maintaining tire pressure is essential for maximizing your backhoe investment,” says Hausner. “Proper tire pressure not only minimizes tire wear, but also maximizes traction and stability. This provides stronger backhoe performance and less backhoe service costs.”

Livezey agrees. “If the pressure is too low, the machine will be unstable, operate sluggish and put extreme wear on the sidewalls. If the pressure is too high, the machine will have no suspension and give a very rough and harsh ride – the operator will be fatigued in a short time. Also, tire wear will be extreme in the center of the tire. Finally, the pushing power of the unit will be reduced as the tire will not have the correct footprint to put the optimum amount of power to the ground.”

Also make sure you do a visual inspection for any cuts.

5 Maintain extendible dipper sticks

One of the most overlooked areas is the hydraulic extendible dipper. “The hydraulic extendible dipper operates in extreme conditions and is subjected to extreme forces,” says Livezey. It should be inspected on a regular basis, and adjusted to keep it in optimum shape. On the New Holland backhoe, our hydraulic extendible dipper is easy to inspect and also very easy to adjust. In just a couple of minutes you can take out any slop.”

On backhoes with an extendible dipper stick it’s important to keep clearances within spec. Correct adjustment of the wear pads is necessary to give you smooth operation.