Take Control Of Skid- Steer Costs

Don’t let poor operating and service practices shorten machine life.

As with most equipment, the operator plays a crucial role in determining the productivity and long--term performance of a skid steer. Over time, improper operation can take its toll.

“The operator can stress the machine with poor operating techniques,” points out Larry Foster, business analysis manager, skid steers, at John Deere. This can include being too aggressive with the machine — for example, using excessive speed to charge the pile or making abrupt direction changes.

This “hot dogging” can greatly reduce tire life and increase stress on the drivetrain and lift arm, says Mike Jerred, service manager, Mustang Mfg. It can also lead to excessive wear of the bucket and quick--attach system.

Overloading the skid steer beyond its capacity is another practice that can damage components. “A common mistake is not properly matching the machine to the specific task they’re trying to do,” says Foster.

Overloading places high stress on the hydraulic cylinders, chassis, loader arm or bucket. It can also result in tipping, which places both the operator and the machine at risk.

To enhance performance, some operators add extra weights beyond those offered by the manufacturer. This may boost lift capacity for the short term, but it can have long--term repercussions. “By adding those weights, they can lift more,” notes Lyle Johnson, product service manager--loaders, at Bobcat. “However, the skid steer may not be designed structurally for that so it may shorten the life of the machine.”

Johnson points out that a typical Bobcat skid--steer loader is designed to operate for thousands of hours with minimal problems. “But if you use it extensively beyond what it’s designed to do,” he notes, “you may start seeing problems earlier and could possibly even experience structural damage to the machine.”

Don’t neglect grease and fluids

Daily servicing is another area in which the operator has a major influence on owning and operating costs over the life of the machine. “Regular servicing can maximize a machine’s uptime and minimize its downtime, providing a higher return on your investment,” says Bob Lessner, product manager, utility marketing division, Komatsu America.

Unfortunately, it’s the simple things that tend to be overlooked most. “Daily greasing of pins and bushings seems to be the most commonly neglected area, especially when the grease zerk becomes damaged or filled with debris,” says Lessner.

Keeping daily service records in the operator’s compartment of the skid steer can help ensure greasing is performed as required. Operators should also be instructed to take note of any grease zerks that are not functioning properly. “If a grease zerk does not take grease, fix it immediately,” Jerred recommends. “Ignoring it will only lead to a much more expensive repair later on.”

Fluid levels checks are also prone to neglect. Engine coolant, engine oil and transmission/hydraulic fluids must be kept at recommended levels to ensure proper performance. “It’s not just being below the full mark. You don’t want to overfill either,” says Foster. Overfilling the engine oil, for example, will cause the engine to “churn” the excess fluid, producing heat and placing more load on the engine. This, in turn, can increase component wear and fuel consumption.

Sight gauges on skid steers have made it easier to monitor fluid levels. “Every time you open up the system at a jobsite, you have the potential to ingest dirt into the system,” says Foster. “Visual checks are a more secure method of verifying you have the proper level without exposing the system to a dirty environment.”

Avoid overservicing air filters

In certain cases, excessive servicing can be as harmful as neglect. The air filter is one example. “There are operators out there who believe they should blow out an air filter daily or weekly,” Foster notes. “Every time they open up the filter compartment, they increase the potential that they could inadvertently add dirt to the system.”

Most skid steers are now equipped with an onboard indicator to alert the operator when the air filter needs changing. “Onboard computers inform operators when servicing of air filters is required, which helps the operator do maintenance only when needed and ensures the filter is changed when needed,” says Johnson.

When it comes time to replace the filter, don’t be tempted to skimp on maintenance by trying to clean it. “Air filters are being improperly cleaned to save a few dollars instead of being replaced,” Jerred comments. “The cleaning of an air filter is risky and is not advised. It’s best to replace them when the air cleaner indicator advises the operator to do so.”

Inspect for wear and tear

Of course, operators are your first line of defense when it comes to catching signs of damage or wear. “A simple five--minute walk--around looking for loose, worn or damaged components can spot potential failures before they cause major downtime,” Johnson notes.

“When daily maintenance is being done, inspect the machine for problems that may be developing,” advises Jerred. Repairs can then be performed before a component fails. For example, a loose hose or line clamp can be identified and tightened before vibration leads to line cracks and hose failures.

During the walk--around, Foster recommends clearing heat exchangers and coolers of debris. “You can really shorten the life of your engine and hydraulic and hydrostatic systems through excess heat due to debris buildup that reduces the efficiency of the coolers,” he states.

Batteries should also be checked to ensure they can function properly. “By their nature, the cycles of the battery and starter engagement on skid steers is much more frequent than on larger construction equipment,” says Foster. “The user will start and stop the machine numerous times throughout the day. It’s important to maintain clean terminals and, if it’s not a maintenance--free battery, to maintain the correct fluid levels.”

Tire inspection should also be a part of your maintenance routine. “Operating with low tire pressure can damage the sidewall and possibly cause a flat,” Foster explains. It can also affect skid--steer productivity. “It’s more difficult to cut a grade when the bucket is not sitting level because tire pressure is too low on one side.”

The amount of debris around construction sites can result in a puncture that produces a slow leak. Discovering a decrease in tire pressure early on can help avoid a flat during operation. “Unfortunately, people tend not to look at tires until they discover they have a flat,” Foster points out. “If you want good uptime and more productivity, you need to know the condition of your tires.”

In the long run, attention to such details will pay off. “The payback will be in terms of dollars and cents to a contractor,” says Foster. “Maintaining good maintenance practices is going to result in fewer failures with less downtime.”

Becky Schultz is the editor of Equipment Today, a sister publication of Concrete Concepts.