7 Steps to Effective Wheel Loader Maintenance

Performing routine maintenance is critical to safety and productivity

The majority of new wheel loaders are engineered with engine aftertreatment systems that require specific types of maintenance and service as outlined by the manufacturer.
The majority of new wheel loaders are engineered with engine aftertreatment systems that require specific types of maintenance and service as outlined by the manufacturer.

We know we are all creatures of habit. Without even realizing it, you have established patterns that structure and fill most of your days — starting with the time you tell your alarm to get you out of bed, to your method for moving material with your wheel loader. While you may tweak your schedule periodically, much of what you do on a daily basis flows from the rhythm of routine.

So, it would stand to reason that owners and operators would have a similar approach to routine maintenance on a wheel loader — conducting the same inspections and checklists in the same order at the same time every day, right? Not exactly. When business is good and schedules are hectic, you might rationalize that stretching maintenance intervals or cutting corners would not be too damaging.

Unfortunately, that is a habit that can take its toll on the performance of your machine and ultimately impact your productivity. Daily preventive maintenance is important because your machine needs it.

“Routine daily maintenance and good pre- and post-use inspections on a wheel loader are critical to keeping safety first and productivity high,” says Chad Ellis, Doosan product manager.

By following a routine daily maintenance schedule that methodically examines seven key systems and components from the ground up, you can ensure that you will not only prevent many issues from developing, but you can extend your machine’s life cycle.

1. Properly trained operators — There is no routine maintenance plan that will be effective if fleet managers, service technicians and operators aren’t educated on current maintenance methods and procedures. If you are going to perform a majority of your wheel loader’s maintenance yourself, seek the recommendations of your manufacturer’s maintenance manual for intervals and checklists. Ideally, you’ll also want to obtain maintenance training and assistance from your equipment dealer on proper techniques.

2. Attachment cutting edges — Regardless of the application, loading and unloading material all day can create excessive wear on a loader’s ground-engaging tools. To ensure these high-impact tools stay in peak operating condition, fleet maintenance managers need to perform daily visual inspections of buckets, looking for loose, cracked or missing teeth, and repairing or replacing compromised components as soon as possible.

A loader’s attachments, such as buckets and pallet forks, are some of the most popular and hard-working tools in construction, mining and quarry applications, and should receive the same attention as the machine itself. Visual checks of these components should include hoses and tilt and lift cylinders to determine if wear is developing or damage has occurred.

There are other items on bigger buckets that have a working life, as well. Examine the condition of wear plates and bolted-on cutting edges, as well as attachment pins to make certain they fit snugly and properly.

3. Tire treads and inflation — Undetected leaks or improper inflation can lead to premature wear and potentially tire failure over time. Owners, fleet managers and operators need to be familiar with their wheel loader’s maintenance manual’s recommendations for proper psi and inflate the tires accordingly.

“In addition to maintaining the correct pressure, routine maintenance and inspection of tires also requires a thorough visual inspection to detect sizeable chunks of tread that may be missing and to ensure that the bead line and the rim are intact,” Ellis says.

4. Driving and parking brakes — Well-maintained and properly working brakes are one of the most critical routine maintenance procedures required on a wheel loader — at all times. Many construction applications will contain congested work sites, often with grades, and multiple pieces of equipment and vehicles. In addition to normal loading procedures, there can be a lot of quick stops. For these reasons, operators must be able to halt their equipment, but also hold it with the machine’s parking brake whenever necessary.
5. Driveline seals and axles — Working in wet conditions such as those found in construction, agricultural and concrete plant environments can create a material buildup along the driveline that may mask a potential problem. Keeping that area of the machine clean will allow for a better inspection to identify leaks at the seals and the axles. Diligent checks of those components can eliminate a catastrophic failure.
6. Fluids, oils, filters Engine oil and coolants are among the most important routine maintenance elements. Using dipsticks and sight glasses will provide accurate guidance for these checks, as will referring to the operator’s manual for instructions on filling the machine at the recommended intervals with the appropriate fluid in the correct increments.

Ellis also suggests that owners, operators and technicians stay on track with fluid checks and resist the temptation to use non-OEM specified filters. “It is important to make sure you’re monitoring the same quality performance over the course of recommended maintenance intervals and achieving the best filtration properties,” Ellis says.

The majority of new wheel loaders entering the market have been engineered with engine aftertreatment systems designed to clean diesel engine exhaust to meet Tier 4 Interim and Tier 4 Final emissions standards. Because each equipment manufacturer has a slightly different emissions strategy, it’s more important than ever to follow their guidelines for maintenance and service. Whether a manufacturer’s aftertreatment system uses cooled exhaust gas recirculation (CEGR) or selective catalyst reduction (SCR) technology — or a combination of the two — these technologies require advanced fluids to avoid costly repairs.

For instance, all machines using the CEGR with a diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC) and a diesel particulate filter (DPF) must use American Petroleum Institute (API)-rated CJ-4 oil (sometimes referred to as low-ash oil) to help reduce the amount of particulate matter in the DPF. Also, since sulfur is a significant contributor to diesel exhaust pollutants, the catalyst system used with Tier 4-compliant engines is dependent on ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel, which has significantly less sulfur compared to prior diesel fuels.

7. Cooling system — Finally, several types of work sites generate enough dust to become a factor for wheel loader cooling systems. Environments such as aggregate quarries may need additional preventive measures.

Many manufacturers have incorporated variable-speed reversible fans to help clean the cooling system. “If you don’t use a reversible fan in dusty conditions, somebody in the maintenance department is going to be working on the cooling group more than they need to,” Ellis says. Equipment managers should also be sure to use an engine pre-cleaner to protect the engine cooling group.

Approaching daily maintenance with the same diligence as you do your other daily routines will help develop good habits that will eventually become standard work. A comprehensive seven-point plan that starts from the ground up and is based on your manufacturer’s specific recommendations will impact your overall business — and the good health of your wheel loader depends on it.