When a contractor invests in equipment costing thousands of dollars, maintenance is the No. 1 tool to keep it running properly and significantly extend its life — ultimately saving the owner money. Throughout the lifetime of a skid steer loader, many common issues can be avoided with the proper care of daily, periodic, annual and seasonal maintenance. It can be tempting to skip or not completely fulfill these maintenance tasks in order to save a few minutes to stay on schedule; however, if proper maintenance is not applied, the outcome can waste time and money.
Being proactive with maintenance gives the contractor additional benefits for the skid steer, such as reduced downtime, and extends the overall life of the machine. Following the manufacturer’s recommendations is the best practice, but often overlooked. Review the manufacturer’s maintenance manual and perform the tasks according to the schedule.
The initial inspection tasks should have been performed by an authorized dealer. Daily inspections, weekly maintenance and defined service intervals will keep the machine in optimal running condition.
After the first 50 hours of use, a skid steer’s maintenance schedule is grouped by the amount of time on the machine: daily checks and maintenance points; weekly maintenance; and engine-hour maintenance. Daily maintenance should ideally be performed at the beginning of the shift by the operator. Many manufacturers design machines to make daily maintenance steps as easy as possible. Daily maintenance tasks typically include checking fluid levels such as fuel, engine oil, engine coolant and hydraulic oil. Applying grease to proper areas is important to do correctly, and the operator should refer to the operator’s maintenance manual for the correct process and locations.
The operator should also do a visual inspection of the skid steer, checking for loose pins and any type of leakage that might occur. In dusty environments, it is important to clean the air filter and cooler so the engine has full access to clean air and avoids getting clogs and dirt on the inside. One procedure that is often overlooked is checking the tire pressure. Properly inflated tires contribute to the stability and load-handling capabilities of the machine. If all the tasks are done properly, according to Tom Peterson, Product Development Technical Specialist for Wacker Neuson Corp., daily maintenance should take about 10 to 15 minutes for the operator to complete.
Every 250 to 500 hours of use, periodic maintenance should be performed. Periodic maintenance involves changing the engine oil, V-belt and all filters including hydraulic filter, fuel filter and possibly air filters. Periodic maintenance intervals also include checking the fluid levels of the axles and planetary drive systems, as well as filling the AC system. Visual inspection of hoses, steering components, such as the axle to chassis, lug nuts and all fastening hardware are required during the periodic maintenance. Also, check the fuse block and battery, inspecting its condition and voltage. Be sure the battery connections are secure.
Annual maintenance involves adjusting the engine valves, changing the hydraulic fluid and replacing the tank vent which is often overlooked. According to Peterson, “The tank vent controls pressure inside the hydraulic tank. Failure can cause a tank to go in to negative pressure causing cavitation in pumps. The tank vent is also responsible for reducing condensation inside the hydraulic tank and reducing moisture in the oil — resulting in long-term savings.”
Maintenance in the Extremes
Extreme weather conditions, either hot or cold, can affect skid steer maintenance schedules, and adjustments should be made accordingly. In extreme cold weather situations, it’s important to check the antifreeze and washer fluid more often than on the printed schedule to be sure that it is full and not frozen. Also during cold conditions, the use of an engine preheater system can be helpful for performance. The preheating system warms the engine fluids and hydraulic tanks before starting to ensure proper and smooth flow through machine. Adjustments also need to be made for the fluids in extreme operating conditions. For example, in cold weather, thinner grade oil may be required to properly lubricate engine and hydraulic systems. In extremely hot weather, conditions call for thicker oil. Lastly, temperature changes can be harmful to batteries, which should be checked periodically.
Any time skid steers are used for the application of deicing salts in cold climates or for hauling or spreading fertilizer, the loader is subject to a highly corrosive atmosphere. Under these conditions, preventing rust should be a top priority. Salt and fertilizer can eat away at the metal parts of the skid steer, causing premature corrosion. Rubber components, like hoses and tires, will experience a more rapid pace of deterioration. Application of an aggressive media protection, like a spray-on corrosion inhibitor, should be applied to all main metal components that are susceptible to rust. Peterson added, “Aside from applying an aggressive media protection, one of the best and easiest ways to protect your asset is to wash the skid steer every day when used in these applications.”
Tips for Attachments
Attachments are often rented, and the operator may not know if the proper maintenance was done before rental. Hydraulic driven and operated attachments can potentially be harmful because of contamination. Peterson addresses issues with rented attachments, “If renting is ideal, be sure that all components are clean. There could be contamination from the attachment to the machine from water, dirt and metal within the oil.”
However, if renting can be avoided, purchase your own. “Attachments are different than the machines because skid steers have hour meters that help determine when to perform the periodic maintenance; however, attachments do not. Commonly used attachments, especially hydraulic-powered attachments, should have maintenance performed as required in their manual.”
Whenever performing maintenance, be sure that the operator’s manual is a close and ready-to-use reference. If not, problems may occur and excess money will be spent. Similar to any piece of compact equipment, the most costly fix on a skid steer is the engine and the drivetrain components. The most common mistake is not inspecting the linkage pins, changing the engine oil, checking tire pressure and replacing the tank vent, all of which can have a costly snowball effect to damages, repairs and parts. Daily maintenance and service by authorized dealers help avoid costly repairs. Also consider an extended warranty for the whole machine or even just the powertrain.
Keys to Keeping the Skid Steer Running
To optimize the life of a skid steer, and so it meets its full performance potential, Peterson advises, “First is maintenance. Be sure to always keep up with maintenance and get any repairs done in a timely fashion. The skid steer should also be kept clean. Contractors should be sure that all operators are properly trained on running the machinery and how to perform all daily inspections properly.”
By taking a few minutes to follow the proper maintenance schedule, the resulting benefits include more efficiency, money savings and an extended life for the skid steer.
Brent Coffey is Product Manager of Loaders for Wacker Neuson Corp.