How to get a clean, mean construction-ready machine
by Aaron Kleingartner
January 16, 2019

Before you take on your first job of the season, it’s vital that your machines go through a tuneup. To ensure reliable operation once the ground thaws, check the maintenance procedures in your operation and maintenance manual and follow these seven tips.

1. Start Early

As temperatures rise and project start dates flow in, plan to conduct full machine inspections a few weeks before you return your fleet to service. Follow post-storage procedures, as listed in your machine’s manual, which includes the recommended intervals, a checklist of spring maintenance items, and oil and fluid recommendations. It’s also a good idea to request maintenance training and assistance from your local equipment dealer and expert on proper techniques.

Familiarize yourself with decals and key maintenance points on the machine. If you are strapped for time or don’t feel comfortable maintaining your machine, utilize your local dealership. By partnering with your dealer, you can help extend the life of your equipment, minimize downtime and save money with their preventive maintenance services.

2. Clean Machine

An often-overlooked step during spring maintenance is the cleaning of equipment. Last year’s grime should have been cleaned before storing your equipment; however, it doesn’t hurt to give your machines a quick wash before returning them to service.

Remove any dirt, grease or debris from the machine, including the engine compartment, that was not cleaned prior to storage. If you have an excavator, inspect the undercarriage. All machine components should be properly lubricated, and exposed cylinder rods should be greased.

In addition, the machine’s cab should be cleaned. Some equipment manufacturers offer an optional on-board air compressor to easily remove dust and debris from the cab. Last on the list, replace machine safety and warning decals that are scratched, illegible or missing and contact your local dealer to order new ones.

3. Inspect Battery

Before your busy season hits, inspect the battery and connect it to the machine. For batteries that need to be charged periodically, a trickle charger can be used to help maintain the voltage at a slower rate, improving the battery life. Battery connections should also be inspected and cleaned at this time, as corroded terminals can cause hard starting and charging issues.

If you need to unexpectedly start your equipment during winter, use a block heater to assist in starting the engine and let it run until it reaches the proper working temperature. This helps prevent the valves from sticking and distributes oil to places it’s needed. If you do not have a block heater, consider purchasing one.

4. Complete Walk-Around

After the machine has been cleaned and the battery has been inspected, complete a top-to-bottom walk-around. Make sure all components are in proper working order, specifically the bushings, cylinders, hoses and pivot points. Take note of any component leaks that took place while the machines were in storage and replace them as soon as possible.

Look for signs of obvious machine damage, including cuts or tears in the tires or rubber tracks. Make sure the tracks have the correct tension and tires have the proper inflation pressure (displayed on the sidewall of the tire). Refer to the manual for the recommended levels.

Check comfort features, such as heat and air conditioning, radio, seat belts, and windshield wiper blades. In addition, test cab controls, headlights, brake lights and other safety devices to ensure they are in good working order. If there are worn or damaged parts, controls or switches, replace them. Then, also consider these maintenance items:

  • Remove all grease from the hydraulic cylinder rods
  • Add grease and oil to all
  • lubrication points
  • Adjust the fan and alternator
  • belt tensions
  • Inspect for signs of animal nests

5. Check Fuel, Oils & Filters

When transitioning from winter storage to spring use, follow the hydraulic oil warm-up procedures listed in your manual and match excavator fluids to the proper ambient temperatures. If you are getting close to your next preventative maintenance scheduling, replace hydraulic fluids, fuel and filters.

As always, refer to your machine’s manual for the proper fluid levels. After long-term storage, make sure fluids are correctly filled, especially for machines with diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), as purity and concentration are critical with DEF and can be affected by temperature. Work with your local dealer to better understand how to store and handle this fluid.

If you used your equipment in winter, switch from a special winter-blend fuel (typically No. 1 diesel fuel) and replace with the standard No. 2 diesel fuel to prepare for warmer temperatures. Drain any water from the water separator on your machine. Then, fill the fuel tank. Check to make sure excess water from condensation is not present in the fuel tank or in the oil, as condensation can cause start-up issues at the beginning of spring. Lastly, change all filters, specifically the cabin filter and air filtration system.

Filters should be changed annually or sooner, depending on how many hours the machine is in use and the conditions where you are using your equipment. Use the correct replacement filter to reduce the risk of premature engine failure.

6. Prep Attachments

Everything that engages with the ground should be inspected for wear and damage. Perform visual checks of attachment components, such as hydraulic hoses, cylinders, guards, cutting edges and teeth before returning your equipment to service. Connect the attachment and operate it briefly to make sure the attachment is working properly. Check attachment-specific fluid levels and change them as needed.

7. Stock Up on Parts

Always keep an inventory of basic parts and fluids on hand—including grease, engine oil, antifreeze, air filters, fuel filters and drive belts—which reduces any potential downtime if a component breaks down on the job. Contact your dealer to help you determine what additional parts and/or fluids you should add to your inventory.