March 3, 2011
A Daily Dose of Maintenance
The front-end wheel loader plays a critical role in an aggregate job site setting, and without it, work can come to a complete stop. A knowledgeable and skillful operator and a well-maintained machine not only keep the job running smoothly, but can also increase productivity, extend the life of the machine, and keep money in your pocket.
Striving to keep your equipment working at its best means following the machine’s daily maintenance procedures. Following the day-to-day routine can provide efficient performance over a longer period and extend the service life of the equipment. Each manufacturer has its own maintenance checks, and it’s up to the operator to ensure that those checks are performed when needed.
There are four key times to perform daily maintenance: before starting the machine, during the equipment’s warm-up period, during operation, and while shutting down the machine. The most involved will always be the prestart check.
Before turning on the wheel loader
The prestart, walkaround inspection can help determine whether there are any damaged or worn parts, fluid leaks, or problems with the engine’s air filter system. “It’s very important to develop a checklist of things to look for and have the operators go through each item, check it off, and hand in the completed checklist prior to operating the equipment,” says Dave Drzewiecki, wheel loader team coordinator and technical support for Volvo Construction Equipment.
1. Check tire pressure.
As you walk around the wheel loader, an easy place to start an inspection is the tires. Check the pressure to ensure each tire is properly inflated. This provides maximum tire service life. “Overinflation reduces ride comfort, increases vibrations, and reduces traction performance,” says Drzewiecki. “High vibrations through the loader may lead to cracked welds and brackets and possibly other service problems.” While checking tire pressure, look for excessive wear, cuts, and sidewall damage.
2. Look for loose, worn, and damaged parts.
Continue your inspection by checking for loose, worn, or damaged parts on all aspects of the loader. Give special attention to the bucket’s cutting edge. This is where the majority of wear takes place and should be checked before and after each work session. If the bucket is equipped with teeth, they should also be inspected. If the cutting edge is worn back to the edge of the bucket or there are any teeth missing, notify the supervisor.
If your loader is equipped with fan belts, hand-test the belts for tautness and wear during this part of the maintenance check. The fan controls the temperature of the engine, and proper operation depends on the fan belts.
Make sure the battery is securely fastened. Inspect cables, clamps, and connections for tightness and corrosion. If the battery cell needs to be filled, do so with distilled water.
3. Inspect in and around the machine fluid leaks.
Any fluid leakage will affect the safety of the operator and the machine while operating. Leaks can often be found simply by looking at the ground below the loader. If you see any wet spots or stains, look above the spot to try to identify the source of the leak.
Typically, for hard working construction equipment, the potential for hydraulic oil leaks could be found at the cylinder seals or hose connections. While looking for hydraulic oil leaks, Drzewiecki says to take time to inspect the machine for hose rubs, making sure the fittings are properly tight for brakes, steering, and the hydraulic work circuits.
If you notice a coolant leak, it could be caused by loose hoses or a damaged radiator. If that is the case, a certified technician can help you repair the problem.
4. Level off all fluids necessary for the job at hand.
Check the engine oil levels daily either by dipstick or vehicle diagnostics (if equipped). Check the latest change interval to see if it is time for an oil and filter change. “Be sure you are using the manufacturer’s recommended oil for the specific machine and the proper viscosity range,” says Drzewiecki.
The fluid in the radiator should be at the level required for your machine as specified by the owner’s manual. Add more coolant if needed. “It is good practice not to perform this check if the engine has recently been operating since the coolant might be under pressure,” says Drzewiecki. “This pressure, if released by the cap, could cause serious injury to you.”
5. Check the engine’s air filter system.
The degree of engine wear depends largely on the cleanliness of the induction air. Your loader may be equipped with an air precleaner. If dust or other debris has accumulated in the bowl, dump it out and wipe it down with a clean rag.
After this has been done, check the air filter and clean it, if necessary. If the filter is clean, you should be able to see the penetration of light through the pleated paper from outside to inside of the element when holding it up to the sun.
6. Check the fuel/water separator.
Fill the fuel tank to the proper level and drain the condensation and sediment from the fuel/water separator. To do so, open the drain until all condensation and sediment is removed.
7. Record your hour meter reading.
The hours registered will determine when periodic maintenance — which includes filter changes, cleaning the radiator, load-testing the battery, and checking the transmission of your loader — is needed.
Warm it up
Wheel loader operators, start your engines…and let them run for five to 10 minutes — even in hot weather. A warm-up allows the oil pressure to build and lubricate all of the moving parts of the engine. It also allows the cooling system to reach its operating temperatures. If your equipment uses air pressure, this warm-up will allow the air compressor to build pressure in the air tank. Listen to your engine. If you hear anything unusual, shut down and try to determine the problem.
Before moving or testing the equipment, ensure that others are a safe distance from the wheel loader. After the warm up, ask yourself these questions:
• Is the fuel tank full?
• Is the fuel tank gauge functioning?
• Does the volt or amp meter read positive?
• Is the oil pressure in a safe zone?
• Is the temperature reading in a safe zone?
If all answers are yes, test the brakes and move the bucket through a series of normal operations to ensure that everything is running smoothly.
While you work
During daily operation, the operator should monitor the equipment’s performance. Specifically, listen for unusual noises, check all gauges, and be aware of any noticeable changes throughout the job performance. Listen for engine and equipment noises that could damage the wheel loader.
“Maintain proper bucket capacity,” says Drzewiecki. “This will control spillage, which can minimize damage to tires, reduce operator fatigue by decreasing road input, and maintain productivity.” Forcing more into the bucket can also lead to spinning tires, loss of production, and higher fuel consumption.
The shut-down routine
Let your engine idle for about five minutes before shutting down. This reduces pressures in your hydraulic system that could cause damage or leaks to seals and hoses as well as extend the life of the turbocharger. After the engine has been turned off, record the time registered on the hour meter against the time recorded at start-up. Again, this record can help determine when to perform periodic maintenance on your equipment.
Prepare your loader for the following day’s work. Hose down any dirt and debris that’s noticeable and could build on the machine. After cleaning, fill the gas tank. Doing so minimizes water condensation within the engine.
Using a grease gun, grease all your mechanical joints. “Greasing is essential for linkage points and pins on the loader, especially the front frame and bucket,” says Drzewiecki. “If the loader has an automatic greasing system, the grease reservoir needs to be checked daily to avoid air entering into grease circuits.” Mark these spots on your machine to speed up the process.
When the daily preventive maintenance checks lead to cleaning, repairing, or replacing imperative parts on the wheel loader, Drzewiecki recommends taking the machine to a certified technician who has undergone appropriate training to ensure maximum uptime and machine availability. AM
This article courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment.
For a guide to inspecting used wheel loaders, visit our March digital edition at