Because of their versatility, skid-steers and compact track loaders are good investments — and can be great investments if taken care of properly. However, in order to do that, operators and owners must make maintenance a part of their daily routines. By following the manufacturer’s recommended guidelines and staying on top of maintenance, you can extend the life of your machine and avoid costly downtime. Here are a few tips for keeping your skid-steer or compact track loader running efficiently.

Daily checklist

Visual inspections, walk-arounds and basic checks of the machine and its components could help prevent further issues down the road.

Before operation, the operator should conduct a walk-around of the machine, checking for any damage, leaks or wear. Fluid levels should be checked and refilled according to the operator’s manual, including the hydraulic oil, engine oil, fuel and windshield wiper fluid. All air filters/cleaners should be inspected and then either cleaned or replaced depending on the instructions in the operator’s manual.

The walk-around is also helpful in ensuring job site safety, as it gives the operator an opportunity to examine the machine’s surroundings and any possible obstacles on the job site.

Stay on track

The biggest maintenance item for skid-steers and CTLs is taking care of the tires and tracks. These should be inspected regularly for wear, damage and pressure. Operators should ensure the tires have the proper tire pressure. Since they’re very thick-walled, it can be challenging to notice a change in pressure. But in order to not rip the tire off of the bead due to low tire pressure, it’s important to maintain the correct tire pressure and check it often. Also, by keeping tires inflated correctly, there will be reduced wear and improved handling.

A quick visual inspection will also reveal any uneven wear. On skid-steers, one set of tires may wear faster (the front or rear) depending on how they are operated. Rotate the tires periodically to extend the life of your skid-steer’s tires.

With CTLs, it’s imperative for operators to maintain track tension to avoid slipping a track if it gets loose. You should check the tension periodically and add grease, if need be. If, for any reason, you’re running steel grouser tracks over tires, it is critical that you maintain correct tire pressure.

It’s important to note that you should never overinflate tires or put too much tension on tracks; follow the operator’s manual to find out the optimal numbers.

As vital as it is to maintain tension/pressure of both the tracks and tires, keeping them clean is also essential. Any debris that’s in and around the sprocket or in between the chassis and the track needs to be cleared out before operation.

Fluid upkeep

Maintaining fluids is essential for all engines, but it’s even more imperative with Tier 4 Interim and Final engines. Fluid levels should be maintained daily according to the engine manufacturer’s recommended guidelines. Operators should also make sure that all fluids and filters are changed at regular intervals and stay at a consistent temperature. Any fluid loss may indicate issues elsewhere, such as loose hoses or fittings that could result in expensive damage.

Some machines have a sight glass in the back of the machine, where operators can check hydraulic fluid levels to make sure there’s an ample amount.

You should always check the fluid with the loader arms down so all the hydraulic oil is back in the tank, giving you a true reading. If you look at the sight glass with the loader arms up, you might mistakenly think you need to add more hydraulic oil when it’s unnecessary.

Keep tabs on attachment maintenance

Attachments are the key to your machine’s versatility. Visual checks of all attachment components can detect wear or damage, and keep your machine running productively.

A small piece of maintenance that is commonly forgotten or neglected is ensuring that when attaching new attachments and hooking them to the hydraulic coupler, you wipe off the coupler from the attachment as well as the coupler on the skid-steer. If this isn’t done properly, you could contaminate either the oil or the coupler, causing the coupler to eventually fail due to an influx of dirt pressed into the quick disconnects. It’s a simple task — giving the parts a quick wipe before connecting them — that could save you both time and money in the long run.

Keep clean

Another important aspect of maintaining your skid-steer is cleaning out the engine compartment, especially if you are in a high debris environment. Often neglected, the engine compartment serves the entire machine and could mean the difference between success and untimely downtime.

Operators should also periodically clean the radiator, and make sure it’s not full of debris by blowing it out from time-to-time. It will ensure proper operation, as well as cooling.

An often neglected, yet simple, task to guarantee top performance is cleaning the windows of the machine. This allows for ample visibility, which helps operators stay productive on the job site. Being able to see all of the sightlines of the machine, down to the attachments boasts productivity when they can clearly see their work and load. It also helps keep operators safe, allowing them to clearly see behind the machine and to the sides, making sure no other obstacles are in close range of the machine.

Proper care of your machine will result in a long and productive life for the machine. Even if it’s not always convenient, it’s worth every minute. By making inspections and cleaning a part of your daily routine, you’ll be able to catch any issues before they become time- and money-consuming headaches.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in April 2015.