It’s great when you buy a new piece of landscape construction equipment and everyone on the crew is excited to get trained on it and use it in the field. The not-so-exciting part is doing routine maintenance so it maintains peak performance throughout the year.
As far as Charles Gershowitz, technical service representative, Southeast, for Schiller Grounds Care, is concerned, when you talk equipment maintenance, you also have to talk safety.
“You have to teach safety first,” Gershowitz says. “While features such as power reverse assist make maneuvering a unit easier, the equipment operator still needs to thoroughly understand what the equipment does and how it should be used.”
Many manufacturers, including Classen, Gershowitz says, provide operation and maintenance safety guidelines in the equipment manuals. Operators should also be familiar with the machine’s moving parts.
“The more the operator understands about the equipment, the more likely it is they will operate it safely and return it in good working condition so the owners get greater ROI,” Gershowitz says.
Equipment has two areas to maintain: the engine and all the other moving parts, which can include belts, blades, pulleys and chains. The most important part of engine maintenance is ensuring it’s filled with clean, freshly pumped gas and that it has the right amount of oil. When it comes to maintaining moving parts, Gershowitz says, make sure the belts are tensioned correctly and the drive chain is sprayed with a silicone-based, waterproof spray. The chain should also be clear of obstructions, including dirt.
Large, national landscape companies typically have a schedule for maintaining equipment, with a lot of the major maintenance being done over the winter when equipment is not in use.
“Manufacturers also include recommended maintenance schedules in equipment manuals, so it’s a good idea to be familiar with those guidelines as well,” Gershowitz says.
Those large companies also typically have written standard operating procedures on maintaining equipment and have their equipment dealers perform repairs and regular maintenance. Smaller companies, on the other hand, typically do their own maintenance as needed.
As far as storing goes, if a piece of equipment is not going to be used for a few months, store it with the gas shut off from the tank to the carburetor. Some manufacturers recommend draining fuel before storing equipment, which ensures the gas doesn’t become stale and turn to a varnish, which can clog the carburetor ports, making the unit difficult to start.
It’s a good idea to cover the equipment with a tarp if it will be stored outside, which will keep it free from the elements.
Not every landscape company has the luxury of having a full-time mechanic on staff to help out with maintenance issues, but a few of the national companies do. Smaller companies either have a person knowledgeable enough to make the repairs, or they take the unit to a power equipment shop for repairs. These shops also provide service bulletins to customers, register the equipment and order repair parts.
Should every employee be trained on the importance of maintaining equipment? Gershowitz thinks so.
“The more people who know how to maintain a piece of equipment, the more successful a company will be. Again, the biggest part of maintenance is understanding the idea of safety first. If the employee is using the equipment in a careless way, there is a greater risk of equipment damage and operator injuries.”
Renting equipment often alleviates maintenance and storage headaches while giving landscapers the range of equipment they need to complete their projects. But companies that lease to purchase equipment like trenchers will often make minor repairs such as tine, belt and blade changes themselves and leave the more in-depth repairs, including motor, engine and hydraulic issues, to the power equipment dealer.
A machine needing maintenance on a job site is never a good situation because time is money. If the operator can fix the equipment in the field, they will. More often than not, it’s taken to a power equipment dealer to get the unit repaired, and it’s usually on the landscaper’s dime.
That is why it’s so important to work with high-quality equipment that’s built with better grade components and can handle the day-to-day use.
- Safety should always come first. Check to make sure all guards and covers are in place, as well as warning labels.
- Check gas and oil levels and add accordingly.
- Ensure the air filter is clean and placed correctly so air can move freely through the filter and debris doesn’t get into the engine. It’s a good idea to mark on the filter cover the date in which oil was changed and the new filter installed.
- Grease the grease zerks, which are usually around bearings and moving parts that otherwise seize if not lubricated during operation.
- Start the equipment to ensure it starts correctly. If it’s an electric-start system, be sure the battery connections are in good working order. For manual start equipment, check the pull cord for wear.
- Inspect the belts for wear spots.
- Check aerator tines for wear and to ensure they will produce an adequate core depth.
- Be sure the blades on lawn rakes and overseeders are also in good condition and not so worn they can’t be set to the appropriate depth.
- It’s also a good idea to check the cutting blades on sod cutters, lawn mowers and brush cutters for sharpness and condition, and tighten any loose blade bolts.
- Check trailer and equipment tires for proper air inflation.