How the Right Maintenance and Service Checks Enhance Backhoe Life and Productivity
There’s certainly no shortage of specialized machines in the heavy equipment market today. Manufacturers have worked diligently over the years to develop a variety of machines that can perform specific tasks very well. Still, when contractors need a single piece of equipment that can tackle almost any task on the jobsite, they zero in on the ever-popular backhoe loader.
Backhoes combine power, agility and versatility into one unique package. In the past, these machines may have been used primarily on larger projects or for road construction. Now, however, compact backhoes are successfully combining speed and power with a smaller size that works well on today’s confined jobsites and in urban areas. According to Diego Butzke, JCB’s backhoe loader product manager, there’s virtually no limit to what backhoes can accomplish.
“Skid steers and compact track loaders are popular machines with landscape contractors for jobs like installing ponds or building retaining walls,” Butzke says. “However, if those same contractors chose to use a compact backhoe, it’s quite possible that they could get those jobs done faster. That can lead to happier clients and positive word of mouth, which helps the contractor win more bids in the future.”
Butzke says that other professionals like utility workers, municipal contractors, electricians and plumbers also find small- to mid-size backhoe loaders very useful thanks to their power, versatility, fast travel speeds and compact dimensions, which make it possible to complete projects with minimum site disruption.
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Like any machine, backhoes have their limits. Generally speaking, smaller backhoes are not designed to do the same work as a full-sized machine, so it’s important to use them wisely.
“Backhoes will show signs of stress more quickly if they’re overworked or constantly used at their limits,” Butzke adds. “That’s why it’s important for owners and operators to know how they’re going to use their machines, purchase a machine that’s the right size for their toughest jobs and understand exactly what their machines can and cannot do.”
Backhoe maintenance is typically categorized by each of the machine’s major components: attachments; body and framework; engine; air filter; fuel system; cooling system; wheels and tires; hydraulics; transmission; and brakes. Maintenance intervals are divided into hours or the calendar equivalent. Most manufacturers recommend routine maintenance checks and service at 10 hours (daily), 50 hours (weekly), 100 hours (monthly), 500 hours (every six months), 1,000 hours (yearly), 1,500 hours (every 18 months) and 2,000 hours (every two years). Butzke says that these service intervals have increased over the years as machine builds, lubricant quality and filter quality have improved.
“About 15 years ago, we recommended changing your engine oil every 200 hours,” Butzke says. “Today, it’s 500 hours. That longer interval reduces maintenance costs for the backhoe over its lifespan.”
The most comprehensive and time-consuming services — those that experienced technicians should perform — take place at longer intervals while faster, simpler maintenance is required more often. For example: While a backhoe’s coolant should only be drained and replaced every 2,000 hours (two years), JCB recommends making 16 different pre-start cold checks and fluid level checks each day that an operator uses the machine. That said, more sophisticated technology on full-sized backhoes has taken at least some of those time-consuming checks off the operator’s hands.
“All our backhoes now offer JCB Automate, a suite of automated features that improve backhoe loader performance and efficiency,” Butzke says. “This suite includes Auto Check, a feature that automatically carries out all routine engine checks at the start of every working day. It also monitors the backhoe’s air filter and fuel system. So, not only does the machine get out into the field faster, working and earning money, operators also learn about potential problems before they become major issues.”
Weekly backhoe maintenance is much the same as daily maintenance, with the addition of lubricating the machine’s extending dipper (if applicable), checking the main structural components and cleaning the water separator. After the first month of operation, owners should take their machines to their local distributor or dealer for their first 100-hour service — a comprehensive check-up to ensure the machine is in top working condition. The maintenance checks and service points recommended at six-month, one-year, 18-month and two-year intervals get progressively more detailed; each should be performed by an experienced dealer service tech.
While these general maintenance and service guidelines apply to most machines, Butzke says there are situations that may require a backhoe to undergo more frequent maintenance. “If you’re operating your backhoe under some fairly rigorous conditions for long periods of time, it doesn’t hurt to change the engine oil and filter more frequently, like every 250 hours or three months, rather than every 500 hours. We typically recommend changing the air filter annually, but machines that have been exposed to large amounts of dust should have their air filters changed more frequently for optimum performance.”
Grease fittings are an integral element of a backhoe’s unique design, and these fittings can lead to what might just be the most common backhoe maintenance issue.
“Even a conscientious operator may find a grease fitting that will not accept grease and think it simply doesn’t need any,” Butzke says. “So, he skips to the next fitting. But, a grease fitting that won’t accept grease is usually clogged or damaged and should be repaired or replaced. If you skip a fitting like that, it won’t have enough grease and the bushing or bearing can prematurely wear out.”
These machines operate in some very dirty environments, and of course, that can create special maintenance issues, too. Sand and dirt can enter a backhoe’s pivot points, so it’s imperative to grease all the machine’s pivot points at the recommended intervals. This lubricates the pin and bushing while pushing any potentially damaging sand or grit out.