From small landscaping projects to large-scale drilling jobs, mini skid steers increase ROI on a variety of jobsites. Of course, regardless of size or job type, the effectiveness of a mini skid steer depends on its working order. Practicing regular maintenance should help further extend productivity. It’s also key to extending the useful life of a mini skid steer (sometimes called a compact tool carrier or compact utility loader depending on the manufacturer). One critical aspect of this maintenance routine goes beyond the machine itself and includes the upkeep of attachments and hydraulics.
An Ounce of Prevention…
Outlining the basic design of a mini skid steer helps explain the routine maintenance that keeps the machine running efficiently. Most important to note is that all mini skid steer attachments and tracks are in part powered by the hydraulic system. Issues with the hydraulic system can cause major complications with attachments and general machine operation. One recommendation to keep in mind: Before a project even begins, match the flow rate of the hydraulic system with what is needed to operate the attachment. An incorrect match can reduce the efficiency of the attachment by decreasing how quickly the machine operates or how well the attachment works.
This mismatch goes beyond a hit to productivity, as the attachment will consistently not operate as designed, decreasing the hydraulic efficiency of the attachment. Issues with the compatibility of an attachment and a mini skid steer can also cause immediate downtime. For example, if a low-flow attachment is put on a high-flow hydraulic system, the machine’s system can overpower the attachment, causing motor seal failure and immediately stop operation. Once the attachment or mini skid steer is damaged, productivity and project failure are not far off.
Routine Maintenance Goes a Long Way
Beyond best practices for attachment operation, mini skid steer operators should follow routine-maintenance best practices for attachments to improve efficiency and longevity. A general best practice for keeping attachments operating effectively is greasing them daily. Each day as the attachment is used, an operator should use a grease gun to pump grease into the attachment until excess is visible. To simplify maintenance routines, some Ditch Witch attachments are grease free.
Each attachment usually has its own maintenance routine. A good place to start is the operator’s manual, which details the regular maintenance that optimizes performance. The most common attachments and their recommended maintenance include:
- • Pallet forks: Inspect forks before each use for damage or wear that require immediate attention.
- • Plows: Inspect for loose hose or fittings, and check the blade for wear or cracks.
- • Tillers: Lubricate the bearings and inspect tines for damage.
- • Trenchers: Check for worn teeth and proper chain tension in order to reduce the amount of binding.
While mini skid steers are designed for longevity, there are rare cases when the loader arms will require maintenance. For a unit that is used regularly, checking the loader arms every few months for cracks and wear will keep the machine in proper working order. Attachment lock pins for the loader arms should be checked whenever an attachment is installed. These pins are responsible for engaging the attachment. Operators can ensure a proper installation by checking whether the bottoms of lock pins are visible under the attachment receiver plate.
In addition, operators should examine where the hoses couple to the machine for dirt or debris. Contaminated quick-couplers can lead to hydraulic system failure even for machines designed to filter the fluid coming from the attachment.
Don’t Overlook Hydraulics
Keeping hydraulic fluids at a recommended level requires a regular maintenance schedule. Each day, operators are encouraged to check the fluid level. When low, enough fluid might not be available to power equipment, causing the fluid to overheat. Low fluid levels might also indicate a leak.
Another daily maintenance recommendation: Check the hydraulic hose for leaks that cause low fluid levels. Before powering the machine, operators should visually inspect the hose for frays. After a visual inspection, the machine should be powered to visually inspect the hose again. If an operator thinks there is a leak, they should not test the hose with their hand, which can cause a hydraulic cut. A piece of cardboard or other surface can reveal whether the hose is releasing fluid. If there is a leak, the hose should be replaced before use.
A regular maintenance schedule also helps to reduce contamination in the hydraulic system. When a mini skid steer is used for the first time, the hydraulic filter should be changed after 50 hours of use. The first 50 hours are the breaking-in period for machines, which causes initial contamination buildup. A new filter removes the contamination and allows the mini skid steer to function normally. After the first change, hydraulic filters should be changed every 250 hours. Prior to 250 hours, buildup on the filter won’t greatly affect performance. Fluid will bypass the filter once it’s full, which adds contamination.
Hydraulic fluid should be replaced in 500-hour increments. The quality of fluid can deteriorate from being heated and cooled during normal operation, decreasing its ability to flow properly. As fluid continues to deteriorate, operators will notice decreased efficiency from the attachment and tracks.
Outstanding Performance Made Easy
Keeping attachments in working order and maintaining a regular maintenance schedule for hydraulic systems directly impacts the productivity of a mini skid steer. When operating properly, these machines deliver exceptional performance and productivity for a wide variety of jobsites — from small landscaping to larger underground construction jobs.