Here’s a Mini Excavator Maintenance Schedule + Spring Checkup Tips

Takeuchi TB225 excavator

Compact or mini excavators have perhaps never been as popular as they are right now. While these handy little dynamos were originally designed for digging and trenching, manufacturers have increased their hydraulic flows and coupler options, making mini excavators compatible with more attachments. Now, operators can use them for many different tasks, like they might use a skid steer or compact track loader. This trend is positively impacting mini excavator sales because owners can get a greater ROI from their purchases. And, thanks to increased demand, rental houses can readily keep mini excavators out working in the field instead of sitting on the lot.

“Today’s mini excavators do so much more than dig,” says Joseph Huling, national service and training manager for Takeuchi-US. “They are often used for material handling, auger functions and mulching, just to name a few applications. Because they’ve become more versatile, they’re more in demand, especially by contractors whose primary work involves digging, but who also regularly take on other types of projects. They can get more done with their mini ex now, so they often don’t need to buy or rent another machine.”

In addition to improving the machine’s versatility with increased hydraulic flows and more auxiliary circuits, manufacturers have also made mini excavators more comfortable to operate for longer periods of time with better visibility to the jobsite. While typical diesel-powered models are still available, new electric and hybrid machines provide owners and operators with more choices to suit their unique needs and surroundings.

“The need for more sustainability and environmental stewardship is here to stay,” Huling says. “At Takeuchi, we see battery-powered and hybrid mini excavators continuing to gain momentum in the equipment industry. Still, diesel-powered machines have their place. Regardless, electric and hybrid mini excavators can be ideal solutions for contractors working in sensitive conditions where emissions and noise levels must be kept at a minimum.”

Staying on Schedule

Takeuchi TB20e

Even beyond the normal daily walkaround visual inspection that should take place before starting up the machine, mini ex maintenance is relatively simple, whether it’s performed on a diesel, hybrid or electric machine. Diesel and hybrid machines require normal engine oil and filter changes, whereas electric machines do not. That said, following the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule as outlined in the operator’s manual is critical for the excavator’s longevity and to keep its warranty valid.

Huling says Takeuchi divides its maintenance and inspection tasks into groups according to the number of hours the machine has been operated — every 10 hours, every 50 hours and so on. If the excavator is being used in a dusty or hot environment, it should be maintained at shorter intervals than what’s dictated in the operator’s manual.

“When possible, service intervals should take place at the dealership,” Huling said. “While not required by most manufacturers, this allows the dealership to check for any open campaigns while servicing the machine. In addition, dealership technicians are going to have the most up-to-date tools and information to keep the machine in tip-top working condition.”

Other maintenance tips from Huling include selecting the appropriate fuel, lubricant and grease according to the temperature. Regardless of the specified time, change the oil if it appears dirty or degraded. When refilling, never mix oils of different brands. If changing brands, drain the old oil out before replacing with the new brand. It’s also important to regularly replace the machine’s hydraulic oil and return filter, particularly when using attachments like a hydraulic breaker, which can cause oil to deteriorate faster. Failure to replace the hydraulic oil and return filter could result in damage to the hydraulic system.

Operator’s manuals should also include a list of safety-critical parts that must be inspected regularly to ensure safe operation. Serious injury or a fire could occur if these parts are allowed to become worn or damaged. For Takeuchi machines, these safety-critical parts include hoses in the fuel system, cooling system and hydraulic system.

“Safety-critical parts tend to change and deteriorate over time,” Huling says. “It’s tough to determine how deteriorated they are simply by looking at them, which is why they must be replaced at certain intervals even if they appear to be in good shape.”

Compact track loaders are the most popular category of compact equipment in America. Learn why with loads of track loader features right here.

Spring Checkups

Takecuchi TB350R excavator

Some contractors end up using their mini excavators all year round, while others store their machines over the winter months. Whether your machine’s been hibernating or out on the job all winter long, Huling says a spring checkup is a good idea to ensure the unit is serviced and ready for the busy spring and summer seasons.

“The most important step to prepare your mini excavator for spring is to make sure that the engine and hydraulic oil in the machine meet the temperature requirements for warm weather operation as outlined in the operator’s manual,” Huling says. “And, if your machine has been stored for the past few months, follow the procedures in your manual for returning the unit to service.”

Even with the guidance manufacturers provide, some owners and operators may be tempted to just hop in their machines and get right down to business after a long winter. However, assuming that everything was fine on a machine when it was last used and not checking fluid levels and other conditions could lead to expensive component failures.

“For example, say you didn’t notice a fluid leak before storing the excavator last fall,” Huling says. “The resulting low fluid level may result in engine or hydraulic component failure that could have been prevented with a simple check. While I understand the temptation to get right down to work, it’s just not worth the risks.”

Remember, too, while spring temperatures may be mild, summer’s heat is coming, and those hot days can stress machines that are hard at work on the jobsite. Summer is a busy time for all types of projects, and the last thing anyone needs is their machine breaking down.

Huling says it’s a good habit to keep the excavator clean, keep its services up to date and correctly grease it. Also, always check for the following conditions before starting the machine:

  • All fluids are up to the correct levels.
  • Check and drain the fuel/water separator if necessary.
  • Coolant is mixed correctly for the current operating environment and temperature.
  • The radiator is clean and free flowing.
  • Fan and fan drive belt are adjusted correctly.
  • Air flow passages are clean so the machine can exchange the hot air in the engine compartment with cool air from the outside. The loader tower needs to be free of debris. Without proper air flow, the engine compartment can turn into a hot box, trapping the heat.

“When the temperature spikes, an excavator’s components naturally work harder and can wear out faster,” Huling says. “With this in mind, it is good to pay close attention to your machine’s display to ensure everything is operating at optimum capacity, especially as the day continues.”

If you do find that your machine is stressed due to the heat, try to find some shade to help it cool down faster. A stressed unit can be dangerous for the operator and anyone nearby. Let the machine idle before completely shutting down.

“Mini excavators equipped with telematics like our Takeuchi Fleet Management system make it easy to check the engine temperature and catch any irregularities before anything too serious happens,” Huling adds. “Telematics are truly worth the extra investment for all these reasons and more.”

When working with a well-built machine, it’s not unusual to feel like you can do almost anything with it. However, it’s important to understand an excavator’s purpose, capabilities and limitations while taking special precautions before operating it. If maintained correctly with regular servicing and greasing, a mini excavator will serve you well for many years to come.

“Harsh conditions and tough applications day after day can be hard on machines,” Huling said. “Protect your mini excavator with some common sense and preventative maintenance. You’ll be glad you did.”

Lynette Von Minden is a public relations manager at Swanson Russell.