Excavators, jackhammers, bulldozers, and steamrollers are just a few of the major pieces of equipment you might see around a worksite. And the list could go on and on. Heavy machinery is vital for many projects, and if it breaks down, or is on the edge of breaking down, you run the risk of your job facing major delays or causing an accident that could hurt your team. While you may have a routine maintenance schedule in place, you should consider implementing preventative maintenance to avoid potential breakdowns before they happen.
There are several differences when it comes to routine vs. preventative maintenance. Routine upkeep means checking your equipment at regular time intervals, and while every step in regular maintenance should be in your preventative program, preventative maintenance is far less reactive, aiming to predict future breakdowns instead of responding to the things a mechanic might find in regular maintenance checks. This requires a team effort. Every member of the team interacting with equipment should have the mindset to report anything they notice that seems below the standard. Preventative maintenance has several benefits:
Preventing malfunction before it occurs reduces overall maintenance costs
Most machines need to be shut down for maintenance—less maintenance, less downtime.
Machines are cleared of more minor faults, run cleaner, and need fewer recalibrations.
No matter how reliable you think your equipment is, or what the name brand promises, you should pay regular attention to all the equipment on your jobsite if you want to get the most out of it and avoid accidents and expensive fixes. There are many components on each machine, and each of them should be on your heavy equipment maintenance checklist. That includes engine components, tires and brakes, fluids, and onboard electronics.
Before we examine what your preventative program should entail, let’s focus one more time on why this maintenance is vital for your organization. Many companies may be prepared for the costs of regular maintenance schedules, but major breakdowns are never expected. The expensive repairs may not be in the budget. Additionally, one of your primary losses will come from downtime. Just a 1% drop in equipment productivity can lead to a 3% drop in profitability. . Assets that are reliable and have been well maintained with a documented maintenance schedule also have the additional financial benefit of a higher resale value.
Preventative programs can also have an impact on your team. Reliable equipment is safer for them to use. Think back to when you were a kid. The newer and nicer something was (a toy car for example), the more likely you were to treat it well and notice when something needed fixing. Accidents may still happen, and it’s worthwhile to implement a strategy for safe operation of heavy equipment with a safety partner. But with your equipment in good shape thanks to a preventative maintenance program, you will experience less downtime, fewer expensive repairs, and more productivity.
A preventative program will involve inspections, replacements, modifications, analysis, and performance testing, just to name a few components. Without commitment pieces of the program will slip through the cracks. You need stakeholders from the shop to the job site bought in and committed to more than just regular upkeep.
If you want your program to be effective, you need to understand your equipment. Every piece of machinery has its own intricacies. Your team and mechanics should consult product manuals as they contain information and guides on the unit’s service intervals, what products to use, typical operating conditions and troubleshooting.
Skilled operators are a vital component of a preventive program. Not only do they cause less wear and tear on vehicles through proper operation, but also know what to look for and notice when things about their equipment aren’t right. They are also safer on the job site. Operator training should be part of your preventative maintenance strategy—because operators are your early detection and prevention system working with the machines daily.
Preventative maintenance isn’t an excuse to cut back on the regular maintenance intervals recommended by the manufacturer. In fact, you can protect your warranty by documenting and adhering to the recommended schedule. However, be more intentional by considering the recommendations, and then adjusting to compensate for your specific situation: climate, operating loads, jobsite conditions and more. Regular maintenance intervals should exist across the following machine characteristics:
Most professionals recommend documentation of your maintenance program so that if necessary, you could prove that you went above and beyond. Make sure to record an accurate history of your machines with what was done and when. Track the service history and runtime of the unit to have an accurate understanding of your equipment lifespan.
Every make and model have their own components and features. You will need to develop a comprehensive checklist for each piece of machinery on your site. Lean on your team for this—your operators, technicians and managers have insight into the particulars of tools and machines that will be vital in creating checklists that cover all the necessary components. The following list will hopefully serve as a foundation for building your own checklists. 
Attachments: The attachments to a machine are as vital as the machine itself, check for any issues that could impact performance.
Body: While the exterior of the machine may not significantly affect machine performance, it is important to check for scratches, chips, dents, and other imperfections to track machine condition and record for future reselling considerations.
Brakes: Brakes are critical, and if they fail it could cause serious accidents. Examine brake line fluid levels, filters, connections, and pressure. Also, check the condition of brake pads, drums, discs, and shoes. Make sure not to forget the parking brake
Electrical lines: Conduct voltage and amperage testing on electrical lines while examining the cables and fuses. Look for exposed wires and check the insulation condition.
Fuel: Without proper fuel delivery, your machines won’t be going anywhere. Check fuel lines, pumps, and check the fuel tank for dents or cracks.
Hydraulic oil: Check oil levels and top off if necessary. You should also examine hydraulic lines, cylinders, hoses, and fittings for leaks.
Suspension: This one is especially relevant to many of our midwestern clients, where heavy salting takes a toll on the undercarriage. Make sure to check springs, shocks, struts, and the undercarriage of the machine’s suspension system for wear, tear, and corrosion.
Exhaust: Keep an ear out for odd noises. If the exhaust is giving off an abnormal sound, it can be an indication of poor engine performance. Look at the exhaust’s connections—hangers and clamps—and check for smoke.
Steering: Check each part of the steering system during the inspection, including the wheels, tie rods, idler arms, and ball joints.
Tires: Document the tire tread depth, wear, and PSI. You will also want to look at the balance and alignment of the tires. Check the valve stems, axles, drive shafts and the rim’s lug nuts.
Tracks: If your equipment runs on tracks, check for wear. Scrutinize the idlers, cleats and treads, rollers, sprockets, shoes, and links. For rubber tracks, look at its torsion axles and tension.
Batteries: Check the battery for corrosion, rust, and grime. Terminals should be clean, and the battery should not have any leaks or cracks. Include the battery age and expected life in your documentation.
Belts: Check belts for cracking, fraying and discoloration and other wear and tear. Also, make sure belts are not too tight or too loose.
Coolant fluids: When you run your machines hard, overheating can be common. Check coolant fluid and make sure it is not discolored, or underfilled.
Filters: There are several filters to check—oil, air, fuel, cabin and hydraulic are standard. Clean and replace them when necessary.
Fluids: Inspect the engine’s oil, transmission, windshield, hydraulic and brake fluids. Make sure to not only top up any fluids that need it, but also look for any cracks or leaks or potential causes of fluid loss.
Hoses: Analyze tubes and hoses for leaks, cracks, and overall condition.
Injectors: Clean and replace injectors regularly.
Handrails, steps, and grab bars: Ensure each grab point is secure and doesn’t have the potential to fail an operator.
Lights: Review the brake, warning, and headlights. These are vital on the jobsite for safe operation. Replace when necessary.
Safety devices: Consider safety components inside the cab, such as the lights, seatbelts, horn, and locks. Make sure the alarms, pedals, gauges, and any other components your operators need for operation are functioning correctly.
Windshield: Inspect all the glass areas, including the windshield, mirrors and lights for chips, cracks, and any other weaknesses.
This list is by no means exhaustive. In fact, if we had space, we probably could have doubled its size. Hopefully, it can serve as a starting point to develop a checklist for your own heavy equipment. Remember, the goal of preventative maintenance is to be proactive in preventing breakdowns and accidents before they ever occur. If you have any questions or want to talk about a preventative maintenance program for your organization, we would love to chat. Simply follow this link to get in touch.