construction equipment maintenance

Top 5 Mistakes That Lead to Increased Maintenance

As a Volvo Field Technical Support Specialist, I work alongside technicians to troubleshoot construction machine maintenance issues on-site. I’ve seen a lot, and several of these issues are more common than you think — and they’re preventable.

Below I’ve listed the top five mistakes I see companies make that lead to unnecessary maintenance issues, with tips on how to avoid them.

volvo front-end loader owners manual


1. Not reading the owner’s manual

If you’ve been an operator for years, it’s understandable that you may want to skip the owner’s manual and just try the machine out for yourself. Most of us do the same thing when we fly commercial — how many of us actually take out the safety card and follow along during the safety briefing? The reason we don’t is because we’re so familiar with it, we just assume “we’ve got it.” Same concept for operator’s and owner’s manuals.

But there’s valuable information in the manuals that can be used as a quick self-check. If you’re about to operate a machine, and it’s one you don’t operate frequently, take some time to go through the manual to get more familiar with all the controls to ensure you understand them.

I was recently on a service call for elevated axle oil temperature on a wheel loader, and one of the first things we look for is to see how long the brake lights are on. This particular operator was driving over a crest, down a hill rapidly, and driving up to a hopper area to dump material. He was operating pretty fast and continually using the wheel brake to control his speed. Had he referenced the owner’s manual up front, he could have identified an engine brake feature that actually holds the machine in a lower gear. Instead of stepping on the wheel brake to control his speed, he only needed to press a button at the top of the hill to prevent the issue. This is a great example of an avoidable repair had the operator familiarized himself with all the machine’s controls and features.

Volvo frontend loader fuel filter2. Prefilling fuel filters versus priming

There’s an ongoing debate about whether or not to prefill fuel filters — and if you do, what the proper method is. I always recommend against it, as I described in my previous post about why prefilling fuel filters is a bad idea. Some techs assume they can be very careful and prefill a fuel filter without introducing contaminants, but the likelihood of that happening is very low. Fuel filters have micron measurements that are smaller than the human hair. Even if a tech tries to cap the center hole and let fuel drip into the dirty side of the filter, it’s virtually impossible to keep contaminants out of the clean inner side of the filter. A fuel can, a funnel — and even bare hands — will likely introduce some kind of contaminant. And high-pressure fuel systems today can’t tolerate even the smallest amount of contaminant. The risk of damage isn’t worth the time saved by prefilling a filter.

3. Misuse of attachments

Not using attachments for their intended use is not only unsafe, it can be costly. One common example is operators using a hydraulic hammer as a pry bar. The hammer on the end of an excavator arm is designed to be used straight down or at a certain angle. But if it’s also used to dig around or pick up and turn large chunks of concrete or rock, it puts excessive side load on the tool. That causes excessive wear on the bushing and fractures in the tool, leading to seal issues and leaks. If a hammer has to be rebuilt, it’s very expensive.

It’s the same with teeth on a bucket. While they’re designed to break apart some material, using them to pry can actually break the teeth or break the cutting edge on the bucket, which leads to downtime on the machine and another expensive repair.

Properly sizing buckets to the machine and application is also critical. A bucket that’s too big will slow down a machine, work the hydraulics harder and drastically cause production issues.

Overloaded excavator bucket4. Operating too fast

I see this issue happening most often on excavators and wheel loaders, and it’s particularly a problem when material is in the bucket. Things like quick starts and stops, fast turns, and rapidly slewing buckets (especially on a slope) mean material is likely falling out of the bucket and eventually has to be cleaned up. That could take up to a half an hour, wasting time and fuel.

A common mistake wheel loader operators make is driving into a pile and allowing the tires to spin. When the tires spin, it can cause ruts at the stockpile. And each time the operator drives in or out of the rut, it causes a shake on the machine which knocks material out. These ruts have to be refilled and the material that’s knocked out has to be picked up. Precision (making every move count with minimal cleanup afterward) will improve productivity more than speed.

5. Skipping maintenance contracts and telematics programs

There are many benefits to having a maintenance contract. Yes, they cost money, but if you dissect what you pay up front versus the maintenance costs over time to evaluate your ROI, a majority of the time they save you money. With a Volvo service contract, for example, you get Volvo-trained technicians who perform routine maintenance, but also continually look at the entire machine to identify other areas that may need attention. What they can discover and proactively resolve saves customers hours of unnecessary downtime. A lot of these predictive maintenance issues can be hard to spot, and if they’re overlooked, they can cost you money.

Customers who take advantage of ActiveCare Direct®, our 24/7/365 active machine monitoring program, are seeing benefits as well. When telematics data indicates there may be a problem, our propriety software and trained staff diagnose the issue and provide you and your Volvo dealer a case alert with a probable cause, recommended solution and potential consequences of not taking action. Knowing what the most likely problem is means Volvo dealer technicians can go out and repair a machine in one trip versus two or three. ActiveCare Direct is an extremely valuable tool that allows for predictive maintenance to save time and money.

At Volvo, we have a full Field Technical Support Specialist staff across North America that works with technicians every day to spot maintenance mistakes like these and train customers on the best ways to prevent them to maximize uptime. To learn more about Volvo support, visit our Uptime Services page and see how we help keep customers up and running efficiently and productively.

By Al Drake, Volvo Field Technical Support Specialist (FTSS), Western U.S.


  • Jeff G

    Many if the points made are caused by middle management that does not operate or own. They think quick and dirty wins. This attitude almost requires machine operators to move faster etc. Big bosses only find out when bad things happen.

    Telematics if offered to the proper staff can resolve much of this.

    October 29, 2019

Post a Comment