Equipment

Maximize the Life of Grounds Maintenance Equipment

Manufacturers recommend maintenance schedules and key maintenance procedures for the pieces they sell to government fleets. Some also offer software programs or online support to help monitor usage, track costs, and budget for replacement.

May 2011, Government Fleet - Feature

by Stephen Bennett

 
A power lift on Grasshopper front mount mowers facilitates accessibility to the underside of the deck for simplified maintenance, as well as space-saving portability and storage.
  A power lift on Grasshopper front mount mowers facilitates accessibility to the underside of the deck for simplified maintenance, as well as space-saving portability and storage.

Grass-cutting time is coming anew to those parts of the country where there are seasons, so government fleet managers in those regions are doing what their peers in Florida and Arizona do year round: aiming a critical eye at their fleet of grounds maintenance equipment.

At A Glance
General maintenance of grass-cutting equipment should include:
  • Thorough machine cleaning.
  • Using fresh fuel.
  • Changing engine oil.
  • Checking and replacing air and fuel filters.
  • Lubricating wear points.
  • Sharpening mower blades.
  • Verifying tire pressure

"Like most equipment, if you take care of it, it's going to pay off in less downtime and it's likely to last longer," said Craig Horstick, product support specialist with the agriculture and turf division of John Deere.

Manufacturers recommend maintenance schedules and key maintenance procedures for the pieces they sell to government fleets, and some offer software programs or online support to help monitor usage, track costs, and budget for ­replacement.

Maintenance of this type of equipment is based on hours of operation, and "it's going to vary depending on where you are in the country," Horstick said. "Down in Florida, I know there are machines that put on a thousand hours every season," whereas in Illinois "a machine might put on just 300 or 400 hours a year," he said.

The John Deere Ztrak Pro 950A features a two-cylinder, 31 hp engine with onboard diagnostics and forward travel speed of up to 12 mph.
The John Deere Ztrak Pro 950A features a two-cylinder, 31 hp engine with onboard diagnostics and forward travel speed of up to 12 mph.

Proper Maintenance is Key

Service life of a machine can vary too, from perhaps 1,500 hours to twice that, or even more. "We've seen machines with up to 3,000-plus hours on them," Horstick said.

According to Ray Garvey of the marketing division of The Grasshopper Co., prior to first use in the spring, general maintenance should include: a thorough cleaning of the machine; starting out with fresh fuel; changing engine oil (as well as plugs and carburetor maintenance on non-diesel models); checking and replacing air and fuel filters; lubricating all wear points; sharpening mower blades (and replacing bent or worn out blades); and verifying tire pressures (and mower deck pitch).

Cleaning. "We recommend using low-pressure compressed air and a cloth for cleaning the machine," Garvey said. "Avoid use of high-pressure washers, as they can force water into electrical components or engine orifices, which can cause problems later." A thorough cleaning of the machine not only extends service life, but also helps uncover service issues that may create downtime later. For example, wiping down the machine will help identify any loose fittings or worn hoses that might need replacing. Belt tensions can also be checked while cleaning, and adjusted if necessary.

On liquid-cooled units with radiators, make sure cooling fins are clean and free of obstruction in addition to checking anti-freeze quality with a refractometer. Don't apply any force to radiator fins that might damage them.

Fuel. Fresh fuel is critical to engine performance. Fuels are reformulated throughout the year, and fresh fuel will be formulated for the current season. This may be even more critical with use of high ethanol fuels and biodiesels.

Engine oil. Clean engine oil will extend engine life by reducing wear and will potentially reduce fuel consumption as well. Always refer to the engine owner's manual for recommended service intervals, oil viscosities, and quantities.

Filters. Air and fuel filters should be replaced at the beginning of the season and then at intervals recommended by the engine operator's manuals.

Lubrication. When lubricating equipment, follow the equipment maker's recommended guidelines, with careful attention made to wiping off all excess grease.  Excess grease is not only hard on bearings, it also acts as a magnet to dirt and grit, which can work its way into the wear points and cause rapid wear.

Blades. Sharp, well balanced mower blades have a major impact on performance as well as improving quality of cut.  A sharp blade requires less power to cut, thus helps realize fuel savings. Balanced blades also reduce vibrations, increasing operator comfort.

Tire pressure. Tire pressure on riding equipment is an often overlooked service item, Garvey said. It should be checked daily.  Tire pressure affects traction, quality of ride, wear and tear on the machine, and the deck pitch of mowers. Mower decks should always be level, or slightly higher in the rear, to avoid double-cutting and excessive horsepower demand, as well as to produce the best quality cut.

Garvey singled out some variables affecting service life of commercial mowing equipment: liquid-cooled versus air-cooled engines; commercial pump and wheel motor drive systems versus planetary gear systems; and fabricated construction of the mower deck versus stamped steel.

Different organizations have different philosophies for determining when to replace equipment, Garvey noted. Some entities rotate equipment every two or three years in order to maintain product warranty coverage and to obtain highest trade-in values. Other entities believe in using a piece of equipment for the entire length of its useful service life. Budgetary issues such as ease or difficulty of obtaining funding also play a role. One helpful step is to estimate projected service costs for the upcoming year and compare that to quotes received on leasing or purchasing new equipment.

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