Utility Vehicle Maintenance Best Practices
While utility vehicle maintenance may be similar to that of small on-road vehicles, the fact that utility vehicles go off-road leads to some differences. Manufacturers weigh in on maintenance best practices.
May 2012, Government Fleet - Feature
The Bobcat 3400 4x4 utility vehicle (UTV) is available in both gas and diesel options. A Bobcat representative said fleet managers should choose the fuel type that matches their fleet.
At a Glance
Some utility vehicle maintenance tips provide3d by manufacturers include:
- Read the owner's manual.
- Keep the vehicle, including the undercarriage, clean.
- Make sure operators inspect the vehicle frequently.
- Use online resources for training.
Whether they’re operated in rough terrain or not, utility vehicles tend to be heavily used, which makes adherence to best maintenance practices essential to keep them running well through their intended service life.
In general, a utility vehicle will be maintained similar to a car or pickup truck, manufacturers said, with a few exceptions because they are off-road vehicles. The type of utility vehicle also determines maintenance requirements.
“They are built differently if they are designed more for gentle terrain as burden carriers,” or to deliver performance on rough terrain, said Kevin Lund, John Deere product marketing manager for utility vehicles. “In general, the latter will have more moving parts that require inspection and maintenance, as they have more complex suspension systems, generate more heat, and see different loads,” Lund said.
The other component of many utility vehicles that is unique is the continuously variable transmission, or CVT, some manufacturers noted. This is often a rubber belt system running in an enclosure connecting the engine and transmission. “While CVTs are an excellent way to provide a good range of speeds without having to shift, rubber belts can stretch and wear over time,” Lund said. The effect of such stretching becomes noticeable as the vehicle loses top-end speed, or the belt starts to slip, and there is no response to throttle engagement, Lund said. “It’s generally a fairly simple job to replace a CVT belt, and is the type of thing you probably will only need to replace once in the life of a vehicle,” Lund said.
Start with the Basics
However, before all this comes step one: “The first thing that agencies can do in regards to maintenance is to actually open and read the owner’s manual,” said John Griffin, manager, four-wheel market and sales development, Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA. “It’s highly overlooked.” That may be for a number of reasons, Griffin said, offering one: “Maybe they’ve had a similar machine and they think they’ve got it all figured out — just add gas and go.”
Kubota's utility vehicles have removable seats for access to typically hard-to-reach places during maintenance, a company representative said. Pictured is the Kubota RTV1100.
Even though the steps in the maintenance manual might be obvious — check the oil and coolant, keep filters clean — those things still must be done, and records should be kept showing they were done, Griffin said.
Kubota Product Manager Dan Muramoto said that if a vehicle has multiple users, government fleet managers should be sure the operator’s manual and safety DVDs are shared and covered regularly with all of them.
“We spend a lot of time and a lot of effort to make sure [the manual] is an all-encompassing document,” said Chris Austinson, product specialist with Bobcat Co. “It’s there to educate the operator and the service manager on the daily checks, the weekly checks, and the visual inspection of a lot of key areas where problems could arise if things are neglected."
Some fleets are seeking utilities with substantial lifting ability and that accommodate attachments. John Deere's Gator XUV 855D fits these needs.
As a follow to that point, Austinson said, be sure to establish maintenance routines and communicate them clearly “so operators are trained, and they know what to look for, what to do.”
One often neglected matter is the maintenance schedule for the break-in period, said Lund of John Deere. The key areas for the break-in are going to be the engine oil and filter change, as well as checking and topping off brake fluid levels, Lund said, adding, “Don’t neglect to check wheel bolt torques, as well, as those bolts can loosen” during the break-in period, he added.