The City of Torrance, Calif., Park Services Division relies on Fleet Services to maintain its 11 self-propelled riding mowers for use on the City's parks. Units include Rotary 580 Gang Mowers; Toro 52s; Toro zero-radius mowers for use around trees; John Deere mowers, including one with a flail attachment; and an Olathe sweeper.

For purchase, maintenance, and repair of grounds maintenance equipment, Fleet Services Manager Dave Winnett stresses the importance of a strong preventive maintenance (PM) schedule, having a specialized small equipment repair mechanic, and working closely with the user department.

Relying on User Input

According to Winnett, groundskeeping equipment purchases require more input from the user department than other vehicles or equipment.

"I encourage users to attend the trade shows, to go out and shop for themselves. Who knows better what they need to operate every day than the operator?" Winnett said.

John Najjar, small equipment repair mechanic, began working with Torrance Fleet Services nearly 20 years ago. He regulary interacts with operators and works closely with Park Services supervisors and managers in equipment purchases. 

Once an item becomes eligible for replacement, the department sends the equipment number or replacement model request to Fleet Services, which then handles the purchase.

Winnett noted, however, that equipment purchasing, especially for small pieces, doesn't always come through Fleet Services. The department will sometimes buy smaller items directly.

Perfecting the PM Schedule

Operators are responsible for daily equipment cleaning, and once a week, vehicles are washed and greased. When preventive maintenance or repairs are needed, Najjar steps in.

Grounds maintenance equipment is tracked through usage hours. The Toro Gang Mower 580, for example, shows up on the PM list every 16 weeks, having run an estimated 300 hours. Najjar performs an "A service" to make sure fluid levels are on target, no leaks exist, and safety features, such as brakes and lights, are working. The next time the equipment comes in for PM, a "B service" is performed, which includes "A service" checks and changing the motor oil, oil filter, and air filter. The type of PM service alternates, and once a year, Najjar performs a "C service," when all equipment fluids and filters are changed.

"We're really diligent about staying on PM and that's probably why we get such good service out of those pieces of equipment," said Winnett.

Besides PM and repair, familiarity with the quirks of certain units is essential. "An example is the extra effort the mechanic has to put in because of the Gang Mowers. Grass clippings end up getting sucked into the radiator and clog it up. That's a cleaning every week — you've got to pull that apart," said Jeff Cryderman, fleet services supervisor. "That's not part of the PM program, but it's something we've learned over the years. John's very diligent of staying on top of that."

The City's two Rotary 580 Gang Mowers are equipped with experimental diesel particulate filters (DPF) that, if successful, could become mandatory for off-road equipment. Najjar works with operators to ensure the mowers get regenerated when needed.

Maintenance issues that arise include changing cutting blades monthly, changing tires, and fixing worn-out hoses and parts that get hit and damaged. One of the more common problems is leakage of the Gang Mower's 45-gallon tank of hydraulic fluid. Najjar said units have built-in safety features that automatically shut off the engine when there are leaks, overheating, etc.

When major unit breakdowns occur, Najjar may estimate repair cost to determine whether it should be replaced.

Acquiring Low-Cost Training

Najjar ensures that he and vehicle operators receive maintenance and operational training on mowing equipment by talking directly to the manufacturers at shows. "I'll talk to the sales representatives and let them bring one of the mowers here and demonstrate. We get a couple of operators and let them drive it," Najjar explained. Both Najjar and the operator watch the instructional video that comes with equipment.

According to Winnett, Najjar stays on top of available courses, bringing them to Winnett's attention. Oftentimes, major vendors provide free or discounted courses. Municipal Equipment Maintenance Association (MEMA) membership ensures the City gets information on available courses.

"I think we do a pretty commendable job getting a lot of training for not a whole lot of money," Winnett said.

Operators sometimes attend classes as well, in order to better understand the unit. "If they know the machine, and they hear a [strange] noise, they know right away what's happened," he explained. The operator can tell Najjar what he thinks the problem is, saving Najjar time.

Extending Unit Lifecycles

Replacement cycles are based on a carefully made list. A Rotary Gang Mower, for example, has a lifecycle of 10 years or 10,000 hours, whichever comes first. Winnett explained a printout of eligible vehicles and equipment is sent to each department to prioritize. Fleet Services then reviews the prioritized items from a maintenance standpoint and the available budget from the finance department to determine the "worst" vehicles to replace.

Winnett said between 50 and 60 percent of eligible vehicles and equipment do not get replaced in the year they are eligible.

"If something is really a maintenance nightmare, we know it. John knows it," Winnett said. "As soon as we come to him with a list, it's not going to be just him giving his opinion; it's going to be the operators who use that [equipment] every day."

Winnett pointed out the replacement cycle list isn't set in stone. While it is based on usage history and technician knowledge, changes are made if equipment lasts longer or wears down faster than expected.

Having Positive Relationships

In working closely with operators to purchase and ensure proper equipment maintenance, having positive relationships is key. Both Cryderman and Winnett praise Najjar's contribution to Fleet Services.

"John has a great working relationship with all the operators he deals with in Park Services, throughout the City, for that matter," said Cryderman. "I go to John with anything — it doesn't have to be a mower, and John says, 'I'll take care of it.' "

Winnett agreed, and from a maintenance standpoint, added, "Having John's hands there, he knows the equipment and he knows how to make sure when it leaves the shop, it's reliable. These guys need to be able to start up their vehicles in the morning and go do their job."

Thi Dao

Thi Dao

Executive Editor

Thi is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She is interested in maintenance management and alternative fuels.