At a Glance
Some utility vehicle maintenance tips provide3d by manufacturers include:
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.”
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."
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.
Choose the Right Vehicle
As is the case in choosing any vehicle or piece of equipment, purchasing a make and model that best suits the intended application has major maintenance benefits. Utility vehicles are available in two- and four-wheel drives, two- and four-seaters, and gasoline- or diesel-fueled engines.
“A lot of times, a diesel engine is nice just because a lot of [a fleet’s] other equipment might be diesel-powered,” said Chris Knipfer, Bobcat’s marketing manager. And a four-wheel drive machine might be a better choice for a government fleet operating “north of the Mason-Dixon line” — that is, where there is more likely to be snow, Knipfer noted.
Manufacturers Improve Design Features
Some machines have design features incorporated to make maintenance more manageable.
Utility vehicle improvements that reduce maintenance tend to follow technologies that are available for on-road use, said Lund of John Deere. Fuel-injected engines are now common, for example, replacing carburetors. John Deere also uses enclosed hydraulic park brake systems in its heavy-duty XUV (crossover utility vehicle) line-up that require less maintenance than disk-and-pad type systems, Lund said. “We also use greaseless bearings and bushings in various places in the vehicle that are hard to reach, and not as susceptible to wear,” he said.
Kubota offers an extended oil dipstick, to make it possible to check engine oil without having to lift the cargo box. Also, its utility vehicles have removable seats for access to typically hard-to-reach places during maintenance, Muramoto said.
Another manufacturer, Polaris Industries, said it uses synthetic lubricants in its utility vehicles to maximize life. Likewise, sealed wheel bearings, ball-joints, and CV-joints are designed to aid in reducing the amount of routine maintenance required on such items. A built-in service hour interval can be reset/adjusted in the instrument cluster to signal to the operator when maintenance is next required. On many Polaris vehicles, LED tail lights are used for longer life and to eliminate the need for periodic bulb replacement, the manufacturer said. Polaris also designed a park brake engine rev limiter to help prevent people from driving away with the park brake engaged on its gas models with electronic fuel injection.
Use Online Resources
Some manufacturers have extensive online resources or are in the process of building them.
Polaris Industries posts all its service communications to its dealer extranet, which government and national account type customers can get access to. The manufacturer also offers owner’s manuals online.
Kawasaki also has built up its online offerings to make it easier for users to follow proper and timely maintenance practices, Griffin said. This includes owner’s manuals. “If it’s lost you can read it online, and you can also save it to your computer” in a PDF, Griffin said.
“We have all of our parts diagrams on the Internet, for free,” Griffin added. On the manufacturer’s main Web page, users can look up a specific model of utility vehicle and then go to an “owner info” section and see any bulletins, as well as short videos that demonstrate some specific maintenance practices. A link to a three-minute, 51-second video, actually posted on You Tube, shows how to service a foam air filter on a Kawasaki Mule.
Kubota, too, is working on developing online resources that will serve as a guide for fleet managers, Muramoto said.
Something Extra: Seeking Power & Speed
Certain types of government fleets are seeking more power and more speed in utility vehicles, manufacturers said. State park crews and forest services are a case in point. Manufacturers said a number of such fleet users are moving from all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to utility task vehicles (UTVs).
Extra power and speed can make a big difference when traveling through rugged territory and for specialized applications.
“That is definitely a need because of some of the terrain and mountainous areas that we have to cover,” said Joseph Suppa, fleet manager for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, which has a fleet that includes some 160 utility vehicles, largely Kubota models. The department uses the utility vehicles for all manner of tasks. Firefighters use them to go deep into state forests where trucks can’t reach, Suppa said. The department also uses the vehicles for more everyday purposes, such as transporting small equipment and for grounds keeping.
Last year the department worked with its Kubota dealer to spec a turbo engine and tracks for a utility vehicle, which is used to groom snow on cross-country ski trails.
Some other government fleets require utility vehicles with substantial lifting power for tasks such as moving sections of concrete pipe and for towing. The ability to accommodate attachments, such as a snow plow, is required by some government fleets. Kevin Lund, John Deere product marketing manager for utility vehicles, said the manufacturer’s Gator XUV (crossover utility vehicle) line includes vehicles designed to meet such needs.
Bobcat’s Toolcat line-up, billed as utility work machines, blend features of a pickup truck, tractor, skid-steer loader, and utility vehicle, according to the company. Chris Knipfer, marketing manager for Bobcat, said the Toolcat machines are designed to operate the same attachments as a skid-steer loader, and can be used to lift up to 1,500 lbs., tow up to 4,000 lbs., and may also be used for heavy snow removal and mowing.
Keep It Clean
"Most people hop in and go” when it comes to using utility vehicles, said John Griffin, manager, four-wheel market and sales development, Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA. “They perceive it like a car because they’re sitting in it and they’re driving it like a car and the upper portion of it remains relatively clean because it’s got fenders and mud flaps” to keep out brush and debris, Griffin said. “But they’re driving it in much different conditions than on a street.”
The undercarriage should be regularly inspected, Griffin said. That step is often overlooked in the press of getting work done, Griffin said, citing as an example those who might run their utility vehicles in deep grass. Debris, weeds, clippings, and the like can sometimes collect under the engine area of the machine, he noted, “and [operators] never get around to lifting the bed because maybe they’ve got something in the bed and they don’t want to tilt it up manually.” But a visual inspection might disclose brush collected near an exhaust pipe that will become hot as the vehicle is used, Griffin said. An overall “pre-trip” visual inspection is also easier before equipment is loaded into the bed — and more likely to be done for just that reason, Griffin added.
Kevin Lund, John Deere product marketing manager for utility vehicles, said, “Primarily the rougher terrain use will be in ‘trashier’ conditions and require more cleaning of belts, radiator components, and exhaust systems.”
The need to inspect will depend on the type of vehicle and how it is used. “For machines designed to run at higher speeds, and that have more horsepower, cleaning of exhaust components is critical,” Lund said. “You may even want to institute a daily inspection if the machine is used in particular conditions around brush or debris.”
- Chris Austinson, product specialist, Bobcat Company (www.bobcat.com)
- Donna Beadle, external relations specialist, Polaris Off-Road Vehicles, Polaris Industries (www.polarisindustries.com)
- John Griffin, manager, four-wheel market and sales development, Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA (www.kawasaki.com)
- Chris Knipfer, marketing manager, Bobcat Company
- Kevin Lund, product marketing manager for utility vehicles, Deere & Co. (www.deere.com)
- Dan Muramoto, product manager, Kubota Tractor Corp. (www.kubota.com)
- Joseph Suppa, fleet manager, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation