|At a Glance|
The City of Ventura, Calif., saw the following benefits from refurbishing two of its wheel loaders:
Replacing off-road equipment is a major investment for fleets, and in particular for government fleets facing ever-tighter budgets. With costs for new equipment falling well into the six-figure category, it may be impossible to replace equipment, even if it’s vital to fleet operations.
Fortunately, refurbishing equipment can be a viable option for fleets. With costs far lower than those of purchasing replacements, and environmental benefits as well, some fleets are looking to extend the life of their existing off-road equipment rather than purchase a brand-new unit.
The City of Ventura Makes Good on Refurbishing
The City of Ventura, Calif., is one such fleet. The City has 19 off-road pieces of equipment, including wheel loaders, backhoes, a skid steer
loader, a motor grader, an asphalt paver, gang mowers, pavement rollers, and forklifts. Over the past five years, the City has refurbished several pieces of equipment, including three portable water pumps and, most recently, two John Deere wheel loaders.
The City chose to refurbish the wheel loaders for several reasons. First, they were showing signs of wear — operators just hadn’t taken good care of them over the years. And, even though the units were underutilized, the City needed them for materials bins and emergency response, as well as street and water maintenance.
“We decided to repower the two wheel loaders using diagnostics, condition evaluation, and low hours usage,” said Mary Joyce Ivers, PWLF, CPFP, fleet and facilities manager, City of Ventura Public Works. “We contracted to replace the engine and complete refurbishment of the hydraulic and mechanical systems and repainting.”
Refurbishing the Bottom Line
As a result of refurbishing the wheel loaders, the City fleet saw several benefits. For one, it extended the life of the equipment by a minimum of 10 years each. But perhaps more significant were the financial benefits.
A new wheel loader would have cost the City more than $150,000; refurbishing ended up costing just $92,000 for each unit, including in-house labor.
“The refurbishment was more costly than originally estimated due to unseen damage, but we believe it is a good investment to extend the life of the equipment,” Ivers said. “The refurbishment is less costly than a new piece of equipment since we are extending the life of the equipment and reducing maintenance costs. The cost of re-powering/refurbishing two wheel loaders was $120,000 less than purchasing new equipment. And, we estimate extending the life 10 years and saving almost 50% of the cost of a new piece of equipment.”
In addition to a new engine, each wheel loader also has new hydraulics and controls and refurbished cabs, improving the user experience.
The Effects of Refurbishing on Emissions Compliance
In addition to the financial benefits, the City also took huge environmental leaps as a result of refurbishment. Equipped with interim Tier 4 engines, the City’s John Deere wheel loaders are equipped for California Air Resources Board (CARB) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) diesel emissions compliance requirements. In achieving these compliance standards, the City has also met its own environmental sustainability goals, including fuel conservation and a reduced carbon footprint.
“We are supporting our sustainability goals by reducing greenhouse gas emissions with the new interim Tier 4 engines and reusing an existing piece of equipment that did not need to be disposed at this time,” Ivers said.
Dennis Kulzer, fleet services supervisor, said complying with CARB rules was actually the inspiration to explore refurbishing to begin with. When CARB would not reissue the City’s permit for portable water pump engines, John Deere offered compliant engines that would replace the existing ones with little or no modifications.
“CARB compliance was a key factor with our decision to re-power and refurbish the two wheel loaders,” Kulzer said. “Both were up for replacement and working with our John Deere dealer and our heavy-duty body repair shop, we could remove the engine package, send the body to [the repair shop] to make some alterations, sandblast the chassis, and repaint. [The dealer] then installed a new interim Tier 4 engine package in each unit along with [performing] transmission repairs and hydraulic system replacement. We entered the new engine information into our CARB Doors program, and it greatly improved our overall fleet compliance criteria.”
Tips for Refurbishing
For fleets considering refurbishment as an option, Ivers suggests fleets first invest in some careful consideration to ensure refurbishing makes sense for their needs and budget.
Before deciding to refurbish off-road equipment, fleets should ask themselves key questions, such as:
● Is there another type of equipment that can do the job cost effectively, reduce environmental impacts, and improve productivity within the operating department?
● Is the equipment needed for the long term?
● What is the condition, usage, and cost of the equipment?
“I would suggest a thorough analysis of the equipment’s condition and evaluate the cost/benefit analysis,” Ivers said. “Some refurbishments may be too costly and do not provide the best lifecycle cost for the use of the equipment. It needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with all the cost factors taken into consideration — cost, usage, maintenance, fuel, operator productivity, and environmental and sustainable benefits or impacts.”
In addition to these factors, in Ivers’ own experience, determining the long-term need of the equipment before refurbishing is particularly valuable, too.
“We refurbished a large tractor that was deleted by the Parks Department after a year due to changes in its operations and the economy to change its service levels,” she said. “The equipment was not needed anymore and was auctioned. Luckily, we did receive more surplus value than the refurbishment, so we did not lose money.”
For fleets that do take the refurbishment route, Ivers suggests partnering with an off-road equipment vendor that is an authorized manufacturer distributor or contractor. This will ensure the equipment is safe to operate and performs quality work. And of course, it’s never a bad idea to get a warranty on the work.
From Old to New: What Refurbishment Entailed
Below is a summary list of repairs and alterations completed on the City of Ventura, Calif.’s refurbished wheel loaders:
- Disassemble for refurbishment.
- Steam clean engine area and machine to be painted.
- Apply new decals and safety signage after paint.
- Install new hydraulic, oil, transmission, and hydrostatic reservoir filters, fill transmission and coolant fluids.
- Install new switches and wiring.
- Replace radiator hoses, water hoses, and clamps.
- Repair rust and replace grease fittings.
- Remove and install lights.
- Disassemble/reassemble and reseal loader control valve.
- Chassis repairs.
- Replace discharge hose, suction hose, and condenser.
- Recharge A/C system.
- Fabricate new hood to accommodate new engine.
- Replace hydrostatic pump shaft and manifold seals.
- Repair rear axle pinion shaft leak.
- Install new hydraulic quick coupler attachment for utility forks and 2.5-yard bucket.
- Repower and install new engine.
Life After Refurbishing: Making the Most of Refurbished Equipment
With a successful refurbishment behind them, the staff at the City of Ventura, Calif., asked themselves how they could make the most of their refurbishing investment.
Fleet Services Supervisor Dennis Kulzer had the answer: a shared construction equipment motor pool. Using an online motor pool reservation system (INVERS), the City pooled its refurbished John Deere wheel loader, as well as a forklift and a four-yard dump truck. It didn’t take long for the City to see results.
Where once construction equipment was assigned to just one department, pooling it allowed it to be shared between three departments. In just three months, wheel loader utilization doubled.
“It is more cost effective for the departments to rent the vehicle when they need it, rather than [having one] waiting to be used by one department,” Kulzer said. “The increased utilization supports efficient fleet operations and maximizing the use of the equipment.”
- Mary Joyce Ivers, PWLF, CPFP, fleet and facilities manager, City of Ventura, Calif.
- Dennis Kulzer, fleet services supervisor, City of Ventura, Calif.