Thanks to the economy, landscape, lawn maintenance and even lawn care service providers have been hanging onto their vehicles and equipment longer and spending more money on repairs than usual. Holding back on new purchases is an effective way to reduce short-term costs, but there comes a time when it also becomes counterproductive. Keeping vehicles and equipment too long can add to excessive downtime, and ultimately reduce their potential trade-in value.
So, how do you know when to repair and when to replace?
Estimating Engine Life. “The first major repair item to go on most riding lawn mowers is the engine,” relates Tom Emmett, owner of Emmett Equipment Co. in Richfield, OH. “I give my customers this rule of thumb to follow: On air-cooled engines, multiply the engine horsepower by 100, which will give you the ballpark of the engine’s life, depending on how well it was maintained.”
For example, a mower with a 23-hp engine would have an estimated 2,300 hours of life. Operators should trade in their mower before that number is reached if they want to avoid buying a new engine.
Still, Emmett notes that even at 2,300 hours, many quality mowers will have at least that much additional life left in the drive train, frame, mowing deck and other major components. So repairing an old mower (in this case buying a new engine or short block) isn’t a bad decision, it’s just a choice operators can make—knowing, however, that other components are also closing in on their life expectancy.
“The rule of thumb for mowers equipped with longer-lasting, liquid-cooled engines is 150 times the engine horsepower,” Emmett adds, “which brings engine and mower life closer together. A new engine at that point may not provide the best ROI because it can outlast the machine’s lifecycle.”
Maximizing Trade-in Value. Emmett says that keeping equipment too long will accentuate downtime and affect performance, something that can be avoided by trading in equipment every few years. “Many of our (professional) customers rotate equipment every three years,” he relates. “Assuming they put on an average of 600 hours of mowing a year, they would be replacing the mower before that first large engine repair bill.”
Landscape professionals have two other options, Emmett adds. They can trade in their mowers before their warranty is up, or they can replace their mower with a refurbished used one. This is an attractive option if obtaining credit in order to purchase a new machine is difficult.
Managing Your Vehicle Fleet. When it comes to repairing or replacing trucks in his fleet, Ron Kujawa, a Landscape Industry Certified Manager and owner of Wisconsin-based Kujawa Enterprise, says he generally subscribes to the United Parcel Service (UPS) rule: If it can be repaired like new for less than 50 percent of the cost of a new vehicle, repair it.
Soft business conditions, however, can force companies to reassess their repair analysis to minimize both repair and replacement costs. “In our repair analysis, we consider safety first, followed by serviceability and cosmetics,” Kujawa emphasizes. “Our older trucks may not look like new, but they have to be safe and reliable.”
Don’t Get Stuck With Equipment That Isn’t Utilized. Another rule is to avoid purchasing equipment unless you really need it. “A lot of landscape contractors have paid the price for having excess capacity,” Kujawa points out, while adding that idle trucks and equipment become a needless overhead expense. Consider renting or leasing for the more occasional applications.
Kujawa provides the following example:
“We’re thinking about leasing a large snow melter for three years to accommodate one of our larger clients. The lease cost can be passed on directly to the client, and, if we lose or give up the account after three years, we’re not stuck with a very specialized piece of equipment with limited application.”