Maintenance. It’s an unavoidable part of the job, necessary to keep things moving, mitigate equipment failure, and limit rental equipment downtime.
Maintenance can also be a hassle — not unlike any routine task — but thanks to recent advancements in engines and engine design, it doesn’t have to be. Fortunate for the landscaping industry, manufacturers are developing features that reduce maintenance and associated downtime, which means more time on your customer’s jobsites. Unfortunately for most contractors, no one has yet discovered how to eliminate maintenance needs entirely.
When it comes to maintenance, regular and preventative measures are essential. Here are the top seven maintenance tips and tricks to keep the engines in your fleet in premium condition to improve your productivity on the jobsite.
1. Fuel for Productivity
An engine is only as good as the fuel you put in the tank. For years, fuel choices were limited to regular, unleaded, and diesel. Nowadays, you can add ethanol fuel blends to that list.
Lower-level ethanol, typically 10 percent or less, is safe to use in most engines. Ethanol-free gasoline with an octane rating of 87 or higher is generally a good fuel choice. Choosing a fuel that is optimized for your engine is key to ensuring performance and avoiding engine issues, such as misfires and long-term damage.
2. Consider Propane
While gas is the familiar industry fuel, in some instances, fueling with propane can offer benefits and advantages for your operation. Propane eliminates some elements of operator error in environments where that can be a significant problem. For example, if you’re working on a golf course, gas spillage can cause dead or brown spots. With propane, spillage is never an issue. Using it can also help avoid fuel storage issues, as propane-powered equipment can be stored for long periods of time since propane isn’t susceptible to going stale.
Using propane can impact your maintenance schedule by reducing the amount of time a crew spends refueling, as you can easily refuel on the job.
3. Store Smart
Storing your equipment is unavoidable at times but doing so can quickly lead to stale-fuel issues. Once fuel is added to an engine tank, it starts to lose volatility. To mitigate issues associated with stale fuel, such as diminished performance and vapor lock, fill your tank with fresh gasoline after removing equipment from storage.
If you know equipment will be stored for significant periods of time, use a fuel stabilizer to combat stale fuel. Often, fuel stabilizers help prevent gum and varnish build-up, and can combat corrosion associated with ethanol fuels and chemical breakdowns.
4. Swap-Out Spark Plugs
With time, spark plugs can be susceptible to carbon deposits and other types of performance-inhibiting damage. Worn spark plugs can lead to engine misfires, stalling, and difficulty starting. Regularly removing and inspecting your engine’s spark plugs, and replacing when necessary, can help you avoid these issues.
5. Opt for Oil Changes
Foregoing oil changes opens the door for significant engine damage. Relying on oil past its service life means relying on oil with decreased viscosity and a diminished ability to correctly clean, cool, and lubricate your engine —all of which may lead to lower engine performance capabilities and lasting damage.
While the industry is starting to see advanced oil management systems and improved options that extend oil change intervals, it’s still important to know and understand the guidelines for your fleet’s engines. Changing oil too often can waste resources, while waiting too long can lead to engine damage.
Knowing your engine’s oil change intervals and adhering to them ensures your fleet can run like a well-oiled machine.
6. Give Your Engine Fresh Air
Fresh air is one of the key performance components in small, air-cooled engines, which means regularly changing the air filter is critical. Generally, air filters should be changed every 100 to 250 hours, depending on application and filter type.
With advancing technologies, such as cyclonic air filtration, it’s important to choose OEM filters designed specifically for your engine to guarantee fit and performance. Often, these filters have a longer lifespan and will ensure better engine productivity.
7. Assess Your Fleet
At the beginning and end of each season, take stock of your fleet equipment and the engines you rely on to keep them running. Are the engines older, no longer performing efficiently, or experiencing frequent issues? Can these performance issues be improved with proper maintenance practices or are they simply related to old age? If so, it may be time to replace an engine.
Engine maintenance needs are being reduced and simplified as advanced technology continues to improve in the industry. However, performing proper maintenance will always be an integral component of ensuring your fleet is primed for productivity.
Until self-maintaining engines are developed (a person can dream!), understanding your engine’s maintenance needs and sticking to a schedule is key to keeping your fleet up and running.