A worker inspects a machine using a tablet.

Heavy Equipment Inspection Checklist

From checking batteries to testing the brakes, frequent heavy equipment inspections are the key to keeping your employees safe on the job. A checklist will help keep you organized during your inspections and ensure you cover all areas, including critical and non-critical points.

In this guide, we will provide a comprehensive heavy equipment inspection checklist to make sure that you cover all of your bases and check all of your machines' components. This will ensure they are working safely and correctly.

Take an Oil Sample

To begin your inspection, you'll first want to verify the serial number and the hours logged. Warm up the engine for a few minutes to prepare the machine for a thorough inspection. Once the engine has had time to warm up, you're ready to take an oil sample.

Be sure that the tools you use to take your oil sample, such as the hose, are in a plastic bag until you are ready to use them; this prevents the oil from being contaminated by dust and debris that could affect the outcome of your test. Once you've prepared the sample bottle, cut the hose to the length of the dipstick so that it is long enough to get oil out but not so long that it reaches too deep into the engine.

Being careful not to get dirt on the hose in the process, slide the hose into the engine until you feel it reach the oil. Carefully begin extracting some oil until it reaches about the third line on the sample bottle. Once you've filled the sample bottle, remove the hose from the engine and place the cap on the bottle so it is ready to be shipped off.

Sometimes the fuel will find its way past the injectors and into the engine, so you may want to consider smelling the oil sample to see if you can detect any diesel fuel. If you can, you will want to note that for your report. Additionally, the viscosity of the oil gets thinner as it heats up. After collecting the oil sample, you can do a visual inspection to see how thin it is. If it is abnormally thin, this may indicate an issue that should be investigated.

Walkaround Inspection

The next step is to do a thorough walkaround inspection of your equipment to make sure everything is working correctly and there are no signs of damage on the machine. Locating potential areas of concern early on can prevent more costly repairs down the line.

Check the Engine

The first step of your walkaround inspection will be checking the engine and hydraulics for leaks. The best way to do this is to take photos as you go through each component. If you see any leaks, note that the engine is leaking and where it is coming from. If your engine is in good condition, it should only take approximately 10 minutes to check for leaks and note any areas of concern. After checking the engine, you're ready to move over to the hydraulics. Check the main control valves for leaks and the condition of the hoses for cracks or rubbing. Take photographs and make a note of anything you should include in your report.

In addition to the hydraulics and the engine, pay close attention to the exterior components, such as the brackets and hardware, and coolant levels during your inspection. If your coolant is abnormally low or empty, this could indicate that the engine is sucking up and burning coolant or that there may be a leak somewhere that you need to address.

Check the fuel filters to ensure they've been serviced in the past, and note the most recent date of service. Finally, check all of your fluid levels before moving on to the external inspection of the machine.

Check External Components

The condition of your equipment's exterior will tell you a lot about the machine's condition and how well it has been maintained. Begin by inspecting the tracks and making sure the sprockets are not too thin. If you notice that the sprockets are unusually thin and almost sharp, that indicates that the undercarriage does not have much life left to it. Ensure that the roller frame is intact, the rollers are not cracked, and the tracks hold tension and are not too loose.

The tension level will tell you if the tracks need to be adjusted or if the track adjuster is worn out; in this case, you'll want to look for leaks. If the track adjuster is worn out, your tracks will never hold the correct amount of tension. After taking photos of this section, you're ready to move on to the next component.

If your machine has a stick and bucket, you will likely see some scratches and scuff marks, which are typical on a well-used machine. However, one of the primary elements you want to check is the condition of the pins. Pay attention to whether or not there is play in them and if they've been sufficiently greased. In most cases, you won't even have to move this part of the machine to check the pins. If you see a lot of gloss or shine in this area, you'll know there is excessive play and that the machine needs to be double checked. On an excavator, this is typically the most-worn part of the machine. Be sure to note the condition of the stick and bucket, as it can quickly become a safety concern if the buyer is unaware of a loose quick coupler.

Check the cylinders for score marks, make sure the rod seal is in good condition, and inspect the bucket to make a note of its size and condition. Be sure that all the pins are greased and that the blade is in good condition.

To save time and energy, go into the machine's user manual to get its weight, dimensions, horsepower, and other important specifications. Taking a few photographs of this information will further save time and prevent you from having to flip through the manual and search for the information you need.

Check the Cab

Some cabs are more complex than others, but there are a few basics to keep in mind during this stage of the inspection. One of the most important elements of the cab is the rollover protection system, which must be in good condition for safety purposes. If this part of the machine is damaged or shows signs of a previous rollover, it must be replaced before going out onto another job site. Check the mounting hardware, and watch for major dents or damage.

Next, check the operator's seat for ergonomics, and make sure that the operator of the machine will be comfortable and content in the cab. Check to see what kind of joysticks you are dealing with, either electronic or pilot control, and make sure they are in good working order.

Inspect the travel pedals to make sure they are in proper alignment to be sure both tracks move at the same pace at the same time. Check if the travel levers are misaligned or need to be adjusted. You'll also want to evaluate the condition of the thumb scrolls, monitor panel, mirrors, and lights to ensure that everything works correctly.

As you continue the inspection, check that the electrical harnesses are neatly bundled and are not rubbing on anything else. Open up the compartments to make sure the cables are intact, the bracket holds the battery down, and everything looks clean and free of mud or dirt. If your cab has one, open up the storage unit to access the main computer to make sure that it is also clean and free of any obstructions. Continue taking photographs of each component, noting any areas of improvement or potential issues you find during your inspection.

When to Dig Deeper

No matter how different machines are, some aspects are relevant no matter which type of heavy equipment you inspect.

One indicator of further issues is a blow-by on the engine. A blow-by happens when a mixture of air-fuel or combustion gasses leak between the pistons and cylinder wall into the crankcase. While some blow-by is normal, excessive amounts can indicate damage to the components, abnormal engine wear, or poor equipment maintenance.

If most or all of the cylinders are leaking, you must inspect the condition of the pump because the pressure is most likely much too high. Even if only a few cylinders are leaking, chances are that the others are only a little behind unless the root of the problem is fixed.

Finally, one of the best indicators of the condition of a machine is how it sounds when it is running and operating. Hydraulics have a distinct sound, so when something is off, you will be able to clearly hear the difference. If you notice the sound of your machine changing, you may want to take an oil sample to find out what is going on.

Heavy Equipment Inspection Checklist

A thorough inspection requires a comprehensive checklist to ensure that nothing is overlooked. Here is a generalized checklist that will suit most pieces of heavy equipment.

  • Do a thorough visual inspection of the machine to check for any signs of leaks or pooling fluid underneath. If so, you'll need to find the source of the leak and have it repaired.

  • Check the undercarriage, rims, and tires for excessive wear, accumulated mud or dirt, and other signs of damage. This could pose a safety risk and affect how well the machine performs.

  • Check all fluids: coolant, fuel, engine oil, hydraulic oil, and diesel exhaust fluid, to ensure they are all at optimal levels. As the lifeblood of your machine, having insufficient fluids will affect its performance and lead to excessive damage and expensive repairs.

  • Check the radiator and other engine components for mud, debris, and dirt, to ensure that all of the engine parts have the space to move, breathe, and cool correctly.

  • Look at all filters, including oil, fuel, and air; check for leaks or other damage. Though issues with filters are relatively easy to fix, the damage caused by problems that were undetected or ignored can be costly.

  • Inspect smaller components such as the alternator, fan, and belts for signs of excessive wear or damage. These issues are easy to repair if caught early, and ignoring them will eventually lead to costly repairs and downtime.

  • Ensure all high-friction areas are sufficiently greased to avoid excessive wear and damage.

  • Inspect the hydraulic connections, coupling structure, and pressure, being sure to release pressure when removing the attachments.

  • Check all ground tools, including teeth and buckets, to check for cracks, breaks, and other signs of damage that could limit productivity, pose a safety risk, damage the machine, and impact fuel efficiency.

  • Check the attachment mount-up and make sure electrical connections, hydraulic hoses, and the coupler are all connected properly and securely.

  • Do a quick visual inspection of the machine's exterior to point out any signs of damage, wear, and other areas of concern.

  • Inspect the cab and be sure that all operator controls, lights, and other safety features, such as the rear camera and backup alarm, are in working order.

  • Check all mirrors and ensure that they offer optimal visibility.

Regularly inspecting your fleet will help you identify potential issues early on and prevent costly repairs and premature replacements. The work environment, frequency of use, and seasonal weather will all impact how often your equipment needs to be maintained. Be sure to document your maintenance records, make notes during inspections, and take photographs as you check each component of your machines. This checklist will help make sure you don't overlook any components and will help you anticipate issues and understand some of the pain points on each piece of equipment.

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