Keep It Pumping

Performing Preventative Maintenance Helps Prevent Pump Downtime

While it’s often the most neglected part of the owner’s manual, preventative maintenance checks and services can thwart major problems down the pipeline. Big problems tend to take longer and cost more. Performing some simple tasks on a regular basis will help keep a pump’s suction strong and the impeller rotating. The following steps will help you get the preventative process started.

Once A Day

Start each day with a pump inspection to ensure it’s ready to run. Checking the quality and level of engine oil ranks among the most important daily checks. An insufficient amount of oil can cause serious problems and ultimately decrease the life of an engine. If the oil level is below what is recommended by the manufacturer, oil should be added until the specified level is reached.

Examine the engine exterior, as well, and look underneath it for evidence of oil or fuel leaks. If a fluid is dripping, inspect the area for any parts that may need to be tightened or replaced. Move on to check the rest of the machine for broken bolts or nuts or other loose parts.

Checking the condition of the air filter is another important daily maintenance practice that can prevent significant damage. A clogged, wet, dirty or damaged air filter can lead to a loss in power and shorten the life of an engine by allowing dirt or water into sensitive areas.

Inspect the condition of the hoses regularly, as well. If they are worn, frayed or have any holes, the air gaps will likely cause the pump to lose suction. Patch any frayed areas, seal leaking joints and ensure the gasket connecting the hose and pump is tight. A severely worn hose should be replaced.

The most important thing to remember for daily maintenance is priming the pump before starting. Running a pump dry will damage the seals, which can start a domino effect of problems. When it comes to self-priming pumps, remember: Just add water. The term “self-priming” may be considered a misnomer – the operator must add water to the pump each time it is used. The pump will then take over, build pressure within the volute and begin discharging.

One more thing to check before starting a pump is the area where it will be placed. Ensure the pump is on level ground. If it is set on a slope, the fluids will not be evenly distributed, which will affect oil lubrication and fuel levels. Position the pump away from combustible materials, such as dried leaves and brush, since gasoline engines and mufflers get very hot and could possibly spark and ignite the material.

The U.S.D.A. Forest Service requires a spark arrester on pumps operating in a dry or wooded area. Although it’s rarely a problem, a clogged filter on a spark arrester could prevent the device from operating as intended. Should it need to be cleaned, wait until the engine has cooled, then carefully use a wire brush to unclog the screen. Before reinstalling it, check for any breaks or holes in the screen, which indicates that it needs to be replaced.

Counting the Hours

Once the pump has been readied to start the day, get right to work. Remember, though, that other maintenance checks and services will still need to be done — just on a less frequent basis. Generally, quality pump engines can be expected to last a thousand hours or more. Following recommended maintenance schedules can increase that length of time.

A few things need to be checked a couple of times a month, other items even less frequently. For instance, clean the air filter semimonthly by pulling out the paper filter, when present, and tapping it against a hard surface to remove excess dirt. Never use an air compressor to clean the filter because it can tear holes in the paper medium. If the unit uses a foam filter, pull it out to wash with soap and water. Add some oil to the filter and squeeze out any excess before reinstalling it.

Check the spark plugs semimonthly, as well, by looking for damage or excessive carbon build-up. Fouled spark plugs can cause a decrease in power and poor starting performance. Clean spark plugs coated with a considerable amount of carbon with a wire brush or spark plug cleaner. If the buildup seems excessive, it may be a sign of a worn engine, which could be caused by a broken piston ring, an incorrect fuel-air mixture or bad carburetor, weak spark voltage, a lack of air cleaner maintenance or an intake or exhaust valve that’s not seating properly. Check the electrode gap on the spark plugs, as well, ensuring it still meets the manufacturer’s specifications, and adjust as needed. Replace any spark plugs with cracked porcelain immediately.

Additionally, it is important to clean and inspect the fuel strainer and fuel filter every month on a pump equipped with these. Contaminated fuel that is not removed can lead to trouble with engine starts. Replacing the fuel line and carburetor is expensive, so it is essential to prevent unnecessary damage caused by contaminated fuel.

On an annual basis, inspect the pump for dirty, broken or misaligned parts. Such parts can cause problems with the engine or pump components. Thoroughly inspecting the entire machine gives the most comprehensive view of what needs to be cleaned and repaired.

Dusty conditions typically shorten the length of time between regular services since extreme dust can clog filter elements or contaminate fuel and oil. Adjust regular maintenance schedules as needed to account for less-than-optimal conditions.

Following specific timelines in the owner’s manual will keep maintenance services from being neglected. All in all, preventative maintenance will help a pump achieve its full life expectancy — possibly more — and provide a better return on investment.
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