The bitter-sweet nature of hydraulics maintenance

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Last week I bought a used SUV. And the plan is to do some touring with the family. Starting with a trip across the Nullarbor Plain from West to East. It's a BIG trip. If you spend 12 hours a day in the car driving, you can cover the distance in four days.

But the Nullarbor is a desolate place. There's not much out there. You're real lucky if you see a kangaroo or emu between gas stations. And they're hundreds of miles apart. It's certainly not somewhere you want to breakdown (even more unacceptable for me, being a preventative maintenance guy, and knowing if something lets go on the car, I'm REALLY going to cop it in the neck from the wife!).

So to minimize the possibility of any nasty (and embarrassing) surprises in the middle of the desert, I took my newly acquired but pre-loved SUV down to the Automobile Association for a thorough workshop inspection. I dropped it off in the morning and when I arrived to collect it later that day, I could see it was still up on the hoist.

I knew all was not well when the inspecting mechanic invited me out into the workshop. When we get underneath the vehicle the first thing he points to is a broken front diff mount. While I'm thinking to myself: "Wow ... that's not very cool", he shows me a lower front ball joint that's shot. Strike two. Now I'm thinking: "Enough already". Mercifully, there was no strike three.

Of course, the ideal outcome from any maintenance inspection or predictive maintenance task is to find nothing wrong. But on the other hand, the discovery of a defect or cause for alarm totally vindicates performance of the task. It's a bitter-sweet outcome.

And since the above issues are not the sort of problems you can fix on the side of the road with only a fistful of ring spanners, ignorance is NOT bliss. So based on the philosophy of 'a stitch in time saves nine', the $185 I proactively invested to have my SUV inspected has potentially saved me thousands. And that's without considering the likely stress and inconvenience a breakdown would cause.

The other thing this story illustrates is, what you do by way of proactive and predictive maintenance is at least in part determined by the cost and consequences of failure.

So, your mission should you choose to accept it, is to determine what you should be doing by way of proactive maintenance for the hydraulic equipment you own or are responsible for. And make sure it's all up to date.

Related articles:

Hydraulic maintenance lessons from the Qantas mid-air emergency
How well do YOU know YOUR hydraulic equipment?
Hydraulic equipment reliability - begin with the end in mind

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