Maintenance Shop: Keep on trenchin’

March 12, 2021 -  By
People servicing a trencher (Photo: Tom Zullo/ATZ Irrigation)

Know what to maintain Trencher maintenance can be broken down into three parts: the engine, hydraulics and service parts. (Photo: Tom Zullo/ATZ Irrigation)

Keeping up with maintenance may seem like a simple thing when it comes to trenchers, but it will pay dividends.

“The more you overlook, the more costly it is going to be,” says Tom Zullo, owner of ATZ Irrigation. “With some of these things, you can basically stop the wear and tear.”

ATZ Irrigation serves a 60 percent residential and 40 percent commercial clientele in the Odessa, Fla., area.

The easiest way to approach trencher maintenance is through three main categories: engine, hydraulics and service parts, says Brant Kukuk, Ditch Witch compact equipment product marketing manager. Contractors should look at the trencher’s hour meter and refer to the operator’s manual to understand what components need to be serviced when.

“Hold on to that manual near and dear,” Kukuk says. “Put a calendar reminder on your phone. I would expect that machine to hit 200 hours in three months. Put up a reminder to help you with those intervals.”

What to check in the engine and hydraulic system

Walk-behind trencher engines are air cooled. Kukuk says it’s important to keep the air filters clean and change the engine oil.

“If those two components (the air filter and oil) fail, you could fail an engine pretty easily,” he says.

And, when it comes to hydraulic fluid, keep an eye on your trencher’s hour meter.

“The hydraulic interval will creep up on you, and before you know it, you’ve got 1,000 hours on your machine, and you’re still using the same oil,” Kukuk says.

What to check with service parts

Crews should walk around the trencher before use to ensure elements such as the track rubber, the chain tension and sprockets are in working order and do not need replacing. Zullo says his crews also check the trencher’s control levers and neutral start so that the digging chain stops when the operator pulls the control lever.

“It’s a simple five-minute walk around,” Kukuk says. “Every day, you should be watching those components, making sure they’re not needing to be replaced.”

Additionally, don’t neglect the grease on bearings because it can lead to bearing failure and cause shaft damage if the bearing fails.

“That’s going to get extremely costly if you’re replacing more than just the bearings,” Kukuk says. “Grease is fairly cheap in comparison to those parts that are rotating on every piece of equipment you own.”

Chain maintenance is another area that’s important to clean and maintain. Zullo says he learned the hard way with his Vermeer RTX200, RTX250 and RTX150 walk-behind tracked trenchers. His mechanic was spending a lot of time working on them.

“We have 15 of those trenchers, and we’ve found that once a week, spraying the dirt out helps maintain it a lot better,” he says. “Otherwise, the dirt gets in the bearings, and the bearings wear down quicker. It’s just spraying out the tracks once a week and cleaning out the wheels. If you don’t keep those clean, the wear and tear on those could cost you double what it would be if you maintained them.”

While maintenance may seem time-consuming, Kukuk says it’s important to look at service and neglect as a cost either way. While it may cost time to service the machine, the machine itself will last longer, which saves money in the end. Neglect will slow your equipment and crews down.

“It’s still going to cost you no matter what,” Kukuk says. “It’s going to cost you labor because you’re spending four hours on that trench, where you could have done two or three trenches that day, but your machine wasn’t running that well because you’re neglecting the service parts.”

Christina Herrick

About the Author:

Christina Herrick is the editor of Landscape Management magazine. Known for her immersive approach to travel from coast to coast in her previous stint as senior editor of American Fruit Grower Magazine, she uses social media (Twitter/Instagram @EditorHerrick) to share her experiences on the road with her audience. Herrick has a degree in journalism from Ohio Northern University. She can be reached at

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