Keep It Pumping
Regular maintenance helps avoid pump downtime
It has been said, "You don't know what you've got until it's gone." This saying can be all too familiar to anyone who has ever neglected a pump. A dependable pump is not truly appreciated when it is working properly, but that dependability is missed if a pump's performance declines, or worse, if it stops working altogether. To avoid pump downtime and the subsequent headaches, a preventive maintenance program must be followed.
It is important to perform a daily pump inspection. Among the most important daily checks are the quality and level of engine oil. Contaminated oil can cause serious problems and decrease the life of an engine; likewise if there is an insufficient amount of it. Change or add oil if necessary to reach the manufacturer-recommended level.
Check the gasoline level as well, making sure the tank is full, or at least full enough for the day's usage. Also, look for any evidence of fuel or oil leaks. If a fluid is dripping, inspect the area for any parts that may need to be tightened or replaced.
Cleaning or possibly changing the air filter is another important practice that can prevent significant damage down the pipeline. A clogged, wet, dirty or damaged air filter can lead to a loss of power and shorten the life of an engine by allowing dirt or water into sensitive areas. A foam filter can be cleaned and reused, so it is fine to check daily. A paper air filter, on the other hand, should always be replaced upon removal. It is best to follow the recommended schedule to replace paper air filters in a timely fashion.
Inspect the condition of hoses regularly. If they are worn, frayed or have any holes, the air gaps likely will cause the pump to lose suction. Patch any holes and seal leaking joints. A severely worn hose should be replaced. Finally, check the rest of the machine for broken bolts, nuts or loose parts.
Of all the preoperation checks, perhaps the most important thing to remember for daily maintenance is to prime the pump before starting it. Running a pump dry will damage the seals, causing a chain reaction of further problems. If it is a self-priming pump, simply add water. The term "self-priming" is somewhat of a misnomer, as water must be added to the pump each time it is used. The pump will then take over, build pressure within the volute and begin discharging.
Once the pump has been prepped, it is ready to go to work. In addition to daily checks, a pump requires some less-frequent maintenance checks and service that are crucial to the pump's life and should be done on a regular basis. Generally, quality pump engines can operate up to 2,500 hours, and following recommended maintenance schedules can only increase that time and the pump's return on investment.
A few things need to be checked a couple of times a month, others even less frequently. Dirty spark plugs can cause a decrease in power and poor starting performance, so they should be checked semimonthly for dirt, damage or excessive carbon buildup. Clean spark plugs with a wire brush or spark plug cleaner. Immediately replace any with cracked porcelain.
Additionally, it is important to clean and inspect the fuel strainer and fuel filter every month. Fuel can become contaminated during operation, and if it 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, give the pump a thorough inspection for dirty, broken or misaligned parts. Such parts can cause problems with the engine or pump components. Inspecting the entire machine gives the most comprehensive view of what needs to be cleaned and repaired.
It is also worth noting that dusty conditions typically shorten the length of time between regular services, as extreme dust can clog filter elements or contaminate fuel and oil. Depending on the pump's environment, maintenance schedules may need to be adjusted to accommodate for less-than-optimal conditions.
Tips for Troubleshooting
Even with a regular, proper preventive maintenance program, pumps may still experience problems. This is unfortunate, but common. Knowing what to look for and addressing it quickly will keep the problem from turning into a more expensive, time-intensive repair.
If a pump simply will not run, the culprit is likely the impeller or engine. If the impeller is sticking, disassemble it, clean it and reinstall it.
As for the engine, several different things could affect it and prevent it from starting. The first thing to check is the spark plug. If it is dirty, clean it. If it is damaged, replace it. If it is clean and damage free, connect it to the plug cap and ground the plug against the engine body. Pull the starter to see if the spark is weak or nonexistent. If a new plug does not spark, the ignition system is faulty and will need repairs.
The engine also might not start if the spark plug is loose or if the plug is wet with fuel. If the spark plug is wet, check to see that the fuel cock is closed. If so, close the choke lever and pull the starter handle a half-dozen times to see if the electrode becomes wet. If it does, the problem may be that the fuel is stale, in which case it should be drained and replaced with fresh fuel. If the electrode is dry, the problem may be with the fuel intake of the carburetor. Try to see where the fuel stops in the engine.
A number of other things could cause a pump not to self-prime. Start by checking the air on the suction side of the pump and tighten the suction hose or pipe if needed. Check the drain plug as well to ensure that it has been tightened completely. Insufficient water inside the pump casing also will prevent the pump from priming.
Engine speed also can affect pumping volume. If the pumping volume has dropped, check the wear on the impeller, and see if the suction hose may be too thin or too long, or retighten any loose parts on the suction chamber. This also might be caused by a high suction lift that would need to be lowered, water leaking from the water passage, a broken mechanical seal or a drop in engine output or speed.
Adopting a proactive preventive approach ensures that crucial maintenance services will not be neglected, preventing a domino effect of problems as the pump goes down, time is lost and repair costs add up. It is simple and straightforward: Pump maintenance now will mean fewer issues later. Following a good maintenance program is among the best and most inexpensive ways to keep a pump flowing.
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