With advances in the quality of truck and machine finishes, what’s the best way to protect your equipment investment from a harsh working environment?


Keeping your utility's trucks and power equipment clean can extend their life. But how far do you need to go? With today’s high-tech finishes, is a weekly washdown enough to protect your utility's investment, or will you still benefit from getting out the wax or polish and giving it a little elbow grease?

Brian Baker, owner of B. Baker Construction in Noblesville, Indiana, believes in keeping his equipment clean. He repaints machines that begin to show wear and occasionally will use wax on the finish.

“If I see something that’s starting to get a lot of weather to it, I fix it with some wax or clean it. But typically I don’t use wax. If it gets in bad condition, we strip that machine in the wintertime and repaint it. We degrease everything,” says Baker, whose fleet includes a John Deere bulldozer, three Bobcats, two Case excavators and a backhoe. “The dozer is a 2000, and it’s been repainted once already – all decals, all the stickers go back on it. We have a brand-new machine when I get done.”

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Baker also has a dump truck, flatbed and four-wheel-drive Dodge 5500 service truck, which he might wash five times a week and occasionally waxes. Baker uses a soft-bristle brush and bucket of warm car wash liquid. “If you keep it pretty clean, it stays pretty clean,” he says. “If you never wash it, it takes forever to get it clean.”

The liquid wash and wax Baker uses on his trucks is the same choice for his prized 1969 Plymouth Barracuda convertible and 1972 SS Chevy El Camino muscle cars, which get waxed considerably more often than his trucks.

Is wax necessary? 
Kevin Hershberger, senior market professional for backhoe loaders at Caterpillar, says the latest generation of water-based e-coat paints is designed to meet the 1,000-hour salt spray performance standard. “In general, wax will not hurt, but will not significantly improve the finish quality or life,” he says. “Today’s finishes from cars to Cat machines are significantly improved compared to technology available just 10 years ago. That improvement is delivered through improved pretreatment and final paint.”

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Steve Seabolt, Ditch Witch product manager - CTS & Service parts, says one of the best tips for maintaining a machine’s surfaces is simply to keep it clean. “Abrasives left on the surface will scratch paint when mechanically impacted. Dirt, sand and other soils will scratch the finish. Leaving these soils on equipment also holds moisture against the paint and could hasten corrosion if that soil is acidic or caustic.”

Seabolt says older machines can be repainted by a local dealer or revitalized through the use of Dakota Shine, designed to restore faded surfaces (steel, fiberglass) on Ditch Witch and other equipment.

Finishes vary
John Valasco, global account manager for PPG Industries, says there’s a distinct difference between the paint used on heavy equipment and the clear-coat applied to cars and trucks. Heavy equipment manufacturers use two-component liquid urethane technology for the topcoat and epoxy or urethane primer or some type of hybrid technology, a cross between epoxy and polyester.

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“It’s pretty different from automotive coatings, which, for the most part, are all liquid-based,” he says. Many equipment components are also powder coated. “There is no need for waxing or polishing these coatings,” Valasco says. “It’s not going to provide any real benefit to the end user. The two main functions of any coating are sunlight protection — how long it’s going to maintain its gloss and its color — and corrosion protection. Most of this equipment spends its entire life outside, and in some cases in some very corrosive environments, such as equipment used to apply road salt.”

His recommendation: Just wash it down, but be careful when using a pressure washer when removing tough grease and mud. “There are some cases where it will peel paint away or the topcoat from the primer,” he says.

Go lightly
“What we recommend, from a normal cleaning standpoint, is that the pressure wash is not greater than what your car would see in a typical car wash (between 1,200 and 1,400 psi) and water temperature less than 125 degrees F," Valasco says. He also recommends the spray wand be no closer than 24 inches from the part being cleaned. Large chunks of grease or thick organic material should be wiped, not scraped, off before using a pressure washer.

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Valasco says while the life span of heavy-equipment finishes depends on OEM specifications, the typical target for color change and gloss is two to four years for parts that are not ground-engaging. Depending on how the equipment is used and the environment, Valasco suggests repainting when the machine begins to show wear.

“If you let scratches go on too long, you’re going to degrade the metal itself, and you want to prevent that and make the unit last as long as possible,” he says.

When it comes to extreme dirt and grease removal, Mike Baty, president of Crescent Chemical Co., offers Spatter-Cote Armor-Xtra protection. The product is a mixture of corrosion inhibitors and nonstick polymers applied to equipment surfaces. Originally designed to keep dried concrete from sticking to cement trucks, the water-based coating is sprayed on and lasts up to two weeks. “It’s not a wax, but it saves on labor,” he says.

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Showroom finish
Of course, if you’d like a show car finish for your work truck, Mike Phillips, author of The Complete Guide To A Show Car Shine and director of training at Autogeek.net, says you need to wash, clay and wax.

Although a non-wax finish might be a good sales pitch, today’s clear-coat car and truck finishes (generally found on vehicles built since the mid-1990s) need to be washed and waxed, he says.

“The clear (coat) is paint without pigment; it’s still paint. You still have to wash it, clean it, clay it, polish it, protect it — just like paint on a 1952 Chevy.” 


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