Avoiding Jetter Failure

A proactive maintenance routine will help prevent jetting equipment from breaking down while on a job
Avoiding Jetter Failure
A jetter hose is lowered into a pipe with the use of a tiger tail. The tiger tail is used to prevent the hose from getting damaged as it is going into the pipe and rubbing against sharp edges.

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You’re out on a job using your jetter when it suddenly breaks down. Perhaps you’ve fallen behind on the engine maintenance schedule. Maybe the high pressure causes a worn hose to rupture. Or the unit continues to function, but not at the pressure level needed to get the job done. 

To ensure your jetter doesn’t cost you downtime and remains a reliable piece of equipment over the long term, there are several maintenance practices that contractors should follow regularly. 

“The main thing to do on a daily basis is check the oil in the engine and the pump, make sure it’s up to marks,” says Nick Woodhead, president of US Jetting. 

Other items that are important to monitor daily include the hose, water filter and tires if the jetting unit is on a trailer. 

“The filter is a key part of the jetting package,” Woodhead says. “If you want it working properly, you need to have a clean filter. What people should do is have a checklist so you know you’ve done it all when you send [the jetter] off.”

Getting on a schedule

Often the way the machine is functioning will be the sign that there’s a problem with a component. Woodhead says the 500-hour mark is a good time to carefully inspect the pump and valves if operators want to catch any issues in advance. Otherwise 1,000 hours of use is typically the time when valves and packings need to be replaced. 

“They usually will tell you when something’s wrong. There will be a hammering. Generally speaking, people will run the equipment until there’s a problem,” Woodhead says. “It’s kind of like a car. There are some things that you do at a certain point anyway, whether there’s a problem or not, so you’re not breaking down somewhere.” 

He says jetter operators might have to re-torque pump head bolts occasionally if a pump valve is failing prematurely. 

Chester Axley, national products director for Power Line Industries, says simply following the manufacturer’s recommended service schedule is the best way to maintain machine components that don’t require daily attention. 

“You’ll have a service on the motor, a service on the pump. If it’s a hot-water unit, you’re going to have a service on a burner,” Axley says. “And the guy servicing it should be running it, like we do here. We have a piece of pipe that we stick the hose down and we turn the machine on and watch it work. Now we’re looking for leaks at joints. We’re looking at hoses. Are there any bulges? Is the pump leaking any water? This will stave off getting to the job site and pow, you’ve got a problem.” 

He says with Power Line’s jetting units, for example, the recommended service schedule includes changing engine oil every 50 hours, and changing engine filters and checking spark plugs every 80 hours. The pump oil only has to be changed every 400 hours, but if there’s a problem it can be headed off during the 50- or 80-hour service. 

“Check the pump to make sure the oil isn’t turning milky or looking white,” Axley says. “That’s telling you water is seeping back behind the head of the pump, which is telling you that water seals are wearing out.”

Backup parts on hand

No matter how strictly jetter users adhere to a regular maintenance schedule, there are components that will eventually need to be replaced. Axley recommends operators keep some backup parts on hand in case there is a problem with the jetter while out on a job. 

“If you have what I call a care package on the shelf or in a truck and you have a problem in the field, you’re going to be able to finish the job,” he says. 

That care package should include a high-pressure ball valve, an unloader valve, a safety release valve and, if it’s a hot-water unit, a thermostat and pressure switch. 

“Those are probably the most wearable items. They do break and they do fail,” Axley says. 

Loss of pressure is a strong indicator that a component needs to be replaced. 

“Eventually, the nozzles will wear. If it’s not coming up to pressure, it’s a good sign that’s worn out,” Woodhead says. “The unloader valve, those can go bad. The seat can wear out, dumping water all the time — basically, not getting pressure. If you know what pressure you get with a certain tool and it’s not coming up to pressure, check to make sure it’s not dumping water.”

The lead

Woodhead says the jetting component most vulnerable to wear without proper care is the hose. He recommends using a tiger tail, or any sort of guide, to protect the hose from items that may puncture it. 

Eric Bragg of Bragg Excavating in Marion, Indiana, says his company uses a pipe or sleeve at the point where the jetter hose is entering to protect it as much as possible. He says they also add a lead to the hose. 

“Most of the problems will be on the lead, not the actual hose itself,” Bragg says. “We run a 17-foot lead off the end of our hose. Then you can just take the lead off and replace that instead of having to replace 300 feet of hose.”

Proper training

The training of equipment operators also factors into jetter maintenance. The way an operator runs the equipment can be the difference between a wearable component like the hose lasting for five minutes or 1,000 hours, says Woodhead. 

“Training the operators properly is important because, invariably, if they’re not properly trained you’re going to have problems with the equipment. They do what they see their buddies doing, so you also have to think about who’s training the trainer.”


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