Using these heavy machines requires a degree of finesse. Brush up on the basics.
Bulldozers have the muscle to move heavy materials with ease. But driving any type of bulldozer—wheel dozer, crawler or mini bulldozer—can be challenging, even for experienced operators. The best way to learn how to operate a bulldozer is to take a training course. If you need a quick refresher, here are the basic steps.
Inspect the bulldozer
Inspect the bulldozer before and after you use it. Look for leaks and visible damage such as cracks, dents and wear. Top off the fuel, oil, coolant, transmission oil and hydraulic fluids, and check air filters and grease fittings. Because vibrations can loosen doors and latches, check to make sure doors can be securely closed and locked so they won’t swing open while you drive. Preventive dozer maintenance helps you avoid downtime and expensive repairs.
Enter the bulldozer
Maintain three points of contact when climbing into the cab using the safety rails and steps. Don’t step on the tracks or your boot might get stuck in the teeth (grousers). Fasten your seatbelt once seated.
Start the bulldozer
With your foot on the brake, put the key in the ignition and turn it right until the engine turns over. This should happen on the first try, but if the engine is stubborn, release the key and try again in a few minutes. You could flood the engine if you turn the key for too long. Let the machine idle to warm up the engine.
Drive the bulldozer
Here’s how to drive a bulldozer.
- Turn the speed control down. It is typically located on the left joystick.
- Turn the throttle knob right to the run position. It’s usually located near the ignition on the right side of the cab.
- Push the left joystick forward to drive, back to reverse, right or left to change direction.
- Engage the decelerator pedal and shift the left joystick to the neutral position to stop.
Control the blade and ripper
The dozer’s blade and claw-like ripper (located behind the cab on some models) do the heavy work of breaking up and moving dirt. Here’s how to control these parts of the dozer:
- Adjust the blade height. Move the right joystick forward to lower it and backward to raise it.
- If the ground is uneven, angle the blade to the lower side by moving the right joystick right or left.
- Angle the blade to the right or left using the control button or dial on the right joystick.
- Engage the ripper by pulling the ripper joystick back. It’s typically located behind the right-hand joystick.
Test the controls for any sudden or jerky movements before you begin working and troubleshoot any mechanical issues.
Shut down the bulldozer
When your work is complete, follow these steps to safely shut down the bulldozer:
- Lower the blade and ripper to the ground.
- Turn the throttle left to the lowest setting.
- Put the left joystick in the neutral position.
- Set the parking brake.
- Let the engine idle for 10 minutes to gradually cool it.
- Turn the key left to the off position and remove it.
- Exit the machine using three points of contact.
How to adjust the tracks on a bulldozer
If you’re using a tracked dozer, it’s important to regularly monitor the track tension. If a track is loose, it could slip off the rollers. Too much tension, on the other hand, can cause excessive wear and tear on the engine, power loss and torn tracks.
Follow these steps to adjust the tracks on a bulldozer:
- Coast the bulldozer to a stop without using the brakes.
- Park and turn off the engine.
- Brush dirt and debris from the track.
- Lay a straight edge or string from the grousers on the front idler to the sprocket.
- Measure the distance from string to grouser tip at the lowest point of the sag. If your dozer has a carrier roller between the idler and sprocket, measure both sides and calculate the average.
- Check the operator’s manual to find the recommended sag for your model, usually 2 to 3 inches.
- If you need to adjust the track, find the hydraulic adjustment valve.
- To tighten, add grease to the valve. Run the machine back and forth. Remeasure until proper tension is achieved.
- To loosen, turn the valve slowly to release some grease. Close the valve when you reach the correct track tension.
The details will vary depending on the make and model of your bulldozer. If you want to know how to adjust the tracks on a John Deere dozer, for example, refer to the operator’s manual.
Bulldozer operation safety tips
Accidents are possible when operating any heavy equipment. To minimize the risks, follow these safety tips:
- Wear PPE such as a hard hat, safety goggles, a safety vest, work gloves and steel-toed boots.
- Surveil your surroundings for obstacles and personnel. Stay well away from power lines and water lines.
- If a door opens during operation, park the dozer before closing it.
- Travel at slow speeds to maintain control.
- Use shorter cuts so you don’t overload the dozer and wear down the machine.
- On slopes, doze at an angle. Start from the bottom on steep slopes.
Bulldozers make fast work of clearing and leveling. Brushing up on how to operate a bulldozer will help you stay safe and productive.
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