Diagnosing Equipment Problems

Diagnosing Equipment Problems

Written by Diane M. Calabrese | Published May 2024

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The “how to” is important, but so is the “why” when the subject is diagnosing equipment problems.

Let’s start with the why.

For all the valid warnings about care in DIY equipment repairs, an equipment operator should be able to diagnose a problem to distinguish the serious from the transient (or imagined)— transient in the sense that sometimes the problem is not with the equipment.

A line on the grid may go down. There may be a breach in the commercial or residential water supply. And so on.

Consequently, the first thing an operator should do is determine whether the problem is with the machine. If it is, proceed with care.

Somewhere in the space between rushing to the service center because of an unexpected noise or twitch and taking on DIY pump repair, there’s a lot of safe areas to navigate. In such spaces, a machine owner must be able to diagnose accurately enough to ensure what’s going on will not be a threat to the operator.

It’s not only the client that keeps a watchful eye on the contractor. OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] is always there too— not physically, but in terms of the expectations it has for equipment.

All equipment/tools should be in good condition with a record of regular maintenance. Equipment/tools used should be a precise match for the job and damage free. They should only be used in accordance with the instructions of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

OEMs in our industry provide detailed assistance in the form of checklists and videos accessible via the internet. For instance, Mi-T-M Corporation in Peosta, IA, offers “Troubleshooting a Hot Water Pressure Washer–Burner Not Firing Properly” ( https://www.mitm.com/support/ videos/troubleshooting-burner-not-firing-properly).

Such online tools simplify the task of zeroing in on the source of a problem. The next question for the equipment owner is how far to go in tackling the correction for the problem.

Should OSHA inspectors visit a jobsite, which they can do without advance notice, properly functioning equipment is one expectation they will have. That’s the second “why” to keep equipment maintained. The first “why” is to ensure maximum safety for employees.

People move in and out of professional roles. Many contractors have deep expertise in the design and function of their equipment. They can diagnose and manage most issues.

OEMs have a vested interest in ensuring their products are used and maintained properly—so much so that there have been explicit and implicit restrictions on repairs, such that a repair done outside a sanctioned service venue may void a warranty.

State legislatures have been moving to make it law that equipment owners can do their own repairs and still be protected by warranties. To find rule status for a particular state, see the updates by state from the National Conference of State Legislatures ( https://www.ncsl.org/technologyand-communication/right-to-repair2023-legislation). It may surprise some of our readers that California moved very definitively in the direction of supporting DIY efforts in 2023.


“A contractor or equipment owner should have the right to diagnose and repair any issues that may arise, providing they have the correct tools, skills, and knowledge to make the repair,” says Edgar Kron, sales manager at Bozeman Distributors and Cat Pumps, Baton Rouge, LA. That is option one.

If the contractor cannot accomplish the repair, the next move is to take the equipment to a sanctioned facility. “The damaged equipment needs to be taken to an authorized repair facility to prevent further damage and additional repair cost,” explains Kron.

Even the most knowledgeable machine owner must admit limitations. “Know when to say, ‘When,’ especially if the equipment is in the warranty period,” says Kron.

Contractors who get a good start with equipment maintenance learn all they can about their machines. And they do that after they buy what constitutes the best match for the work they do.

“Invest in commercial-duty equipment and find a dealer that will support the product line,” says Kron. “The biggest problem that I see is residential-duty equipment being used in commercial applications.”

The correct equipment for the job is the place to begin. Even then, things happen. What’s a problem that could be avoided by choosing commercial grade over residential grade?

“Most residential power washers have an internal bypass and do not have the option to send the bypass to atmosphere—ground or tank— because the unloader valve is made into the fluid-end or manifold,” says Kron. “With this type of pump, the bypass recirculates. In the fluid-end/ manifold when the spray gun trigger is released, the process of seal damage begins.

“The water, traveling through the pump at high speed, builds up heat due to the friction of the fast-moving water,” continues Kron. “When the pump runs in bypass for more than one to two minutes, the water gets so hot that it flashes to steam and damages the seals or will melt the seals if the unit runs long enough, and the seals no longer hold pressure.”

When the seals will no longer hold pressure, the operator takes notice. And seeks help. “The customer brings the unit in for low pressure and a seal kit repair, which is not covered under warranty,” says Kron. “Seals are a wear item.”

The commercial-grade choice helps prevent the worn seal scenario.

Kron gives us a brief summary of the how.

“By using a commercial-duty pump with an external bypass—separate unloader valve which is not part of the fluid-end/manifold—the customer has the option to bypass to the suction, which can cause seal damage if the unit is not operated properly; or the bypass can go to the ground or back to a supply tank,” says Kron. “By choosing this option, water is constantly going over the pump seals, keeping them cool, and prevents seal damage in most cases.

“This option does not totally prevent seal damage, but it helps to prevent seal damage over the long term if the pump is set up correctly,” continues Kron. “The water going through the pump acts as a coolant as well as a lubricant to keep the seals cool and lubricate the ceramic plungers moving through the seals.”

The more an owner knows about the machine, the better, even if DIY is not in the picture. “We do provide a checklist within our owner’s manual,” says Kron. “Realistically, most people never read the owner’s manual.”

Knowing the human tendency to skim across instructions, Kron takes a personal approach. “I try to educate every customer on the proper setup and operation of the unit either in the selling process or before the unit leaves our showroom.”

For Kron, the interaction with customers does not end there. “I am always available by phone or email to troubleshoot any issues that may arise. I have answered many texts and phone calls on a Saturday morning with first-time power washer owners.”

And if the problem cannot be resolved by phone? “I ask the customer to return the unit for in-house service where we can hook up the unit to diagnose the problem and get the unit repaired,” says Kron.


How many will admit to having severed a piece of tape from a roll by using one’s teeth? That’s a dental no-no, and the dentist will not be fooled. Equipment, like teeth, should be used as designed.

Tugging at a pressure washer hose or cord or pulling a machine by its hose or cord are errant ways certain to cause injury to the machine. Working around sharp corners and edges without care could damage hoses and cords. Not cleaning a machine, yanking a cord from a receptacle, or inspecting a machine without shutting down the power source—all lead to trouble.

Care in use of pressure washers and ancillaries is second in importance only to deploying the correct machine for a job. The worst kind of equipment problems are those that were entirely avoidable.

As for diagnosing problems, each equipment owner must decide how far to go it alone. Don’t overestimate expertise. On the other hand, don’t start texting the dealer before verifying that the machine has been turned on.

For DIY, an equipment owner must have the proper tools. And the owner must also weigh the time a self-diagnosis will take against any pause in completing work at customers’ sites. To be able to work uninterrupted, a professional contract cleaner should have more than one machine in service. That allows for routine maintenance and occasional repairs without a disruption to the work schedule.

To sum it up: Buy the grade of machine that is a match for the type of work being done. Read the instructions from the OEM and/or distributor. Listen carefully to any instructions provided by the sales representative. Ask questions if there are questions. Know the limitations of the machine and the owner—and do not exceed either of them. Work with an authorized service department on repairs.

Prudence may not lead to perfect outcomes every time, but it does ensure great periods of tranquility on the job

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