Adventures in Owning a Happy CAT 302.5C

According to the great Facebooks and internets tracking powers watching all big things in our lives. Back in July of 2013 Michelle and I bought a CAT 302.5C mini Excavator to assist our obsession of burring money around the property. I call burring money / throwing money in the ground what others might call installing all of the infrastructure to support the home. Once you fill in hole and cover up 00 gauge wires, or fiber optic cables, or 3″ conduits, or waters lines, or concrete structures, or gravel, or drainage things, or ETC you have in essence thrown money in the ground to never see it again. We’re run a few miles of cable and conduit and pipe around the property over the last few years, and buried a few concrete things. The results of the money in the ground are nice, but it’s still throwing money in the ground.

The story of some of the repair adventures owning an Excavator

Picture of Dad towing the Excavator home from Kitsap Tractor & Equipment

Other than one time I needed a brand new Blue Mini Cooper S, because they are RAD, the excavator is the most expensive moving object I’ve ever purchased. It’s a moving object used to move other large objects, dig holes, push over tress, flip cars if you’re my Oldest son, and grade areas. The Machine, as we call it, takes a great deal of abuse and keeps on running because it is designed to be abused and we invest time in care and maintenance. Even with great care, we’ve still managed to bust it up a few times.

The machine came to us with 900 hours on it, and it has about 1900 hours on it now. During our hours we’ve replaced one hydraulic hose that exploded, one hose clamp that made me cry, the boom arm base broke and need to be wielded back together, the thumb cylinder was rebuilt, and the fuel pumps were replaced. All in all, about 1200$ in unplanned maintenance. The most frustrating and adventurous part of the maintenance is the repair manual. Cat charges 650$ for the manual, and there is no third party provider for a less expensive option. I’ve opted to forgo purchasing the manual. Instead relying on good troubleshooting, logic, and guessing for most of the repairs. Thanks Dad for teaching me how things work, and how to learn to fix things, and giving me the confidence to fix large greasy mechanical objects.

The one that made me cry

The one that made me cry was a bad morning. I had to call dad and have him talk me off of the ledge; I took some calming. The next day when I finally took it all apart and worked out root cause I was elated. Called dad again, this time super excited. The tracks on an excavator are powered by a hydraulic motor in each track called the Final drive motor. For a Mini Excavator they start at about 3k each rebuilt. One morning I’m driving the machine from the front to the back of the house and I notice a fluid trail originating from the left side track. I stopped the machine, lifted the left side up and rolled the track forward. Fluid poured out of the plate holding the final drive in place. Seeing the fluid discharge my heart sank and I cried abit because my toy was busted and it was going to cost days, and thousands to fix.

Sad face fluids leaking all over the place.

I was far too distraught to work on the machine until the next day. The Excavator, when the boom is working, acts as its own jack. You simply put the bucket to the side and lift the machine up. Big chunks of wood make descent jack stands because it’s never a good idea to hold something up with Hydrolic pressure when you are messing with hydolic hoses capable releasing the pressure. The metal plate protecting the final drive was simple enough to remove. Once removed the problem was pretty obviously not the final drive. It was something much simpler and cheaper to repair. The low pressure overflow line on the drive slipped off. To fix it I replaced the hose clamp, shoved it back on, tighten the clamp, added some fluid to the hydraulic reservoir and was back in working order.

Happy face simple fix of putting the low pressure hose back. Winning!

The one where the boom broke

The boom breaking was another one failure screaming finically pain that ended up not too bad in the end. At the base of the boom is a basically a big thick pipe with a bushing in it where the boom pivots. The factory wields between the boom and pipe failed. I noticed it when the boom started to tilt to the side while I was rolling to a new position. Glad it did not completely fail because it could have come up wand hit me removing my face like in the movie face off. My hope was for Trenton to be able to wield it back together, but it was a bit above his head at the time. He enlisted someone more experienced to help who turned out to be too busy. The first shop I called quoted me 2k. I contacted Cat next who was willing to warranty the part but they would have to send it to Germany where it was made to fix it. The next place I called, Western Machine Works in Tacoma, quoted me 600$ to fix it with availably to finish in a few days.

Sad busted boom

The boom weighs about 1500 pound without a bucket, and has 8 hydraulic hoses ruining its length requiring removal. Trenton and a friend came over and assisted removing the hoses. Then Dad dropped off the bigger machine, Case CX50, to remove the boom and place it on a trailer. The boom came off pretty easily. Lifted a bit to remove the pressure then knock the pin out and up it went. We rolled the trailer under the boom, lowered it down and were ready to haul it out for repairs. The kids and I hauled the boom to Tacoma and dropped it off start of the week. End of the week were back picking it up all shiny and new.

Cx50 lifting the boom of the 302.5c

Western Machine did some beautiful repair work. They ground the boom to a clean round base, cleaned the pipe, welded the pieces together, then rolled and welded a ½ steel plate around the base to ensure it never breaks again. I ordered 2 cans of CAT yellow to paint everything before putting it back together. Western Machine thought that same thing and painted the weld for me. Such great work, and attention to detail. Very pleased with their service.

Boom all fixed up and repainted to match

The where the machine ran out of fuel

After the boom was fixed the Machine provided us with a few more hours of no issue then it started to die like it was running out of fuel. This is where having a manual would have been nice. I kind of understand diesel engines and I can look up how the fuel system works. Lacking a manual with a diagram meant tracing and guessing at the parts. I replaced the low pressure and high pressure fuel pumps without mitigating the issue of machine running for 20 seconds before running out of fuel. The low pressure pump I had to take in to the shop to work out what it was. I was thinking a pressure regulator diaphragm, but they told me it was a pump. I started at the injectors and traced the parts back to the tank. The Low pressure pump did not make sounds so it was replaced. Nope. Then the high pressure pump was replaced, nope. Water separator fuel filter was replaced, nope. Basic trouble shooting told me something had to wrong at the fuel pickup in the tank.

Took me a month to make the time and find the motivation to check in the fuel tank. The fuel intake is under a steel plate holding the seat and controls. It did not look fun at all to take off, and it required a few tools I did not own yet. Once I was motivating and putting grease to hands it only took an hour to remove the place and pull the intake. Sure enough the intake was coated in grim. Cleaned it, put it back in and the machine started right up with no fuel issues. I’m thinking the fuel pump burnt itself out trying to pull through the grim. The pump was bad when I replaced it. I added power to it and it made no sounds via stethoscope. The new one made sounds you can hear when you turn the key. The filter before and after picture below tells the tale clear enough.

Fuel intake filter before and after cleaning


We’ve spent 3 years developing the property we call home and plan on adding more over buildings and infrastructure over the next 3-5. Renting a machine, or borrowing from dad, every time we needed a machine would have been a night mare. The machine was not cheap to buy, and repairs can make you cry, but’s it’s been worth it for the freedom and opportunities. Having it here all the time to dig or move things on demand has allowed us to build, support, and develop a better home. Not sure why everyone does not own one of these things? If we someday decide we don’t want the machine we’ll be able to sell it for close purchase price because well maintained machines don’t depreciate much in real life, like they do with accrual methods.




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