Regular inspections and cleaning will help keep your equipment running smoothly and keep your costs down.

WHAT'S THE MOST expensive thing in your fitness center besides the building itself? The equipment! With a new, good-quality treadmill running at about $8,000, and a good-quality remanufactured treadmill running about $5,000, keeping your equipment in good working order will save a lot of money in the long run.

Treadmills

As the most popular piece of equipment in most facilities, treadmills need attentive care. With daily cleaning, Tim Hipp, president of Wellness Solutions Inc.,estimates that you can find 80 percent of problems before they start.

Sweat. "The No. 1 thing that breaks down equipment is sweat," says Hipp.The acids and salt in sweat cause rust to form and parts to wear out faster. If you don't keep up with the cleaning, your equipment will rust and deteriorate more quickly.

Dust. "The second thing," says Hipp, "is dust getting trapped in a machine by static electricity." When dusts gets underneath a treadmill belt, it causes friction on the wax and shortens the life of the electronic board. Much like a computer fan, the treadmill's fan can't cool the equipment as easily when there is dust build-up -- again, making your equipment wear out more quickly.

The areas around your machines have a huge effect on how dust-free they will stay. Cleaning underneath the treadmills definitely helps. Also, the type of flooring your choose for underneath the treadmills makes a difference. "Carpet is probably the worst [flooring]," says Rich Bumford, service manager for National Fitness Consultants, Rockville, Md. Carpet holds onto the dust, and the treadmill's belt will suck it right into the motor and computer boards. "Tile or wood is the best flooring," hesays. Rubber is good, too. If you have a carpeted floor, adding a rubber mat underneath is a good idea.

You also want to lift the treadmill's hood and vacuum out the inside, keep the belt waxed and generally keep its appearance up. Hipp suggests sliding a thin towel under the treadmill's belt about 3 to 6 inches in to wipe away dust and sweat (using caution to avoid stretching out the belt).

Wear and tear. Roy Greenberg, vice president of Global Fitness, Gardena, Calif., says that keeping up your treadmill is about more than keeping up appearances. "Treadmills generally get the most user traffic and have the most moving parts," he says. "They get the most wear and tear because of this." While preventive maintenance is one key to a long life, replacing certain items that are prone to wear and tear is another. Parts like the belt and deck below the belt, for instance, if not replaced, can create unnecessary strain on the motor and electronics and will eventually cause the machine to fail. "You or your technician can set guidelines on when to replace these based on the amount of use the treadmill gets," says Greenberg.

Bumford, who services a number of military facilities in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, says these treadmills see 14 to 16 hours of continuous use, so they get monthly servicing. Fitness centers with treadmills that getl ess use might be fine with a quarterly service.

Keep an eye on it. As the belt and deck start to wear, they create friction that, in turn, creates an increased need for amps to run the treadmill, and makes the motor work harder to keep up the speed under the weight of the person using it.You can help your technician by checking out equipment yourself weekly. Take the belt, for instance. Is it worn? Are the seams starting to pull apart? If so, it's time to replace the belt. Lift up the belt and look at the running board underneath. Can you see the wood under the laminate showing through? If so, it's time to change the deck. It's much less expensive to replace the deck or the belt than to replace the motor or the electrical components, so it's a good idea to periodically check these. Always make sure to unplug your electrical equipment before inspecting or repairing it.

Weight limits. Another thing that can wear a motor down more quickly than its intended life span is not abiding by the weight requirements of your pieces of equipment. Your equipment, particularly pieces with moving parts, come with a weight limit. The better quality the piece, typically, the higher the weight limit. While you can't, in good conscience, ask a person who exceeds the weight limit to not use a piece of equipment, particularly because they came to you hoping to lose weight, you can keep a special eye on that machine, and be aware that it will prematurely need replacement parts, additional wax, etc.

Equipment placement. Not rotating your equipment can also add to its premature demise. If you find that your members tend to congregate by a certain TV or by a fan, you may want to rotate your equipment so that each piece gets even wear and tear.

Strength equipment

While treadmills and other cardio equipment get a lot of attention in servicing information, other machines have just as critical a servicing need to keep them in good working order. For instance, strength machines, though generally self-contained, need regular lubricant, and tightening of cables, belts and pulleys.

What some may not know is that more lubricant isn't necessarily better. Bumford says that there's a fine line between too little lubricant and not enough. How can you tell? If you see black streaks on your guide rods, you have too much lubricant on them. When you go through your weekly checks, see if your guide rods feel lubricated. If they do, just use a dry cloth to wipe them down. If they don't, dry off the rods, apply lubricant to a towel and then run the towel down the rods.

Time to replace

"The motor generally has the longest lifespan [on a treadmill], if the parts around it are well-maintained," says Greenberg. However, when these parts have worn out their useful life and it's time to replace, you can get a new part directly from the manufacturer, or get one from a vendor who will buy it from the manufacturer for you. You can also choose to purchase a remanufactured part from a vendor that remanufactures equipment. Vendors can provide after-market parts that are just as good or better than the part was when it was originally manufactured, because, often, newer materials are better than the materials available when the part was first made.

Once the final decision to purchase has been made, you'll need to decide whether to trade up with the manufacturer you bought it from originally, or trade it in for remanufactured equipment. While there is no such thing as a Kelly Blue Book for exercise equipment, as long as your equipment is one of the top brands, you'll get a fair market value for your pieces that you want to trade.

Bottom line

You've heard it all before, but the importance of keeping your equipment and facility clean and free of sweat and dust is paramount to keeping your equipment for a long time. Vacuum above, inside and below to get out as much dust as you can.Your members can help to keep the surface area of your equipment clean, too. Encourage them to wipe down the machines after each use. Good habits are hard to break, and when they learn that cleaning will help to keep the equipment in good working order and their membership costs down (due to high repair and replacement costs), they'll surely comply.

Lastly, develop a relationship with a good service technician who will set up a schedule for equipment maintenance. These service calls can repair machines before they break, and keep your members and machines happy for years to come.