Several years ago, I worked in a large office that relied heavily on several HP LaserJet 4SI and 5SI MX printers, which are now extinct. These dinosaurs were big, fast, and required a lot of maintenance. At the time, HP sold maintenance kits for these printers that consisted of things like new rollers and fusers. Although the maintenance kits cost about $70, the company also contracted to have a service technician come in and perform the maintenance. After watching the service tech, however, I learned that printer maintenance was actually fairly simple, and I was later able to save the company a lot of money by doing the maintenance myself.

Today, printer replacement parts don’t cost near what they did in the early 1990s. You can save quite a bit of money by buying the parts and installing them yourself. In fact, the more printers your organization has the more you can save. Here are a few of the secrets of printer maintenance that I’ve discovered over the years.

One member’s real-world story
Before I begin with my instructions, I’d like to share the experiences of Joyce M., a system administrator from Canada who works for a catalog company with offices in the US, Canada, and the UK. She recently wrote to us about how she replaced the rollers on her organization’s HP4000 laser printers. “When [your printer] won’t pick up paper in the drawer, then its time to replace the feed rollers,” Joyce wrote. “We used to pay $75 for a service call and $20 for each HP roller. (They used to change two rollers.)”

Joyce didn’t think about doing the job herself until she watched the repair technician perform his maintenance one day. “This is so simple that it’s crazy not to do this yourself, ” Joyce wrote. Joyce reports that she now buys generic rollers for $8 and changes them herself.

“The generic parts don’t last as long as the OEM part but it is still cost effective to use the generics and to avoid paying a hefty service call,” Joyce wrote. “I also change each roller as it is needed instead of changing both at the same time. This way you get more life out of the rear roller. What used to cost us $115 now costs $16. This can add up to significant savings in a short period of time.”

Keep it clean
If you’re working on a laser printer, there’s usually a significant amount of toner dust inside the printer. This excess toner can make the paper slip or stick if it gets on the rollers, causing stray marks on the paper. I recommend removing the toner cartridge and vacuuming the inside of the printer. Just be sure to unplug the printer first.

Change the rollers
Next, I would recommend swapping out the pick-up rollers. The process varies depending on what type of printer you have. The larger HP printers use clip-on rollers, which have a small tab on the end of the roller. If you squeeze this tab, the roller will slide right off of the axle. You can then squeeze the tab on the replacement roller to put it on.

The lower-end HP printers, such as the LaserJet 1100, typically use smaller clips or screws to hold the rollers into place. For example, in Figure A, you can see the white clip that holds the pick-up roller.

Figure A
The LaserJet 1100 uses a white clip to hold the rollers in place.

Replace the fuser
The fuser is what melts the toner to the paper. Over time, the fuser’s wax rollers can become cracked, causing poor image quality. Typically, these cracks are caused by severe paper jams. I’ve also seen a few fusers destroyed by stray paper clips or staples.

The tricky thing about replacing a fuser is that it gets really hot—especially on high-speed printers. So give the printer adequate time to cool down before changing the fuser, and wear gloves if needed. You can see the heat warning on the Laser Jet 1100 fuser, shown in Figure B.

Figure B
Heed the warning: The fuser can get very hot.

A fuser is held in by four screws, which are easy to remove. However, you may need to remove the toner cartridge and several rollers before you can get to the fuser. Of course, this varies among the different models of printers. Just remember to watch out for the heat and make sure that you put the printer pieces back together in the correct order when you’re finished.

As you can see, it’s easy to perform printer maintenance yourself. Doing so can also save you a fortune in labor and parts in the long run. And the more printers your organization has, the more you will save.