Maintaining a Compact Track Loader's Undercarriage and Tracks
Maintaining and replacing common undercarriage wear parts and tracks is critical in getting the most hours and longest life from your compact track loader. Neglecting warning signs associated with failing undercarriage components will cost you dearly down the road in downtime, as well as a more expensive repair bill. That's why it's important to make sure all of your operators know what to inspect, how to maintain the undercarriage and when to replace the tracks on your compact track loader.
Undercarriage Maintenance and Repair
Your compact track loader doesn't sit around on the job very often. It is one of the most versatile machines in your fleet, which means it gets worked hard and has a lot of hours put on it each week. All that work can have an adverse impact on your machine's undercarriage, so it's important that you're paying attention the maintenance needs of your machine. The best direction you can follow, or pass along to your operators, is to dedicate a half hour each week inspecting the condition of the undercarriage. It can be done during routine daily maintenance.
A compact track loader's undercarriage consists of four common wear parts: The front idler, bottom rollers, rear idler and sprockets. Out of these parts, the sprockets will wear the most quickly. The type of application, and the working environment, will impact how quickly your compact track loader's sprockets will wear out, so it's important that you take that into consideration when you're evaluating when to replace them on your machine. When you're inspecting the undercarriage, look for hooked or pointed sprocket teeth on your idlers. You want the teeth to be round; if yours are not, it's probably time to replace them.
Also, a lot of contractors will often replace their sprockets when replacing a machine's tracks because a worn set of sprockets can quickly tear the drive links out of the tracks. This is not covered under warranty and could cost you thousands of dollars out-of-pocket to repair or replace, depending on the machine.
When you turn your attention to the idler and rollers, you want to look for fluid or moisture leaking around the seals. These components are sealed and lubricated, so they should not be leaking. Leaking can lead to bearing failure, which will cause the idler or roller to seize. Heat is also another indicator that a seal or bearing are failing. This is because there will be more friction, causing heat, when an idler or roller is losing lubricant.
If there is evidence of wear to your machine's idlers or rollers, take the tension off of the rollers by getting the machine lifted into the air and wiggle the components to see how much play there is from side-to-side. There shouldn't be any; if there is, you should replace the worn part.
Track Maintenance and Replacement
Because track life is very dependent upon usage, operations and application sites, it is impossible to estimate a track life expectancy. However, there are a few things you can do in the way of preventative maintenance to prevent premature wear and tear.
Start by actively monitoring your unit's track tension on a regular basis. Loose tracks can de-track, and over-tightening may cause power loss, excessive roller and idler bearing wear, as well as tearing of the tracks.
When you're operating the loader, alternate during direction from one side to the other. Continuous turning to the same side can accelerate wear of sprocket teeth, track tread, guide lugs and roller flanges. Also, make sure you're using the loader's engine power and lift/tilt hydraulics to dig into the material when filling a bucket to minimize the spinning of tracks. The unnecessary spinning of the tracks can accelerate wear or cut tracks. Also, certain operating surfaces will accelerate the wear to your tracks.
As part of your undercarriage inspection, be sure to pay attention to your tracks' condition. Look for blatant defects like exposed cables or chunks of rubber missing. Exposed cable will put addition stress from the elements on that area causing it to breakdown faster than rest of the track. It's a good idea to get a new track ordered when that occurs so that you can minimize your downtime.
You also want to look for wear on the track's links on the underside of the track. A lot of times when a track is nearing the end of its life, it will lose links. The loader will still operate, but it won't be as effective, and the track will slip because there's a link missing.
Even if you're careful, and your tracks do not get damaged from sharp objects, the tread will eventually wear down, no longer allowing you to achieve the same level of performance you've come to expect. That's a good indication you've gotten every possible hour out of them, and it is time for a replacement set.
Before running out to your dealer to buy a set of replacement tracks, spend some time looking at all your options, especially if you think your tracks may have prematurely worn out. There are many compact track loaders on the market other than those sold by OEMs, and many may be a better fit for your specific application. The right tread pattern will make you more productive and last longer.
When it is time to replace these common wear parts or a set of tracks, it's tempting to simply look to the OEM for replacement parts, but you'll likely be overpaying. Most compact equipment dealers carry aftermarket undercarriage parts and tracks, or they will special order them if you request them. MWE works with compact equipment dealers around the country, supplying them with quality sprockets, idler, rollers and tracks. You can also go online to find what you're looking for if you're willing to do the work yourself. And, most undercarriage parts and tracks are easy to replace and can be done on the job. With a little effort, you can save up to half of what you would spend on OEM parts.
No one likes having to invest in maintenance, repair and replacing worn out components, but it's the part of the job that will keep your equipment working longer and earning you money. So, make undercarriage routine inspections part of your work week, replace components and tracks when you need to. If you take care of your compact track loader, it will take care of you.