Maximizing the Life of Your Track Loader's Undercarriage
The undercarriage design of a track loader contains some of the most critical components of the machine. It is also subjected to the most abuse in extreme operating conditions. The life expectancy of a compact track loader’s undercarriage depends on many factors, including application, ground conditions and maintenance practices, but the ability to extend the life of a machine’s undercarriage and minimize the cost of ownership falls largely on the operator.
The best operators know how to get the most performance out of a track loader while still doing their best to minimize wear on the machine. Here are some operating tips and techniques that can extend the life of your track loader, prevent costly downtime, and protect your investment.
Understanding ground conditions
It is important for an operator to understand how the ground conditions can affect the way a track loader performs. One common mistake that is seen a lot with track loader operation is the spinning/counter-rotating of the tracks. This is common practice with skid steers, but track loaders have more than enough traction to fill the bucket with material without having to force it. Let’s face it, if your tracks are spinning you have lost all “bite” with the ground and your tractive effort is gone. Spinning the tracks, especially in loose soil can cause a lot of unnecessary wear on the tracks themselves, as well as the undercarriage components. All of the dirt, mud and other material gets kicked up and caked onto the undercarriage components, which causes even more wear, and can have serious effects on the life expectancy and performance of the machine.
Also, when working on hard surfaces such as asphalt and concrete, making slightly wider three-point turns instead of counter-rotating the tracks will really help you save on track wear. Remember, any kind of aggressive operation is going to increase the wear on the machine’s undercarriage. It may seem like you’re saving time, but in the long run it can increase the overall cost of ownership.
Track loaders are designed to operate on grades, but careless operation can cause the tracks and undercarriage components to wear more quickly. Operating a track loader across-grade can put a tremendous amount of side-load on the tracks, rollers and other components. The machine is designed to handle this type of operation when necessary, but it does cause increased wear. This is also a situation where you can cause serious damage and downtime if the tracks aren’t tensioned properly. Taking care to properly tension the tracks based on operating conditions will help to reduce downtime and increase productivity. Soft, loose conditions require looser tracks, whereas steep and hilly conditions require tighter track tension. It is critical from both a safety and preventative maintenance standpoint to minimize across-grade operation whenever possible. Keeping your tracks moving up and down the grade, instead of perpendicular to the grade, is the best practice.
Curbs and transitions
In road work and other construction applications, it is common for an operator to work along transitions like curbs, ledges and other abrupt changes in slope or elevation. It is important for operators to avoid turning on transitions, or crossing them at an angle—this causes uneven pressure on the tracks, and can cause significant damage and wear to the tracks and rollers. Always try to keep both tracks in full contact with the ground. This prevents unnecessary stress and wear, and maximizes the performance of the machine. When crossing curbs, ledges and other transitions, throttle down and keep the tracks at a 90-degree angle to the curb to keep the down force of the machine spread evenly over the tracks as you cross. Take care not to bang into the curb with the track, as this will likely cause damage to the track tensioning seal that maintains proper tension on the idler assembly. If your tracks continue to loosen quickly after tightening them, you may have damaged the track tensioning cylinder or seal.
General maintenance practices also go a long way in extending the life of a machine’s undercarriage. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule, and perform regular inspections to check for wear, and to ensure proper track tension—especially when operating in loose or abrasive ground conditions. It is a good practice to inspect the undercarriage components daily, and to take the time at the end of the day to clear build-up and debris from the tracks, rollers and other components. If you think you may have a problem, contact your local dealer for service. A small problem can become a much bigger and more costly problem, if not addressed in a timely manner.
For more tips on daily inspections, read David Caldwell’s Jobsite Safety Checklist.