The undercarriage life expectancy of a compact track loader is subject to many variables to predict with any degree of accuracy. But you can measure its life against various baselines to get an idea if costs are running out of control.
Mike Fitzgerald, Bobcat loader product specialist, estimates the average life of rubber tracks to be between 1,200 and 1,600 hours. However, it depends on the operating conditions and the application.
"Contractors who work on streets and improved surfaces, and rental-type machines, will have tracks last in the 800- to 1,200-hour range. Some severe-duty applications that are more abusive to tracks may get less than 800 hours," he points out. Contractors performing only earthwork may see track life in the 1,600- to 2,000-hour range. "I recently looked at a machine that had just under 1,800 hours of use. The tracks were only 50% worn, but the loader had not done a significant amount of work on streets or parking lots. That machine is used for backfilling dirt around building sites."
According to Cameron Stejskal, product specialist, Terex Construction Americas, "There are four main factors that affect undercarriage wear: application, underfoot condition, operating technique and maintenance practices. Wear and tear is directly affected by operator knowledge and the operating conditions."
The undercarriage is the most costly part of any tracked machine; it can make up almost 20% of its purchase price and nearly 50% of maintenance costs over its service life. "Such valuable components should never be neglected," Stejskal emphasizes. "It is extremely important to keep the undercarriage clean. This helps ensure longevity of components and keeps operating costs down."
"The ability to maximize undercarriage life, or minimize owning and operating costs, is largely up to the operator," says Kevin Coleman, senior marketing project engineer for Caterpillar's Building Construction Products Group. "The operator controls approximately 60% of the owning and operating cost of a rubber track loader through his operating techniques and maintenance practices."
"A well-trained operator can reduce maintenance costs by 'preventive operation'," says David Steger, national product and training manager, Takeuchi. "Making wider turns, controlling slippage, understanding the surface you are operating on and regulating the load all contribute to longer undercarriage life."
Many operators run compact track loaders as if they are skid steers. "Skid-steer operators do a lot of counter-rotating and spinning of tires to get the bucket filled to the maximum capacity," Stejskal notes. "Compact track loaders have enough traction that the tracks do not need to spin to fill the bucket. If the tracks are spinning and the machine is staying still, your track life will be greatly reduced.
"This comes into effect even more when you operate on a rough underfoot condition," Stejskal continues. "When you counter-rotate with a compact track loader, especially in loose underfoot conditions, a lot of material is ingested into the undercarriage. Three-point turns, rather than spinning or counter-rotating, will save on undercarriage wear."
Aggressive operation may help get the job done faster, but it can also increase the rate of wear and overall operating costs, says Coleman. For example, making a quick change in travel direction by counter-rotating can result in material buildup in the undercarriage, which may cause unnecessary wear on the tracks and undercarriage components.
"Turning without counter-rotating may take more time," he acknowledges, "but can extend the service life of undercarriage components. Only counter-rotate when necessary."
While a compact track loader is ideal for use on slopes, improper operation across slopes can cause faster wear to undercarriage components. "Going across the slope puts side loads on rollers, idlers and tracks," Fitzgerald notes.
"You can reduce unnecessary side loading wear by operating up and down a slope -- rather than across -- whenever possible," Coleman states.