Avoid working along transitions -- any place where you may encounter a sudden change in slope or elevation. "Transitions can result in one of the machine's tracks not being fully supported by the ground," says Coleman. "Without the full support of the ground, the track and roller wheels are subjected to side stress that could lead to track derailment or damage."
Avoid turning on transitions whenever possible. "A curb or ledge can also be considered a transition," says Coleman. "If you must travel over transitions, do so with the machine 90° to the transition."
"When operating the machine, try to keep the full length of the tracks in contact with the ground," Fitzgerald advises. "Do not raise the front of the machine with the bucket because that lessens traction.
"If you climb over a curb, go directly over it in a forward or reverse motion," he adds. "If you hit it at an angle, there is the potential for damaging the tracks and creating additional costs."
Also take precautions when working on improved surfaces, such as asphalt or concrete. "Our suggestion is to put material such as sand or dirt between the surface and the track to make the loader easier to turn, and then clean up that material when you are done," says Fitzgerald.
Track maintenance -- which includes proper tensioning, cleaning and inspection -- should be done on a regular basis. "Follow the schedule in the operator's manual," says Steger, "but undercarriage inspections should be more frequent when in muddy or abrasive conditions."
Check for uneven wear. "The components are designed to wear evenly," says Stejskal. "If some components wear more quickly than others, it can affect the productivity and wear all of the components."
Keeping the machine clean will make it easier to identify potential problems, and decrease wear due to debris lodged between components. Cohesive and abrasive materials such as mud, clay and gravel should be cleaned out as often as possible.
"At the end of the day, knock away any debris that's accumulated in the tracks, and then while the machine is still warm, wash it down to get rid of any remaining materials that could cause corrosion or contamination," says Stejskal. "The end of the day wash-down process is a good time to remove embedded foreign objects from the tracks and lubricate all moving parts. The daily wash down is also an excellent time to look for any loose, worn, cracked, bent or missing components."
"Check the track for cuts, punctures or tears," advises Steger. "Sprockets and rollers should be inspected to ensure they are in good condition with no damage, excessive wear or 'flat spotting,' which may be an indication of material buildup or bearing seizure. Any oil leakage from rollers, hoses or travel motors should be repaired immediately. It is recommended to replace the sprockets each time new tracks are installed."
Check track tension regularly. Running too tight or too loose creates problems. "If you run tracks too tight, you will use more power and cause premature wear because they are tighter and there is more friction," notes Fitzgerald. "If you run in sand or small granular material, a tight track will force that material between the metal parts and wear on them."
It is best to err a little on the loose side. "If you want to run to one side or the other within the specification, our recommendation would be to run them slightly on the loose side, because running on the tight side really doesn't do much for you," says Fitzgerald. "If they are loose, the material will shed better. However, if they are way too loose, the tracks will come off. You can go too far."
He admits that track tension is not a perfect science. "We have customers in the Southeast where there is a lot of sand, and in some of the mountain areas where there is small, granular rock, who run their machines slightly loose as compared to our recommendation," he notes.
The operating environment can be a contributing factor in premature component wear. "For rubber tracks containing steel imbeds and cords, salty environments can contribute to accelerated track wear due to the corrosive nature of salt and airborne water vapor containing salt," says Coleman. Remove salt deposits by washing at your earliest opportunity.