Track Replacement Precautions

Cutting costs on replacement tracks for your compact track loaders could prove more expensive in the long run.

Several items should be considered when replacing the track on a compact track loader. "Improper tension, improper operation and/or derailment can all cause damage to the rubber carcass and the internal structure of the track," says Kevin Coleman, senior marketing project engineer for Caterpillar's Building Construction Products Group. "Once the track can no longer maintain proper tension and/or efficiently transfer power to the ground, it may be time for a replacement."

Use of aftermarket (non-OEM) tracks or undercarriage parts can contribute to track failure, as well. "Some aftermarket tracks are not made with the same rigorous standards as OEM parts," says Coleman. "Manufacturing processes and rubber compounds have a huge affect on the quality of the track being purchased. OEM parts have been designed and tested to work with your machine to produce maximum machine productivity and maximum track life. Aftermarket tracks may cost less, but you get what you pay for and the life you achieve will likely be proportional to the cost."

Cameron Stejskal, product specialist, Terex Construction Americas, agrees, noting, "I strongly advise our customers to stay with OEM tracks. Aftermarket tracks do not fit properly -- the track is either too long and you are halfway out of track adjustment right away, or the tracks are too short and they are extremely hard to get on, if you can get them on at all. In addition, some aftermarket tracks do not mesh with the sprockets properly; when this happens, you start to damage that track."

David Steger, national product and training manager, Takeuchi, adds, "Aftermarket replacement tracks can sometimes be cheaper to purchase, but be aware that the quality of tracks varies. When shopping, consider the total operating cost of the component. A cheaper initial purchase may add up to higher cost per hour over the OEM brand when factoring variables such as initial cost, life expectancy, machine downtime, replacement labor and warranty/support."

Bobcat actually offers two different types of rubber tracks for its loaders. "We have the OEM track that we send out of the factory," notes Mike Fitzgerald, Bobcat loader product specialist. "Through our parts operation we also offer a less expensive alternative track, which meets original design specifications, but will not have the same life due to differences in the rubber content or compound. It is lower cost, but it is not going to last as long."

The correct choice between these tracks is really a business decision, according to Fitzgerald. Much of the decision can be based on utilization and whether the machine is being used as a first- or second-tier machine on the jobsite.

Bobcat does caution users to beware of many aftermarket alternatives. "It is very critical to have the right length and pitch of track so it matches properly with the sprockets," says Fitzgerald. "If it doesn't match you will prematurely wear either the metal imbeds, the sprocket on the machine, or both." It is also important to note that a less costly track will probably utilize lighter weight components. "You may run into problems with either cables in the track or imbeds breaking prematurely." In addition, they may be more prone to cracking, cutting and chunking.