Undercarriages take a lot of wear and tear, and as the primary mechanism between the cabin and the terrain, a number of factors contribute to this. But that does not mean the undercarriage and its components are unable to last.
With solid operational practices in place, awareness of the terrain and a preventative maintenance plan, operators can ensure a long and healthy life of the idlers, sprockets, rollers and tracks.
Rigid vs. Suspension Undercarriages
There are two types of undercarriages: rigid and suspension. In a rigid-mount frame, the left and right track frames are bolted or welded to the main frame. A suspension undercarriage uses movable track frames supported by torsion springs, or in some cases rollers suspended by a leaf spring.
Both undercarriages offer unique advantages. A rigid undercarriage is better suited for the harsh environments it will endure over its useful life due to a more simplistic and rugged design. While the ride quality of a suspension undercarriage is generally more forgiving by reducing shock and vibration throughout the machine, take into account the additional components required to provide suspension. These components translate to additional wear points and added cost as the undercarriage ages.
It is important to pick the undercarriage that best suits your daily needs. And remember, no matter how well you maintain your machine, any type of undercarriage with moving parts has expensive wear items that will require maintenance and replacement over time.
Preventive Maintenance Planning
To keep your machine in peak operating condition and prolong the undercarriage components, it is essential to keep a daily proactive maintenance schedule. Before utilizing the machine each time, check:
- Track tension — Tighten or loosen track tension as necessary. If too tight, it can fast-track wear on the sprockets and idlers and require more effort to rotate the track, while too loose can derail the track and cause wear on the components. In addition, when the track rolls off, it will cause the track to stretch beyond its normal threshold, making it hard to keep on.
- Track alignment — Especially if the track is loose, misalignment can cause major issues with the undercarriage components.
- Debris or material build-up in the undercarriage from prior use
The ground conditions can dictate whether additional inspections are needed throughout the day. Despite an undercarriage’s all-weather versatility, snow, mud and sand can get into and pack the undercarriage, which increases track tension. In colder environments, material can also freeze inside the track.
Florida is a prime example of how a maintenance schedule can vary. Most of the state consists of sugar sand, which becomes airborne around a working machine. It fills up the bottom of the chassis, plugs filters, and can prematurely wear out an undercarriage if the tracks are not tensioned properly for this type of ground condition. A majority of the time you want the tracks to fit tight, but in the case of sugar sand, the tracks should be loose.
Bad Habits and Miscalculations
We see veteran and novice operators alike make mistakes with their undercarriages on the jobsite. It is important to learn from those mistakes before they turn into bad habits and cost you.
Of the undercarriage components, the track itself is the most likely to fail due to operating stress or lack of maintenance. The premature failure of tracks is due to a few factors:
- Improper track tension. If you are unsure how much to adjust the tracks, refer to the recommendations in the OEM manual or check with your local dealer
- Operating on hard, rough terrain causes cuts or chunking of tracks and leads to excessive, premature wear; for these applications a skid steer loader is best utilized
- Riding over curbs with tracks can also cause cuts and chunking that expose internal steel cables, which can let moisture penetrate and cause the cables to weaken and eventually fail
- Skid steer tires run right over demolition debris (rebar, concrete, sharp objects, etc.), while the same debris is hard on tracks
We also advise running up and down slopes instead of across and staying on as flat of a surface as possible so the machine does not lean heavily to one side. Leaning puts pressure on the idlers, rollers and sprockets resulting in premature wear.
The undercarriage will be a large portion of operating and maintenance costs over the life of the machine, so with each use take some time to look it over. It pays off in the long run.
Lee Padgett is a product manager at Takeuchi-US.