How to Replace Skid Steer Tracks
Like most machine parts, the rubber tracks on your compact track loader (CTL) or skid steer tend to wear out over time. To improve your machine’s efficiency and avoid any mishaps, you should replace the tracks as soon as you notice any wear and tear. Read below and learn how to identify the signs of worn-out tracks, replace them and maximize their life span.
Overview of CTL and Skid Steer Tracks
Rubber tracks that CTLs and some skid steer loaders ride on allow operators to go places difficult or impossible for many other machines. These undercarriage systems feature great flotation characteristics and exert low pressure on the ground, which help to protect turf and sensitive paved surfaces. They also have excellent traction in ice and snow and let operators work on wet, soft ground that would cause most equipment to sink.
How Long Do Rubber Tracks Last on a Skid Steer or CTL?
Keeping your rubber tracks in excellent shape is the primary maintenance concern for CTLs, as this is the machine’s most costly wear component. CTL and skid steer maintenance practices aren’t difficult, but neglecting them could lead to negative consequences. Depending on how well you take care of your tracks, they could last anywhere between 400 hours and 2,000 hours. The average life span ranges from 1,200 hours to 1,600 hours.
How long your tracks last depends on two primary factors—site conditions and the skill of the operator:
1. The Hardness of the Surface On-Site
The conditions of the surface your CTL or skid steer is on greatly affects how long your tracks last. Harder surfaces, for instance, cause more wear and abrasion, and rocky surfaces lead to chipping and cuts. Surfaces made of sand or soft dirt are much gentler to tracks.
If you are planning to use a CTL or skid steer with tracks on a particularly hard surface, such as shale, keep in mind this will significantly reduce the life span of your tracks. In such cases, you may want to think about whether a CTL is even necessary for your project. Additionally, always avoid driving over roots, rocks and rebar. Examine the site prior to beginning work and remove any hazards to prevent running over them.
2. The Operator’s Skill
Whereas the specific job will determine the site conditions, you are in control of how you operate the machine. When ground conditions are less dangerous, such as soil, sand or mud, you can operate a CTL or skid steer normally without damage. In more aggressive conditions, a skilled operator is required to minimize equipment wear.
If you are planning to operate a CTL or skid steer in more hazardous ground conditions, keep the following tips in mind:
- Avoid excessive counter-rotation and spinning: It’s better to make Y-turns, no matter what brand of CTL or tracks you have.
- Don’t run side-slope: This will cause the embedded downhill-side lugs to wear. Flanges located on the idlers and drive sprocket help the track stay attached to the undercarriage. If the tension on the track isn’t sufficiently tight, side-slope running can lead to the machine de-tracking. Whenever possible, we recommend the tracks go straight up and down a hill rather than across it lengthwise.
- Soften hard surfaces with dirt or sand: When on hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt, consider sprinkling some dirt, sand or other soft material on top. This helps your tracks slide and avoids skidding.
- Approach obstacles head-on: When going over an obstacle such as a curb, approach it head-on. If you hit a curb and it’s not head-on, you’re increasing the risk of the track tearing, particularly at the edges.
How Tight Should Skid Steer Tracks Be?
On most CTLs or skid steers, you can adjust the tension in the tracks by pouring in or taking out grease contained in a cylinder. If you put some grease in this cylinder, it will push the front idlers and drive sprocket apart. If you let some out, it will reduce the tension or take out the tracks.
How tight or loose you run your track depends on your ground conditions. For example, a person operating their CTL in sand may set the tension on their track to be looser, as it will significantly reduce the wear and tear on the track’s sprocket and metal embeds. An operator working on rocky surfaces might set their tracks tighter to avoid debris and rocks, which causes the tracks to fall off.
Once you know the ground conditions and the application, you can modify the tension accordingly. If the track falls off and you want to get your track back on the skid steer, consult your user guide for details.
Although simple, adjusting track tension on your CTL is extremely important. For instance, in a tough, deep-wooded environment, loose tracks can cause idlers to fracture. Material can accumulate and end up near and in the idlers, which is why you should inspect and clean out the undercarriage and tracks every 10 or so hours. By regularly keeping small things cleaned out, you limit how much debris goes through.
Some original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will provide specific measurements for track sagging. In other cases, it depends on how the tracks feel. Again, the important thing is to inspect the tension at approximately 10-hour intervals. Tracks that are stretched too tightly causes your machine to exert itself more than it needs to, which inherently utilizes excess fuel and horsepower.
When Should You Replace Skid Steer Tracks?
The most common signs of wear and tear—which often mean the tracks are near the end of their useable life—are exterior track damage, worn out sprockets, insufficient or excessive tension and unsafe tread depth:
1. Exterior Track Damage
If you notice damage to the exterior track, such as missing lugs, cracks or exposed cords, this is generally the first sign you should replace your rubber tracks. Given their constant use on rocky and rough terrains, the outside of the tracks on CTLs and skid steer loaders are extremely susceptible to damage.
The track exteriors can also be damaged if your CTL is constantly driving over curbs or scraping walls. While coming in contact with curbs can lead to de-tracking, the stress from these curbs eventually damage the exterior track.
A common mistake some contractors make is leaving their machines in direct sunlight, which can lead to dry-rotted tracks. You’ll also notice stress marks and cracks on the tracks. If you notice any of these signs—even just exterior cracks—it’s a good idea to replace your tracks as soon as possible to avoid complete track failure.
2. Worn Out Sprockets
The condition of your sprockets can also indicate whether your rubber tracks need to be replaced. Sprockets are powered by a hydraulic motor that propel the CTL, and they wear out faster than all other components of the track. Signs that your sprockets are worn out include:
- Sprocket teeth are pointed or hooked and no longer round.
- Sprockets are derailing.
- Sprockets are sloppily interlocking and skipping over lugs.
If you look at your rubber track’s underside and notice that drive links are missing, there’s a good chance worn-out sprockets are to blame. Rubber tracks with missing drive links may slip, causing the loader to be less effective. Keep an eye on your sprockets so you can replace your tracks before a serious problem occurs.
3. Insufficient or Excessive Tension
If you notice your loader’s tracks have lost some of their tension, this can be due to the rubber tracks’ tendency to stretch over time. If your rubber tracks have too little tension, they will start to jump off the undercarriage. Some operators also mistakenly overtighten their tracks, which lead to serious issues including track tears, power loss and excessive idler bearing wear.
Because of this, you should check the tension of your tracks daily, or at the very least, every five days. You can check the tension by lifting the frame of the track off the ground and inspecting the sag between the track lug’s top and the track roller. Do not try to correct for the lack of tension by overtightening the tracks—you should replace them instead.
4. Unsafe Tread Depth
Checking your rubber tracks’ tread depth is also important. Just as you change the tires on your car when the tread becomes flattened, you should do the same with the rubber tracks on your loaders to ensure sufficient traction and stability. The tread depth on new rubber tracks is typically 1 inch. Measuring the tread depth indicates how much traction is left on your tracks. For instance, if your tracks are halfway through their life, they would probably have a tread depth of around 3/8 inch.
Finding the Best Replacement Tracks
No matter how well you take care of your tracks, you’ll eventually have to replace them. When searching for the right track to replace existing tracks, the quickest option is choosing the same type and brand as the original equipment for the machine. Before doing this, take time to analyze how your original tracks performed on your job sites. You might want to switch the rubber compound, tread patterns or width if your machine allows to better suit your needs.
To find the best track for your CTL or skid steer, consider the following:
- Tread types: The two primary tread types are the block-style tread and the multibar tread, which is also known as “turf tread” and has horizontal straight lugs. Turf treads affect the surface very minimally, but when working in a forestry, mining or quarry environment, you should opt for a block-style tread to resist punctures, abrasion and chipping. Smooth tracks with no treads are available to landscapers as well as nonmarking tracks for finished surfaces. In colder regions, CTL owners sometimes use bar lug treads to plow snow and block-style treads for work in the summer.
- Width: For compact working widths, opt for profile tracks. For instance, landscapers work in tight environments and require less of a footprint and smaller machines. In cases where the machine width doesn’t matter, consider opting for a wide track, which helps gain traction and provide greater surface area.
- Warranty: No matter which tracks you buy, it’s a good idea to get at least a 1,000-hour warranty.
- A universal design doesn’t exist: While aftermarket brands are a possibility, keep in mind there is no “universal” track design. This is due to OEM undercarriages featuring a wide variety of roller, flange and sprocket designs, which dictate the layout of the track’s interior components.
Steps to Replace Tracks
Before you replace the rubber tracks on your machine, make sure you’re prepared with the following tips and tools:
- Install the rubber tracks in an open area: This will allow you to maneuver easily around the machine.
- Install the tracks on a flat surface: You want a clutter-free work surface so you can finish the job efficiently.
- Have certain devices on hand: These include support stands, heavy-duty lifts and jacks.
- Have specific tools handy: You may need specific tools to help remove machine components, remove or install track belts.
- Don’t forget your safety gear: This includes safety boots, gloves, glasses and visibility vests if needed.
Use the following steps for installing tracks on your CTL:
- Release tension: First, confirm you have the right tracks and they’re appropriate for the equipment model you’re working with. Then, use a wrench to loosen the grease fitting. Next, detension the track by slowly pushing in the idler frame and release the grease out of the fit.
- Suspend the track: Slowly raise your equipment from the ground, placing supports under it to suspend it. Using a heavy-duty jack protects the equipment’s hydraulic system.
- Take off the old track: Make sure there are no people or items nearby to avoid accidents. Then, remove the track from the front idler. Next, remove the track off the sprocket. Remove the track fully away from the machine. This task will be easier with the help of someone else.
- Examine the parts: Inspect the undercarriage for any damage or heavy wear, including the roller, frame and sprocket.
- Install the new rubber tracks: Place the new track over the rear idler and sprocket and then onto the front idlers to ensure the track is aligned in the proper grooves.
- Align tracks:Tighten the previously loosened grease fitting in step one. Apply grease to the fitting until the track is properly tensioned.
- Ensure correct movement: Lower your machine and test drive it forward and backwards to make sure the machine is moving properly. Remember to daily check the track tension and test operation to ensure tracks are properly mounted.
Can Rubber Tracks Be Repaired?
If the rubber on your tracks only has superficial cracks, it can likely be repaired. However, in most cases, you should consider this fix to be temporary. If the damage is more serious and steel cords are starting to break, you should replace the entire set.
Find the Right CTL at Cleveland Brothers
Cleveland Brothers provides quality construction equipment products and services to locations throughout Pennsylvania northern West Virginia and western Maryland. For questions about sales, parts, service or rentals, call us today at 1-866-551-4602 or fill out our form. You can also browse our online inventory, which includes a wide selection of CTLs.