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The Effects of Worn Tracks on Heavy Equipment Performance and Safety

The Effects of Worn Tracks on Heavy Equipment Performance and Safety

A side-angle view of a dusty rubber track

The Effects of Worn Tracks on Heavy Equipment Performance and Safety

Reading time: 7 min

Introduction to Heavy Equipment Tracks

Like a pair of shoes, heavy equipment tracks serve as an interface between machines and the surfaces they operate on. They enable heavy machines to navigate challenging terrain, from soft soil to rugged gravel.

The most common types of tracks used in construction are rubber and steel tracks. While rubber tracks are lighter and more flexible, steel tracks offer superior resilience and strength.

Due to differences in their design, rubber tracks also have different maintenance requirements than their steel counterparts. Rubber tracks are prone to cuts, tears and damage from sunlight, whereas steel tracks face corrosion, link wear and damage sustained to pins and bushings.

Understanding the effects of worn or damaged tracks is essential to adequately caring for this aspect of your heavy equipment. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of heavy equipment track wear, helping you reduce downtime and get the most out of your tracked equipment.

Common Causes of Track Wear and Damage

Damage to heavy equipment tracks can occur as a result of numerous factors, ranging from material composition and jobsite conditions to operator practices and harsh terrain. Understanding these elements is crucial for reducing wear and prolonging the lifespan of your tracks.

Material and Jobsite Conditions

Rubber tracks aren’t as harsh on sensitive terrain, but they’re more prone to damage due to environmental conditions. Extended exposure to harsh sunlight can deteriorate the rubber, making it brittle and prone to cracking. 

Similarly, certain chemicals, oils and extreme temperatures can further accelerate degradation, compromising the track's integrity. 

On the other hand, steel tracks, known for their durability, are not as susceptible to the elements. However, moisture from natural humidity or jobsite conditions can lead to rust and corrosion, particularly in the joints and bolts.

Operator Practices

The manner in which heavy equipment is operated plays a significant role in the longevity of its tracks. Abrupt starting, stopping and making sharp turns can exert excessive stress on tracks, leading to uneven or accelerated wear. 

These practices not only strain the rubber or steel but also the structural integrity of the entire undercarriage system, leading to costly repairs.


The terrain on which heavy equipment operates significantly influences track wear. Harsh terrain with abrasive or uneven surfaces can cause cuts, punctures and accelerated wear. Extreme conditions, like mud, snow or sand, can exacerbate wear by increasing the friction encountered by the tracks.

Identifying Types of Wear and Damage

Both rubber and steel tracks are vulnerable to specific forms of deterioration that can compromise the performance and safety of construction equipment.

Rubber Track Wear


Chunking occurs when large pieces of the rubber track fall off, which often occurs due to impact with sharp objects. Chunking significantly reduces the track's surface area, leading to decreased traction and stability, and can expose the internal structure of the track to further damage.

Cuts or Abrasions:

Sharp objects, abrasive surfaces and debris can cause abrasions on rubber tracks. Abrasions not only weaken the track's structural integrity but make it more susceptible to further tearing and severe damage from operational stress.


Delamination is the separation of the rubber track's layers, a condition often caused by breakdown of the bonding agent due to heat, age or exposure to chemicals. This can lead to track failure because the structural cohesion of the track is compromised.

Steel Track Wear

Structural Cracks:

Heavy loads and impacts can lead to structural cracks in steel tracks. These cracks compromise the track's integrity and tend to propagate, leading to the failure of the track. Operating with structural cracks increases the risks of sudden breakdowns, which can pose significant safety hazards and operational delays.

Pin and Bushing Wear:

The pins and bushings in steel tracks facilitate the movement and the track links. Over time, due to friction, environmental conditions and operational loads, these components can wear down. This wear leads to increased instability in the track's structure and can accelerate the wear of other components.

The Impacts of Worn Tracks on Equipment Performance and Safety

The condition of heavy equipment tracks is a critical factor in machine efficiency, operational costs and safety. Worn tracks can significantly hamper equipment performance, leading to a cascade of issues that affect not just the machine itself but also the safety and efficiency of operations.

Decreased Machine Efficiency and Increased Fuel Consumption

Worn tracks greatly reduce the efficiency of heavy equipment. As the tracks degrade, they lose traction, requiring more power from the engine to move the machine or carry out tasks. 

Additionally, damaged or misaligned tracks can force the engine to work harder to overcome increased resistance, leading to unnecessary fuel expenditure. This not only elevates operational costs but also contributes to increased emissions.

Increased Likelihood of Accidents Due to Decreased Stability

One of the more prevalent dangers of worn tracks is the compromised stability of the machine. Tracks in poor condition may lead to slippage, especially on uneven or slippery surfaces. 

This risk is especially pronounced on slopes or when carrying heavy loads. Such accidents not only pose a threat to operator safety but can also lead to increased downtime and repair costs.

Uneven Load Distribution and Accelerated Wear on Undercarriage Parts

Worn tracks contribute to uneven load distribution, placing additional stress on various undercarriage components. For example, if a track is unevenly worn or slack, it can cause rollers, idlers and sprockets to bear uneven loads, leading to premature wear and failure. 

This leads to frequent replacements  and increases maintenance costs and equipment downtime.

Correlation Between Track Wear and Frequency of Repairs

There is a direct correlation between the state of a machine’s tracks and the frequency of repairs required on the equipment. Worn or damaged tracks can lead to increased stress on the drivetrain and hydraulic systems

As the machine compensates for the lack of stability and efficiency, it places additional strain on these systems, potentially leading to breakdowns and a higher frequency of repairs. This results in increased maintenance costs, longer downtime and reduced overall productivity.

Strategies to Minimize Track Wear

Minimizing track wear is crucial for extending the lifespan of heavy equipment and reducing maintenance costs. Implementing proactive strategies can significantly reduce the rate of wear and safeguard the machinery's performance and safety.

Educating Operators on Best Practices

One of the most effective strategies for minimizing track wear is to educate operators on best practices for maneuvering and operating equipment. Proper operation techniques can substantially reduce unnecessary stress on tracks.

Operators should be trained to avoid abrupt starts and stops, sharp turns and high speed operations in reverse, as these actions can exacerbate track wear. Adherence to these practices can prolong track life and improve overall machine performance.

Routine Maintenance Tasks

Regular maintenance plays a key role in detecting and addressing early signs of wear before they escalate into major issues. Key maintenance tasks include:

Tension Adjustments:

Proper track tension is essential for optimal performance. Tracks that are too tight can experience accelerated wear. Meanwhile, tracks that are too loose may slip or derail. Regular checks and adjustments according to the manufacturer's specifications can prevent such issues.

Cleaning the Undercarriage:

Mud, debris and other materials can accumulate in the undercarriage, causing increased wear and tear. Routine cleaning helps prevent buildup that can lead to accelerated degradation of the tracks and undercarriage components.

Choosing Between Rubber and Steel Tracks

The decision between rubber and steel tracks depends on several factors, including:

Operating Terrain: Steel tracks are preferable for rough, abrasive terrains where durability is critical. Rubber tracks are suited for softer, more sensitive surfaces where damage minimization is a priority.

Machine Application: Consider the primary use of the machine. For example, heavy equipment in urban areas might benefit from the versatility of rubber tracks, while mining equipment may require the rigidity of steel tracks.

Cost Considerations: While rubber tracks may have lower initial costs, steel tracks often offer a longer lifespan, particularly in demanding conditions. The choice should balance upfront costs against long-term value and operational needs.

Final Thoughts

Recognizing when to replace a set of tracks is critical for the maintenance of tracked equipment. Signs that indicate the need for replacement include visible deep cracks, significant chunking or rubber degradation, severe structural damage in steel tracks and when tension adjustments no longer maintain proper track alignment.

Are you experiencing the effects of worn or damaged tracks? If so, the EquipmentShare Shop has dedicated collections for rubber tracks and undercarriage components. Get fast shipping on the replacement parts that’ll get your machine back to work. Want help finding exactly what your equipment needs? Reach out to our dedicated parts experts and get personalized assistance.

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