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- SafetyMay 17, 2023 EquipmentShare
When to Replace Your Machine’s Rubber Tracks
When to Replace Your Machine’s Rubber Tracks
Reading time: 6 min
On most job sites where heavy machinery is used, tracks are preferred to tires. Because tracks distribute the weight of a machine across a larger surface area, they are more stable than tires, making tracked machines less prone to tipping or slipping.
Rubber tracks are a common type of track known for being gentle on sensitive surfaces, easy to maneuver and capable of providing a smooth ride for operators.
Unlike their steel counterparts, rubber tracks are made from heavy duty rubber. While they need to be replaced more frequently than steel tracks, rubber tracks are easier to maintain and less costly to replace.
If you own or operate a machine that uses rubber tracks, you may be wondering how often the tracks should be changed. The longevity of rubber tracks depends on a wide variety of factors, and it isn’t always easy to tell when they need to be replaced.
In this guide, we’ll go over some of the signs your rubber tracks need to be replaced, when to send your tracks in for maintenance and how to choose the right replacement tracks for your machine.
When to Replace Rubber Tracks
1. Worn Tread
Like the tires of a car, rubber tracks are designed with specialized tread patterns. These tread patterns help the tracks grip the ground as the tracks turn around the sprockets, allowing the machine to move on challenging terrain like loose soil or sand.
Normally, new rubber tracks have a tread depth of around one inch. Over time, the tread pattern of your machine’s rubber tracks may wear down, especially if you are working in abrasive terrain like sand.
Rubber tracks that have become worn down and smooth will struggle to provide adequate traction, causing your machine to slip and lose power.
If you notice that your machine is slipping or sliding, especially on uneven or sloped terrain, it may be a sign that the tread has become too worn and your machine’s tracks need to be replaced.
2. Track Internals are Visible (metal links and steel cording)
Most rubber tracks are reinforced with internal steel cords that run continuously throughout the tracks. In addition to steel cords, some rubber tracks also have metal inserts that make the tracks more rigid and provide additional stability.
If any of your tracks’ internal components become exposed to the elements, they may begin to rust and deteriorate. Eventually, this deterioration will cause your tracks to crack and lose rigidity, leading to breakdowns and down time.
Once your machine’s rubber tracks have worn down to the point that its internal cords or metal inserts are exposed, they should be replaced immediately.
3. Cracks are Forming
One sure sign that your machine’s rubber tracks have become worn down is the appearance of cracks in the tracks’ carcass.
Although rubber tracks are generally resistant to challenging environments, certain conditions like excess sunlight can cause the rubber to degrade quickly. If you frequently operate your machine in rough, abrasive terrain, your tracks may also crack sooner than expected.
If your machine’s rubber tracks are beginning to crack, you may want to consider replacing them.
4. Excess Slack
While it’s normal for rubber tracks to stretch a bit when they’re new, tracks that keep losing tension can cause traction issues and may negatively impact the fuel efficiency of your machine.
Prior to each shift, be sure to check your machine’s track tension to ensure the tracks are not too loose. Track tension can be gauged by lifting the track frame off the ground and measuring the distance between the top of the track lug and the track roller.
If your tracks are constantly coming loose, then don’t try to compensate by overtightening them. Overtightening your tracks can lead to additional problems like tearing, and may cause them to degrade quickly.
Rubber tracks that do not remain taut on the machine’s undercarriage should be replaced.
5. Lugs are Chipped or Missing
On rubber tracks, lugs serve the important function of interfacing with the machine’s undercarriage, enabling the tracks to turn around the machine’s sprockets like a belt around a cog.
When lugs become damaged or come off the track carcass, the machine’s sprocket will begin to slip inside the track. This slippage will cause the machine to lose power, potentially making it unstable.
If your tracks are missing a lug, or the lugs have become damaged, it may be time to swap out the tracks for a new set.
Rubber Track Maintenance vs Replacement
In most cases, damaged rubber tracks cannot be repaired and will need to be replaced. Tracks that have become chipped, cracked or excessively worn cannot be restored to their original condition. Therefore, the best way to save on the cost of frequent track replacements is to properly maintain your machine’s rubber tracks. In particular, you’ll want to make sure your preventive maintenance plan incorporates these key areas of track maintenance:
- Regularly inspect and clean the tracks.
- Routinely gauge track tension and tighten tracks if necessary.
- Routinely inspect the machine’s undercarriage and replace damaged parts.
- Clean the undercarriage each day to avoid the build up of dirt and debris.
- Properly store the machine so that the tracks are not in direct sunlight.
How to Replace Rubber Tracks
While the process for changing your machine’s rubber tracks will depend largely on the machine’s make and model, here are some general steps you can follow:
- Ensure the machine is turned off and is sitting on a stable surface.
- Empty the grease cylinder and move the idler into the undercarriage.
- Remove the track by lifting it first from the idler, then tilt it slightly and remove it from the sprocket.
- Move the new track into the correct position and then place it on the machine’s sprocket.
- Pull the other side of the track over the idler, using a metal bar to help lift the hanging track over the undercarriage.
- Ensure the track links have been fitted onto the teeth of the sprocket.
- Refill the grease cylinder.
- Check the tension of the new tracks and adjust if necessary.
For detailed instructions on changing your machine’s rubber tracks, consult the machine’s service manual.
Choosing the Right Rubber Tracks for Your Machine
Typically, you can find the track size printed on your machine’s rubber tracks. You can also find the correct track size for your machine in the machine’s service manual.
In addition to track size, there are other considerations to make when choosing new rubber tracks for your machine. For more information on choosing the right track type and tread pattern for your application, check out choosing the right tracks for your machine.
Get Help From The EquipmentShare Shop
Rubber tracks are popular and versatile, but they need to be replaced regularly in order to keep your machine running smoothly.
The EquipmentShare Online Parts Store is a one stop shop for fleet managers and heavy equipment operators. If you’re in need of new rubber tracks for your machine, check out our selection of them here. For more heavy equipment parts, browse our extensive online parts catalog and get components for your entire fleet. Still can’t find what you need? Contact one of our parts experts for personalized assistance.
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