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Why It’s Important to Maintain Proper Track Tension

Why It’s Important to Maintain Proper Track Tension

Excavator Tracks

Why It’s Important to Maintain Proper Track Tension

Reading time: 5 min

From excavators to dozers, tracked heavy equipment is a crucial part of modern construction projects. At the core of a tracked machine’s impressive abilities lies a critical factor: proper track tension.

In general terms, track tension refers to the amount of slack in a machine’s tracks. A machine’s tracks are said to be “loose” when there is a lot of slack in the tracks, and “tight” when there isn’t enough slack in the tracks.

Just as wheeled equipment cannot run on deflated tires, tracked heavy equipment cannot run on tracks that are too tight or too loose. Ensuring proper track tension is an important part of maintaining tracked heavy equipment and preventing unnecessary breakdowns. 

In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of maintaining proper track tension on your tracked machines. By properly maintaining the track tension of your heavy equipment, you can improve the efficiency of your fleet and help prevent unnecessary breakdowns.

Benefits of Regular Track Maintenance

Regular track maintenance is vital for tracked heavy equipment for several reasons. By keeping a close eye on the condition of your machine’s tracks, you can achieve greater efficiency, protect the machine’s undercarriage and prevent wear to the tracks themselves.

Foremost among the benefits of regular track maintenance is enhanced operational efficiency. When tracks become too loose; they tend to bounce, wobble and vibrate. These movements are not only uncomfortable for operators—they also waste energy, reducing the machine’s operational efficiency.

Conversely, tracks that are too tight may place additional stress on the components of the machine’s undercarriage, especially the pins and bushings. Over time, this extra strain may cause the components of the undercarriage to wear down prematurely, increasing maintenance costs.

Finally, tracks that are not maintained at the proper track tension may wear down prematurely. Tracks endure tremendous forces and abrasive conditions during operation, making them susceptible to wear and tear. If tracks are not maintained properly, they may wear unevenly, leading to an imbalance in the machine’s performance and causing the tracks to break down sooner than expected.

TL;DR? Watch Robert's Maintenance Monday Tips: Check Your Tension

How to Monitor a Machine’s Tracks

As a rule of thumb, you should conduct a visual inspection of your machine’s tracks daily. During daily inspections, you can catch any visible signs of damage or wear early on, allowing you to address potential issues before they escalate into more significant problems.

In addition to daily inspections, it is also essential to perform more thorough and detailed track inspections at regular intervals. For heavy usage and demanding applications, a weekly or bi-weekly inspection schedule may be appropriate. For less intense usage, a monthly inspection could be sufficient.

Signs Your Machine’s Tracks Need To Be Adjusted

Sometimes, your first sign that a machine’s tracks need to be inspected will come while operating the machine.

Here are some common signs of improper track tension that operators should look out for while operating a machine:
  • Reduced Traction: One of the most noticeable signs for an operator is a decrease in traction. The machine may slip or struggle to maintain grip on the ground, especially on challenging terrains. This lack of traction can hinder the machine's performance, leading to decreased productivity and potentially unsafe operating conditions.
  • Excessive Vibrations: When the tracks are not properly tensioned, the machine may experience increased vibrations during operation. These vibrations can be felt throughout the cabin, causing discomfort for the operator and potentially indicating misalignment or damage in the undercarriage.
  • Uneven Track Wear: If the tracks are not adjusted correctly, uneven wear patterns may develop on the track shoes. This can be observed by the operator during daily inspections or when walking around the machine. Uneven wear indicates a need for adjustment to ensure balanced wear and optimal track life.

Other times, signs of improper track tension may be noticed during inspections.

Here are some common signs of improper track tension to look for while inspecting a machine’s tracks:
  • Visible Track Misalignment: During routine maintenance inspections, you may notice visible signs of track misalignment. This can include tracks that appear off-center or not properly aligned with the undercarriage components.
  • Abnormal Track Sagging: If the tracks are too loose, you may observe abnormal sagging of the tracks. This can be seen when the machine is parked on a flat surface, and the tracks do not maintain the proper tension.
  • Excessive Track Noise: Tracks that are either too tight or too loose may produce unusual and excessive noise during operation. Listen for squealing, rubbing or rattling sounds coming from the undercarriage, indicating potential track adjustment issues.
  • Premature Wear on Undercarriage Components: Tracks that are not properly tensioned can lead to accelerated wear on undercarriage components like rollers, idlers and sprockets. You may notice visible damage or increased wear on these parts, indicating a need for track adjustment.
  • Loose or Damaged Track Shoes: If the tracks are not correctly tensioned, individual track shoes may become loose or damaged. Be sure to inspect the track shoes regularly and look for signs of wear, missing bolts or damaged edges.

How Do You Measure Track Tension?

While the specific process for measuring track tension will depend on the type and size of your machine, the most common process for gauging track tension is as follows:

  1. Park the machine on a flat, level surface.
  2. Lower the boom to raise the tracks. For an excavator, you can position the boom to be perpendicular to the tracks, raising one side at a time.
  3. Once the tracks are raised a few inches off the ground, locate the centermost roller. 
  4. Using a tape measure, measure the track sag, which is the distance between the bottom of the roller and the top of the track.

The proper track sag for your machine should be listed in its service manual. If the track sag is greater than what is indicated by the service manual, the track is too loose. If the track sag is less than the value indicated by the service manual, the track is too tight.

Track Tension Adjustments

Adjusting the tension of your machine’s tracks may be straightforward or complex, depending on the size and type of machine. On many machines with steel tracks, the track can be tightened by using a grease gun to add grease to the front idler, moving it out and increasing tension on the track.

In many cases, the only way to loosen overly-tight tracks is by releasing grease. If your machine’s tracks need to be loosened, you should seek the help of a professional heavy equipment mechanic.

Final Thoughts

The significance of maintaining proper track tension for heavy equipment cannot be overstated. This critical aspect of heavy equipment maintenance ensures optimal performance, increased efficiency, and prolonged equipment lifespan—safeguarding both productivity and operator safety.

If you’re looking for replacement rubber tracks, the EquipmentShare Shop has you covered. Check out our catalog of rubber tracks from some of the industry’s leading manufacturers. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Contact one of our parts experts for personalized assistance.

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