Owning & Operating an Undercarriage

Compact track loaders are invaluable and versatile machines, great for working on farms, landscape projects and construction jobs of all kinds. Though they appear similar to skid steer loaders, compact track loaders (also called multi terrain loaders and rubber track loaders) are distinctive machines. Configured with a suspended-track undercarriage, compact track loaders are able to work productively in ground conditions like sand, sloped terrain, mud, snow and on delicate turf that prevent wheeled machines from working at all.

With expanded capabilities, using the same work tool attachments as skid steer loaders, many contractors have added these machines to their fleets. But others are often dissuaded by “sticker shock.” The initial purchase price for a tracked machine is significantly higher than that of a skid steer. However, the actual owning and operating costs can be quite low — if the machine is handled properly.

Standard Operating Procedure

Operators familiar with skid steers must make a few changes to their operating and maintenance practices to keep their compact track loader in good working order. Many of the most common failures maintenance technicians encounter stem from operators trying to run a compact track loader like a skid steer and are easily prevented.

Reading and understanding the Operations and Maintenance Manual (OMM) is the first and most important step to operating safely and profitably. These manuals contain details specific to the model, as well as safety
features, operating capacities and other information to
help the operator maximize the machine’s capabilities.

When working on slopes, carry the lightest load possible and carry the load as low as possible. Keep the heaviest end of the machine uphill. Always come to a stop and slowly turn the machine when changing direction on a slope. Never make sharp 90-degree turns, instead use “Y-turns” to change directions.

Transitions are places with a change in slope or elevation such as a curb, ledge or area where a level surface becomes a slope. When traveling over a transition, keep the machine at 90 degrees to the transition, with the machine’s tracks fully supported by the ground. If part of the machine’s track is hanging off the ground, stability is compromised and the undercarriage is subject to side stress.

Avoid exerting downward pressure on the bucket
when grading or back dragging. Skid steer operators often use this technique, but it’s counterproductive with a track loader, as raising the tracks means reducing traction. Instead, operators should back drag with the loader arms in “float” position and apply only enough downward
pressure to smooth the surface.

Check Track Tension

Tracks should not be overly tight or loose. Tracks that are too tight will wear more quickly. If they are not tight enough, the drive lugs can jump over the sprocket rollers and damage the drive lugs. Check the tension by
applying the amount of weight recommended by the manufacturer to the midpoint of the track to cause it
to deflect. Then, measure the amount of deflection.
If needed, adjust the tension.

Maintenance Matters

Daily walk-around inspections and maintenance will help keep compact track loaders in top condition. Operators should check the machine and jobsite before each workday, looking for hidden dangers on the jobsite like large ruts or holes, pieces of scrap or rebar that could damage the machine, as well as any changes of slope. Remove any such materials from the work area if possible. Also note the ground conditions (gravel, mud, ice, etc.).
If the machine must travel through an enclosure, like a yard gate, measure to ensure proper clearance.

Next, inspect the machine. Look for and remove any debris in the air intake vents or undercarriage. Inspect the tracks for damage, including the drive lugs. Check the track tension and make sure that the sprocket sleeves turn freely. Tighten any loose hardware and check the fluid levels. Don’t forget to inspect the engine for damage, debris and excessive wear.

Telltale Signs

Improper operating procedures can take their toll on compact track loader undercarriages. The tracks and
undercarriage components will show signs of wear more quickly and will need replacement more frequently if
operated improperly. The wear patterns on tracks, idlers and roller wheels from improper operating techniques can help contractors diagnose the problems and take steps to correct them.

Drive lugs or sprockets showing excessive wear at the
top can indicate that the track is too loose. Consult the
operator’s manual and adjust the tension to within the

recommended range for the machine or application.

Safety First

1. Enter the compact track loader safely: Climb over the arms and bucket, never under them.

2. Always maintain three points of contact when

entering and exiting the machine — both hands and one foot or both feet and one hand.

3. Know the safety features inside the cab, such as emergency exits and seat belts.

4. Park on flat ground before starting maintenance.

5. Shut off the engine before working on the track.

6. Be sure the rear door is secured.

7. Never walk under the machine’s arms unless they are properly supported with a safety bracket.

Rubber chunking on the interior of the undercarriage’s
rubber components may indicate that the operator has been taking his or her turns too tightly or counter rotating the machine too often. Those tight turns have pushed dirt, rocks or other material between the track and roller wheels, after coming out of the turn these materials will become more processed through the undercarriage, increasing wear. In some cases, if excessive material is introduced into the track, it can cause track derailment, especially if working on slopes. To minimize wear and prevent derailments, be sure operators know to use three-point or “Y-turns” and know how to use proper slope operating techniques.

Contact your equipment dealer or equipment rental provider for other sources of training. CD-ROMs, DVDs and VHS tutorials detailing proper machine operation and maintenance techniques should be available from the manufacturer, along with other equipment management materials and undercarriage maintenance guides.

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