If you are an experienced excavator owner or operator, you may take satisfaction in small repairs or component replacements that you can do on your own. Changing oil or other fluids is one thing, but what about heavier tasks, like replacing tracks after they have worn out or become damaged?
If this is something you think you can do yourself with help from a co-worker, then go ahead. Please remember that rubber and steel tracks weigh several hundred pounds, so it is critical to follow all manufacturer-recommended safety procedures.
Because rubber and steel tracks make ground contact more often than any other component, they will need to be swapped out from time to time. Replacing them yourself can be gruelling, but the work can be accomplished if you know what you are doing.
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A few words of caution:
None of this work should be done without help from a co-worker. If no one is available to help, wait, or call an authorized repair center to see if onsite replacement is possible.
Here are basic steps to follow, but also refer to the operator’s manual. With the replacement track safely positioned nearby, do the following.
- The first step is to use a wrench to remove the grease fitting. You also must lessen or fully release track tension, which can be accomplished if you collapse the idler by stepping down and standing on the track’s bottom side. This also is a good time to inspect the grease fitting and decide if it needs replacement.
- Carefully push down in the machine’s front blade to tilt the track upwards.
- Now, get into the cab, rotate it, and then lower the boom. This will lift up and suspend the other end.
- At this point, your co-worker should be standing by and ready to place heavy duty jack stands under the machine to support the undercarriage. This is a safety measure to protect undercarriage components and the excavator’s hydraulics.
- Ideally, you can now free one end of the track from where it is held in place by the sprocket teeth. If necessary, a pry bar will come in handy. You can use it to remove the track from the sprocket teeth while your helper moves the excavator forward cautiously and slowly.
- This is where the track can finally be removed. Because the tracks weight several hundred pounds, you will need to use a forklift to fully remove it and place it somewhere else.
You can use this time to inspect the excavator’s undercarriage for signs of wear and tear, or damage to sensitive components. A pressure washer and rake can be used to remove stubborn items, including dirt, rocks, and other debris. Also, note any components that look to be candidates for replacement.
- With the help of a co-worker, start at the rear of the excavator and attach the new track to the sprocket teeth.
- Remember that pry bar from earlier? It now can be used to position the track properly on the front idler at the same time your co-worker is guiding it forward.
- Now that the tracks are installed, manually rotate them a few times to ensure they move unimpeded. At the same time, make sure the tension is correct and whether a readjustment is needed.
- Get back into the cab and lower the boom to place the back of the track in contact with the ground.
Finally, lower the blade and lower the front end of the track till it touches the ground.
Common Track Maintenance Issues
No matter the size of the excavator you operate or the type of tracks installed, all construction machinery will eventually fail due to normal wear and tear. Failure could mean engine replacement, hydraulics need repair or the technology of the machine itself has fallen behind the times and it is too expensive to operate compared to a new generation model. Here are the most common maintenance issues affecting the operating life of rubber or steel tracks.
- Improperly adjusted track tension. A large percentage of compact excavators use rubber tracks, which must be kept properly adjusted to ensure you get the most miles out of them as possible. Proper track tension also minimizes wear and tear of undercarriage components.
If a track is too loose, you will be forced to stop working to adjust – perhaps more than once if you do not get it right the first time. A track that is too tight also is bad, as this will cause early and unnecessary damage to the rubber itself. Improperly adjusted track tension can damage sprockets, traction motors, and front idlers as well as other components.
- Pins, bushings, and other moving parts need to be greased regularly per manufacturer recommendations. Some components need to be greased more frequently, especially if the excavator is being used hours each day by different operators.
- The propel drive gearbox. Like other components, the gearbox will get dirty and collect its share of mud, caked-on dirt, grime, and other debris. If ignored, they will fail and result in costly repairs. Most gearboxes need an oil change every 1,000 work hours and hold anywhere from one half to one quart of oil.
- Hydraulic oils. Do not be fooled by how a sample of hydraulic oil looks. After your excavator has been in use for thousands of hours, hydraulic oil will falter, losing viscosity and the strength to hold contaminants in suspension. All moving parts need clean hydraulic fluids of the right quantity and type, so consult with your owner’s manual for details.
One last failure point is record keeping. No one likes paperwork, but it is recommended that service and maintenance records be kept for your machinery. Every time you change a wiper blade or replace an oil filter, note the day. These steps will help keep your machine in tip-top shape for years to come.