Basic maintenance on your equipment can make it last and continue to be profitable for your company
They can move a lot of dirt in a short time, but all that muscle doesn’t mean your skid-steer or compact track loader doesn’t need some daily care to keep it operating at its full potential and to protect your investment. “It’s really important to do a few basic things to maximize the life,” says John Deere Product Marketing Manager Gregg Zupancic.
With just a few minutes of attention, an operator can be sure that the equipment will make it through the day without breaking down and will maintain its performance longer.
“Take 30 seconds to just walk around the machine every day,” says Zupancic. “Make sure you have the right air pressure in your tires or right tension on the track, open up the engine compartment to make sure the hydraulic fluid and engine oil levels are right, all your latches are locked properly, and there’s nothing hanging from the undercarriage or around the axles. It doesn’t take long to ensure your machine is ready for the day.”
Zupancic adds that it’s important to check the hydraulic cooling system, which can be subject to clogging of the cooler core. “These are small machines with an incredible amount of horsepower and hydraulic capacity, so they can heat up. The cooling fans are very large, they pull a lot of air, but also suck in a lot of airborne debris. So make sure your coolers are free of debris or you risk the chance of running the machine hot. Your oil deteriorates quicker with an overheated machine, or it might shut down in the middle of a job because all machines have automatic shut-off for hydraulic and engine protection.”
Another quick check at the end of the day sets you up well for the next day. “Get a shovel and clean out the undercarriage of mud and dirt. Especially in the northern climate, mud can freeze and in the morning a frozen undercarriage will be difficult to break free and it could break the internal rubber components.”
Another easy, and important, check is track tension. “If it’s too tight, the machine is going to work a lot harder to get the track to go around, and you’ll wear out the rubber more quickly,” says Zupancic. “If it’s too loose, the track will tend to slap around and you can damage it. It could come off and you might bend some of the track guides or break the internal components of the track and then you’d have to replace it.”
All manufacturers have their own guidance for track tension and making adjustments. “For John Deere, we tell customers to tip the bucket forward and lift the front of the machine off the ground. Measure the sag of the rubber track hanging down from one of the middle rolling components. If it’s about a thumb’s width, 1 inch, you’re good to go.”
Adjusting the tension is done with the grease fittings. If it’s loose, just add some grease with a grease gun to tighten it. If it’s too tight, use a socket to loosen the fitting to let some grease out.
He adds that replacing the rubber track is more expensive for track loaders compared to replacing tires on a skid-steer. “Replacing a rubber track can cost from $1,000 to $2,000 per side, depending on the quality of the rubber, compared to $200 to $400 for a skid steer tire. So you want to take care of that.”
PICKING THE RIGHT MACHINE
“A compact track loader compared to comparable size skid-steer costs anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 more,” according to Zupancic. “The undercarriage has a lot of special steel rolling components and sprockets, and there’s a lot more rubber on a track loader than there is with a skid-steer.”
Despite the added cost, sales of track loaders have outpaced skid-steers the last few years. “Our customers are willing pay more because of the performance attributes of track loaders,” says Zupancic.
The key factor, of course, is how the machine will be used. “If you’re doing a lot of work in a rocky environment or gravel that can get between the rolling components and the track, you can chunk out a rubber track pretty easily. A tired machine might be better for those harsh applications. If you’re working on hard surfaces all the time, a skid-steer is going to be better because of the way they turn. On a track vehicle, the tracks turn against each other and fight against each other. You can really burn up the track pretty quickly if you’re primarily running on asphalt or concrete.”
Another consideration is pushing power. “A skid-steer won’t be able to push as much, partially because it doesn’t weigh as much and also because it has less rubber touching the ground,” says Zupancic. “A track loader can bite into the ground and get really good traction. They typically have a planetary drive system with three gears that will multiply torque to give a lot of power for dozing and grading applications.”
Skid-steers are faster, however. “They can travel faster, around 12 mph, if speed is important in getting the job done or moving from point A to point B. A track loader is maxed out at 7 or 8 mph,” he says.
Track loaders can lift more and work on steeper slopes because of the added weight and having more rubber in contact with the ground, and are better on soft ground because of the lower ground pressure they exert. “A track loader can pretty much work 365 days a year. It might have between 4 and 5 pounds per square inch of ground pressure while a skid-steer has around 30 to 35 pounds. That gives you an idea of how a track loader can float over soft or muddy conditions. One specific application I can think of where a skid-steer is better is snow removal. They are faster and have high ground pressure so you can get better traction on the ice.”
No matter the type of machine you select, a little daily attention can go a long way in keeping it working right for you for many years.