How to Maintain Heavy Equipment Undercarriage

In spring, earthmoving equipment of all sizes and models hits the road, ready to take on the dirty, rough work of excavation, demolition and moving construction debris.

This work can take a toll on heavy equipment if you don't make daily maintenance a priority, especially when it comes to its undercarriage. The rule of thumb is that the undercarriage accounts for 20 percent of a machine's upfront cost but 50 percent of repair bills, so it literally pays off to take care of it.

The undercarriage of a tracked piece of equipment, or crawler, is similar whether it’s a bulldozer, excavator or loader because the undercarriage is contained within the track mechanism. These are mostly moving parts and include the links, pins, bushings, sprockets, rollers, idlers, shoes and frames that support the machine and move it forward. (A wheeled machine does not have a track but instead relies on wheels and brakes, which are less expensive to maintain.)

One of the most important things an operator or someone else assigned to the task can do at the end of every work day is clean the undercarriage. Depending on the level of onsite muddiness, it might take a hose or a shovel to accomplish this. If the undercarriage is left dirty, the debris will begin to wear on the parts, particularly in freezing weather, when mud hardens and can interfere with the track's guides and rollers.

A daily pre-operation inspection of undercarriage components for signs of excessive wear and tear or missing parts is also key. As part of the inspection, the operator should look ahead at the day's activities and decide whether the current track tension is appropriate. For example, if the machinery will be working on loose or muddy ground, the tension should be loosened up a bit. Operating with the tracking too tight or too loose can shorten the life of the undercarriage.  Also consider whether the shoe width is adequate for the day's terrain.

Using the equipment as the manufacturer intended during operation is also important to maintaining the undercarriage. Avoid running it on rough asphalt or any other surface that can damage the tracks, and don't make sharp turns, which can de-track the machine and increase wear and tear.

By using some common sense — and the owner's manual — you should be able to get the maximum life from your undercarriage and avoid big repair bills in the meantime.

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Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.