Specifying Rubber Tracks for Rental Equipment

Michael Knight, President
Woodbridge Equipment Parts
Special Collaboration


Rubber tracks can be a great alternative to steel tracks in some applications. They are less damaging to concrete, asphalt and vegetation. They also provide quieter operation and a smoother ride. Eventually, even the best rubber tracks fail, and you will need to replace them.

Woodbridge Equipment Parts, a Canadian-owned, independent dealer, has been helping rental companies with their rubber track needs since 2005. With warehouses in provinces from Newfoundland and Labrador to Manitoba, the company has a huge stock of rubber tracks available.

Think of the applications in which the tracks will be used. When you rent out equipment to customers, the applications can be diverse. You may want to choose a track that operates good in most applications versus one that operates really well in one or two applications but terribly in others.

Once you have decided in which applications the machine will likely operate, you need to choose a tread pattern that works best in those applications.

Here are the most popular tread patterns and their best use cases.

  • C-lug tread – The C-lug tread is easily recognizable since the notches on the tracks look like the letter “C”. It offers a smooth ride and works well both on the road and off the road. The cutting edges increase traction and offer high performance.
  • Staggered tread – Designed for rocky and gravelly terrains as well as other abrasive surfaces. Staggered tread tracks offer a comfortable ride on hard surfaces and minimal ground disturbance.
  • Straight-bar tread – The Straight-bar tread is an aggressive track that is ideal for muddy, wet terrain, but is not well-suited for hard surfaces. When loading a machine equipped with aggressive treads, the treads can even make the machine’s climb into the trailer more difficult.
  • Multi-bar tread – The Multi-bar tread has a greater number of tread lugs per foot, which provides a smoother ride and excellent traction. It works great on loose ground and hard surfaces.

Some tracks are available in a non-marking version; this means that the black from the rubber track is much less likely to mark surfaces. Many are available in standard and wide configurations.

No Industry Standard
Once you have chosen the type of rubber tracks you need, you have to choose a manufacturer.

When rental companies or contractors need to purchase a new set of tracks, they often put out a request for quotes to 3 or 4 suppliers. The one that has the tracks in stock and has the lowest price generally gets the sale.

Sellers of rubber tracks generally make one of two claims: “we have the best tracks” and “we have the cheapest tracks”, and only one of these claims can be verified. You can look at the price and have an objective comparison between multiple products; there is no way to determine who has the best tracks. Therefore, the decision-making surrounding the purchase of rubber tracks is skewed toward purchasing a cheap set of tracks, because the price is the only quantity that can be easily known. And many companies operate this way despite they will inevitably end up paying more for tracks because the cheaper tracks will not last as long and the cost of ownership will increase.

Manufacturers of rubber tracks make a lot of claims about their tracks, but there is not a lot of truth to many claims; it is just spin. They are trying to position their tracks as being more effective or durable in the field than they actually are. No rubber track manufacturer is capable of easily offering their potential customers objective information that demonstrates the superiority of their product.

Comparing rubber tracks is not like comparing rubber tires. All tires are marked with numbers and letters that indicate the tire’s maximum speed, maximum load capacity, composition, etc. There are numerous categories listed for each rubber tire, regardless of manufacturer and this can be used to objectively compare the quality of rubber tires from different manufacturers.

However, there is no industry standard for rubber tracks.

The rubber tire industry is a significantly larger and more mature industry than the rubber track industry, so they have had more time to create industry standards. Plus, rubber tires have been used extensively in general consumer and heavy haul applications for a long time, so governments have been motivated to help rubber tire manufacturers develop industry standards so people can know the performance, durability and composition values for the hundreds of millions of tires on the road in Canada right now.

Without an industry standard that allows for objective comparison of rubber tracks, manufacturers of premium and higher-end rubber tracks have no means of proving their products are superior.

In the absence of an industry standard, manufacturers of premium and higher-end rubber tracks must get into long conversations with potential customers about the materials and the manufacturing process of their tracks, because this will help differentiate their product from their competitors’ products.

Under the Rubber
A rubber track is composed of 3 elements: a steel metal core, steel cablings and the rubber track.

The metal core is a forged product and anyone who has shopped for forged products knows there is a lot of variation in price and quality. There are also low and high-cost steel options.

This is why it is important to check the weight of rubber tracks. When comparing tracks of the same size, if the weights are different, then you know the one that weighs the least either has a lower density core or lower density cabling or less cabling or lower density rubber. Tracks equipped with lower density materials will not withstand the stresses put on it as well as tracks composed of higher density materials.

When it comes to the manufacture of rubber tracks, how are the steel cablings incorporated? Some tracks are equipped with an overlapping steel belt and some are equipped with a continuous steel cord. A continuous steel cord wraps around the inside of the rubber track with no breaks. It is like taking a string and wrapping it around your hands many times – very difficult to break. An overlapping steel belt is like a bracelet. The steel gets cut and vulcanized to form the bracelet, and this creates a weak spot.

However, all of this is hidden; you just see the rubber.

When it comes to quality rubber, you want tracks that are composed primarily of natural rubber and carbon black; carbon black is what gives the rubber its color and helps protect the rubber from ultraviolet light.

In order to promote the quality of their product, some manufacturers will advertise that their market is ISO certified, but this certification has no bearing on the quality of the end product – just the quality of the manufacturing process. It just means that the company manufactures the same product consistently – that each product manufactured meets the specifications with little deviation. So, if you manufacture an inferior product and are ISO certified, it means you consistently manufacture an inferior product.

Product or Commodity?
There is also a difference in the mentality of parts people and other members in the industry toward rubber tracks. Too often, they treat rubber tracks like it is a commodity – and not a product. A commodity is a raw material (or primary agricultural product).

Purchasing rocks for a sub-base is a perfect example. It does not matter where you get the rocks; the rocks are all the same. It is not like rocks from one quarry have performance characteristics that rocks from another quarry do not. All rocks of the same type and size perform in the same manner. The only difference is price (and service).

A product, on the other hand, is a substance that is manufactured or refined for sale. This describes rubber tracks, which have various performance qualities depending on the manufacturer.

If you treat rubber tracks like a commodity, you will forever be purchasing the lowest cost rubber track available only to suffer performance issues in the field and increased downtime because you will need to replace the rubber tracks more often.

It is best to deal with a supplier who has a strong relationship with the manufacturer. They really know their products and the market. Too many suppliers have e-mail-only relationships with their manufacturers and operate like Alibaba. They do not care about their customers. They only care about the price point difference between an item purchased and an item sold. If you deal with an Alibaba-style supplier, you will be treated as a sale. If you deal with a supplier who is about relationships, you will be treated as a client.

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