What are the Common Causes of Damage to Excavators?

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SERV Plant Hire - History of the excavator

A broken or damaged excavator can cause a host of problems, but what are the common causes of damage to excavators? With their wide range of styles, sizes and applications, excavators are by far the most commonly used item of plant. Despite their rugged, sturdy construction, designed to take a serious amount of on-site punishment, they are not immune to damage if used inappropriately. This can result in expensive repairs, downtime leading to lost work and potential injury to operators and other workers nearby. Next month we will deal with ways of avoiding these costly mistakes, but for now let’s look at the causes themselves.

Damage to Undercarriage

While the undercarriage technically includes the tracks, these will be given their own section below. Here we are discussing the supporting framework beneath the cab.

1. Corrosion

While excavators use metals and paint designed to resist corrosion in normal circumstances, the wide array of worksites can still pose problems. Work in chemical plants, recycling plants and similar environments can bring them into contact with especially corrosive substances. Prolonged contact with water, especially saltwater, can cause rusting and corrosion if the base is immersed for too long. Parking in waterlogged soil or areas of saltwater, for example beaches or estuaries, can increase this risk as the base sits in water for extended periods.

2. Physical Damage

Excavators work in a variety of rough ground conditions and a certain amount of dents and scratches are inevitable. However, needlessly riding over obstructions or seriously uneven ground will exacerbate this as the undercarriage drags over sharp or rough textures. Constructions sites will inevitably have areas of loose rock, broken masonry, gravel and broken or bent metal, all of which can contribute. Scratches and dents beneath the excavator also allow corrosive liquids and water to penetrate the paintwork, causing damage as described above.

Damage To Tracks

1. Trapped Debris

If working in areas with a lot of loose debris on the ground, soil, stones and other loose materials can be drawn into the tracks. This can then become lodged between the tracks and guiding and driving wheels. Not only can this grind against the metal components and erode them, it can increase track tension, causing the tracks to snap. Loose soil and other small debris can also cause wheels or track joints to seize. This will place added pressure on the engine and drive mechanism and potentially snap the tracks. During winter, wet soil left in the tracks can freeze overnight, expanding and causing further damage.

2. Extended Road Use

Excavators are perfectly suited to driving on roads or paved surfaces for short periods, but this should be kept to a minimum. Not only will steel tracks damage the road surface, they will be damaged themselves by prolonged contact. While excavators are designed to be mobile, driving for extended periods and driving at speed can damage the crawler and tracks. Ideally, rubber tracks should be used, but even these will be damaged by prolonged contact with tarmac or impact with kerbs.

3. Uneven and Sloped Surfaces

During parking or operation, the weight of an excavator positioned sideways on a sloped surface is unevenly distributed. The lower track has almost all of the weight of the equipment concentrated on it as a result. This uneven force on the excavator crawler can cause tracks to break or crack over prolonged periods. During operation this can also damage the lugs and run the risk of de-tracking.

Other Sources Of Damage

1. Collisions

This is easily the most cause of damage to excavators in construction if work is not planned properly in advance. Other plant machinery in operation can move unexpectedly, causing collisions if both operators are not fully aware of their surroundings. Large excavators with increased tail-swing can easily hit surrounding structures when rotating in confined spaces. Attempting to move large equipment of any kind into enclosed spaces can put it at risk of collision with doorways and walls. If parking brakes are not applied properly or the excavator is parked on an uneven surface, it can roll or slide unexpectedly into equipment or structures.

2. Falling Debris

This is particularly likely when using excavators for demolition or forestry work. Falling or collapsing concrete, masonry or trees can hit the excavator as they fall, damaging the body of the excavator. The increased weight of the materials involved make them a serious hazard to equipment breaking their fall. This can also place operators at extreme risk of injury or death if the cab is smashed or crushed. Further to the damage caused, a trapped excavator will then need to be extricated from the debris to continue working.

3. Incorrect Or Poorly Fitted Attachments

Excavator attachments are designed to be used with specific makes and models of excavator. Attempting to connect other attachments or forcing them to connect can damage the attachment and the fitting. These could then work loose during operation and drop off, damaging the excavator or surrounding structures. If the excavator is equipped with a quick hitch, the operator should be familiar with its use. This will guarantee that the attachment is safely connected and operates efficiently without causing wear to the excavator. Using the wrong attachments for specific loads can also allow them to swing and hit the excavator during operation.

4. Contact with Power Lines or Hidden Services

If the operator is unaware of overhead power lines, it is easy to accidentally strike them with an extended excavator arm. Not only does this put the operator at risk of electrocution, it can destroy onboard electrics and cause fires. Similarly, buried power lines or gas mains can easily be ruptured or cut by unsuspecting operators who have not been made aware of their presence. The resulting fires or explosions can cause untold damage to the excavator and its surroundings.

5. Tipping and Overturning

As noted earlier, excavators operating horizontally on slopes have unevenly distributed weight, concentrated on the lower side. If the slope is too steep, or the weight is increased by rotating the cab or extending the arm, the excavator can easily tip and overturn. This will not only damage the excavator, but can cause the operator to be ejected from the cab and be injured or crushed. Travelling too quickly or with attachments improperly lowered can also cause rollovers, especially in the case of a sudden stop. Sitting too close or straddling a trench while excavating can easily cause cave-ins, particularly in soft or loose soil. This can cause the excavator to fall in and overturn, damaging equipment, crushing workers and damaging buried services.


SERV Plant Hire are plant and machinery specialists offering a huge variety of construction equipment and tools for hire to the North West of England. We offer a range of market leading Manitou telehandlers, from compact models ideal for urban and indoor work to our largest model with a lift of 18 metres. We can also supply a variety of attachments to fully exploit the versatility telehandlers offer. Whatever your needs, contact us, we will be happy to answer any questions and ensure you have the best equipment for the job in hand.

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