How to inspect a used compact track loader

Marcia Doyle Headshot
Updated Apr 25, 2013

Compact track loaders have gained enormous popularity in the past decade, giving contractors the ability to get onto jobs that normally would have kept a wheeled skid steer on the sidelines. We were fortunate to be able to grab a 1,900-pound-rated-operating-capacity Bobcat T190 between owners. With 1,408 hours, it had just come out of a landscaper’s fleet and would probably end up with another landscaper in its second life.

Our inspectors estimated this track still had 65 percent of its life left, or about 700 hours, provided it worked in a dirt application in its second life.Our inspectors estimated this track still had 65 percent of its life left, or about 700 hours, provided it worked in a dirt application in its second life.

Two experts were on hand to review this vertical-lift-path machine: Jody Knox, sales manager, and John Howland, president, both with Loader Services & Equipment, the Bobcat dealer in Pelham and Huntsville, Alabama. First up: the walk around.


Walk around

A walk around will give you an idea of the machine’s general condition, and allow you take note of any thing you want to explore in detail later. (Go to to download our handy checklist to take notes as you do your review.) It’s also good to have a camera along so you can refresh your memory about any specific areas.

Take a look inside the cab. Are there any signs of excessive wear, such as a torn seat, frayed seat belt, cracked or broken glass? If the machine’s interior shows signs of mistreatment, it could be a sign that other items have been neglected, or that the machine was in a severe use application. Also note whether the non-skid material on the steps is intact.

Examine the condition of the track on both sides of the machine. Knox estimates our inspection machine had about 65 percent of its track life left, showing no major cuts or gashes. Still, remaining track life will depend how the second owner uses the machine, notes Knox.

Most service items on the T190 are in this rear area. Check all filter service hours/date, electrical wiring and battery connections. Make sure shrouds are in place and there are no oil leaks.Most service items on the T190 are in this rear area. Check all filter service hours/date, electrical wiring and battery connections. Make sure shrouds are in place and there are no oil leaks.

As you continue your walk around, look for hairline cracks and non-factory welds on the frame, especially on the loader arms, which get the brunt of everyday loads and stresses. Remember that lift arms are a safety item, so check that any repair welds in these areas have been done correctly. The rear engine access door is another area to check, especially for dents that go beyond normal wear and tear. And check all lift and bucket tilt cylinders and hydraulic hoses for damage or leaks.


Interior compartments

Open up the swing-out tailgate. The first check is the door itself, says Howland. “Make sure the door and latch are good and sound, because you don’t want the door flying open,” he says.

On the T190, the rear compartment is where many of the filters are located, plus access to the battery, starter and 61-horsepower engine. Look throughout the compartment for oil leaks, and make sure all shrouds are in place. “Most oil leaks come from hoses,” Knox says. Check the level and color of the engine and hydraulic oils.

“Your air filter is the key to life on these machines because they run in the dirt,” Howland says. Unscrew the filter housing and check both filters inside for cleanliness. Pull out the filters and see if there’s any dirt in the housing. “I’ve pulled them out before and noticed there wasn’t a washer on the wingnut that fastens the cover to the filter housing, and so the air was just pulling through that area,” Howland says.

Note the date and hour marked on the engine, hydraulic and fuel filters, which typically indicates the last service. Check them against the machine’s number of hours and the recommended service intervals. “If they don’t match up, I would question whether the previous owner kept up on his service intervals,” Howland says.

Check out the radiator compartment, making sure it’s clean and free from debris and not damaged by people trying to clean it with a pressure washer. Check the glycol level.

Examine the electrical wiring to ensure it’s not worn, and is clean and tied up properly.

Make sure there is no black soot on the back door, a sign the exhaust system may have been damaged at one time. “If you have hot exhaust leaking in the back of the engine compartment, you could damage your radiator or wiring,” Howland says. “If you let the exhaust melt your wiring or heat up air filter intakes, then you’ve really got a problem.”

Another interior checkpoint on the T190 is underneath the cab, accessed by undoing two bolts and lifting the cab up and back. In this area, inspect all hydraulic hoses and control valves for leaks and dirt.

Knox recommends that you get your dealer’s mechanic to give any machine you’re giving serious consideration to a thorough going over. “It doesn’t cost much, and it could be the best money you ever spent,” he says.



On each side of the machine, take special note of the wear on the sprocket, idler and rollers. Well-worn sprockets get pointed edges. Idlers, which usually have a smooth wear surface, will start to show cut grooves in the center, especially on the rear idler. And while you’re operating the machine later on, note any roller squeaking or wiggling.

“Compact track loaders aren’t like skid steers,” Knox says. “You can’t use the bucket to lift the front of the track off the ground when back dragging. Doing that will definitely give you idler wear.”

If the tread shows signs of cuts or gashes, or of being bent, likely because of something it ran over, you might have to replace it. Machines that run primarily in soft dirt will show less tread wear than those run on pavement or hard rocks. Knox estimated that there were approximately 700 additional hours of use on our T190’s treads – provided its second life was primarily in dirt.

Another cost consideration when you look at a used loader is whether your jobs will require the extra cost of a specialized tread. Knox says the T190’s standard 12.6-inch C-pattern lug track should meet most needs, however.

And make sure someone hasn’t put a new tread on an undercarriage with a worn out sprocket, Howland says. “It will shorten the life of the track.”



Since replacing a standard bucket can cost in the neighborhood of $1,000, inspect it thoroughly. Our machine had a cutting edge in good shape. The machine you’re considering may have teeth, however. “Sometimes we’ll see them with cutting edges that are half mooned out,” Knox says. “If you don’t pay attention to the wear on the teeth or cutting edge, it can get into the structure of the bucket.”

Detach the bucket from the machine, pulling the levers of the coupler up, checking if they work properly, and there are no bends or fractures in the area. The coupler is critical since these loaders use a variety of attachments. And check the step indentions on the bucket for hairline fractures.


Operational checks

Get inside the cab, turn on the engine, and note if the starter turns over properly. Write down the machine hours. Operate all interior lights and instrument controls, including heating and air conditioning (if the machine has it). Does the seat belt extend/retract and click in place smoothly? Is the seat bar operational and still serve its secondary function as an armrest? Operate the front windshield wiper and washer on enclosed cabs.

Test the emergency engine/hydraulic shutdown, which allows you to lower the loader arms slowly to the ground and exit the machine safely if the engine dies or hydraulics fail. To do this in the T190, raise the loader’s arms, then pull and twist the shutdown lever red knob located at the right side of the seat.

Go through several lift and dump cycles, noting any hesitations or play in the bushings. Get a good feel for how the controls work – are they responding properly? Do they center up in neutral? (Although our machine had two hand lever controls, the T190 can also come with joysticks.) Note how the pedals work, and how tight everything is. When driving the machine, make sure it’s not pulling to one side.

Tilt the bucket down and push down, noting if there’s any play in the bucket pins and linkage. Make sure the auxiliary hydraulics are working properly. “Typically on a T190, if the boom and bucket are responding like they’re supposed to and moving at the right speed, the auxiliary hydraulics pump is performing,” Howland says. “But go ahead and dead head the hydraulics, so you can hear it trying to cut on.” (On the T190, the same pump is used for lift, tilt and auxiliary hydraulics.)

As you take the machine through its paces, note the seat’s suspension. Does it adjust properly? Will it make a long day in the machine comfortable?

Check the hydraulic drive operation after you’ve had the engine running for at least 10 minutes. Also have a second person go back to the engine compartment to check for exhaust and oil leaks.


Add it up

Review your notes, paying attention specifically to where certain areas will require either repair or total replacement. Get an estimate on each item and add it to the asking price … or use it to negotiate a lower price.

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