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Repair or Replace a Cracked Combine Wheel?

keltgen wheel
September 1, 2022
min read

At Keltgen Wheel, cracked combine wheels are a common complaint we deal with. Search ag forums, and you’ll find a few suggestions to cure the problem: Don’t overtorque the bolts. Lubricate the bolts before you install them. Turn on the header suspension if you run down the road with the head on. Don’t leave the auger out while harvesting. While these may be helpful suggestions, we think there are a few more basic problems at work with cracked combine wheels. Learn about these problems, and you can better help your customers choose the best wheels for their combines—wheels that will help ensure maximum uptime during harvest.

Cracked Combine Dual Image: Let’s hit them with this beauty
Most wheel failures begin with a small crack at the bolt holes.

Why are combine wheels prone to cracking?

Combine Weight

Let’s deal with the big one first: the combine. A class 9 combine approaches 20 tons per axle when empty. Even a class 7 or class 8 combine is no shrimp and still puts an enormous amount of weight on its axles.

But a combine doesn't stay empty, of course. And we all know how important it is to keep the combine moving, so a good majority of combines have hopper extensions on them. If someone's added a hopper extension and hasn't beefed up his tire and wheel setup, he's asking for wheel failures. Weight is the #1 cause of wheel failures on combines.

Wheel Design

Although some combines sport tracks or large super-single tires, most combines lurch off the assembly line with dolly duals. One bolt circle with 10 or 20 bolts holds the duals together and to the combine’s final drive. Dolly duals are notorious for cracking. And they usually fail during a busy harvest day at the farthest point from the field approach. These cracks start at the bolt holes and spider web outwards. It’s not uncommon to see entire centers detach from their rims and leave the wheel hanging.  

Manufacturing Methods

The cost-effective (fast) way of manufacturing wheels involves a stamping process. A massive press pushes metal into a die and into shape. Made this way, the wheel’s metal can become weakened—stretched or mushroomed. We’re talking fractions of an inch here. But a fraction of an inch is enough inconsistency to invite cracks and eventual wheel failures.

In case you’re wondering, Keltgen Wheel uses a different manufacturing process. With our spun disc process, the steel molecules are work hardened during the spinning process—not stretched. This makes a tougher wheel, ready to go to work and continue working for your business.

A customer has a cracked combine wheel. Now what?

A customer has dug his combine out of the shed and carefully inspected its wheels. He notices a few cracks on the auger-side inside dual. What's his next step? He gives your business a call looking for a solution. At Keltgen, we can offer you several options. The first is to send the customer's wheel in for repair. To repair a combine wheels we cut out the problem wheel’s center and replace it with a larger, sturdier one, and shotblast and powder coat the wheel to give it that like-new look.

3 Times When It Pays to Buy New Wheels instead of Repairing One

If a customer calls with a cracked wheel, you may want to ask a few questions to get a clearer picture of the situation so you can offer the best (longest-lasting) solution to the problem:

  1. Is this your first cracked wheel, or have you had this problem multiple times?
  2. Have you upgraded your combine with a wider head or hopper extension?
  3. How old is your combine? (Are the wheels getting up there in years?) Do you plan to run it for several more years?

These questions can help you determine the best option for a customer's wheel. Our repaired wheels are strong than factory spec, but if someone has upgraded his combine with a larger head or hopper extension, the stock wheel and tire package may no longer be a fit for the combine. Likewise, if a farmer is telling you that he's had multiple cracked wheels before on his combine, you have an important clue that a tire and wheel package upgrade may be his best bet.

Think Twice Before Suggesting A Used Wheel 

So you have a used wheel on your lot that matches the customer's cracked wheel. It's tempting to offer it up and help the farmer save a few (or several) bucks. How do you know he's not going to have the same cracking issue with your used wheel? Remember the three questions you just read above. Your factory-spec used wheel could develop a similar cracking issue and leave the farmer stranded in the middle of harvest.

Your Best Solution to Cracked Combine Wheels: Upgrade to Keltgen Combine Straddle Duals

At Keltgen we offer straddle duals based on Kirchner's straddle dual design, which has been proven to reduce—or almost eliminate—cracking issues over the past 35 years. Straddle duals use two bolt circles (instead of the one circle on OE duals) to dissipate the stresses placed on the wheel over a much larger surface area. The inner bolt circle bolts the inner wheel to the combine hub; the outer bolt circle fastens the duals together. Both the centers and rims of straddle duals are made from heavier gauge metal than OE duals as well.  

Straddle Dual Image: Another winner: Silver is better than gold.
Most wheel failures begin with a small crack at the bolt holes.

Fewer Wheel Failures and Mud Issues

Because of their beefier heritage, straddle duals are a more expensive option up front. (You’ll often need to add frame extensions to the package as well.) But it’s important to remember that you’re selling uptime and better in-field performance to your customer.

Typical tire sizes with straddle duals range from 710/70R38 to 800s. These larger tires and wheels help in several ways:

  • Higher load capacities for better reliability.
  • Increased flotation for better performance in wet conditions.
  • Higher fuel efficiency—less effort required to climb out of ruts.

Have a Cracked Combine Wheel? Call Keltgen

Even the smallest crack will eventually work its way from the center to the rim and cause a catastrophic failure. When a customer calls in with a cracked combine wheel, you have a great opportunity to upsell the customer on Keltgen Straddle Duals. Not sure if you should recommend a repair or a complete wheel upgrade for a specific case? Call Keltgen Wheel and speak with our product experts. Our wheel solutions are Forged to Go Further.