Or, How to avoid the most costly treadmill repair bills.
Bottom line up front: Perform routine maintenance and service on your treadmill every 6 months at a minimum, in order to avoid expensive ($500) repair bills.
The single biggest cause of major component failure in treadmills, from Full Commercial down to Residential quality machines, is one simple thing: Dirt!
Back story: Treadmills and other pieces of fitness equipment have been built to last "forever" in the settings they were built to serve. That is to say, a full commercial treadmill is built to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for at least the length of the warranty period. Usually that's from 2-5 years. Frames and motors are warrantied for life.
Light Commercial treadmills are designed for up to 6 hours of use per day.
Residential treadmills are all over the board, but we can lump them together and say that they are good for "a couple" hours of use per day.
However, even some of today's new residential rated treadmills have guaranteed for life frames and motors. It's safe to say that treadmills in particular and fitness equipment in general is built exceedingly well and should provide years and years of faithful service to your runners, guests, and residents.
But they break, and the repairs are often more than replacement cost for residential models:
Typical motor failure, parts and labor, $500.
Typical board failure, parts and labor, $450.
Typical belt failure, parts and labor, $350.
Repair bills go up from there. Repair parts for commercial equipment, especially some of the older models are quite expensive, as they are no longer made new and must be re-manufactured, or are made by aftermarket specialists. Residential treadmills are usually inexpensive on the front end, but very difficult and expensive to fix in the long run. Like computer printers, it's usually easier and less expensive to just buy a new one.
SO back we go to the topic: Why do these "built to last" treadmills break? It's dirt, more than anything.
If the treadmill is not serviced about every 6 months, things start to go bad. Like a liver, it takes a long time for the abuse to show up, and then when it does, it is catastrophic, usually resulting in major component failure (belt, control board, motor). Dirt, hair, dust and other contaminants build up between the walking belt and the deck, around the motor, and on the control board, not to mention all over the working parts of the treadmill.
Increased Friction: Dirt builds up between the walking belt and deck, increasing the friction between these two critical parts. Sometimes people put in more lube. Sometimes that helps, but if the belt wasn't cleaned ahead of time, it can hurt. More dirt gets stuck in there, which increases the friction. When there is more friction, the motor has to work harder to move the belt at the right speed. More work draws more power. More power going through the control board generates excessive heat. Components start to fail.
Wicking Lubrication: What is that? Modern roller bearings, like those on the front and rear roller of the treadmill, are lubed for life, meaning we never need to get in there and add more grease, and the bearing should last the entire life of the equipment. But we still see bearing failure caused by dirt. Hair and fine dust particles actually work there way in to the bearing and start to add friction, which generates heat. This dirt and hair also starts to wick away the oil in the grease.
(side note: grease is a compound made of of liquid oil, held in suspension by a soap sponge). Added heat brings more oil out of suspension, which means more of it wicks away from the bearing, which increases the heat.. and You see where this is going. Over a while, we get bearing failure. Along the way, though, we added to the work the motor had to do in order to keep the belt moving, and hastened along the eventual control board failure.
Unusual Wear and Tear: While the walking belt and deck are dirty, they are wearing at an unusual rate. Too much dirt, and not enough lubrication will cause premature failure of both the deck and the walking belt.
Routine service is the single best thing we can do to keep that treadmill running right and not need extensive repairs. Every 6 months, a competent professional should spend an hour taking the machine apart, inspecting, cleaning, and lubricating. It's like changing the oil in a car: It's easy and cheap, unless it is not done, and then stuff gets expensive real fast.