How to fix your broken treadmill for free

As someone who is tall with a slim build, I fooled myself into thinking that I didn’t need to exercise for the bulk of my career, mainly because I don’t put on any weight. Now I don’t kid myself that I am the fittest person out there (far from it actually), but I figured that if I kept my weight under control and felt OK then everything would be fine, right?

Well my thinking changed fairly rapidly when I really got into the whole early retirement concept, as I noticed that a huge portion of aspiring early retirees actually look after their health with regular exercise. This shouldn’t have been surprising really, simply because many early retirees have a lot in common, such as:

  1. They are planning on having a long retirement, and that requires actually having decent health to enjoy that retirement;
  2. Being in good physical condition allows you to enjoy so many of life’s most enjoyable activities, many of which are entirely free;
  3. It’s a lot cheaper to be healthy than it is to be unhealthy (think of the amount you’d save on medical bills and other remedies required for self-inflicted physical ailments); and
  4. They want to get away from the stress of the rat race, and exercise is a great way to relieve stress.

When I immersed myself in the early retirement blogging world in September 2014 I decided that I really should start exercising regularly, and since that time I have made brief amounts of exercise (usually 15-20 minutes) part of my daily routine.

Enter my trusty treadmill

This is my trusty treadmill. It was free and seemed to work just fine... until it didn't.

This isn’t my actual treadmill, but it’s a photo of what I think is the same model. It was free and seemed to work just fine… until it didn’t.

As soon as I decided that I needed daily exercise, I went out and bought a cheap bike. I found my mountain bike on (probably the Australian equivalent of Craigslist) for the princely sum of $50 (I negotiated him down from $60), and began riding it every morning. All of this was going great until I ran into trouble with weather. You see, at this stage I wasn’t serious enough to want to actually ride a bike in the rain, so I needed to find an alternative way of exercising in bad weather.

Thankfully a solution presented itself in the form of a treadmill purchased by my wife’s mother about five years earlier which was now sitting unused and collecting dust. She said that we could borrow it, and after it has been in our shed for over 12 months I can’t see us returning it any time soon!

Now this trusty treadmill has been going strong with only the slightest bit of maintenance (think WD40 to stop the squeaks, and some silicon spray to keep the belt moving freely), until one day recently…

I broke the deck…

I don’t profess to be an expert on treadmills, but when I heard a nasty cracking sound (and felt a huge amount of springyness when running on the treadmill) I did some basic investigation to find out what was wrong. The problem was a broken deck, which is the large flat surface that sits inside the belt and effectively takes your weight.

Now I bet you’re thinking “How heavy is this guy if he managed to break the deck on his treadmill?”, but I only weigh ~85kgs (187lbs) and the treadmill deck is rated to carry 120kgs. So you really wouldn’t think that my weight would be enough to break it!

Look at the damage! You're probably thinking that I must weigh 150kgs, but I only weigh 85kg!

Look at the damage! You’re probably thinking that I must weigh 150kgs, but I only weigh 85kg!

I initially looked at the treadmill with its motor, belt and a million components and was quite daunted by the potential repair bill, but with an attitude of self-sufficiency I went straight to Doctor Google to see if he could help me out. A quick google search told me that broken decks are actually quite common on Healthstream treadmills, and the manual for my treadmill (also found on Google) gave me instructions for how to replace the deck. Now I just had to get the part that I needed.

After a lot of searching on Google I wasn’t able to find anyone that would sell the part via an online store, so I instead resorted to calling a treadmill repair person. Unfortunately his website was rubbish, so I just had to call and talk to him about the problem instead. He quickly explained that swapping a deck over was pretty straightforward, and that the deck itself was only made from 19mm MDF with a smooth paint-like coating to reduce friction. Having heard that it was only made of MDF (which is commonly available and not very expensive), I was gobsmacked when he said that he would sell me one for $199 plus postage. I figured the treadmill wasn’t even worth $200 (people were selling them on for about that price), so I needed to find an alternative solution.

Self-sufficiency saves the day again

After removing the old deck, I quickly realised that it looked a lot like some of the black marine-ply that my brother uses at his day job as a concrete form worker. He happens to end up collecting pieces of the stuff from leftover job sites, and he had a reasonably tidy piece that we could cut up and use for this purpose.

After about 30 minutes of measuring and cutting with my father’s saw bench (it’s amazing how handy it is to have a father with lots of tools), and a bit of extra time to sand it off smooth, I had a new deck. It then took about another 20 minutes to refit it to the treadmill, and we were back in business!

I’m now able to use the treadmill again, and all at a cost of… absolutely nothing!

Now nothing in this whole repair job was complicated at all, with minimal equipment required (you don’t really need a saw bench and could have just cut it with a regular circular saw or even a handsaw), and the sense of self-satisfaction made it all worthwhile. It just goes to show that you are often capable of fixing problems without a lot of money if you put your mind to it.

Have you done a DIY fix on anything lately that has saved you a lot of money? If so, I’d love to hear about it.


7 thoughts on “How to fix your broken treadmill for free

  1. Strange to me that the treadmill manual would tell you how to change the deck yourself. I would’ve thought they would tell you how to buy one from them.

    We’ve recently saved at least a few hundred euros DIYing our own kitchen. This time around, we didn’t bother to fully fit it in because we got tired of tearing them our once we move (and who knows when we’ll move again!). So instead, we used modular pieces and placed it in. It’s not the most beautiful or lux kitchen, but it does its job and we slapped it up pretty quickly! We even like how simple it looks. 🙂

    • Yeah, it is strange I guess, but I have found that a lot of manuals actually tell you how to fix things, probably because the professional repairers need to learn it from somewhere I suppose.

      I can see how you would try to simplify your kitchen installation, especially if you move fairly regularly. I’m glad it went in quickly, and if/when you move it should be easy to remove it as well.

  2. Hi.. What did you paint your new bit of plywood with ? I’ve just replaced the old mdf board in my running machine, as my 90 kilos running fast broke it.. It was 18mm, now I’ve put 20 mm plywood on it, painted a mixture of pva glue and water ( about 50/50 mix ) to seal it all, then stuck some sticky plastic over the top and sprayed some silicon glue between the belt and plastic.. Just I’m not sure if the plastic will hold up.. So, just wondering if you used an ordinary paint or something else, and how your running machine is going now ?

    I know your original post is old but hope to hear from you..



    • I just used some plywood that had this black coating (a bit like laminate) on either side of it already. They use it in concrete formwork, so I was able to get a leftover piece from my brother or my father (I can’t remember which one of them it was now) for nothing.

      If I was just using MDF then I would consider not even painting it at all. I would think that most types of paint would wear off fairly quickly.

  3. It is not paint. it’s laminate. You buy chipboard that is laminated.
    Get the high gloss finish and use silicon oil to make it even slipperier

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