Tracks versus wheels. It’s a common compact loader debate. Several factors come into play when choosing the right loader for your applications … the terrain, ground speed, traction, load-handling capabilities and the list continues. After receiving a ton of helpful feedback from our followers on social media, we decided to share some “food for thought” for any of you who are still grappling with the decision between tracks or wheels.
Tracks or Wheels? A High-Level Comparison
A track machine is almost always the preferred choice in construction or landscaping applications. Compact track loaders provide more traction, less ground disturbance, better material retention and enhanced lifting capacities. The exceptions here would be the surface you are working on and whether or not you need higher ground speed. For instance, if you are primarily working on concrete or asphalt, a wheeled loader might be the better option, as these surfaces can cause track wear. Additionally, if you’re working on projects that may require higher ground speed, such as highway construction or multiple landscaping projects within a subdivision, a skid steer loader may be a better fit for your needs.
Experiences from Professionals Like You
We mentioned the valuable input we received from some of our social media followers on the debate. So let’s hear what they had to say about their experiences operating both wheeled and track compact loaders for various applications:
”I use my 289D (compact track loader) for a lot of grading gravel driveways and dirt work. It gets used to do load tandems too. I wouldn’t have anything but tracks. It’s a lot more stable loading trucks, especially with a seven foot bucket on it. I can drive across yards without leaving a mark, which my customers really like.”
– Austin, owner of a trucking, excavating and snow removal business in Illinois
”We do mostly finished houses and commercial projects where we are often working on concrete and asphalt, then to backyards. So for us, tires are best for our needs.”
– Charlton, landscape business owner from Buford, GA
”For what I do, every machine should have tracks except a grader or haul truck. Tracks obviously have better traction; they stabilize any machine better than tires. They provide greater ability to travel up and down steep grades. They do have a higher operating cost but give you the ability to work in every condition. In the long run, that will make up for the extra cost and generate larger profits—especially on big dirt jobs where traction is key. Tracks float. On a small to medium jobsite with all tracked machines, the need for a grader and extra operator is basically eliminated.”
- Scott, construction site supervisor in Calgary and founder of PushySix®
Scott leads us into a concern business owners often have about selecting a compact track loader over a wheeled machine: maintenance. While track machines can introduce higher maintanence and operating costs, they do allow you to work a longer season and complete more jobs. Because track loaders have lower ground pressure, they can operate in places a skid steer loader couldn’t due to wet ground conditions. Think about early spring when the ground is thawing out from the winter season—compact track loaders can go ahead and begin working on jobsites.
Also, when comparing equivalent skid steer loader and compact track loader models, the track machine will typically provide about 30 percent more tipping load capacity due to its heavier undercarriage and increased stability. Therefore, you can use a higher capacity bucket and move more material per pass because the track machine will be able to handle it. This is especially helpful for contractors who deal with heavy hardscape materials, such as pavers and retaining wall block.
Due to several of the examples we outlined above, the industry is definitely experiencing a shift from wheeled machines to compact track loaders. However, it’s still important to consider several factors when selecting the loader that fits your needs. For more information and specifications on these machines, visit the Cat® Resource Center or contact your local Cat dealer.
We’d like to continue the conversation about tracks vs. wheels. Tell us more about your experiences operating either skid steer loaders or compact track loaders for your projects in the comments below.
I’m an Attachments Product Application & Sales Support Specialist for Caterpillar in North America. I have been with Caterpillar for five years including roles in the field as a dealer sales support representative and marketing support in the skid steer and small wheel loader product groups. I graduated from Iowa State University with degrees in Agricultural Business and Economics. Our goal is to provide a full portfolio of attachments for our customers to be more productive and versatile with their machines.
I am an Industry and Application Rep for Caterpillar. I graduated from NC State with a dual degree in Agriculture Business Management and Agriculture Science, concentrating in Leadership and Environmental Technologies. I focus primarily on the relationships between customers, dealers, and the product specialists for the Building Construction Products division. Growing up on a tobacco and beef cattle farm, I have several years of machine operation experience and agricultural knowledge. Thomas Jefferson said it best in that, "Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness."
My passion is in storytelling and thought leadership, helping people connect with the brands they love and helping brands connect with their audiences. At Caterpillar, I get to work with a variety of industries and customer solutions, supporting our customers who are making huge impacts in our world every day. It's not just about the yellow iron - it's about understanding the problems our customers face, and being a part of the total solution.
I’m a Compact Wheel Loader Product Application Specialist for Caterpillar in North America. I have 11 years of experience, including roles in the field as a dealer technical support representative, and as a distributor business model consultant. I graduated from North Carolina State University with a Mechanical Engineering Degree, and wanted a job where I didn't have to sit in front of a computer all day. This job allows me to get out and get my hands dirty, with the goal of providing solutions to customers’ machine needs.
I am a Marketing Communications Specialist for Caterpillar with over twelve years of experience marketing the Cat brand to customers in Latin and North America. My goal is to arm customers with the information needed to make well informed purchase decisions; to maximize the value of Cat machines by using an array of Cat Work Tool attachments; and to minimize the total cost of ownership by using Cat parts and Cat Dealer service.
I am an expert Operator and Application Specialist for Caterpillar concentrating on products used in the construction trades industry. I operate, evaluate and train on Cat machines and Work Tool Attachments worldwide. I have a Degree in Agricultural Engineering, Craftsman Certified and was named Apprentice of the Year 1981 at the University of East Anglia, UK.
I am the National Association Manager for Caterpillar and have responsibility for customer associations and partnerships in multiple industries for Caterpillar. I have 12 years of experience at Caterpillar, and have spent most of those years in the field with dealers and customers around North America. I have always had a passion for equipment and find myself fortunate to be able to work with dealers and customers almost every day.
I am a Product Application Specialist with 16 years of experience in the industry. As a Building Construction Products Global Trainer, I focus on training dealers and customers on machines, attachments and applications as it relates to the construction, agriculture and landscaping segments.
I have been with Caterpillar for more than eight years, working in various roles including a materials engineer, a filters product manager and my current position as a parts consultant. My job allows me the opportunity to work with Cat dealers and customers providing insight on how the use of quality filters and fluids results in better equipment performance and lower owning and operating costs.
I am a marketing and sales support professional for Caterpillar. In this role, I work with our marketing and customer service teams to support or dealers and customers, concentrating on our Small Wheel Loader, Skid Steer Loader, Mini Excavator and Dozer product groups. The exchange of ideas, information and opinions about equipment and how it’s used in various industries on forums such as this blog helps me fulfill my role at Caterpillar to the best of my ability.
I am the commercial/market consulting expert for all Caterpillar tires and rims with 14 years of experience. I provide guidance in the harsher work environments of mining and industrial/waste applications. Our goal is to turn our dealers and customers into knowledgeable and trusted resources with respect to tires and rims. Our group offers training, technical support and resources to develop a level of expertise within the Caterpillar value stream that is ordinarily reserved for tire companies and local tire service providers. Ultimately, we want to provide our customers with a total Cat solution from the ground up.
I am a Sales Support Manager for Cat Financial and have responsibility for ensuring that the right financial products are available to Cat customers who purchase, lease or rent to own. 8 of my 10 years with Caterpillar Financial have allowed customer and/or dealer interaction as part of my daily responsibilities including over 3.5 years as a Territory Manager. I take personal satisfaction in finding financial solutions that work for our customers and CAT dealers.
I’m a Telehandler Product Application Specialist for Caterpillar in North and South America. I have 13 years of experience, including roles in the field as a dealer service operations and technical support representative, and as a distributor business model consultant. My telehandler passion and focus is working with dealers and customers to maximize the versatility of the product through machine and operator training.
I am a Product and Application Specialist with over 35 years experience at Caterpillar. I focus on helping you to determine the best Cat machines, work tool attachments, and services for you to use in the building and general construction, landscaping, specialty trades, and agricultural industries.
I am a Senior Regional Insurance Marketing Manager with 16 years’ experience at Caterpillar Financial Insurance Services. I have the opportunity to work with 18 North American dealers providing risk management products and services that helps the Caterpillar Enterprise ( Caterpillar, Dealers and Customers) manage their business risk. Caterpillar Financial Insurance Services offers Extended Protection Plans for machines and engines, Physical Damage Insurance, Inventory Protection Plans, Dealer Property and Casualty, Risk Management, Marine Transit Insurance and Dealer Bonds.
Jeff Brown is a marketing professional for Caterpillar Skid Steer, Multi Terrain and Compact Track Loaders. Over Jeff's 12 years in the industry, he has visited with and studied the needs of customers across landscaping, construction, and agriculture segments. Delivering innovative solutions that solve customer's problems is Jeff's main focus.
I am a North American Product and Application Specialist for Caterpillar. In this role, I have had the opportunity to represent Caterpillar at various trade shows and train customers on new Small Wheel Loader content. I graduated from Purdue University in 2001 with a Mechanical Engineering degree and have spent the past 15 years with Caterpillar in various engineering roles. Growing up in the Mid-West, I have always loved the cold and the unique activities winter enables. Unfortunately, I had to give those up when I moved to North Carolina. I don't care what people say, you never get used to a hot climate.
I am a Filter and Fluid Marketing Consultant with over 14 years experience working at Caterpillar. My focus is to ensure customers understand the importance of using superior filtration and lubrication products in their equipment.
I am a Sales Support Manager with over nine years of experience in a variety of roles with Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation. Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to gain experience in matching financial products and tailoring funding strategies to the specific needs of customers. This includes more than three years as a Territory Manager in Seattle partnered with N C Machinery, an authorized Cat dealer covering the states of Washington and Alaska.
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