Tracks or Wheels: Which Are Better on a Skid Steer Loader?

A skid steer loader, also called a skid steer or nicknamed a bobcat, is a small engine-powered construction machine used on a variety of job sites. Skid steers can move soil on a building site, dig holes, help with landscaping gardens, clean stalls on a farm, and more tasks. Some skid steers have tracks and are often called compact track loaders. Other skid-steer loaders have wheels.

The two different types of skid steers suit different jobs and job sites. With two different options available, you may be wondering which is better on a skid steer: tracks or wheels. We compare skid steers with tracks and wheels to help you make a choice.

Wheels Work Best on Even Ground

When you’re working on even, hard ground, skid steers with wheels are the superior choice. Wheels don’t like to be challenged too much. They thrive on paved ground, concrete areas, and landscaped sites. That’s why you’ll usually see skid steers with wheels on renovations and extensions instead of new building sites. On these developed surfaces, the extra traction of a skid steer with tracks gets wasted.

Skid steers with tracks are also slower to move on a developed ground than varieties with wheels, and faster-wheeled machines are more efficient on flat ground job sites. Wheels also wear less on hard surfaces than tracks will. Skid steers with tracks call for regular replacement of tracks, bogey wheels, sprockets, and other components. These parts will naturally wear out more quickly over hard surfaces, such as pavers or concrete, than softer surfaces.

The greater the distance your skid steer covers, the greater the wear. When you choose a skid steer with wheels for these job sites, you’re making an economical choice.

Tracks Suit Difficult Terrain

While wheels excel in ideal, flat conditions, tracks love a challenge. Skid steers with tracks make light work of difficult surfaces such as muddy, sandy, and snowy ground. They’ll also do well in wet and uneven ground that wheels alone can’t handle.

“While uneven terrain, slopes, and muddy or snowy ground conditions can be very challenging and tough on skid-steer loaders, compact track loaders are designed and built to handle these types of conditions,” confirmed Rick Harris, senior product manager of Terex Construction, in an interview with Forester Daily News.

Bob Beesley, a product manager for Komatsu, recalled driving one of the company’s skid steers with tracks into an area with soft ground. He got out of the machine and sank to his knees in the soil. However, the skid steer stayed afloat.

Skid steers with tracks do well where wheels can’t because they disperse their weight over a larger surface area. This weight distribution improves their stability.

Skid steers with tracks won’t simply move over a challenging terrain. They’re also easy to maneuver in less than perfect conditions. When you need to steer through narrow clearings between trees, for example, a skid steer with tracks has you covered.

A skid steer with tracks that can handle difficult terrain helps boost productivity on your job site. When using a skid steer with tracks, you don’t need to wait for your site to dry out after rain or for winter snow to clear. These tough machines will happily take on the challenge.

You can buy snow tires for your skid steer with wheels. Snow tires won’t usually do as well as tracks will. However, they can make your skid steer with wheels more useful during winter.

Tracks Can Work Under Any Conditions

While tracks do their best work on difficult terrain, they can also work on the flat, even ground wheels like. In contrast, skid steers with wheels can’t work safely on challenging terrain. Having skid steers with wheels makes them a better investment for some builders.

Skid steers with tracks are a relatively new addition to the marketplace. However, their versatile nature has helped them claim 30 percent of the skid steer market, as Chris Giorgianni, vice president of product support government and defense for JCB, told Forester Daily News.

People who rent skid steers don’t have to worry about choosing a versatile machine. They can simply rent the right skid steer for any given project.

You can also buy tracks to put over the tires of skid steers with wheels. This add-on will help your skid steer with wheels tackle the type of tough terrain it’s not usually suited for. Slip-on tracks usually cost between $2,000 and $5,000, and you can install and remove them in 30 minutes. The price depends on variables including the following:

  • Machine model
  • Track width
  • Track length

Think carefully about the type of over-the-tire tracks you choose.

“Over-the-tire steel tracks can add productivity to existing equipment, but they can also damage sidewalks and curbs,” Mike Fitzgerald, a loader product specialist for Bobcat, explained to Total Landscape Care magazine. “You want to use rubber tracks in areas under development, which have improved surfaces, and use steel tracks in areas that are primarily dirt or new construction.”

Tracks Suit Bulldozing and Dig Jobs

Skid steers with tracks can tackle your bulldozing and dig jobs better than skid steers with wheels can. Tracks have more traction than wheels so that they can push into piles of soft or muddy soil more effectively. Tracks have more area in contact with the ground than wheels do.

Skid steers with wheels can do these jobs like skid steers with tracks, as both machines use the same attachments. Common skid steer attachments include the following:

  • Buckets
  • Bulldozer blades
  • Mulchers
  • Trenchers
  • Augers
  • Levelers
  • Snowblowers
  • Box rakes

Skid steers with wheels take more time to bulldoze or dig than skid steers with tracks do. When time is money, the efficiency of skid steers with tracks is worth considering.

Wheeled Skid Steer Loader Cost Less

Wheeled skid steers cost less to buy and run than skid steers with tracks. The higher costs come because skid steers with tracks:

  • Have a higher purchase price
  • Have higher priced parts
  • Use more fuel
  • Need more frequent maintenance

Tires cost less to replace than tracks. However, they don’t last quite as long. A new set of skid steer wheels usually costs between $600 and $1,000, stated Total Landscaping Care magazine. Depending on their quality, skid steer tires usually last between 600 and 1,000 hours. Rubber tracks last longer, between 1,200 and 1,600 hours. But they are pricier, usually costing $3,000 to $4,500 per set.

Since tracks can work in a wider range of conditions, they can be more productive. This greater productivity can offset their higher purchase and running costs. However, for businesses operating on a shoestring budget, the upfront costs may be the most important. In fact, we’ve seen a swing back to cheaper skid steers with wheels after the global financial crisis, according to Jamie Wright, product manager for Terex Construction Americas.

The cost of purchasing and maintaining skid steers don’t need to concern you if you rent your construction equipment. When you rent your construction equipment, you can always get the skid steer that suits your conditions and jobs best.

Skid Steer Loader Tracks Make Minimal Mess

Skid steers with tracks make far less mess than wheeled skid steers. Wheels typically leave ruts as they travel across a job site. In contrast, skid steers with tracks seem to float on the top of the ground without sinking down and making an impact.

You can repair the ruts that skid steers with wheels leave behind. However, fixing the impact of wheeled skid steers takes more time and effort. Repair and cleanup can keep your crew on the job site for longer, which means they won’t be working as efficiently.

Wheeled Skid Steer Loader Require Less Maintenance

Skid steers with tracks need more maintenance than wheeled skid steers do. When you own a skid steer with tracks, you’ll spend much time cleaning the undercarriage and checking track tension.

While you also need to clean the undercarriage of skid steers with wheels, this task is much easier and faster than cleaning underneath a skid steer with tracks. Skid steers with wheels usually don’t get as dirty as skid steers with tracks because the machines with wheels typically work on clean, developed surfaces. The undercarriage is also more accessible on a skid steer with wheels. Wheels don’t cover as much of the undercarriage as tracks do, which makes cleaning easier.

Thorough maintenance is essential for lengthening a skid steer’s life. However, some equipment operators can find the level of maintenance needed for skid steers with tracks inconvenient. If you rent your skid steer, the rental company will take care of much of that maintenance for you.

Most construction equipment makers believe no type of skid steer is better than the other. Instead, skid steers with tracks and skid steers with wheels have their strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these strengths and weaknesses is important when you’re renting the best skid steer for your next project.

Whether you want a skid steer with tracks or wheels, BigRentz has you covered. For more about skid steers, visit the BigRentz website to read more about our skid steers and rent the one that best suits your needs.

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