Applications & Innovations
Better Roads Staff
Wheels or Tracks
By Lauren Heartsill Dowdle
In the battle between choosing tires or tracks, buyers should let their projects cast the determining vote on which would be the best fit for their fleet.
“The most important consideration for a contractor is going to be the primary type of work he does,” says Mike Fitzgerald, loader product specialist, Bobcat.
The compact track loader market gained ground in the past decade – with many roadbuilders valuing productivity over initial cost – but there’s been a shift back toward skid-steer loaders since the 2008 economic downturn, says Jamie Wright, product manager, Terex Construction Americas. He estimates CTLs make up between 20 and 25 percent of the market, while SSLs hold between 75 and 80 percent, according to our sister publication, Equipment World.
“The compact-track loader trend started as a result of contractors wanting to get jobs done faster, no matter the acquisition costs or operational cost of the unit,” Wright continues. “With the economic downturn, contractors were more selective and looking for ways to manage their equipment inventories more efficiently. As part of this, they are adding skid-steer loaders back into their fleet since they are able to accomplish many of the same tasks at a lower operating expense.”
The most important consideration for a roadbuilder is his primary type of work.
So when does the price tag equal the benefits, and how can roadbuilders know which one they need for their next project? Here’s what the experts have to say.
When deciding between a wheeled or tracked machine, owners should first picture how the equipment would be used in their work. Categorizing job types, such as new or existing construction, dry or muddy conditions and traveling distances on the jobsite, can reveal how equipment is currently being used and what features the equipment will need to be profitable and efficient.
If a job requires extra traction for pushing into piles on soft or muddy ground, a tracked piece of equipment would be ideal because the tracks have more area in contact with the surface, which make them better for dozing and digging jobs. Tracked machines are also good for new-construction projects where there are no improved surfaces.
“For the best all-around mobility and for working longer seasons in wet or muddy conditions, compact-track loaders offer superior flotation, traction and the least amount of turf impact or damage,” says Tim O’Brien, brand marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment. “CTLs also have a more stable and consistent platform for grading applications but have a slower overall top travel speed.”
With ground conditions varying around the country, the choice between tracks or wheels can also depend on the job’s location. In some regions, tracked equipment is more prominent than others and can also extend the typical contractor’s working year because of its ability to float on wet ground.
“In areas like the Southwest where the ground is always dry and hard, you will have a hard time finding someone who owns a CTL,” Fitzgerald says. “Whereas, in the Midwest where the ground is clay or sand and conditions can vary by the weather, many contractors own both.” He advises contractors to talk to a local dealer who sells CTLs to get an idea of how long the machine extends the work year in that area.
If most of your projects will be on improved surfaces or in an existing development, a wheeled machine would be best because the tires wear less quickly than tracks on paved surfaces. Concrete and asphalt applications, traveling significant distances on a jobsite and some winter jobs will also call for wheeled machines.
“Skid steers tend to be better for scraping and snow plowing tasks that require the tires to penetrate mud, muck or snow to get down to a firmer traction surface,” O’Brien says.
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