March 15, 2022

Track Loader vs Skid Steer: The Real Difference

Skid steer and track loader

At a first glance, a skid steer and a track loader look extremely similar. Someone with an untrained eye might mistake them as the same model. On top of their visual similarities, skid steers and track loaders serve many of the same functions. That does not mean, however, that these two pieces of equipment are identical. Either would be a worthwhile investment to your fleet, but you should take time to seriously consider the pros and cons of each machine before you make your decision.

What’s the Difference?

In many aspects, skid steers and compact track loaders are identical. Both of them have a compact body with an attachment in front. Typically, the attachment you’ll find is a bucket, but there are many other attachments available to replace it. They’re built to be compact, move through tight spaces and have a small turning radius. That’s why you can find skid steers or track loaders at virtually any jobsite.

Skid Steer on Jobsite
Skid steer on jobsite

A skid steer differs from a track loader because of the wheels it’s equipped with. Skid steers are lighter because of their wheels. Since they’re lighter than track loaders, they are easier to transport and store. The price of a skid steer is typically lower than the price of a track loader, so they are also considered the more cost-effective option.

Track loader grading road
Track loader grading road

Compact track loaders, abbreviated as CTL, have two sets of tracks on its undercarriage.

Typically, CTLs are equipped with rubber tracks. Some models might have steel tracks instead. Although they are more difficult to transport than their wheeled counterparts, CTLs have a smoother driving experience. Track loaders are a slightly better long-term investment since tracks wear down considerably slower than wheels.

Which One Should You Choose?

The primary difference between skid steers and track loaders is how they move. Therefore, the environment they’re working in can seriously affect their ability to work. For example, the wheels of a skid steer are not suited for driving over uneven terrain or softer ground. Tracks, on the other hand, are very good at moving on mud or soil without suffering any damages.

Skid steers have the advantage on hard ground. They’re much faster and have an easier time making tight turns and corners on concrete or asphalt. This is not the case for track loaders. Even a day or two of driving on hard ground could cause serious damage to the tracks.

Common Challenges with Both Machines

Since skid steers and track loaders are also similar in the sense that they do share a few challenges that are important to keep in mind. Naturally, the health and upkeep of a machine is a major issue. Most commonly, operators and fleet managers find themselves keeping a close eye on both the engine and the hydraulic system, which allows the arms to move and carry things.

Renters are able to circumvent this problem since they are not responsible for the machine’s maintenance. Owners, however, need to make sure that problems with the machine are taken care of before they cause breakdowns. Technology systems like T3 are able to monitor a machine’s status and health and present that information to you in real time.

Security is an issue for anyone working on a jobsite. Both skid steers and track loaders are especially at risk. While their compact shape makes them versatile, it also makes them easier to quickly load onto a trailer and steal. That does not account for microtheft, where unauthorized operators use universal keys to drive machines, costing the owner or renter fuel and possible damages.

Smart technology like T3 can help you know exactly where your machines are at any given time and who is using them.  Cloud-connected keypads erase the problem of universal keys, so the only people operating the machine are those who are allowed to. Loss is just as common as theft, especially with attachments or tools that go with your skid steer or track loader. One customer indicated they baked in thousands of dollars into every bid to account for the tools they expected to lose during the project. With EquipmentShare bluetooth nodes, you can monitor the location of your tools and gear as well– all in one place with T3.

Renting vs Buying

Which piece of heavy equipment you use shouldn't entirely depend upon your jobsite’s terrain. After all, heavy machinery is difficult and expensive to replace, so you should plan how you would like to bring one into your fleet. You can either rent your machine or buy it.

Owning construction equipment has clear advantages. It’s true there’s more of an upfront investment and you are responsible for its maintenance and storage. However, an owned machine is yours. You can’t always guarantee you can find the machine you need to rent, and even so, you’re competing with others who are looking for the same equipment. With skid steers and track loaders specifically, this is a very viable option, as both are dependable. Buy machines that you expect to use year-round or at the majority of your jobsites.

Still, renting has a lot of advantages that aren’t immediately obvious. It’s the more cost-effective option. Plus, renting gives you a lot of control over when you use the machine. If you decide to rent, you’ll only be responsible for a piece of equipment when you’re renting it. You can off-rent a machine when the job is done. Plus, you are not responsible for the maintenance or storage of that piece of equipment. Renting is useful for machines you only need seasonally or for a specific job. If you don’t typically work on soft ground, it might be a better idea to rent a CTL for one or two projects than buy one and keep it in your fleet to collect dust.

Even though these two machines look extremely similar, the choice is a lot more complicated. If you’re searching for a skid steer, a track loader or any other piece of construction equipment, visit us. Reach out to one of our 110+ locations across the nation for any construction solutions you need.

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