"Rubber tracks have the combined benefits of wheels and old [steel] track pavers," says Chastain. "They give the tractive effort of a steel track with the rideability of a wheeled machine."
Plus, they offer maximum flotation, which shines in soft sub base conditions, such as what you would find in new construction.
"You don't want to put a rubber tire in a soft base where there's a lot of sand or loose dirt," says Chastain. "All you will do is sink the paver. The track machine will give you better tractive effort and spread the weight out across the entire track versus just the rear drive tire."
Rubber tracks have an advantage when paving wide and/or deep lifts, as well.
"Tracks will give you more stability," says Wiley. "That stability is important because if you get any type of movement in the machine when you're trying to push the trucks, that movement can show up in the mat and you don't want any variation. You want stability for more uniformity and consistency. Rubber tires have more flex and bounce that can reverberate through the screed and effect changes in the automation system."
Paving on steeper terrain can also be more efficient with a tracked machine. While front-wheel-assist on wheeled machines can improve traction on hills, it still won't provide the contact advantages of tracks.
"Contractors often choose tracks if they have gradeability issues," Wiley comments. "For example, if you're paving in the mountains, tracks provide more stability and tractive effort to push big trucks."
Tracks are also beneficial in confined areas. "The turning radius on a track machine is tighter, since most counter-rotate so you can turn it around within itself," says McClellan. "A wheeled machine takes a bigger area to turn. So if you're paving in tight spaces and need to turn tightly, a track machine will be the better choice."
A matter of price
In the end, contractors often opt to keep both configurations of asphalt pavers in their fleet.
"There are a lot of contractors who buy rubber tracks to have the versatility within their fleet to be able to handle various and more difficult jobs, but still have the rideability and faster paving speeds," Wiley points out. "With tracks, a contractor can do an overlay project, then go into a new parking lot in late season, where the subgrade might not be ideal, and still be able to pave. The flotation provided by tracks can protect the base upon which the pavement is being placed, thus extending the life of the pavement."
"But if your applications match up with both machines, it may come down to costs," says Chastain. "If you don't have to spend the extra money for tracks, don't."
Maintain tension and pressure
Whether your fleet includes rubber-tired or rubber-tracked pavers, you will want to keep them in peak operating condition. You can ensure optimum performance by maintaining proper tension with tracks and proper air pressure for tires.
"If track tension is too tight, you can adversely affect steering and accelerate the wear of the components," says Bill Rieken, Terex Roadbuilding. "If it's too loose, it can detrack.
"For wheeled machines, if one tire is too low, the machine is unbalanced, which can affect the height of the spreading auger or twist the screed," he continues. "The tire also runs the risk of migrating on the rim, which can lead to premature failure."