Compact track loaders (CTLs) have been on the market for only 10 years, yet already they rival skid-steer loaders in application and popularity. The concept of using track systems and over-the-tire (OTT) tracks to give skid steers added traction and versatility was, in fact, the impetus behind the development of the CTL. But it also created a dilemma for contractors and other operators who have to decide which machine will work best for their application.
If price were the only consideration, a skid-steer loader would be the likely choice, according to Mike Fitzgerald, loader product specialist for Bobcat Company. "A compact track loader will cost between 30% and 40% more than a comparably-sized skid-steer loader. Even if you add in the $2,500 to $4,000 for the cost of OTT tracks, the compact track loader would still be substantially more expensive," he indicates.
As he points out, however, price isn't the only consideration, and that's why Bobcat offers both options for customers. "It's not one vs. the other," says Fitzgerald. "For us, it's a matter of addressing the customers' needs, and there are definite applications for both skid-steer and compact track loaders."
A question of versatility
"If the application calls for the use of tracks all the time, then a compact track loader would likely be the best machine," says Ron Peters, CEAttachments product manager. "Conversely, OTT tracks are perfect for the operator who needs tracks for a temporary job."
Outfitting a skid steer with tracks gives the machine better flotation and traction, he adds, which increases performance and productivity on muddy construction sites and in tough forestry conditions.
CEAttachments offers three types of Grouser OTT tracks: two steel and the third comprised of a steel frame with polyurethane pads. As Peters explains, cross-bar steel tracks, which cost between $2,500 and $4,000, are ideal for muddy conditions. Hard-pad steel tracks, which fall within the same price range, are suited for sandy soils where better flotation is required. The slightly more costly soft-pad track is designed for applications where a machine has to traverse hard surfaces, such as concrete or asphalt, to reach a site where more traction is required.
OTT tracks can usually be removed in less than an hour, transforming the skid steer from a track to a tire machine. "Still, if the application always calls for tracks, a compact track loader would be the best option, in large part because a solid rubber, wider track provides better flotation than an OTT track," Peters states.
Fitzgerald agrees, noting that the bigger platform and longer ground contact area provided by a compact track loader will make it more attractive in a variety of terrains and working conditions. "A dedicated track system also has positive drive, compared to steel OTT steel tracks that naturally allow for some slippage between the tire and track," he explains. "And the added weight of the compact track loader allows it to generate more pushing power than a skid steer."
Bobcat has 13 skid-steer models and eight compact track loaders. OTT tracks are available on all but two of the smaller skid-steer loaders.
When it comes to versatility, there is little difference between the two machines. "Ninety percent of the attachments available for skid-steer loaders are available for use with compact track loaders," says Fitzgerald. "Again, application and ground conditions will determine whether or not a skid steer equipped with tracks or a compact track loader would be the best option."
Where additional flotation is a requisite, a compact track loader will outperform a skid-steer loader with OTT tracks, he adds. Conversely, OTT steel tracks will deliver more traction than a compact track loader in wet clay conditions.