Today’s competitive market requires that fleet managers carefully scrutinize every purchase. With the compact equipment market starting to rebound, one area that deserves close attention is whether a skid steer or compact track loader makes more sense.
Either loader type can usually accomplish a particular task. “But each definitely has its arena within which it excels,” says Brian Rabe, track loader product manager, Gehl.
Choosing the right tool becomes a numbers game. “Experience has taught customers that to improve their profitability, application management (matching the right task to the loader) of their fleet is very important,” says Jamie Wright, product manager, Terex Construction Americas. “Applications in certain ground conditions, such as hard surfaces like concrete or rock, can be done at reduced cost when using a skid-steer loader.”
A track loader can cost up to 25% more per hour of usage vs. a skid steer in applications such as demolition or road building due to excessive track wear.
“We’ve seen growing demand for track loaders in more applications. But as some owners unfortunately find, there are jobsites not really fit for track loaders,” says Kelly Moore, skid loader product manager, Gehl. Underfoot conditions with larger aggregate, rocks and/or debris can significantly shorten track life. “A skid loader equipped with severe-duty tires is better suited for these conditions.”
Calculate price vs. capabilities
“You have to be careful when comparing skid-steer loaders and compact track loaders to make sure you’re really looking at machines that have very similar specs,” cautions Curtis Goettel, marketing manager, Case Construction.
“There will naturally be differences in comparing a common-sized skid loader to a track loader,” adds Moore, “dependent upon the tires and bucket on a skid loader as compared to a track loader.” Operating capacities are also rated differently. “Skid steers are rated at 50% of tip capacity, while track loaders are rated at 35%.”
Then there is the cost difference. Manufacturers quote initial purchase prices ranging from 20% to 35% more for a compact track loader vs. a comparable-size skid steer. Most of this is due to the added cost of the undercarriage components.
But purchase price is only part of the equation. “You have to consider what this machine will do for you,” says Mike Fitzgerald, Bobcat. There are additional costs in purchasing on the front side, but there are a lot of benefits and features of a track loader.
“Operational cost per hour on a track loader is going to be a little more because of track wear and additional fuel use, but you are going to get more work done in that hour also,” he states. “Making buying decisions on basic and simple cost analysis can be misleading. Owners need to look at the wider scope and understand that it is possible to move 25% to 50% more material in a given amount of time, or that they can work on soft ground or in wet conditions that would have otherwise shut their operation down, before they make final judgments on the extra operating costs.”
“Based on customer surveys, it is estimated that track loader owning and operating cost comes in around $35 per hour of operation. Track replacement is generally 4% to 6% of this cost, depending upon the application and conditions,” says Rabe. “It is generally understood that the owning and operating costs will be higher for a track loader. However, for certain applications, this additional cost can be significantly offset if a skid loader is unable to get into the jobsite or won’t perform relative to conditions.”
Wright agrees, adding, “While the skid-steer loader is less expensive to purchase, the compact track loader is usually more cost effective. Because compact track loaders perform using the same attachments and applications as a skid steer, the most distinct advantage a compact track loader has is its superior maneuverability in adverse ground conditions. Compact track loaders provide exceptional operation in muddy or snowy conditions where skid steers would not be able to work at all.”