While acknowledging the higher operating costs, Wright notes, “Most compact track loaders will give you added productivity and versatility, which means more for your money. Costs can be minimized with proper operation and machine maintenance. A typical compact track loader pays for itself in approximately 18 months.”
Manage tire and track costs
Tires are the single highest cost replacement item for a skid steer. “A good general-purpose tire for a skid loader is going to be $150 to $300, depending upon the size and type of tire,” says Fitzgerald. “A set of tires would be between $600 and $1,200. depending upon which you choose to use.”
Severe-duty or solid rubber tires are more expensive, but can help extend tire life in abrasive environments. “They run around $800 to $900 per tire. So you would be spending $3,200 to $3,600 per set,” says Fitzgerald. “While initial costs are higher, these heavy-duty tires can reduce cost per hour because of less frequent replacement cycles.”
Moore adds, “[Tire life] is very dependent on the surface conditions, as well as the amount of skid steering in the variant of these conditions. Basic flotation, lug-style tires will not last as long as severe-duty tires. Some tires could wear in as little as several hundred hours, while others could readily exceed 1,000 hours.”
General-purpose tires typically last in the 600- to 800-hour range. “There are owner/operators and dirt work operations that get to 800 to 1,200 hours on a set of tires,” says Fitzgerald. On the other end of the spectrum, skid steers with general-purpose tires that work next to milling machines may see 100-hour tire life.
Like tires, rubber tracks represent a compact track loader’s highest cost replacement item. “In addition, the replacement of carriage parts, such as rollers and idlers, come into play,” says Moore. “Overall, the owning and operating costs on track loaders will be considerably higher than comparable-sized skid loaders.”
Consider a skid steer where replacement tires costs $600 to $1,200 a set. “Tracks for similar-sized machines range from $2,500 to $3,500 for a set,” says Fitzgerald. “So without adding productivity into cost analysis, it is more to buy tracks vs. tires.”
But tracks offer greater service life than most tires. “It has been said that a new set of tracks can be estimated for 2 1/2 times the typical life of tires on a given skid loader in the same application by the same operator,” says Moore.
Track life does vary with the application. “The typical life span for tracks is hard to determine,” says Wright. “Given the level of experience of an operator, the life span can improve dramatically. Everything being equal, tracks working in gravel and hard pack conditions would last about half as long as tracks working in soft, loamy material. The same factors and conditions affect the life span of tires as they do for a compact track loader.”
Fitzgerald estimates an average track life of between 1,200 and 1,600 hours for general-purpose, general-use machines. Track life for loaders used strictly on dirt or soft clay may exceed 2,000 hours. Those used on hard ground may see life in the 800- to 1,200-hour range. Frequent operation on concrete or asphalt may drop this down to 400 to 800 hours.
“The life span on a set of tracks is generally dependent on three factors: operation of the machine, the types of ground conditions the machine is operated on and proper track tensioning and carriage maintenance,” Moore explains. “When a track loader is closely monitored for proper operation in clean soil conditions, [you] may possibly reach and exceed 2,000 hours on a new set of OEM tracks. On the reverse, a set of tracks can be damaged and/or worn down in a matter of several hundred hours with mis-operation and non-recommended use.”
Under the Operator influence
“Tracks and the undercarriage for a compact track loader can make up 15% to 20% of the total operational costs, depending upon the manufacturer,” Wright comments. “This cost can be managed and reduced if the operator cares for and maintains the undercarriage and is well trained on application management and proper operation of the loader.”