The versatility of compact track loaders is increasing their popularity and helping to make them an essential part of many rental inventories. Contractors like these machines for their utility, while rental business operators are fans because they offer high utilization.
These machines can be used in almost any weather conditions. "Compact track loaders extend working seasons, enabling contractors to get onto jobsites earlier in the year and work later when ground conditions become worse," explains Greg Rostberg, Bobcat marketing manager.
Because their tracks put less pressure per square inch on the work surface than a rubber-tired skid steer, compact track loaders can work in very muddy surroundings and also on sand. "The rubber tracks allow contractors to work in all types of conditions, even when it's been raining a lot and the soil conditions are soft and eroded," notes Mike Ross, national product and training manager at Takeuchi.
"It allows them to work 24/7 as opposed to using a skid steer where you'd have to wait until [the soil] dries. It also allows them to work on steep slopes up to 30 degrees."
Because compact track loaders are heavier machines than skid steers, it takes more to tip them forward, so they can lift more, and, with more track on the ground, they can push more. "The pushing power and the tractive effort are much better with a compact track loader because you've got more contact with the ground," Ross says. "It gives you flotation when working in soft and muddy conditions. If you put a skid steer in that same environment, you would rut up the yard and the tires would simply spin. You'd have to come back and fix that." Avoiding damage to the ground's surface makes a compact track loader a good choice for use in landscape work.
"If the operation includes moving a lot of dirt, contouring ground, pushing and backfilling, where a machine is on dirt most of the time, it's best suited for a compact track loader," Rostberg says. "In those applications, a track machine will do the work well and get more done in a shorter period of time. Machines like compact track loaders regularly work on jobsites where larger machines cannot fit, such as in between homes or buildings or in residential backyards. Since a considerable percentage of rental customers are do-it-yourselfers or homeowners, this is a critical benefit to the rental industry."
Safety and comfort for the operator are also benefits offered by compact track loaders. "They're very stable machines because you have all that track on the ground so the machine doesn't bounce as much as a skid steer," says Gregg Zupancic, John Deere product marketing manager. "A weekend operator would have better control. Rental customers are generally not advanced operators, so having a machine that is easier to control is desirable."
Initial cost vs. ROI
The utility and performance of compact track loaders do come at a price. A typical machine costs about 30 percent more than a comparably sized skid steer. Ross estimates his company's machines have a useful life of about 5,000 hours, assuming they are properly maintained. He says the machines pay for themselves in approximately 18 months. "Most companies are renting compact track loaders for at least 40 percent more than they get for a skid steer, plus utilization and productivity go up," he says. "A short-term compact track loader rental will turn into long term quickly because the customer will discover it's the most versatile machine on the jobsite."
While the rubber tracks last about two and a half times as long as a set of tires, they might cost two to three times as much to replace. "The rubber tracks will wear faster when working on hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt," says Ross. "In that situation, a skid steer would be the machine of choice." He recommends pre-screening customers to determine how they plan to use the equipment so they will rent the product that best meets their needs.