Having the right tools and equipment for your construction job boosts efficiency and avoids delays. Skid steers and compact track loaders are two pieces of equipment commonly seen on the job site that complete a range of earthmoving tasks. While skid steers and compact track loaders are similar, these machines have different features that make them suited for specific jobs.
The type of equipment you choose significantly impacts your project, so it’s vital to understand each of these machines’ uses. If you’re deciding between a skid steer and track loader for your equipment fleet, compare each of their features with your needs to determine which is best for you. Understand what you can use a skid steer versus a track loader for and the most significant differences between them.
Jump To Sections:
- Skid Steers Explained
- Compact Track Loaders Explained
- The Difference Between Skid Steer and Track Loader Equipment
- Find Construction Equipment at Louisiana Cat
Before you can compare skid steer versus compact track loader machines for your unique application, understand the features and uses of each piece of equipment. Skid steers offer unique benefits and may fit some applications better than a compact track loader.
What Is a Skid Steer, and What Is It Used For?
Skid steer loaders are one of the most popular solutions when contractors need equipment for digging into or moving mounds of dirt on the job site. You can attach several tools to these compact pieces of construction equipment to perform various tasks. Attachment options for a skid steer include:
Skid steers get their name from their method for turning. A skid steer’s four wheels have a fixed alignment, meaning that to turn the machine, the operator must drive each side of the wheels separately. For example, turning to the left requires the operator to increase the speed of the wheels on the right. This action causes the right wheels to skid across the ground, shifting the skid steer in the opposite direction.
While construction teams primarily use skid steer loaders for digging, these pieces of equipment can also accomplish tasks like:
- Moving soil and debris: Operators can use a skid steer bucket for digging and carrying all kinds of dirt, waste and debris, including tree limbs.
- Clearing away ice and snow: The traditional bucket attachment easily scoops snow for quick removal.
- Drilling and tilling the ground: When fitted with an auger or trench-digging attachment, skid steers make quick work of projects that require drilling holes, burrowing trenches and excavating.
- Transporting loads like bales of hay and pallets: Bale spear and pallet fork attachments enable operators to use a skid steer in various farming and agriculture applications.
When to Use a Skid Steer
Various industries use skid steer loaders in everyday earthmoving tasks. Whether the project involves construction, demolition, agriculture or landscaping, you’ll likely find a skid steer on the job site.
Skid steers are exceptionally well suited for certain types of work. Consider adding a skid steer to your fleet if you:
- Work on cramped job sites: A skid steer loader’s compact design makes it practical for maneuvering around congested worksites. Wherever you need earthmoving capabilities but can’t fit larger construction equipment into the tight space, a skid steer loader is the machine for the job.
- Work on even ground: The skid steer’s wheels are ideal for job sites on even terrain. The skidding motion of the wheels requires flat, compact ground to work efficiently. A skid steer is a good option whether your job site has paved concrete or compacted dirt.
- Work indoors or outdoors: Skid steers come in a range of sizes, from small models weighing up to 5,000 pounds to large skid steers over 9,000 pounds. While all skid steer loaders work efficiently for outdoor construction and landscaping projects, small skid steers are also capable of performing interior work. Small skid steers are especially practical for tight spaces like cramped worksites and interiors and are an excellent addition to an interior demolition project.
When Not to Use a Skid Steer
While skid steers are highly versatile pieces of equipment, they might not be the best option for all applications. It would be best not to use a skid steer in situations like these:
- On sloped terrain: While a wheeled skid loader can easily maneuver over flat dirt or concrete, the wheels won’t work as well on uneven terrain. You risk tilting the skid steer off balance if you use it on a hill or sloped ground. Since the operator can’t turn a skid steer’s wheels, losing balance on a slope can cause a rollover and operator injury.
- In messy and muddy environments: Working on soft terrain is another issue for skid steers. Operators might find it challenging to drive a skid steer over thick snow, sand and mud. These soft materials can potentially clog the skid steer’s wheels and make it difficult to maneuver.
- In the rain: Wheeled machinery can hydroplane in standing water, leading to dangerous sliding and loss of control. Avoid using a skid steer whenever possible if it’s raining on the job site.
Compact Track Loaders
Compact track loaders are another reliable piece of earthmoving equipment found on job sites worldwide. Where skid steers aren’t able to complete the job, you can often use compact track loaders. Consider the characteristics and uses of a compact track loader to determine whether this piece of equipment is right for your applications:
What Is a Compact Track Loader, and What Is It Used For?
Contractors and construction teams across industries use compact track loaders for various earthmoving jobs. Compact track loaders are similar to skid steers in size and can perform many of the same tasks. Operators can use compact track loaders for demolition, excavating and transporting earth, tilling a trench and moving bales of hay. With the following compact track loader attachments, operators can perform nearly any earthmoving project:
Instead of wheels, compact track loaders run on two parallel tracks. The tracks are built to withstand use on rugged terrain. As with skid steers, a compact track loader’s tracks operate on fixed axles.
If the operator skids the tracks of a compact track loader, any loose material may sling into the undercarriage or get stuck in the tracks’ grooves. Operators drive in wide arcs rather than tight twists to prevent the material from piling up.
When to Use a Compact Track Loader
Compact track loaders effectively dig, move earth, clear snow and transport pallets or hay with the proper attachment. These machines are sturdy, durable and versatile enough for various jobs. Compact track loaders are especially helpful in these situations:
- Rough or messy terrain: If you have not yet developed your job site or it is covered in mud or sand, a compact track loader can get the job done. Compact track loaders have sturdy steel tracks and a rugged steel undercarriage, making them efficient for driving on rough terrains. Whereas equipment with wheels would get stuck in soft ground, compact track loaders easily maneuver over all kinds of uneven surfaces. The wide tracks provide traction for greater stability during operation, even on sloped ground.
- Sensitive ground: Compact track loaders have low ground pressure and a suspended design. These features make track loaders ideal in sensitive environments where wheels could easily dig ruts into the soft ground surface. When the operator wants to drive and work over delicate ground, a compact track loader’s rubber tracks and light ground pressure make it an excellent choice.
- Higher-powered jobs: The even distribution of weight and increased contact with the ground give compact track loaders a higher lifting capacity. Compact track loaders also provide robust horsepower.
When Not to Use a Compact Track Loader
Compact track loaders are highly versatile pieces of equipment. However, some of a compact track loader’s features make these machines better-suited for specific jobs over others. You might require a different solution than a compact track loader in the following circumstances:
- On a crowded job site: Compact track loaders essentially have the same maneuverability as skid steers. However, many compact track loaders are larger than skid steers and their tracks make them a bit slower. In situations where there is little maneuverability on the site, compact track loaders might not operate as well.
- When the job demands soil compaction: Some applications require soil compaction during or after the completion of the project. For example, construction teams must compact the soil before pouring asphalt for roadwork. Since compact track loaders have a lighter ground pressure, these machines won’t pack the earth as well as other machinery.
The Difference Between Skid Steer and Track Loader Equipment
When comparing track loader versus skid steer equipment, you might notice some significant similarities in design, function and even maneuverability. Yet each machine has key differences that set it apart and make it a better choice in certain applications over others. Here’s a rundown of the difference between skid steer and track loader equipment:
Whatever your project, you need equipment that can handle the work — and the terrain. The wheels of a skid steer enable zero-radius turning on hard surfaces. However, the skidding movement can also damage delicate surfaces and limit traction on wet ground. When it comes down to it, skid steers function better on surfaces like concrete, asphalt and pavement. The wheels gain excellent traction and can drive quickly over compact ground.
Many job sites have muddy, uneven terrain. In these situations, a track loader will thrive. Compact track loaders perform better at maneuvering around a slippery worksite with soft sand, dirt or snow. Their tracks provide enhanced traction and distribute weight evenly, keeping track loaders stable as they maneuver around several types of challenging terrains. A heavy undercarriage also helps compact track loader stability.
2. Site Cleanup
It’s essential to consider a machine’s effect on the job site along with its capabilities. A skid steer’s wheels press harder into the ground than a compact track loader. These pieces of equipment are effective at compacting the soil once a job is complete. Skid steers are also gentler on asphalt and concrete, meaning that using this machine can save you from some repair work afterward.
The tracks on a track loader give this piece of equipment lighter ground pressure. If you use a compact track loader, you’ll minimize the damage to soft surfaces like grass. While the tracks might damage paved surfaces, they can save you time in a landscaping job.
Maneuverability is another essential difference between skid steer and track loader machines. Skid steers have a smaller turn radius, making them more maneuverable in small spaces. These pieces of equipment are also considerably faster than compact track loaders because they lack slow-moving tracks.
Track loaders move slower, so some tasks will likely take longer to complete. While track loaders can have a comparable turn radius to skid steers, their speed and size make them less maneuverable on tight job sites. Track loaders are more efficient at maneuvering over uneven surfaces.
Power is a significant consideration for construction teams in every application. A skid steer’s lightweight frame has a higher center of gravity than a track loader. Although larger skid steers can effectively lift heavy objects, smaller models might not be up to the task.
A track loader’s more even weight distribution enables it to have a higher lifting capacity than many skid steers. Because the tracks increase traction with the ground, track loaders can push high-resistance materials without slipping.
The cost to buy or rent a skid steer or track loader varies by distributor and location. However, skid steers often cost less because of their wheels. Track loaders may also cost more in fuel and transportation over the long run because of their heavier construction.
Maintenance is another consideration that could affect the long-term cost of these machines. Wheels are relatively easy to care for and require less maintenance than tracks. If you purchase a compact track loader, you can expect to spend more time on maintenance. Tracks are also more expensive to replace than wheels.
Find Construction Equipment at Louisiana Cat
When you need a skid steer or compact track loader for your next job, Louisiana Cat has Cat® equipment with the power and reliability you need. We offer a wide selection of compact track loaders and skid steers for sale that perform across various industries. Whether you need equipment for sensitive surfaces, heavy lifting or soil compaction, we have many options available.
Our knowledgeable sales representatives have experience determining the right equipment solution for your requirements. When you buy Cat equipment from us, you can be confident in your equipment’s durability, power, fuel efficiency and reliability. You’ll also benefit from the full-service support provided by your Louisiana Cat dealer’s dedicated staff.