Skid Steer vs. Track Loaders: Advantages and Disadvantages

Companies in industries like construction, agriculture and mining depend on skid steer loaders and compact track loaders (CTLs) in their day-to-day operations. These small yet versatile machines provide excellent maneuverability and surprising power for their size.

While the compact track loader and skid steer are similar in size and appearance, they have significant differences that impact their job site functionality.

Skid Steers vs. Track Loaders: A Comprehensive Comparison

A closer look at each machine will provide more insight into their similarities and differences.

Understanding Skid Steer Loaders

A skid steer loader gets its name from the way it operates. The operator uses a joystick on either side of the unit to move the drive wheel forward or in reverse. The manipulation of the joysticks creates a skidding motion that enables the operator to turn the machine left or right.

Skid steers are compatible with numerous attachments, making them extremely versatile on the job site. By selecting the right skid steer attachment, operators can complete a variety of tasks:

  • Dirt, gravel, and sand hauling
  • Pallet loading
  • Trench digging
  • Stump grinding
  • Fence building
  • Snow removal
  • Material loading

Gaining Insight Into Track Loaders

While the skid steer runs on wheels, the CTL gets its motion from a set of tracks. This feature enables the loader to traverse softer ground without getting stuck. The operator sits higher than on a skid steer, improving visibility in high-traffic areas.

A compact track loader performs many of the same functions as a skid steer but can maneuver more efficiently and safely.

A compact track loader performs many of the same functions as a skid steer but can maneuver more efficiently and safely on treacherous terrain. For these reasons, compact track loaders are more popular — their sales reached 93,000 units in 2022 compared to 30,000 skid steer loaders

Pros and Cons

Let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of these machines in several critical areas:

  • Speed: One of theskid steer’s main advantages is its quickness, as it can move faster on flat, even ground. However, the CTL is more agile on uneven or undeveloped terrain.
  • Maneuverability: While both are compact machines with tight turning radiuses, the CTL is slightly larger and heavier, making it slightly less responsive. However, CTLs perform better in snow than skid steers.
  • Power: The track loader has a more even weight distribution and increased ground contact, providing more lifting power than a skid steer.
  • Maintenance: Skid steers are generally easier to maintain, as the CTL’s tracks and undercarriage typically require more frequent attention.
  • Cost: The price of a new skid steer can range from about $80,000 to $100,000, depending on the model. The upfront cost of a comparable CTL is slightly higher.

How Much Does It Cost to Operate a Track Loader and a Skid Steer?

Another advantage of a skid steer loader is that it costs less to operate than a CTL. With the latter, you’ll need to repair or replace the tracks and various undercarriage components. If you frequently use the machine in challenging conditions, the extra wear and tear will likely increase your maintenance expenses. 

Skid steers generally require less preventative maintenance and upkeep, which can help keep costs under control.

Skid steers generally require less preventive maintenance and upkeep, which can help keep costs under control. A skid steer also consumes less fuel, which can contribute to a healthier bottom line for your business.

Life Span and Durability

Several factors affect how long your machine will last. The way you use the equipment is a primary life span driver. Because a CTL typically operates in more challenging conditions, it could wear out sooner than a skid steer that runs on smoother surfaces. Frequent exposure to extreme heat and cold can shorten the life cycle of either machine type. 

Your equipment upkeep practices will also influence the life span of a skid steer or compact terrain loader. Changing the tires on the former and the tracks on the latter at regular intervals or when they begin to show signs of wear will help maximize the machine’s service life.

How to Decide Between Skid Steers and Track Loaders for Earthmoving

Since earthmoving is the primary function of these machines, it can be helpful to assess the performance of each one in this area.

Skid Steer Loaders for Earthmoving Tasks

Tasks like loading, unloading, and transporting materials such as dirt, stone, and gravel often require maneuvering in confined areas. With the skid steer’s exceptional agility, it can turn and pivot in these spots quickly and efficiently. Its wheels supply essential speed for moving swiftly between locations, which can increase productivity at the job site.

By using the wide range of attachments that are compatible with most skid steer models, you can capitalize on the machine’s versatility to increase the scope of your earthmoving projects. Examples include buckets, trenchers, augers, and backhoes.

Track Loaders for Earthmoving Tasks

Many earthmoving professionals prefer CTLs because of their increased traction, power, and stability compared to skid steers. Their enhanced lifting capacity and horsepower allow them to deliver better results for jobs that require handling heavier loads and attachments. The lower ground pressure and tracked design are better suited for projects on softer ground.

One challenge of using a CTL is the relative lack of maneuverability compared to a skid steer, which can be a disadvantage when working in tight spaces. While the tracks offer more traction, especially when working in mud or snow, they require maintenance to keep them in peak operating condition.

Making an Informed Choice for Your Earthmoving Tasks

Evaluating several factors can help you decide whether a skid steer or compact track loader is the better option for your needs:

  • Task: Determine if your job requires a CTL for more lifting power and traction or a skid steer for speed and maneuverability.
  • Ground conditions: Is the site relatively smooth and flat, which would work for a skid steer, or is it soft and wet, best suited for a CTL?
  • Cost: Your budget may be the deciding factor when selecting a machine. A skid steer will likely require a lower upfront expenditure and be less costly to operate and maintain.
  • Attachments: While both machines can accommodate attachments, you’ll need to ensure the skid steer or CTL can utilize the tools you require to complete your projects.
Browse quality rental equipment from Herc Rentals.

Browse Quality Rental Equipment From Herc Rentals

Herc Rentals is your one-stop headquarters for skid steer and compact track loader rentals that will add significant value to your earthmoving operations. We offer high-quality equipment from leading manufacturers and provide exceptional service throughout the process. 

Contact our team today to learn more about the advantages of track loaders and skid steers. We can also provide expert product selection assistance to help you make an informed decision.

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