The construction industry has access to a wide variety of earth moving equipment, to perform a wide variety of tasks. The only downside to having so much choice is that it can make finding the right equipment for the right job a little complicated. 

One particular area where our customers often need guidance is around compact loaders. Even though skid steer loaders (SSLs) and compact track loaders (CTLs) are designed to perform similar tasks, some important design features affect their use and the working conditions they are most suited to.

Here we compare the features and the unique advantages of these machines to help you find the right equipment for your next job.

Wheels versus tracks

The most obvious difference between CTLs and SSLs is how they get around – CTLs move on tracks, while SSLs move on wheels (although SSLs can also be fitted with over-the-tyre rubber tracks).

Here’s what tracks vs. wheels really means on the job:

  • The tracks on CTLs offer a smoother ride – something you’ll appreciate if you spend a whole day in the driver’s seat.
  • The wheels on SSLs produce a tighter turning circle for performing tasks in smaller spaces.
  • The flat-footed stance of the tracks on CTLs offer excellent stability for work in all terrains.
  • The equipment weight of CTLs is spread out over tracks (which have a larger surface area than wheels), improving stability and reducing surface impact.


Ground conditions

Both CTLs and SSLs can easily manoeuvre in and around reasonably tight work spaces, underneath structures and across a variety of surfaces. But not all compact loaders are created equal:

SSLs turn by dragging their wheels across the ground (or ‘skidding’). This can quickly tear up softer surfaces making them more suited to use on roads, pavements, concrete, gravel and other hard surfaces.
CTLs can easily (albeit slowly) move across hard, flat surfaces, but they thrive in environments where a little more traction is required – like wet, muddy or soft ground. 
When using an all-terrain compact loader like a CTL, you needn’t delay work until ground conditions are dry. This allows you to get on with the job faster and boosts productivity – especially during the wetter months. 

Attachments and configurations

Although CTLs have slightly greater lifting capacity, both types of compact loader have radial and vertical lift configurations and are compatible with a range of attachments for performing different tasks. 

Some common attachments that can be fitted to compact loaders include: brushcutters; forks; auger bits; crane jibs; forklifts; general purpose buckets; spread levellers; sweepers; box rakes; trenchers; rippers; rock buckets; brooms; and multi-purpose tools. 

Transportation

Transport factors are worth considering when choosing between SSLs and CTLs. 

With tyres instead of tracks, SSLs are generally a lighter option, allowing for easier and more cost-effective transportation to and from worksites.
However CTL can be more versatile in their application. Suited to a wider range of tasks, choosing CTLs can reduce the range of equipment you need to transport to and from site.

Maintenance

Regular fleet maintenance will optimise the performance and extend the life of any heavy equipment, but it can also be a costly factor when buying a compact loader. Basic maintenance starts with daily checks on the machine including the tires or tracks, fluids and leaks or other damage to the machine.

  • Regularly checking and adjusting track tension will further improve performance and prolong the life of a CTL.
  • Operating CTLs on hard surfaces will increase wear and tear. Sprinkling sand or dirt on hard surfaces can reduce the “skid” motion that damages tracks and create more of a “slide”. Always perform three point turns when operating a CTL, as this is the best way to maximise  the track life. 
  • Tyre maintenance is an important consideration for SSLs. Maintaining correct tyre pressure and regularly checking for leaks can help to avoid unnecessary damage or tyre failure. 
  • Utilising a trained operator will always minimise wear and tear on any type of compact loader.  

Compact loaders make a versatile and efficient addition to job sites – providing compact yet powerful support. And whilst versatility is an important factor in choosing equipment for purchase, hiring (rather than buying) this type of equipment gives you the flexibility to match optimal equipment to individual tasks and/or projects.

For more information or help choosing the right equipment to support your next project, find your local branch.

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