Compact Track Loaders Are Hot. Here’s Why.

If you purchased a new compact track loader last year, you weren’t alone. Industry statistics show CTLs represented a full 20% of all equipment units financed in 2014. What’s going on here? Compact track loaders cost more up front and have higher ownership costs than their cousins – skid steers and compact wheel loaders – but they are also more stable, offering higher traction and lower ground pressure.

Contractors are working smarter.

Industry watchers say the economic stress of the past several years has forced construction companies large and small to tighten internal efficiencies. Out of necessity, they have not only worked to cut costs but are now focusing on –right-machine-right-job. Compact track loaders are becoming the machine of choice because they can deliver greater return on investment over time.

Skid steers are more maneuverable in tight spots, and their tires enable them to travel significantly faster than CTLs. Some owners have considered tracked skid steers – the over-the-tire option – but you get less track than a CTL with more expensive maintenance.

Attachments make machines more versatile.

Compact track loaders can use the same attachments as skid steers, and the two types of equipment are designed for the same markets. Companies typically use skid steers for hard-surface work and CTLs where footing is soft, but sometimes tracks simply provide greater stability regardless of the surface.

The big trend is toward smaller machines that can do more jobs. Investing in attachments is far more cost-effective than investing in (and maintaining) multiple specialized machines.

Operating tips to minimize wear and tear.

  • Use 3-point turns rather than counter-rotating tracks, to reduce wear on hard surfaces and avoid trapping soft-surface debris in the undercarriage.
  • Approach transitions such as curbs and ledges at 90 degrees, to maintain maximum track stability.
  • Work from the sides of your material pile and then from the middle, to keep material in front of the machine. This reduces risk of rocks, etc. getting into the tracks and undercarriage.
  • Carry loads low and move slowly on inclines.

It’s important to remember that compact track loaders typically have a 60/40 weight distribution, whereas skid steers are closer to a 70/30 ratio. CTLs also have a longer, wider footprint, and they are heavier. They are more stable where terrain is varied, but wider and heavier will affect transporting CTLs to and from jobsites.

Compact track loaders don’t function exactly the same as skid steers, from the operator’s point of view. Often CTLs now come with electronics controls or full pilot, and the feel is different between the two types of equipment. OEMs are working to offer designs that give operators choice in the cab – with “preference” control settings – to make it easier for operators to switch back and forth between machines and be equally productive with each one.

Maintenance tips to reduce O&O costs.

Keep tracks clean. The tracks and undercarriage are the biggest difference between a CTL and a skid steer, and they are the most potentially expensive ownership cost. At some point, you will have to rebuild the undercarriage, and it will be costly – far more than replacing tires. Always replace sprockets, rollers and idlers at the same time, to prevent uneven or premature wear.

While OEMs are working to make operation easier, they are also working to make service easier.

Purchasing tips.

Compact track loaders usually cost about 30% more than a comparable skid steer. There are more parts to replace, and that work takes longer. Preventive maintenance is about the same for both types of equipment, given the fact the engines are essentially the same. The big difference is the cost of parts replacement and repair. For a skid steer, you can assume you’ll spend between $1 and $2 per hour; for a CTL, that will be closer to $4. The type of track you choose will affect future costs, too.

If you are considering buying a used compact track loader, inspect it closely and get a cost estimate on rebuilding the undercarriage so you’ll have a complete cost picture.

CTLs help pay for themselves by generating on-the-job savings. Their lower impact reduces site repair, and their smoother ride and better control increase productivity by reducing spillage and operator fatigue.

Will you be part of the CTL revolution in 2015?