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Skid Steer Wheels Vs Tracks

Skid Steer Wheels Vs Tracks

Deciding between a wheeled skid steer or one with tracks can be a daunting task. Neither option is overly cheap, and both have distinct advantages and disadvantages.

I've spent a considerable amount of time operating both wheeled and tracked skid steers and in this article, I'm going to offer my thoughts and opinions on both.

Key Takeaways

  • Wheeled skid steers are more maneuverable, lower cost and perform best on hard surfaces.
  • A skid steer with tracks performs better on soft ground, slippery surfaces and uneven terrain.

Wheeled Skid Steers Advantages

Because wheeled skid steers have been around much longer than tracked machines, many old timers have considerably more experience operating them. This makes me biased towards recommending them.

Bobcat with wheels and a bale spear attachment

Lower Cost

Unless you need tracks, wheels generally offer the best investment value for new skid steer owners. Generally speaking, they will do everything you need them to on a job site that is fairly dry and level.

A set of solid tires generally has a lower purchase price than a set of tracks. You'll sometimes get fewer miles out of tires compared to tracks, but the lower purchase price makes up for this difference. The tire mileage you can expect depends largely on the operating environment.

Tires are Better on Concrete and Asphalt

You'll want a wheeled machine if you are working on pavement or asphalt. Tracks tend to wear themselves out quickly on asphalt and are prone to leaving rubber scrub marks behind.

Solid wheels can be purchased, preventing flats and adding to the skid steer's over-ballast.

bobcat with wheels

Wheeled Machines are Faster and More Maneuverable

Skid steers with wheels are generally faster and more manoeuvrable than those with tracks. This can be an advantage in applications that require the machine to move quickly and navigate tight spaces.

Wheeled Skid Steers are Ideal For:

  • Working primarily on dry-level terrain and asphalt

  • Achieving a higher investment value

  • Ease of maintenance

Track Skid Steer Advantages

For all the great advantages of wheeled skid steers, they could be better on some job sites, hence the need for compact track loaders.

skid steer with tracks and a bale spear attachment

Higher Traction

Compact track loaders (or "track loaders") are the tracked version of the skid steer. Not only do track loaders look way better, but they offer more contact with the ground and more traction.

It's easy to imagine a situation where more traction is desirable in a skid steer loader. For example, in the northern states, it's common to see track loaders clearing snow with snow blowers and dozer blades. Being able to maximize traction when pushing snow is a must.

Adding Floatation

No, your track loader won't walk on water with tracks, but it will resist sinking into the soft ground better than a skid steer loader with wheels. A skid steer with tracks accomplishes this by spreading the weight of the track loader over a larger area. This spread-out weight provides fewer pounds per inch of pressure on the ground beneath it, making you less likely to sink into soft ground and uneven terrain.

Not only does the added floatation help keep your track loader from getting stuck in the muddy soil, but in a less extreme example, it can also help prevent damage on sensitive job sites.

Take, for example, a wheeled skid steer versus a compact track loader with rubber tracks operating a stump grinder on a customer's lawn. With everything being equal, the floatation of the rubber tracks will help prevent excessive damage to the property.

Bobcat skid loader clearing snow

Larger Footprint

Skid steer tracks effectively provide you with a larger and more stable footprint which can stabilize the skid steer and help prevent tipping when working at construction sites with uneven ground.

This may be a good consideration when operating large, heavy attachments on challenging terrain. For example, skid steers working in forestry operating drum munchers; every bit of stability can count.

A Tracked Machine is Ideal for:

  • Job sites with difficult terrain, uneven ground, or when extra traction is needed.

  • Snow clearing and forestry-related work.

  • Job sites where less soil compaction is required.

Why Not Have Both? Over The Tire Tracks For Skid Steers

An excellent option for owners of wheeled skid steers is to add a pair of "over the tire tracks" to their machine. This allows you to have the manoeuvrability and speed of a wheeled skid steer when needed and the floatation and better traction of tracks when the job calls for it.

Over The Tire Tracks - Rubber tracks

Rubber over the tire tracks provide the highest floatation and ground contact. They are often used in urban contracting job sites and can be purchased with non-marking pads.

Rubber over the tire tracks are also the perfect solution for working with a wheeled skid steer in soft or wet conditions. They may be the difference between getting a job done or sitting on the sidelines.

Over The Tire Tracks - Steel Tracks

We have talked a lot about floatation, but sometimes skid steers need to dig in rather than float; this is where steel over the tire track comes into play. Steel over the tire tracks add traction in slippery conditions, throw mud and debris off easily, and is generally very tough and durable.

metal over the tire tracks

Can I Use Over The Tire Tracks With My Skid Steer Loader?

Most wheeled skid steers will work with over-the-tire tracks, but some may need to have spacers installed to give the tracks enough room to move around the body of the skid steer, boom stop and engine cowling.

If you are wondering if over the tire tracks will work on your skid steer, take a tape measure and check the clearance around your tires. As a rough rule of thumb, 3" clearance in all directions is enough, but it will depend on the model.

Call us if you have less than 3" clearance, and we can set you up with the spacers needed to get your over-the-tire tracks working.

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