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What Equipment Should I Rent? Tracks or Wheels?

Category: Equipment and Solutions

Should you rent tracks or wheels? This classic question for many contractors can be answered with two words: It depends. Tracks and wheels offer unique benefits for certain projects. You might be deciding between a skid steer or a compact track loader or looking into an entirely different piece of equipment. Whether you’re looking for better traction, a surface that allows you to pick up speed or something that is best suited for a specific task, knowing what makes tires or tracks better for the job can help.

Renting the right option can add productivity and speed to your project while also reducing damage to the ground. Plus, renting removes the stressful decision of committing to a piece of machinery. Keep reading to see the comparisons between tracks and wheels and learn to identify the correct one for your job.

Tracks

The primary reason that people turn to tracks is because of their ability to “float” over the surface. Tracks have a much larger contact area with the ground, making it easier for them to move, especially in wet or muddy conditions. When driving with tires, they essentially dig a small rut and have to power themselves out of it each time. This makes it difficult to move on certain types of surfaces with tires. The downside to a track’s easy movement is a higher consumption of fuel. It takes more fuel to power the high rolling resistance of the tracks. They also weigh more than tires, which could be an issue for some applications.

Another track vs. tires advantage is the fact that tracks don’t leave pronounced ruts. Because of the higher surface area, the weight is distributed more evenly, keeping the ground beneath the machine unmarred — but just because the ground is left in good condition doesn’t mean the machine isn’t influencing it. It’s important to note that soil compaction is still present with tracks. For agriculture or landscaping work, this factor can be significant. Tracks generally increase compaction by a relatively small amount when compared to properly inflated tires. Still, any high-pressure tires, like those meant for the road, will compress the ground much more than tracks or properly inflated tires.

Looking at the design of tracked machines, they tend to be narrower, which offers better maneuverability and easier driving on roads. However, their build tends to cost more, which often scares people away from them. They can also have more parts that make maintenance costly.

You can find tracked equipment for:

  • Compact track loaders: Work with a variety of attachments, often used for earthmoving
  • Excavators: Move earth or heavy materials
  • Multi-terrain loaders: Similar to a compact track loader but for more varied and challenging terrain
  • Track loaders: Dig and load materials
  • Tractors: Pull trailers and various agricultural machinery

Tires

The choice for tires is often one that comes down to cost efficiency. Tires are typically easier to maintain and have a lower initial cost. There is a wide variety of tire types and treatments that can manage or otherwise affect the wear and capabilities of tires. For example, some technologies can make tires puncture-proof or allow them to carry heavier loads without increasing tire pressure.

Tire types and treatments

The path of a tire is different from that of tracks. Tires dig into the ground more and have to contend with pushing the vehicle out of the hole they’ve created. This driving pattern is most prevalent and difficult in muddy conditions. Tires also make driving on roads a little different. They allow you to reach a faster overall speed, but they also tend to be wider than tracks, making the drive potentially more stressful on particularly narrow roads. Another issue that makes tires challenging to work with is their increased downtime. They can be punctured, go flat and face other issues that require replacement or repair. Again, some technologies can help minimize tire trouble with treatments like puncture-proofing.

Tires are common in heavy equipment, and you can find them on the following machines:

  • Articulated trucks: Carry large, heavy loads
  • Backhoe loaders: Move earth or heavy loads
  • Motor graders: Finish a surface, often by leveling it
  • Skid steer loaders: Work with a variety of attachments, often for earthmoving
  • Telehandlers: Lift heavy objects
  • Utility vehicles: A truck with low sides, usually to carry loads
  • Wheel loaders: Move loads with a bucket in the front

Skid Steer vs. Compact Track Loader

One of the more common applications of the tracks vs. wheels debate comes with skid steers and compact track loaders. Both are small, heavy-lifting machines that can make many jobs easier. The most noticeable difference is the change between tracks and tires.

Skid steers are often lighter and have an easier time tackling uneven ground. They can also make tighter turns than a compact track loader.

The compact track loader is smoother to ride and provides a lower center of gravity. It can be harder to damage the ground with a compact track loader, but difficult terrain will be easier to manage.

Considerations

When making the choice between tracked equipment vs. wheeled equipment, you’ll want to look at certain factors of your project. These aspects include:

  • Weather: Rainy or muddy conditions will make tracks much more viable for your project than tires. They improve traction and allow you to “float” across the ground much more easily. On the other hand, tires often make frozen ground easier to traverse.
  • Improved surfaces: Are you working on improved surfaces, such as working on existing construction or in paved complexes? If so, tires tend to hold up better to the improved surface, like concrete and asphalt, than tracks. Long distances on paved roads are also better suited to tires.
  • Requirements for maintaining the surface condition: If keeping the ground in good condition is important, you’re usually better off with tracks. They don’t leave ruts, marks or damage on the ground as readily as tires do. Landscapers often use tracks for this reason.
  • Speed and distance: Consider if you’ll be driving on roads for any length of time. Tires can go faster on roads and are also less susceptible to wear. If you’ll be moving large distances between fields or driving across roads, tracks could slow you down.
  • Task: If the task at hand requires more traction and some kind of pushing against the ground, like plowing, go for tracks. They’ll offer a more even push off the ground to get the direction you need.
  • Cost: While tracks are typically more expensive, they also tend to have a longer life than tires and can make for a smoother ride. If you are purchasing a machine, you’d have to compare productivity improvements and cost to determine the value. Rentals, however, allow you much more leeway in terms of cost. If you’re not purchasing the product outright, the cost difference between tracks and tires becomes much more manageable, and you can rent whichever best suits your project.

Rent Tracks or Tires From NMC The Rental Store

Whether it’s tracks or tires you need for your next job, NMC The Rental Store can help you get the right equipment, without the commitment. You can try out one or the other before deciding on a purchase or simply use one for an upcoming project without investing in something you may not use much otherwise. Or, if your usual machine breaks down, we can offer the rental equipment you need to keep your project moving.

Whether you know what you need or still require a little direction, we can help you figure out which is best for your job. We serve contractors throughout Nebraska and parts of Iowa. Contact us today for more information on compact construction equipment rentals that support tires or tracks.

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