A look at the trends in compact loader equipment
by Christopher Girodat
February 27, 2018

Looking at equipment trends during the past decade, it seems compact track loaders have led the way. These durable, versatile and cost-effective loaders have continued their reign in the compact equipment industry because of their power and ability to extend working seasons. Today, compact track loaders account for nearly 20 percent of all financed equipment in number of units, according to Equipment Data Associates (EDA). As an equipment owner, you should know the features of compact track loaders: powerful pushing, digging and lifting performance; exceptional traction; minimal ground disturbance; increased flotation; and attachment versatility are just a few reasons they are so popular.

Better Maneuverability

While other compact equipment may shut down during the off-season, compact track loaders can keep you and your operators working year-round. That is because they are built with a unique balance of torque and tractive effort that provides greater pushing power and mobility.

More ground-to-surface contact optimizes a compact track loader’s power and performance on rough terrain, inclines and uneven surfaces. Tracks distribute the machine’s weight across a larger area, minimizing ground disturbance when traveling over established surfaces. To best match ground conditions, compact track loaders can be outfitted with narrow or wide tracks and different tread patterns.

Equally beneficial is the tracked undercarriage, which provides low ground pressure and enhanced flotation and traction when working in soft, sandy, wet or muddy conditions. Choose from multiple undercarriage styles—including solid-mounted and roller suspension—that are designed with a suspension system to increase operator comfort by minimizing vibration. Cab enclosures, heat and air-conditioning, suspension seats and radios are also features that further enhance operator comfort.

Some manufacturers offer faster travel options on their compact track loaders to reduce time spent traveling across a jobsite or between jobs. These machine features can translate into project gains and benefits, allowing you and your operators to start earlier in spring or continue to work several weeks later in fall.

Powerful Lifting Abilities

When it comes to lifting performance, many compact track loaders have high capacities for loading and placing materials. Many manufacturers offer a choice of two distinctive designs—a vertical lift path and a radius lift path—to match the level of lifting that fits frequent tasks. For example, a vertical lift path loader provides higher lift capacity and more reach at full lift height than a radius lift path loader. When maximum reach is achieved at full lift height, it is easier to clear high-sided trucks and hoppers and to perform jobs that require repeated lifting at taller heights.

A radius lift path loader raises the load in an arc that provides maximum reach at truck bed height. This machine design excels at jobs with mid-range or lower working heights, like dumping material over a wall, backfilling or loading, unloading flatbed trucks and leveling and grading.

Multiple Attachments

Strategically expand your project services and adjust to changing markets and applications by purchasing or renting key attachments. Some manufacturers offer more than 70 attachments for compact track loaders, from augers and grapples to rotary cutters and hydraulic breakers. For example, you can use an auger to dig footings; an industrial grapple to grab debris or hard-to-handle objects and transport the material; a dozer blade or box blade for grading projects; or a hydraulic breaker to remove asphalt or concrete on a construction site.

It is also important to assess the value of high-flow auxiliary hydraulics for compact track loaders and attachments that can benefit from an extra power boost.

Cost of Ownership

While it’s true that similar-size skid-steer loaders typically have a lower purchase price than compact track loaders, rubber tracks can last about twice as long as tires if proper operation is followed. Rubber tracks range $3,000 to $4,500 per set and last approximately 1,200 to 1,600 hours, while a set of skid-steer tires ranges $600 to $1,000 and lasts 600 to 800 hours. Track and tire life will depend on the work surface; loaders driving on concrete or asphalt will generally need tracks and tires replaced before loaders performing tasks in dirt.

To keep operating costs down, consider minimizing operation of compact track loaders on asphalt and concrete surfaces to increase the life of rubber tracks. It is also important for operators to make gradual turns rather than sharp ones. Sharp turns may shorten the rubber track life and damage established surfaces like lawns.

Another consideration is downtime costs. If ground conditions are soft, sandy, wet or muddy, skid-steer loaders may not work. A compact track loader is designed to handle adverse underfoot conditions, so your productivity will not be halted due to weather.

Ignoring compact track loader maintenance may lead to expensive repairs and unplanned downtime. You and your operators should perform preventive maintenance tasks such as greasing the loader and checking the hydraulic oil site gauge on a routine schedule. These are outlined in your operation and maintenance manual. In addition, encourage operators to turn off the machines or lower the engine throttle to save on fuel when they are not working. During the course of a day, this time will add up and lead to fuel savings.

Based on information provided by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), compact track loader sales continue to rise in the construction industry, particularly among contractors in grading, excavating and site preparation applications. The inherent benefits of compact track loaders make them popular among contractors. Equipped with multiple features and attachments, you can work longer, harder and smarter all year long.