Wheel Loader vs. Compact Track Loader

Wheel Loader vs. Compact Track Loader

In heavy equipment, loaders are versatile and powerful machines that take on many forms. Wheel loaders and compact track loaders offer similar functions with different strengths. When you understand what each machine excels at, you can identify the best loader for your next job and meet your goals efficiently every time. 

What Is a Wheel Loader?

Wheel loaders are reminiscent of skid steers, as they offer wheels, buckets on the front and compatibility with numerous work tool attachments. However, a wheel loader machine differs from a skid steer in terms of its steering mechanism. 

While skid loaders don't have a central steering mechanism, wheel loaders use an articulated system. This articulation means these loaders have a pivot point that allows them to turn. 

These machines drive more like cars, offering a smoother operation experience. The steering system also reduces wear on your tires and lessens ground disruption, making it more favorable for specific applications. Wheel loaders have a cab that sits relatively high, giving operators more visibility of the area around them. 

What Is a Compact Track Loader?

While both wheel loaders and track loaders have buckets on the front, they're not the same. One of the biggest differences between a track loader and a wheel loader is in the name — tracks. These tracks give these machines better weight distribution than their wheeled counterparts. Instead of four points bearing all the weight of the equipment, the tracks spread it over a wide distance.

This weight distribution allows the track loader to travel over soft ground, like snow and mud, without sinking. These machines are ideal for working on ground that needs to be handled with care, like freshly cured concrete and turf.

Applications and Uses for These Loaders

Generally, wheel loaders and compact track loaders can perform many of the same tasks. They both have attachment compatibility that lets you adapt them to your job, so the possibilities are far-reaching. Both loader types are excellent for digging, loading and hauling materials. Specific applications include:

  • Snow removal
  • Stump grinding
  • Pallet loading
  • Trench digging
  • Surface grading
  • Tree removal

While wheel loaders may be better for some applications, compact track loaders are more suited for others. Understanding these machines' uses and strengths can help you differentiate them.

Wheel Loader Uses

Wheel loaders excel at carrying heavy loads and transferring them to trucks for transport within or off a job site. With the higher cab and increased visibility, wheel loaders are ideal for high-traffic areas like parking lots or busy construction sites.

These machines can also travel at higher speeds than their tracked counterparts, making them valuable for big jobs and time-sensitive tasks. This speed also makes wheel loaders excellent at transporting materials between sites and across long distances.

Compact Track Loader Uses

Compact track loaders are ideal for navigating small spaces, so residential construction teams often count on them. The tracks also make them the preferred option for environments with soft ground. When construction businesses operate in areas with frequent rain, compact track loaders can continue to perform. 

The lower center of gravity and track traction also make these machines great at climbing slopes. If you're working on hilly or uneven terrain, a track loader is an excellent choice. 

How Do You Choose Between the Two?

When you need a loader and aren't sure which will work best, consider these three factors:

  • Maneuverability: Wheel loaders are easy to steer, and they can travel farther in a short amount of time. However, they don't always excel on sloped terrain, and they're often on the larger side. Choose a compact track loader when you have hilly terrain and a small site to navigate. A wheel loader is better for larger areas that require extensive material transport. 
  • Ground requirements: What type of terrain are you planning to work with? Mud and snow work best with a compact track loader, and the wheel loader complements pavement and solid soil.
  • Capacity: Compact track loaders will not be capable of the same capacity as many wheel loaders. If you need to haul massive amounts of material, the wheel loader is likely your best bet.

Find the Best Loader for Your Job at The Cat® Rental Store

At The Cat® Rental Store, you can find various wheel loaders and compact track loaders to meet your on-the-job goals. Renting through your nearest Cat dealer is an excellent option for your operation when you need short-term solutions at competitive rates.

You can request a free rental quote or learn more about our loaders by calling 1-800-RENT-CAT. Quick quotes are also available online. Our complete track and wheel loader selection is available online as well, so you can browse at any time and find the best model for your application.

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