Tires vs. Tracks: Cost of Ownership Differences Between Skid Steers and Track Loaders

case skid steer

Tracks and pneumatic tires represent a significant percentage of total cost of ownership (TCO) for any piece of landscaping equipment. Proper maintenance and operating practices can go a long way to ensure that equipment owners are getting the most out of their investment, as well as working toward a safe and productive job schedule.

Maintenance Considerations and Best Operating Practices: Tracked Equipment

The undercarriage of a tracked machine is a system of moving components consisting of sprockets, rollers, idlers, tracks and other miscellaneous parts. Proper operation is critical to controlling the cost of these wear items. Consider the following operating practices for tracked equipment:

• Remember that proper operating procedures start before the machine gets to the jobsite. Check the ground conditions and the terrain to make a number of informed decisions (if you have numerous machines/track styles to choose from) such as: the need to minimize travel; the use of steel tracks versus rubber tracks depending on the need to control ground pressure or navigate debris; choosing the narrowest shoe width possible to meet the required flotation; and discussions with operators about the proper operating techniques that match the terrain.

• Counter-rotation, or pivot turns, cause accelerated wear and increase the potential for de-tracking of rubber-tracked machines. Operators should take wider more gradual turns whenever possible.
• Constant operation on a slope or hill in one direction can accelerate wear to idlers, rollers and guide lugs by placing greater forces on one side. Travel straight up or down the slope when possible.

• Turns are best performed on level ground. We understand some jobs require hillside work. For these situations, keep in mind that minimizing time on the slope will always payoff in reduced wear and load to the undercarriage.

• Continuous turning on the same side can cause accelerated asymmetrical wear on the tracks. Operators should do their best to try and balance the direction of turns throughout the day. If it’s not possible, the tracks should be checked for wear more often.

• Unnecessary spinning of the tracks can increase wear and decrease productivity. Also, higher speeds can cause more wear, as well as excessive and/or unnecessary travel in reverse.

Special Considerations for Rubber Tracks


• Traveling or operating in or around abrasive materials will shorten track life. Operators should avoid rough stone, jagged rocks, scrap iron or other recycled materials. Crushed rock, concrete or demolition rubble and rebar also pose a threat to uptime.

• Operators should also try to stay on relatively flat surfaces. Operating a rubber-tracked machine with the outside/inside edge of the track turned up can cause damage to the edges and lugs of the rubber track. It is also important to avoid traveling with the tracks on uneven ground or surfaces with obstructions.

• Given that rubber is weaker than steel, operators should not allow the sides of the tracks to contact curbs or walls to minimize damage and downtime. It is also important to note that rubber tracks are not direction-specific. In certain situations, it is completely within reason to remove rubber tracks and swap sides or flip their directions when wear patterns become apparent.

• Proper cleaning and storing of rubber-tracked machines also helps to ensure their longevity. Flush the tracks and undercarriage with clean water if the machine was used in areas with abrasive or corrosive materials. If being stored off of the machine, the tracks should be stored on their sides to avoid crimps.

• Once rubber tracks are worn and/or damaged, there is no real way to repair them. Damaged rubber tracks need to be replaced in order to minimize excessive wear to other undercarriage components.

• Inspect the undercarriage for excessive or uneven wear, as well as damaged or missing components. Any issues should be immediately addressed to minimize further wear or damage.

• Monitor track tension while the machine is in working conditions and adjust it accordingly. When the tracks are too loose, it can create instability. It can cause the tracks to derail in the worst-case scenario. When rubber tracks are too tight, it can cause the tracks to stretch or break in addition to excessive roller and idler wear.

Maintenance Considerations and Best Operating Practices: Pneumatic Tires

Case-CCE_SSL-skid-steer-loader1-1• Tread depth is one of the key indicators of the overall health of pneumatic tires and should be monitored regularly in order to determine where a tire is in its life cycle. It is important to consider that each type of tire has its own tread depth considerations, so equipment owners should consult with their dealers to determine the original tread depth and determine the point at which the tire needs to be replaced or re-treaded.

• Inspect tires and rims daily, noting any cuts, cracks, abrasions or uneven wear on the tires. These actions could lead to the replacement of a damaged tire before it becomes a bigger issue or could possibly be an indication of another problem.

• Tire pressure is another critical daily checkpoint. Improperly inflated tires can cause unnecessary wear and damage and can wreak havoc on TCO. Tires should also be cleaned, and any debris should be removed from the tread whenever possible/practical.

• Tires should also be rotated regularly — just like a car or truck — irregular wear can be present for an infinite amount of reasons, and the best way to minimize it is to follow the manufacturer-recommended rotation intervals.

Operating practices can also have a significant impact on the overall life of pneumatic tires. Operators need to be aware of the manufacturer-recommended load limitations of a machine. Exceeding the load limitations can cause unnecessary wear on pneumatic tires, in addition to other machine components.

Perry Girard is a product marketing manager for Case Construction Equipment.