Compact Track Loader vs. Wheel Loader

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If your business wants to add a compact track loader (CTL) or wheel loader to your current equipment lineup, many factors will determine which model is right for you. 

Learn the similarities and differences between the two and how Gregory Poole Equipment Company’s expertise in Cat® equipment will help you make the most informed decision.

Understanding Compact Track Loaders and Wheel Loaders

CTLs and wheel loaders can be a useful addition to your existing fleet. However, when choosing between the two, you’ll need to consider their different features and distinctions. These types of equipment serve slightly different functions, and you can benefit from learning more about each. Here’s a quick wheel loader vs. track loader comparison:

The Core Features of Compact Track Loaders

compact track loader is a relatively small piece of equipment that runs on two parallel tracks rather than wheels. They are a popular choice for the construction, landscaping and agricultural industries. 

Here are some of their key features:

  • Tracked undercarriage: The tracked undercarriage on a CTL typically features rubber or composite tracks. This design supports better traction and stability across uneven or soft surfaces.
  • Low ground pressure: The tracks on a CTL exert less ground pressure than wheels, thanks to the added surface area from the tracks. This helps reduce ground damage during operation.
  • Maneuverability: CTLs are small and highly maneuverable. Operators can navigate through tight spaces, pivot quickly and access hard-to-get-to areas on a job site.
  • Stability on slopes: A huge advantage of CTLs is their lower center of gravity. They are well-suited for uneven surfaces, hills, slopes and inclines, and their tracks offer added stability.
  • Versatility with attachments: You can equip a compact track loader with a wide range of attachments, from buckets to grapples to augers. Their compatibility with many different attachments allows operators to enjoy greater versatility and diverse applications, including lifting, digging or pushing.

The Core Features of Wheel Loaders 

wheel loader is similar to a CTL in that they both typically feature a bucket in front and are popular in the construction industry. However, wheel loaders run on four wheels instead of tracks and are better suited for slightly different applications.

Here are the main features of wheel loaders:

  • Wheel configuration: Wheel loaders feature large wheels and drive similarly to a car or truck, supporting smoother operation. They are particularly well-suited for hard, stable surfaces such as concrete, packed dirt or asphalt. 
  • High lifting capacity: A major advantage of wheel loaders is their high lifting capacity. These pieces of equipment can lift and transport especially heavy loads with ease, making them an excellent choice for material handling applications.   
  • Speed and travel efficiency: Another beneficial feature of a wheel loader is travel speed. They can travel quickly across your job sites, boosting efficiency. This equipment is great for applications with fast cycle times or longer distance traveling needs. 
  • Versatility with attachments: You can equip wheel loaders with various types of attachments, including forks, grapples, and buckets, giving the equipment greater versatility to tackle different job requirements.  
  • Stability with load: Like CTLs, wheel loaders have a lower center of gravity, helping them lift and carry heavy loads with greater stability. This lets the equipment safely tackle projects like stockpiling materials or loading trucks.

Key Differences Between CTLs and Wheel Loaders

While there are many similarities between wheel loaders and compact track loaders, you should know some differences before choosing one piece of equipment over the other. The most obvious distinction is that CTLs move on tracks, and wheel loaders move on tires. Explore the other important differences below:

  • Mobility: A compact track loader’s tracked undercarriage allows the equipment to gain superior traction on soft or uneven terrain, like sand or mud. A wheel loader, however, is better on solid surfaces like concrete or packed dirt. Its large wheels allow the equipment to travel and move efficiently at higher speeds than a CTL. 
  • Maneuverability: Compact track loaders excel on job sites with limited space. They are highly maneuverable, making them suited for landscaping, residential construction and forestry applications where operators must navigate challenging terrain. Wheel loaders offer less flexibility and movability. They are typically a better option for jobs with heavy lifting needs than working in tight quarters. 
  • Stability: Wheel loaders and CTLs offer stability in different capacities. Both have a low center of gravity, but CTLs are best for staying stable on uncertain terrain, while wheel loaders are ideal for staying steady while hoisting and moving heavy loads.
  • Surface impact: Another distinction between these equipment types is how they interact with the ground during operation. Wheel loaders exert pressure on each wheel, making them less useful for sensitive surfaces like lawns. CTLs distribute their weight over the larger surface area of their tracks, allowing them to travel over softer ground with minimal damage.

Terrains, Conditions and Job Site Productivity

When determining whether a CTL or a wheel loader is the right addition to your fleet, you must consider the terrain and ground conditions you typically work with. The type of equipment you choose will impact job site productivity and performance. Explore the primary applications for CTLs versus wheel loaders:

Primary Uses of CTLs

Compact track loaders are well-suited for soft and sensitive terrain, like loose soil, snow, sand or mud. Their tracks offer additional traction, making them a good pick for the following applications:

  • Construction
  • Landscaping 
  • Snow removal
  • Wetland restoration

CTLs are also better for jobs with slopes and inclines than wheel loaders. Their tracked undercarriage and low center of gravity make them effective in hillside landscaping or grading projects and forestry operations on hilly terrain.

These pieces of equipment are gentle on the ground surface, minimizing disturbance and outperforming wheel loaders. CTLs are the right choice for jobs involving the preservation of landscaping or environmental restoration. Because of their outstanding maneuverability, CTLs are also well-suited for tasks involving narrow and confined spaces, such as:

  • Indoor construction or renovation projects
  • Landscaping in tight or restricted areas
  • Crowded or congested job sites

Primary Uses of Wheel Loaders

Wheel loaders outperform compact track loaders for certain applications and job site conditions. For instance, a wheel loader is best for working on hard, stable surfaces, including:

  • Material handling in manufacturing facilities or warehouses.
  • Construction sites with compacted ground conditions.
  • Loading and unloading operations on concrete or pavement.
  • Road construction and maintenance projects.

These pieces of equipment can also travel at higher speeds, enabling greater efficiency. Quick transport makes wheel loaders the go-to pick for load and carry applications, like transporting bulk materials across a construction site or large open space, such as a quarry or mine.

Wheel loaders also typically feature heavier lifting capacities and longer reach than CTLs. They are useful for stockpiling materials at storage yards or on construction sites. They are also suitable for handling large containers and pallets or hoisting heavy materials, such as rocks, logs and gravel.

In addition to all these diverse uses, wheel loaders can also streamline scraping and grading projects for road or pavement maintenance, clearing debris, and landfill operations.

Operational Life Span and Maintenance Requirements

When you invest in a compact track loader or a wheel loader, keeping up with the maintenance requirements is key to elongating the machine’s operating life. For both types of equipment, be sure to do the following:

  • Schedule routine maintenance
  • Manage oil and fluid levels
  • Tend to repairs promptly
  • Follow the manufacturer’s operational guidelines
  • Perform pre- and post-operation inspections
  • Clean the machine regularly
  • Store your equipment in a safe and protective location

On average, both compact track loaders and wheel loaders will last between 10,000 and 15,000 hours with proper care. Now, let’s get into the main distinctions between maintaining each:

Maintaining a Compact Track Loader

The maintenance requirements for a CTL differ from a wheel loader, particularly in terms of the tracked undercarriage. Taking care of your track is essential for long-term use and optimal performance. 

Operators need to clean the track regularly, removing debris, mud and rocks after each use. Monitor the tension and make adjustments as needed to avoid premature wear and potential damage. Keep the track well-lubricated and replace it when it begins showing signs of significant wear.

A well-maintained track will last between 1,200 and 1,600 hours, on average. However, the exact hours will depend on the types of projects you work on regularly and how you operate the machine. 

Maintaining a Wheel Loader

Wheel loaders typically have fewer maintenance requirements and lower upkeep costs than most compact track loaders, mainly because of the tracked undercarriage. Wheel loader maintenance tends to be simpler, and operators generally need to do the following:

  • Check tire pressure
  • Inspect for wear and damage
  • Replace tires as needed

Proper tire care is essential for optimal performance and safe operation.

Price Comparisons for Compact Track vs. Wheel Loaders

When purchasing a CTL or wheel loader, the following factors will directly impact the equipment’s upfront costs:

  • Brand: The equipment’s manufacturer will affect the price. Brands known for reliable, durable machines often have slightly higher costs. 
  • Size and load capacity: You can expect a higher price tag for larger equipment and pieces with higher load capacities.
  • Features: A machine’s special features, such as advanced technologies or comfort enhancements, will impact its upfront costs.
  • New vs. used: In most cases, you can save costs by opting for used machines rather than brand-new ones. However, newer models tend to last longer.

In addition to these costs, you must be aware of the factors impacting operational and ownership costs, including:

  • Maintenance: You’ll want to consider how ongoing maintenance costs may differ between these types of equipment. Again, compact track loaders will likely involve slightly more expensive upkeep because of recurring costs like replacing the track. 
  • Insurance: Another important factor to keep in mind is insurance costs. The equipment’s value, age, condition and location will impact your premium. 

Resale of CTLs and Wheel Loaders

When investing in heavy equipment, be sure to consider resale value. The following tips will help you preserve the worth of your machine to maintain the highest resale value possible:

  • Establish a routine preventive maintenance plan.
  • Keep detailed records of your maintenance, repairs and servicing.
  • Minimize exposure and operation in harsh environments.
  • Use replacement parts from the manufacturer.
  • Prioritize proper storage and transportation.

The price you can sell your CTL or wheel loader at will depend on the following factors:

  • Age
  • Operational hours
  • Condition
  • Brand
  • Market demand
  • Technology
  • Location
  • Maintenance history

Considerations for Choosing a Compact Track Loader vs. Wheel Loader

When determining whether to invest in a compact track loader or a wheel loader, be sure to explore the following considerations:

Typical Job Requirements and Applications

One of the most significant factors to consider when choosing heavy equipment is your typical applications. What types of job sites do you work with often? If you are more likely to work in snowy, muddy or sandy conditions, you’ll want a CTL. A wheel loader is often the best option if you work indoors or with hard surfaces. 


You’ll also need to consider the attachments you’ll need for your CTL or wheel loader. Both types of equipment work with a wide range of accessories and work tools, such as:

  • Snow products
  • Augers
  • Backhoes
  • Brooms
  • Buckets
  • Forks
  • Rakes
  • Rippers
  • Trenchers

Ensure you choose a loader that works with the types of attachments necessary for your business’s job requirements. 

Rent or Buy

If you are looking for a compact track loader or wheel loader, you’ll need to determine whether you’d like to rent the equipment or buy it. Renting is typically best for short-term project needs or for businesses that do not have the budget to cover the upfront costs of purchasing. Buying is typically best if you need the equipment for long-term requirements. If you are purchasing equipment, another important consideration is whether to buy new or used.

Working With a Trusted Seller

Whenever you are investing in heavy equipment, it is crucial to work with a trusted seller. Research the business and explore customer testimonials to ensure they have a positive track record. Prioritize responsive customer service and ask if they offer repairs or maintenance services. Closely inspect the equipment and ensure it matches the listing from the seller. If there are any discrepancies, find another seller. 

At Gregory Poole Equipment, we have over seven decades of providing our customers with quality products and services. We will help you determine which equipment is right for your unique requirements and deliver expert advice. 

Browse the Selection of Cat® Compact Track and Wheel Loaders Available at Gregory Poole

If you want to add a wheel or compact track loader to your fleet, turn to the options at Gregory Poole Equipment Company. We have locations throughout eastern North Carolina and over 70 years of experience delivering reliable, effective solutions for various industries

We have a wide selection of new and used Cat equipment available, and our dedicated sales and product support teams will help you find the right model for your unique project requirements. 

Browse our equipment online, or find the nearest Gregory Poole location today.