Compact Loaders Working Right on Track

Sept. 28, 2010

For a machine type not that long ago often dismissed as a “skid steer on tracks,” the compact track loader (CTL) has come a long way, baby. Baby? The CTL is certainly anything but an equipment infant anymore, given the continual onslaught of new model introductions and product enhancements by the dozen brands now serving the market.

“With the industry wanting more increased production and performance out of these machines, several manufacturers have developed new models to incorporate the extraordinary changes,” says Dave Evans, now an independent industry consultant, and most recently prior a compact equipment product specialist with a major worldwide OEM. “In the last two years, I have seen this industry change from manual 'row-boat lever' controls to pilot joysticks, and now electro-hydraulic controls. And while owners and operators can select these types of controls on certain models, depending on the make some will find that you can be more comfortable with joysticks, and be more productive.

“In the mid-'80s, an innovative product was born into the CTL by Takeuchi, followed by an MTL (multi-terrain loader) developed by ASV, creating the new track market of what it is today,” says Evans. “In the last two years, compact-machine designs have been enhanced by offering sealed and pressurized cabs, electronic display panels that monitor the machine's power train and hydraulics, as well as the new suspension on CTLs, two-speed options, and not to mention high-flow hydraulics.”

In the two years since Construction Equipment last chronicled compact track loaders in a Buying File feature, a proverbial decade's worth of developments have jacked up a market that has matured into adulthood seemingly overnight. Beyond those legislated updates, among the CTL market changes: Worldwide equipment giant Caterpillar introduced a whole new product family in addition to its established MTL line; compact equipment stalwart Bobcat added a seventh and smallest model to its product line; a fourth generation of Takeuchi machines includes a new smaller model; John Deere likewise introduced a new small model to its offering; both Gehl and the Gehl-owned Mustang brands added a fourth, smallest model while updating its product families, with all models having new designations; and ASV, now part of Terex, adopted new colors, new branding and a new, reinforced “Forestry” model based on the top-of-the-line PT-100, kingpin of the patented Posi-Track offering.

With the addition of smaller units of late, it's no coincidence that the one exception to modest increases in both CTL model list prices and hourly rates, according to EquipmentWatch, is in machines ranging from 976 to 1,250 pounds in rated operating capacity (as calculated at 35 percent of tipping load, as per SAE J818). Whereas the average list price in all other size ranges has increased from 0 to 5.76 percent, the 976- to 1,250-pound group has jumped 46.57 percent from exactly two years earlier, although the number of models in that grouping itself has grown from a small number. And, says Dave Murray of EquipmentWatch, “were it not for one manufacturer's low msrp (manufacturer suggested retail price), the average price in that size class would, in fact, be quite a bit higher.” Likewise, the changes in the average hourly rate to put compact track loaders to work, ranging modestly from -2.12 to 2.13 percent in the other size ranges, jumps way up for the 976- to 1,250-pound group, hiking 31.1 percent. This is determined by the established EquipmentWatch formula that includes such factors as the cost of fuel, mechanic's wages and financing.

Beyond new models, the technology available to track loaders continues to evolve.

Earlier this year, Bobcat introduced a steel-track-undercarriage option for the T250, T300 and T320 models. Customers who work exclusively in earthmoving or abrasive environments such as demolition or forestry will, says Bobcat, experience increased pushing force and longer life out of the undercarriage, which uses tracks similar to those on dozers. The steel-track undercarriage is also particularly suited to contractors working in conditions where rubber or rubber-reinforced steel tracks could become damaged, says the company. A year earlier, Bobcat introduced its roller suspension system as an option for its largest 320 model, later making it also available for the T180, T190, T250 and T300 models. The rollers are made of forged steel; the springs are shot-peened steel; and, to reduce vibration and improve operator comfort, the rollers are suspended by high-strength-steel leaf springs. The track idlers have been raised, meaning less steering-lever effort is required to turn the loader on its steel-embedded tracks. The Bobcat roller suspension system does not require greasing or adjusting because the rollers are permanently sealed and lubricated. The drive motor and hydraulic lines are kept in fixed positions, limiting the possibility of the hoses becoming snagged during operation, and the drive motor housing is hidden to decrease exposure to debris.

As a complement to its established MTL product line which leverages the ASV-developed, low-ground-pressure, suspended rubber-track undercarriage, Caterpillar's new three-model CTL product line uses a Cat-designed-and-built undercarriage that uses an external-type sprocket, steel track rollers and idlers, a conventional spring-type recoil mechanism and rubber tracks reinforced with steel. Steel cords run longitudinally through the tracks and steel inserts are located at the sprocket-engagement points. This design emphasizes durability and aggressive traction, says the company.

No rainy-day blues

As Evans sees it, the compact track loader can pay for itself in its ability to work when other compact machines can't.

“You can rely on your CTL to get you through the mud on a rainy day,” he says, “and to continue your weekly job functions regardless of terrain or weather. CTLs really pack a punch in performance, having up to 140 horsepower and rated operating capacity up to 4,500 pounds (at 50 percent of tipping load). Now you can lift higher, go faster, have more hydraulic horsepower for work tools and, most of all, be comfortable while maintaining your owning and operating cost. Yes, the CTL will be more expensive to own and operate than a skid steer loader, but all this comes with a cost.”

Evans has tips for those considering the addition of CTLs to their fleet, regardless of make: “You need to consider increased maintenance practices — clean out undercarriages, inspect wear on components — and, above all, operate the machine like a track machine by turning with a three-point-turns concept and making a larger turning radius. This technique will lower your o-and-o cost.”

How to keep your rubber tracks rolling? 

“At times,” says Evans, “the CTL is more productive than other equipment by the versatility of the hydraulic horsepower for the vast work tools offerings. One machine can operate work tools from buckets, to forks, to trenchers, to backhoes, to mulchers. The versatility of the CTL products can be a great addition to any contractor's fleet. Keep in mind that other equipment is still needed to dig deeper, carry heavier loads over 5,000 pounds, or to move larger amounts of material. CTLs are not dozers. Although some models have more horsepower, they are lighter in weight and will not perform as a 17,000-pound tractor would.”

Moving forward, Evans predicts the CTL industry “will be on the cutting edge of technology with larger machines and bigger engines for more hydraulic horsepower.” (When selecting a CTL for its hydraulic capability, he reminds, simply multiply the gallons per minute of flow by the pressure, divided by 1,714, to determine hydraulic horsepower.)

A former Caterpillar product specialist, Evans now as part of his own business consults with Supertrak Inc., which beefs up and customizes assorted carrier types including CTLs, most notably turning them into mulching machines. Supertrak works with Caterpillar product and serves much of the Caterpillar dealer network.

“While some machines put out 70 to 78 hydraulic horsepower to the work tools, the new Supertrak model SK140CTL-C puts out 128 hydraulic horsepower with the 140-horsepower Caterpillar C4.4 ACERT engine,” says Evans. “Although this machine is the most powerful in the CTL family, it will compete with the dedicated track carriers in the mulching/forestry applications.”

And hang on, predicts Evans: The CTL product today may be grown up from its infantile image not that long ago as an altered skid steer, but it's not close to being done growing. With Tier 4 emissions requirements looming, “different machine designs and new technology enhancements are only beginning.”

Caterpillar 299C Compact Track Loader

At 90 horsepower and 10,730 pounds, the vertical-lift 299C is the largest of three two-speed models offered in Caterpillar's new compact track loader family. Available with 82 horsepower are both radial- and vertical-lift models, the 279C and 289C, respectively. Cat is among a dozen brands serving the CTL market.
Now donning the Terex name and color scheme, the former ASV product line continues its prominent place in the compact-track-loader market. Seven different models utilize the patented Posi-Track undercarriage system, which uses more bogie wheels to provide maximum ground contact area and reduced ground pressure.
Among seven models of compact track loaders offered by Bobcat, the T300 offers such options as the Bobcat roller suspension system and a steel track undercarriage. An exclusive “C-pattern” track with steel cables and steel embeds is designed to not only boost traction, but also service life.
In this story:
The Cost of Ownership
Operating CapacityList Price*Hourly Rate
* Hourly rate represents the monthly ownership costs divided by 176, plus operating cost. Adjusted operating cost unit prices used in the calculation are diesel fuel at $2.25/gallon, mechanic's wage at $45.39 per hour, and money costs at 5.625 percent.
Source:, phone 800/669-3282
Up to 700 lb.$17,566$13.18
701 - 975 lb.$20,183$14.67
976 - 1,250 lb.$35,235$23.31
1,251 - 1,350 lb.$37,607$24.04
1,351 - 1,600 lb.$38,158$24.88
1,601 - 1,750 lb.$42,411$26.79
1,751 - 2,200 lb.$47,268$28.68
2,201 lb. and over$59,598$33.75
Compact Track Loader Specifications
Model*Rated Operating Load (lb.)Height to Bucket PinBucket Breakout Force (lbf)Gross Engine Output (hp)Ground Pressure (psi)Operating Weight (lb.)
* According to SAE J818, rated at 35 percent of tipping load
Source: Xpanded Specs (as of March / 09)
Terex ASV PT-305606'8.25”n/a32.72.83,305
Takeuchi TL2201,2469'6.5”4,82153.54.86,315
Gehl CTL551,2469'6.5”4,82153.54.76,129
Mustang MTL3121,2469'6.5”4,82153.54.76,129
Terex ASV PT-501,3309'7”n/a503.56,200
Terex ASV PT-601,3309'7”n/a603.66,350
Bobcat T140 K-Series1,4009'2”3,125495.26,660
Caterpillar 247B Series 21,4359'4”4,060614.06,997
John Deere CT3151,5009'2”3,300494.86,800
IHI CL351,6209'10.5”6,474n/a5.67,826
Gehl CTL651,6209'11.3”6,724704.868,014
Mustang MTL3161,6209'11.3”6,724704.868,014
Takeuchi TL2301,6209'11.3”6,728705.38,275
Bobcat T180 K-Series1,8009'7”3,600n/a4.87,367
JCB 180 Tracked Robot1,8089'7.2”5,672605.068,000
Caterpillar 257B Series 21,8709'11”3,954624.57,952
Bobcat T190 K-Series1,9009'10”3,550n/a4.97,612
Terex ASV PT-701,92510'5”n/a713.77,890
Case 420CT Series 32,00010'0.8”5,503745.88,340
Gehl CTL752,08310'2.9”7,401864.39,700
Mustang MTL3202,08310'2.9”7,401864.39,700
Takeuchi TL2402,08310'2.9”7,403864.310,115
JCB 190T Series II2,09410'3”5,512846.4910,250
Case 440CT Series 32,10010'1.7”7,400905.08,925
Terex ASV PT-802,17010'5”n/a80.53.58,972
New Holland C175 (Tier 3)2,2009'11.7”4,312605.47,535
John Deere CT3222,2009'7”6,050665.18,305
Caterpillar 279C2,24010'3.2”7,308844.09,892
Case 445CT Series 32,31010'2.4”6,700824.310,200
Caterpillar 277C2,33710'2.9”7,308843.79,495
Gehl CTL852,47010'6.1”8,669984.511,244
Mustang MTL3252,47010'6.1”8,669984.311,244
Takeuchi TL2502,47010'6.1”8,692984.711,630
Komatsu CK30-12,48510'1.2”5,038n/an/a9,546
Bobcat T250 K-Series2,50010'2”5,530n/a4.09,347
JCB 1110T Series II2,53510'3”5,512924.9310,935
New Holland C185 (Tier 3)2,55010'8.3”7,670824.09,100
Terex ASV PT-1002,66010'5”n/a99.53.510,150
Terex ASV PT-100 Forestry2,66010'5”n/a99.54.3711,425
Caterpillar 289C2,69510'7.5”7,308844.110,365
Case 450CT Series 32,70010'4.8”6,200904.810,925
Caterpillar 287C2,70910'7.3”7,308843.99,958
Komatsu CK35-12,75510'9.5”n/an/an/a10,053
New Holland C190 (Tier 3)2,90010'7.4”7,670904.39,820
Caterpillar 299C2,90510'9.4”7,308944.310,730
Bobcat T300 K-Series3,00010'9”6,300n/a4.29,702
Caterpillar 297C3,00510'9.1”7,308944.010,139
Bobcat T3203,20010'9”6,300n/a4.29,702
John Deere CT3323,20010'7”11,600824.310,825