The basic design of your average tractor has remained fundamentally unchanged since the earliest days of tractor use, but modern technology and materials have allowed for enormous improvements and modifications in recent years. Tracked tractors are one of the most striking modern innovations in tractor technology, and these machines have many advantages that traditional wheeled tractors cannot hope to match. However, these advantages come at a price, so if you're considering making a serious investment in tracked tractor technology, you should assess the pros and cons of tracks thoroughly before taking the plunge.
What are the advantages of tracked tractors over wheeled tractors?
- Terrain versatility: It's fair to say that wheeled tractors are generally very efficient at crossing rough ground, but tracked tractors can take this efficiency to a new level. Greater surface area applied to the ground, combined with the increased efficiency of tracks when it comes to delivering engine torque effectively, mean that tracked tractors can navigate deep ditches, ruts and steep slopes with ease. Tracks also have better flotation properties to make crossing flooded and waterlogged ground easier.
- Smooth ride: The greater applied surface area of tracks also affords the driver a far smoother and more comfortable ride. Tracks also do not suffer from the lurching 'power hop' that many wheeled tractors suffer during acceleration.
- Manoeuvrability: Even the largest, widest tracked tractor has a much tighter turning circle than its wheeled equivalent, and many smaller models are actually capable of turning in place. Tracked tractors are also more adept at turning on slopes, as traction is maintained constantly to prevent slipping and tilting.
- Few adjustments to make: Rubber tracks are not inflatable like tyres, allowing you to avoid constant tyre pressure changes to deal with differing terrain types. Adjusting weight distribution is also far easier on a tracked tractor, minimising the need for ballast.
And what about the disadvantages?
- Price: The main sticking point for many farmers, and for good reason; tracked and half-tracked tractors are almost always considerably more expensive than comparable wheeled models. Tracks also have more moving parts and potential mechanical problems than wheels, increasing maintenance and repair costs in the long run, and the increased weight of tracks can add to your fuel bills.
- Ground damage: While tracks distribute their weight evenly for the most part, the edges of tracks can cause significant soil berming, and end rows of crops can be left badly damaged without due care and attention.
- Unsuitability for road use: While many modern wheeled tractors can drive straight from field to road without any adjustments necessary, tracked tractors tend to have a more difficult time. They are generally much slower, and create far more road noise and vibration than wheeled models to make for a thoroughly uncomfortable journey. Tracks can also suffer from dangerous wear if driven on roads excessively.