How To Choose Between Tires And Tracks

Harvesting corn on the Weihmeir farm.
( Elsburgh Clarke )

As you’re harvesting, take note of what fields are having traction issues, where you’re seeing potential compaction and the wear and tear on your current tires or tracks. If it’s time to invest in machinery next year, new or used, those notes will be valuable.

The University of Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory assesses equipment in irrigated wheat fields to test traction, compaction, fuel use and overall usability of tires versus tracks. Because many companies are providing the option to put either on machines, talk with representatives to find what’s best for your particular conditions.

Wet, easily compacted soils could benefit from track options.

Consider tracks if your ground is consistently wet, says Tony McClelland, Case IH crop production specialist. “You can do it [get across fields] without making a mess of the fields while minimizing rutting or slippage.”

According to John Deere research, tracks offer the following advantages over tires:

  •       Better flotation

  •       Smoother ride on rough fields

  •       Higher level of tractive efficiency over a wide range of soil conditions

  •       More hillside stability

  •       Easy implement hookup

  •       No tire pressure to adjust, minimal ballast changes and no power hop

“If you need to operate a tractor in close quarters you can about spin a tracked machine on a dime, too,” Roger Hoy, director of the Nebraska lab says. “Those are cases [where] I would prefer tracks.”

However, tracks are more expensive to maintain or replace, can experience reduced steering control with heavy loads, ride rough on hard surfaces such as roads and cause soil berming and more crop damage on end rows.

“If we look at a four-wheel drive tractor, say a two-wheel track, it costs somewhere in the vicinity of $20,000 each track, or $40,000 to replace the tracks,” Hoy says. In addition, his testing shows reduced power engine speed on tracks and greater fuel consumption on track machines.

With improvements in technology tires can be a good option in even compactable soils.

“There’s a lot of maintenance costs to tracks,” says Chad Colby, general manager at Central Illinois Ag. “Do you know what the maintenance cost is on tires? Air. We’ve had good absorption [of wider tires] on combines.”

On dual-tired machines it costs about $12,000 to re-tire, according to Hoy. In addition, new technology could mean similar or better flotation when compared to tracks. Testing by Titan shows super-single tires have 16% lower average pressure and 38% lower maximum pressure by using tires versus tracks.

“With our LSW [low sidewall] super-single tires on mechanical-front-wheel-drive tractors, we’ve seen 25% more flotation and less soil compaction [compared to duals on the same tractor],” says Scott Sloan, Titan agriculture product manager.

Duals also show benefits over tracks in Nebraska testing.

“In testing results comparing a Case Steiger 620 quad track to a 620 wheeled, drawbar power on the quad track was 507.2 HP, wheel 531.5 HP, so there’s a little increase there,” Hoy adds. “Specific fuel consumption in pounds per HP hour, the wheel was .398, quad track .421. In terms of efficiency the wheeled version costs less to operate.”

Know your fields, their drainage and potential for compaction. Use this information to talk with sales reps and decide what will be the best option for your whole farm: tires or tracks.