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Road Rollers for Construction: What You Need to Know

Road Rollers for Construction: What You Need to Know

Road Rollers for Construction: What You Need to Know

Reading time: 7 min

If you’ve driven on a highway while it’s under construction, then chances are you’ve seen a road roller in action. In its most basic form, a road roller is a heavy piece of equipment consisting of a cylindrical drum that rolls in front of or behind the machine, compacting and flattening the surface as it moves along.

What is a Road Roller?

A road roller is used for compacting and leveling surfaces like roads, pavements and soil. Road rollers are typically fitted with heavy, large drums made of steel, which roll over the work surface and compress the material while smoothing out irregularities.

Road rollers have a variety of applications, but they are generally used to compact loose soil, asphalt, concrete and other base surfaces. They’re widely used in preparing and strengthening foundations, road construction and agriculture.

Types of Road Rollers

Road rollers come in a variety of types and sizes. Each type of road roller is suited to a particular use case or base material/terrain.

Smooth Wheeled or Static Rollers

Smooth wheeled, or static, rollers are the most common type of road roller. They have a heavy cylindrical steel drum that is totally smooth/flat on its surface. Static rollers are used for compacting large, flat areas such as parking lots, highways and industrial sites.

Single Drum Rollers

Single drum rollers consist of a steel drum and a set of tires. Usually, the steel drum sits at the front of the machine, while the tires are situated at the machine’s rear. Since only one side of the machine is fitted with a roller, the machine can only be operated in a single direction and is less efficient than a double drum roller.

Double Drum Rollers

Double drum rollers consist of two steel drums – one at the front and another at the rear of the machine. Since both ends of the machine have a roller, they are more efficient than single drum rollers and can be operated in either direction. Since they don’t have tires, they don’t have as much traction as single drum rollers and cannot be used on steep slopes.

Trench Rollers

Trench rollers have a compact frame and are designed to be used in narrow work spaces, like trenches. They are ideal for compacting soil, sand and other materials in utility trenches or underground work surfaces. 

Vibratory Rollers

Vibratory rollers, as their name suggests, are rollers with a drum that vibrates as it rolls along the work surface. Vibratory rollers can provide similar performance as much larger rollers while maintaining a more compact form factor, since the vibrating action greatly increases their efficiency. They are ideal for use in road and foundation construction where a high degree of compaction is necessary.

Pneumatic Rollers

Pneumatic rollers look unique because, rather than a steel drum, they use a series of smooth, rubber tires filled with air or water to compact the work surface. They are used in applications where a flat, even surface is required, such as parking lots or airport runways. Since they use rubberized tires in place of a steel drum, pneumatic rollers can be fine-tuned to deliver more precise levels of compaction.

Sheepsfoot Rollers

Unlike other types of rollers, sheepsfoot rollers do not have a smooth drum. Rather, the roller on a sheepsfoot roller has pads, or feet, that protrude from the surface of the roller in a checkered pattern. These feet make the roller better equipped for compacting rough and uneven surfaces, such as clumped soil. They’re frequently used in agriculture for smoothing fields after plowing.

Grid Rollers

Grid rollers have a steel drum that is not flat, but is made up of steel bars arranged in a checkered pattern. This type of roller is typically a pulling unit, and gets pulled behind a truck or another heavy equipment vehicle. The unique design of the drum makes this type of roller best suited for working on coarse soil and for subgrade road construction projects.

Drum Rollers Compared to Other Machines

Compared to common heavy equipment, such as excavators and skid steers, drum rollers aren’t as versatile and get used on fewer projects. This is because, while other heavy equipment has a wide range of uses, drum rollers are used exclusively for compacting and flattening surfaces.

Water-related Components for Road Rollers

Road rollers typically feature water lubrication systems that spray water onto the work surface as the machine rolls along. By lubricating the work surface with water, the energy required to compact the surface is reduced greatly, improving the machine’s efficiency. Not only does water lubrication improve the machine’s ability to compact the work surface, but it also reduces wear on the drum and prevents damage to the surface being compacted.

A road roller’s water lubrication system consists of a few key components:

  • Water Tank – The water tank stores water used to lubricate the roller drum during the compaction process. The size of the water tank depends on the size of the roller and the job it’s being used for.
  • Spray System – Road rollers typically have a spray system which applies water to the surface being compacted. The operator can typically control the spray system to adjust the amount of water being sprayed.
  • Nozzles – The spray system includes nozzles that distribute water evenly across the surface being compacted.
  • Water Pump – A water pump is used to circulate water from the tank to the spray system. The size and capacity of the pump can vary depending on the roller.

What Type of Engine Does a Road Roller Run On?

Most road rollers run on diesel engines, which are known for being reliable and having a high torque output. Hydraulic transmissions are also common in road rollers, since they can provide precise control over the speed and torque of the roller.

In most road rollers, a diesel engine powers the machine and supplies power to a hydraulic pump. The hydraulic pump forces hydraulic fluid through a series of valves and hoses to a hydraulic motor, which then drives the wheels or drum.

Road Roller Maintenance

Like other heavy equipment, road rollers need to be properly maintained in order to maximize their efficiency and lifespan. The best way to maintain your road roller is through the implementation of a preventative maintenance plan.

Here are some key areas to consider for your road roller’s preventative maintenance plan:

  • Daily inspections – Train your operators to perform a walk-around of the road roller at the beginning of each shift. During walk-arounds, you should be on the lookout for any loose wires or components, damage to key components or other signs of concern.
  • Maintain fluids – Maintaining your road roller’s engine oil and hydraulic fluid are essential to maintaining its lifespan. Make sure to check your machine’s fluid levels frequently and replace the fluids according to the maintenance schedule in the machine’s service manual.
  • Clean the drum and maintain the drum scraper – It’s important to clean the roller’s drum after each use. Do not let soil or other material to build up or harden on the drum or scraper. Make sure the scraper is in contact with the drum and change it when it becomes damaged.
  • Clean or replace air filters when necessary – Maintaining your roller’s air filters will ensure the engine is receiving adequate airflow and reduce contamination of the engine oil. Track your air filter changes and be sure to change it according to the intervals set in the service manual.

Maintain the hydraulic system – If your machine has a hydraulic transmission, then you’ll need to make sure the hydraulic fluid and filter are maintained. Check the components of your machine’s hydraulic system regularly and replace them according to the intervals in the machine’s service manual.


Properly maintaining the quality of your road roller is necessary to ensure it has a long lifespan. If you’re in need of a new part for your roller or other machine, visit EquipmentShare’s online parts catalog to find high-quality OEM and aftermarket components. Still can’t find what you need? Reach out to one of our parts experts for personalized assistance. 

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