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Tractors vs Skid Steers: Key Factors to Consider Before Purchasing

Tractors vs Skid Steers: Key Factors to Consider Before Purchasing

A tractor with a rake attachment moving across a dirt field

Tractors vs Skid Steers: Key Factors to Consider Before Purchasing

Reading time: 5 min

Tractors and skid steers are some of the most common types of heavy equipment used in farming, agriculture and construction. 

Skid steers are known for their compact footprint, maneuverability and versatility. Tractors, on the other hand, are known for their ease of operation, lightweight form factor and usefulness in agriculture and farming.

While both machines are highly capable and find use in a wide variety of applications, it’s important to consider their unique advantages before adding one of these machines to your fleet. In this guide, we’ll cover the strengths and weaknesses of tractors and skid steers, so it’ll be easier for you to decide which machine will best serve your needs.

An Overview of Tractors and Skid Steers

One of the first things to consider is how tractors’ and skid steers’ distinct designs cater to specific functions.

Tractors, which are typically larger and heavier, are characterized by their long wheelbase and large tires. This design gives tractors better clearance than skid steers, which can be useful for plowing and tilling.

Since a tractor’s lifting mechanism is mounted to the front of the machine, operators can easily get in and out of the tractor from either side of the unit. This also gives operators visibility to the sides of the machine, since their view isn’t obstructed by the lifting mechanism.

In contrast to tractors, skid steers are considerably more compact and maneuverable. They feature a unique skid-steering mechanism that allows operators to turn the machine within its own footprint. This design is especially beneficial for working in confined spaces or construction sites where the ability to navigate tight spaces is required.

Unlike a tractor, a skid steer’s hydraulic lifting mechanism attaches to the back of the machine, with its hydraulic arms obstructing the operator’s view to either side of the unit. This makes it impossible to enter the operator cabin from the side, requiring operators to climb into the unit through the front of the machine.

Use Cases and Applications

While both machines play important roles in construction and agriculture, the differences in their designs give tractors and skid steers distinct use cases.

Tractors, with their power and size, are mainly used in agricultural settings. Their most common applications include plowing, tilling, planting and harvesting. Equipped with specialized attachments like seed drills, cultivators and harvesters, tractors can handle a wide array of farming tasks. 

In construction, tractors are often employed for earthmoving tasks, hauling heavy materials and grading, especially in projects requiring substantial power over large areas.

Skid steers, on the other hand, are more versatile in a broader range of environments due to their compact size and agility. They are frequently used in landscaping for tasks like grading, digging and debris removal. 

Their ability to maneuver in tight spaces makes them ideal for urban construction sites for preparation and material handling.

Operator Preference

In cases where either a tractor or a skid steer could be used, such as grading or materials handling, the best machine to use may come down to operator preference. 

Many operators prefer tractors since it’s easier to climb in and out of them while handling dynamic tasks. This makes them ideal for baling hay or working around farms, where operators frequently need to climb out of the unit to open and close gates or corral livestock.

Tractors are also easier on fragile terrain, especially turf. While skid steers tend to tear up sensitive surfaces, tractors are gentle enough to be used in tasks like finish mowing. They also have better visibility than skid steers, since they lack hydraulic arms to the sides of the operator cabin.

On the other hand, some operators like the power and versatility of a skid steer, especially for construction tasks. With their more powerful hydraulic system, skid steers can typically handle much heavier loads than tractors. They also can be fitted with thousands of attachments designed to augment their capabilities, making them better suited to a greater variety of applications.

Maintenance Requirements

Another important consideration is the difference between tractor and skid steer maintenance requirements. 

For tractors, regular maintenance includes checking and replacing engine components such as spark plugs, air filters and fuel filters. Seasonal maintenance is also crucial; for instance, antifreeze levels must be adjusted for winter and cooling systems need to be checked before summer operations.

Skid steer maintenance, while sharing some similarities, has its specific requirements. Daily inspections are a must, including checking engine oil, hydraulic fluid, coolant levels and ensuring that air filters are clean and functional. Hydraulic systems in skid steers, essential for their lifting and digging operations, need regular checks for leaks and pressure inconsistencies. 

While both tractors and skid steers require frequent preventive maintenance, the service intervals for skid steers tend to be much longer. Since they’re designed to be used daily on construction sites, skid steers are more robust and, by default, can be easier to maintain.

Operational Considerations

When it comes to choosing between a tractor and a skid steer, operational considerations are crucial.

In general, tractors are more affordable than skid steers. This makes them a good solution if you need a machine for handling farm chores or agricultural projects and you don’t require the power of a skid steer.

While a skid steer typically costs more than a tractor, it can be worth the investment if you require a powerful machine for use in construction projects. Skid steers also tend to be more durable than tractors, so the extra up-front cost may be worth it since they tend to hold up to more rigorous work environments.

Final Thoughts

While both tractors and skid steers are widely used, choosing the best machine for your fleet comes down to your particular application. If you’re looking for a machine that excels at agricultural work and is easy to operate, then a tractor is a good investment.

However, if you plan on using your machine for a wide variety of tasks, especially construction applications, a skid steer is a more reliable and capable option.

If you’re looking for OEM and aftermarket parts for your skid steer, be sure to check out the EquipmentShare Shop. Our extensive online catalog makes it easy to find the components your machine needs. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Reach out to our dedicated parts experts and get personalized assistance.

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