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Loaders: What You Need To Know

February 17, 2023

Get to grips with wheel and track loaders through their industry applications, advantages, limitations, and typical attachments.

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What is a Loader

A loader, also known as a front-end loader, is used in construction, mining, agriculture, and other industries. It is designed to lift and transport large quantities of materials, such as soil, sand, gravel, rocks, and debris.

A loader typically consists of a large, powerful engine and a hydraulically operated arm with a large bucket at the end. The operator sits in a cab located above the engine and controls the machine's movements and functions using a series of levers, pedals, and switches.

The two main types of loaders are wheel loaders and track loaders. In this article, we discus:

  • The differences
  • What loaders are used for
  • Types, sizes, and applications
  • Attachments
  • Advantages
  • Limitations

Differences between track and wheel loaders

The main differences are undercarriage design, terrain suitability, and maneuverability.

Wheel loaders are better suited for use on flat surfaces. They offer greater speed and maneuverability and are designed for large-scale projects. The wheels and axles provide the traction and stability for the machine to operate, making it an essential piece of equipment for heavy lifting and material handling capabilities.

Track loaders are better suited for use in rough terrain and offer greater stability and lifting capacity. They are ideal for working in muddy or rough and uneven terrain without getting stuck or bogged down. The undercarriage, which includes the tracks, sprockets, and rollers provide added traction and stability, making this loader type ideal for outdoor environments with soft or loose soil. 

What loaders are used for

A wheel loader is commonly used in construction, mining, and agriculture. It has a four-wheel drive system that allows it to operate on a wide range of surfaces, including paved roads and rough terrain. 

The wheels provide excellent traction in various conditions. There is a bucket on the front that can be raised and lowered to move materials such as soil, sand, gravel, and rocks. A wheel loader is known for its speed and maneuverability, making it ideal for tasks that require quick movement and precise positioning.

2021 Case 521G Wheel Loader

A track loader, also known as a crawler loader, has tracks that distribute the machine's weight over a larger surface area. This makes it better suited for use in soft or muddy terrain, where wheels might struggle to provide traction. 

It is also more stable than a wheel loader on uneven ground and slopes. Like a wheel loader, it has a front bucket for material handling, but it tends to have a higher lifting capacity due to a more stable platform. A track loader is typically slower than a wheel loader, but its ability to operate in rugged terrain makes it ideal for grading, excavation, and land clearing.

2002 Caterpillar 973C Crawler Loader

Loader types, sizes, and applications 

Loaders come in a variety of sizes, from small compact models to large heavy-duty machines. They can be on tracks or wheels, and equipped with attachments such as forks, grapples, and buckets, to enhance their capabilities and versatility.

There are different types of loaders, each designed for specific applications and working conditions, such as:

  • All-wheel steer loader: Designed to steer with all four wheels, which provides greater maneuverability and stability. It is commonly used in landscaping and snow removal projects.
  • Compact track loader: A small, versatile loader that is designed for light-duty applications. It has a compact size and can be used for landscaping, snow removal, and other tasks.
  • Loader Backhoe: A loader that has a backhoe attachment on the rear and a loader attachment on the front. It is ideal for digging and excavation work and is commonly used in construction and excavation projects.
  • Skid steer loader: A small, compact loader that is ideal for working in tight spaces and confined areas. It has a small turning radius and can be equipped with a variety of attachments.

Each loader has its own unique features and benefits, and choosing the right one depends on the specific needs of the job.


Wheel loaders and track loaders can be equipped with a wide range of attachments to increase functionality and productivity. Not all attachments are compatible with both loader types, but may include: 

  • Buckets for general-purpose material handling and loading, available in various sizes and materials such as rock, gravel or general purpose bucket
  • Forks for lifting and transporting pallets, logs or other long, bulky items
  • Grapples for handling and sorting materials such as logs, scrap metal, or waste
  • Backhoe for digging trenches, excavating foundations, and debris removal
  • Snowplow for clearing snow from roads, parking lots, or other areas
  • Augers for digging holes for fence posts, footings or other purposes
  • Blades for grading, leveling, or pushing material
  • Rakes for clearing debris or leveling soil
  • Sweepers for sweeping streets, parking lots or construction sites
  • Crushers for crushing rocks and other materials on site
  • Compactors for compacting soil, gravel or other materials
  • Planers for milling or resurfacing asphalt or concrete surfaces
  • Breakers for breaking up concrete or asphalt surfaces

The type of attachment used depends on the job and the loader being used. Most loaders are designed to be compatible with a number of attachments. Also, many manufacturers offer a range of specialized attachments to meet more specific needs.

Loader advantages

Wheel loader advantages include:

  1. High Production Capacity: Capable of moving large amounts of material quickly and efficiently, makes them ideal for use in mining, quarrying, and other high-production environments. They can carry and move large amounts of material in one scoop, saving time and reducing the need for manual labor.
  2. Versatility: They are designed to handle a variety of materials, including gravel, sand, rock, and dirt. They can also be equipped with a variety of attachments, such as forks, buckets, and snowplows, to make them more versatile and adaptable to different tasks.
  3. Maneuverability: Wheel loaders are highly maneuverable, with the ability to turn in tight spaces and navigate around obstacles. This makes them ideal for use in construction sites and other environments where space is limited.
  4. Operator Comfort: Modern wheel loaders are designed with operator comfort in mind, featuring ergonomic controls, comfortable seats, and climate-controlled cabs. This can improve operator productivity and reduce fatigue, helping to improve safety on the job site.
  5. Fuel Efficiency: Many modern wheel loaders are equipped with advanced engine technology that improves fuel efficiency while reducing emissions. This can help reduce operating costs and environmental impact.

Track loader advantages include:

  1. Better Traction: Using tracks instead of wheels provides better traction on rough or uneven terrain. This makes a track loader ideal for use in muddy or soft ground conditions where a wheel loader might struggle.
  2. Improved Stability: Because a track loader distributes it weight evenly over a larger surface area, it is more stable than a wheel loader. This can reduce the risk of tipping over when working on uneven terrain or slopes.
  3. Lower Ground Pressure: The wider tracks of a track loader help to distribute the weight of the machine over a larger area, reducing the ground pressure. This can help reduce the risk of damage to the ground, making it ideal for use on delicate surfaces or in environmentally sensitive areas.
  4. Greater Lifting Capacity: A track loader tends to have a higher lifting capacity than a wheel loader of a similar size. This makes a track loader ideal for heavy lifting and material handling tasks, such as loading trucks or moving large piles of material.
  5. Improved Maneuverability: A track loader is highly maneuverable and can turn within its own length. This makes it ideal for working in tight spaces or in areas where maneuverability is important.
  6. Greater Operator Comfort: In general, a more comfortable ride due to the suspension provided by the tracks can help reduce operator fatigue and improve productivity.

Loader limitations

While both wheel loaders and track loaders offer a range of advantages, they also have some limitations. 

Wheel loader limitations include:

  1. Limited Traction: Wheel loaders can struggle to maintain traction in soft or muddy conditions, where they can slip and lose traction.
  2. Poor Stability on Slopes: Wheel loaders are less stable than track loaders on slopes or uneven terrain, which can limit their use in some applications.
  3. Limited Maneuverability: While wheel loaders are generally more maneuverable than track loaders, they still have limitations when it comes to tight spaces or confined work areas.
  4. Limited Visibility: The design of the wheel loader's cab can limit operator visibility, which can increase the risk of accidents or damage to the machine.
  5. Higher Ground Pressure: The weight of the wheel loader is concentrated on a smaller area, which can lead to higher ground pressure that can damage delicate surfaces.

Track loader limitations include:

  1. High Cost: Track loaders can be more expensive than wheel loaders due to the more complex undercarriage design and the higher cost of tracks compared to wheels.
  2. Reduced Speed: Track loaders tend to be slower than wheeled loaders due to the increased friction of the tracks. This can make them less efficient for tasks that require high-speed movement, such as loading trucks or transporting materials across a site.
  3. Limited Maneuverability: Track loaders have a wider turning radius than wheeled loaders, which can make them less maneuverable in tight spaces.
  4. Maintenance: The tracks on a track loader require more maintenance than the wheels on a wheeled loader. Tracks can become damaged or worn and may need to be replaced more frequently than wheels. Additionally, debris can get caught in the tracks, which can cause damage if not removed promptly.
  5. Reduced Visibility: The track loader's cab is typically higher off the ground than that of a wheeled loader. This can limit visibility, particularly when working close to the ground or in confined spaces.
  6. Noise: The tracks on a track loader can generate more noise than the wheels of a wheeled loader, particularly when operating on hard surfaces. This can make them less suitable for use in noise-sensitive environments.

Buy a Used Loader with Black Star

View the loaders we have available for sale now. If you don’t see one here, there might be one listed in an upcoming auction that could meet your needs. Check back often with us, loaders sell quickly!

But, if you don’t find the equipment you’re looking for we may know someone who is selling. With our extended network of contacts, it won’t be difficult for us to find any type of equipment for you.

Please email/text/call us with any specific questions regarding loaders.
Phone: 309-361-5101.

This article is our representation of useful information and is not intended to be a complete guide for making the right decision for your company. Ask our experts - or your own - for specific advice based on your unique circumstances.

Loaders: What You Need To Know
Susan Hyde

Susan’s 25+ years’ experience includes technical content on heavy construction equipment and large-scale, mass-production machinery. She has developed and written technical manuals, industry-specific articles, instructional material and more, and writes for Black Star’s technical and non-technical audiences.

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