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Rubber Track vs Steel Track Excavator Hire: Pros, Cons and Comparison

When looking at excavator hire, you may ask yourself whether to look at a steel track excavator hire option or a rubber track excavator hire. There are pros and cons for each based on the scenario you need the excavator hire for. 

We cover the pros and cons of each and their comparative features in this rubber tracks vs steel tracks excavator hire guide.

The key differences between steel and rubber track excavator hire

Aside from the fact that they are made up of different materials, steel and rubber tracks have core differences in their make. The best excavator hire option will depend on a number of factors.

Steel tracks are a durable, tough material and are heavy. This can be ideal for excavator hire in situations where the track can be used as a counterweight or to deliver a low centre of gravity in a variety of difficult surface conditions. Steel tracks are a chain of continuous but separate links that work together to create the tracks, providing traction and weight distribution. 

Rubber tracks also provide a continuous traction system with weight distribution. But where steel tracks are separate links, which can be easily removed and replaced, an issue on a rubber track can mean the whole system needs to be replaced. While this is likely not something you will have to worry about when opting for an excavator hire rather than purchasing your own excavator, but issues in the tracks caused on site can create a longer delay with rubber tracks.


Durability winner: steel tracks

Steel tracks are the clear winner when it comes to the durability of the tracks themselves. Steel tracks are more resistant to damage from environmental factors like sharp and hard surfaces, sharp rocks and debris. Rubber tracks can get shredded very quickly in scenarios where jagged rocks, debris and demolition materials present harsh surfaces. In most scenarios, steel has a durability that will outlast even the best quality rubber tracks, and steel tracks are not fussed by rock and demolition debris. For jobs and sites where the surface is rugged, steel track excavator hire will likely be the way to go.

Steel tracks continue to work well in every temperature, where rubber tracks can become malleable in extreme heat and brittle in extreme cold.

Steel tracks are also less likely to be damaged from any chemicals present on site. Rubber tracks can be damaged or even dissolved by the chemicals found on some job sites. Even chemicals as innocent-seeming as oil and grease and cause damage to rubber excavator tracks. 


However, in situations when operating over asphalt and concrete, rubber tracks receive less damage and wear than steel tracks, due to steel tracks being harder and heavier. Rubber tracks excavator hire is ideal for projects that are in the final stages of construction for this reason, and can also access job sites that are connected to finished pavement or landscaping.

Surface damage

Surface impact winner: Rubber tracks

When working in sensitive terrains or where maintaining the surface is important, rubber tracks are your best option for excavator hire. Steel tracks are heavy and much more aggressive to the ground, doing much more surface damage than their rubber counterparts. If you would like to preserve the surface as much as possible, keeping the damage to a minimum, rubber tracks excavator hire will be the best option.

Maintenance and Repair

Maintenance winner: steel tracks

Rubber tracks need more maintenance to ensure they remain clean and that the tensions are adjusted correctly. Steel tracks, on the other hand, have slack built in, allowing the natural expulsion of debris such as rocks from the job site.  As steel is strong and resistant to wear in more scenarios, steel tracks need less maintenance and less frequent repair works. Steel tracks are also easier to clean meaning low upkeep.

If your job is longer, steel track excavator hire may be the best option due to its minimal maintenance requirements.

The ability to replace any problem links individually with steel tracks makes them easier to repair than rubber track excavators.

Operation comfort

Comfortable operation winner: rubber tracks

When operating an excavator with rubber tracks, the ride is usually more comfortable to operate as the tracks flex with the terrain. 

Operating an excavator with steel tracks can be much less comfortable, presenting a bumpier ride which can get tiring over longer periods and can also cause problems over time for operators with long-term shoulder, back, hand and arm issues. This is largely due to the inability of steel tracks to absorb vibration and shock in the same way rubber tracks do. If operator comfort is a key concern for your excavator hire, machinery with rubber tracks should be considered.


Noise winner: rubber track excavator hire

Steel excavator tracks are much noisier. Steel track excavators can be heard from a long way off, reducing the comfort of the operator and those on-site. If noise pollution is an issue, or you are operating in a noise-sensitive environment, rubber track excavator hire will be the better option for noise.


Muddy, sandy, icy and snowy surface traction winner: steel track excavators Flat and try terrains winner: rubber tracks

When looking for the best option for excavator hire, it’s important to look at the terrain. Rubber tracks have a distinct advantage over steel tracks in most terrains and surfaces where the ground is dry and relatively flat. This is due to the friction and mouldability of rubber, increasing the overall surface area and allowing the tracks to get an easier grip on the terrain. 

However, steel tracks have the upper hand when it comes to harsher environments and terrain. For muddy surfaces, sandy surfaces, ice and snow, steel tracks can bite and hold onto the surfaces, due to the weight and load distribution of steel tracks. In these situations, rubber tracks would likely simply spin on the surface.

The rigid nature of steel also means that steel tracks can push the excavator over uneven surfaces, where a rubber track hire excavator may slip.


Versatility winner: rubber tracked excavator hire

Rubber tracks are able to perform on many terrains and surfaces that steel track excavators have difficulty with.

Load Transfer

Load transfer winner: steel tracks

The steel tracks pattern gives an even weight transfer that works to reduce point loading on all surfaces and terrains. Steel tracks present a uniform load distribution, where rubber will flex and have a higher point loading frequency. Consider your weight transfer requirements when looking at the best excavator hire options for your project.

Balance and counterweight

Counterweight and balance winner: steel track excavator hire

The sheer weight difference of steel tracks gives them an advantage with heavy machinery that moves large loads above its centre of gravity. The weight of a steel track lowers the excavator’s centre of gravity and helps to stabilise the machine, improving the tipping point and counterweight.

It’s important to note however that the heavier weight of steel tracks can also pose an issue in other areas, as heavy tracks can create transportation and access issues as well as add to surface pressure and damage.

Speed and Manoeuvrability

Speed and maneuverability winner: rubber tracks

As steel tracks are much heavier, rubber tracked excavators are much faster movers than their steel counterparts. Rubber tracks are also easier to turn and maneuver, making them the better option in situations where this is required. Steel tracks, on the other hand, are not known for their ability to move around easily, as turning too fast causes them to chew up anything nearby.

Price and availability

Price and availability winner: rubber tracks

Steel excavator tracks and their undercarriages are significantly more expensive than rubber tracks, and therefore the steel excavator hire price is usually higher. Rubber track machines are more widely available and more commonly used. However, if you are working at a site with mud, thick vegetation or rocky terrain, the advantages of hiring a steel track excavator may be well worth the higher price point.

Picking the best excavator hire option for your project

Price and availability winner: rubber tracks

In most cases, you can get the job done with either steel track or rubber track excavator hire. Selecting the best excavator hire option for your project really depends on the specifics of the project at hand and where the project priorities lie. If you need an excavator hire where durability is the top priority, a steel excavator would be the way to go. If you’re looking for an excavator that presents versatility, a rubber excavator hire would be ideal. 

One choice that’s not difficult to make however is to engage with AstroHire for your excavator hire needs. With the most competitive rates, a huge range of top-class equipment, a large coverage area stretching across Gympie, Cooloola Coast, Wide Bay and Sunshine Coast, and an experienced team, we have all your excavator hire and earthmoving hire needs covered.

Give the team at AstroHire a call and we can help you with the excavator hire option that will be the best fit for your project.