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Track-drive and wheeled snow blowers differ in speed, traction, and maneuverability. Track-drive machines have much better traction, whereas wheeled machines are faster and easier to steer. However, new technologies such as Ariens’ RapidTrak are helping track-drive machines close these gaps.
Track Vs Wheel Snowblower Side By Side
When choosing between track snow blowers vs wheel snow blowers, how much snow you need to move isn’t an issue.
Instead, there are differences in their speed, maneuverability, and traction. For most driveways, a wheeled snow blower is the more affordable and efficient option. I’ll explain why below, as well as situations where track-driven snow blowers shine.
Track Snow Blowers – Pros And Cons
Because tracked snow blowers are literally built like tanks, Snow Blowers Direct calls them “virtually unstoppable.” Though they do have wheels, they are covered by high-grip tracks.
Tracked snow blowers also tend to be heavier than their wheeled counterparts, further improving their traction. Additionally, most can be set extra low for cutting through densely-packed snow on pavement.
Tracked snowblowers are also more likely to be two or three-staged, making them ideal for harsh winters and gravel driveways.
(If you’re not sure what this means, they’re just extra steps in a snow blower’s functioning. A two-staged machine first scoops up the snow with a metal auger. Then, an impeller throws it out of the machine’s discharge chute.
Meanwhile, a three-stage snow blower has two additional augers to power through heavily packed snow. One sits in the front of the machine, while the other sits behind it at, a 90-degree angle.)
You should get a tracked snow blower if you have a steep surface to clear. Whereas wheeled snow blowers may slip or turn unpredictably, tracked snow blowers move steadily. Additionally, most tracked machines won’t let you turn without using a handle-mounted trigger.
As awesome as this all sounds, however, there are big reasons to prefer wheeled snow blowers over tracked ones.
In addition to their higher price tag, tracked snowblowers tend to be slower and harder to steer. This may make them impractical for flat surfaces or gradual inclines, which don’t require exceptional traction.
However, new technologies are reducing these weaknesses. Many models have turn-sensing technology, which moves a machine whichever way you start turning. Some also have multiple speed options.
Ariens’ RapidTrak hybrid technology lets users switch between track-drive and wheel-drive. For models with a hydrostatic drive transmission, it allows them to make sharp turns. As you can see in this video, RapidTrak makes a significant difference in speed and maneuverability:
RapidTrak snow blowers can be adjusted into three positions. The wheeled position lifts the smaller, rear wheels so the machine rests on the larger front wheels. The third position is only accessible in the track-mode position – users can tilt the housing towards the ground to cut through packed snow.
- Superior traction
- Safer on steep surfaces
- Most prevent unintentional turns
- Are getting faster and easier to turn as technology evolves
- Can glide over bumpy terrain
- More expensive
- Usually slower than wheeled snow blowers
- More difficult to turn than wheeled snow blowers
- Overkill for the average driveway
- Harder to repair due to more moving parts
Wheel Snowblowers – Pros And Cons
For a relatively flat driveway, in an area with moderate snowfall, a wheeled snow blower is the better choice.
A typical tracked snowblower will get the job done, but more slowly. And although you could get a speedier RapidTrak snow blower, there’s no point when you can push and turn a much cheaper wheeled snow blower with ease.
Still, the higher speed and maneuverability of wheels make accidents more likely. For example, a poster on the Mr. Money Mustache forum hit their car door when their snow blower suddenly lost its grip on one side, causing it to turn unexpectedly. The poster laments that their neighbors have tracked Honda snowblowers.
The way wheels distribute a machine’s weight can be a problem or a benefit, depending on the surface they’re on.
Like snowshoes and skis, tracks distribute weight over a wide area. This helps them stay on top of the snow, since each contact point with the ground exerts less pressure. In contrast, wheels concentrate weight in small, high-pressure points. This leads them to easily get stuck in heavy snow, mud, or dips in the ground. Worse, their spinning can dig them deeper in.
Additionally, because only a tiny part of a wheel touches the ground, it can’t grip onto a nearby surface to pull itself free. The comparatively flat shape of tracks gives them more contact points with the ground, enabling them to glide over bumpy terrain.
If you need extra traction for a flat, icy, paved surface, tire chains may be adequate. Chains use a wheel’s small, high-pressure contact points to break through the ice.
Of course, they can be a pain to put on. And according to an experienced poster on stripersonline.com, tracks out-perform chains by far, in terms of traction.
The simplicity of wheels means they need less torque to accelerate, which could mean more energy efficiency. Additionally, since wheels have fewer moving parts, they’re probably less likely to break and easier to fix.
- Generally faster
- Easier to steer
- More affordable
- Adequate for the average driveway
- You can add chains for more traction
- More likely to slip
- May turn suddenly
- Riskier to use on steep surfaces
- Chains don’t provide nearly as much traction as tracks
- More likely to get stuck in soft substances or depressions
Who Does It Better – Track Vs Wheel Snowblower?
Rolling On Ice
You can improve a wheeled snow blower’s traction on ice by giving it tire chains. However, its wheels still won’t grip as well as tracks.
Winner: Tracked snow blowers
Surface area makes all the difference between wheels and tracks on uneven terrain. Wheels are shaped so that all of a machine’s weight gets concentrated on small, high-pressure points.
Not only does this make them more likely to sink or dig into soft substances, they can’t climb out of ditches or over hills as easily.
Because tracks have more surface area touching the ground, they exert less pressure at every point and can easily pull themselves through rugged areas.
Winner: Tracked snow blowers
In general, wheeled snow blowers are faster because regular wheels produce less friction than those inside tracks. You can overcome this speed difference by getting a tracked snow blower with RapidTrak technology, but that will cost more.
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that some things shouldn’t be done quickly. For example, it’s risky to clear steep inclines in a hurry, and tracked snow blowers are definitely better for these situations.
Winner: Wheeled snow blowers
Thanks to auto-turn technology, tracked snow blowers are getting easier to steer. But in general, wheeled snow blowers do better in this department.
Of course, as mentioned, a machine that turns less easily is also less likely to suddenly crash into your car.
Winner: Wheeled snow blowers
Track Snow Blowers Vs Wheel Ones: Which To Choose?
When it comes to track snow blowers vs wheel snow blowers, there’s no point in buying features you don’t need.
Wheels are better for the average driveway. Most driveways don’t require extreme traction, although there are exceptions. Here’s an overview:
Get a track-drive snow blower if:
- You need to clear a steep surface
- You need to clear bumpy terrain
- You prefer stability over speed/maneuverability
If you have any reason to worry about your snowblower slipping, turning unexpectedly, or getting stuck, go with a track-drive machine.
Get a wheeled snow blower if:
- You need to clear a low-incline surface
- You want to move as fast as possible
- You’re on a budget
If you fit the criteria above, save money and time by choosing a wheeled snow blower like the ones in the product review here.
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