December 2, 2017
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CTLs and MTLs: The Difference is in the Undercarriage

Even though some tend to use the terms compact track loader and multi-terrain loader interchangeably, they are actually quite different.  In this Shop Talk Blog post our focus is going to be on 2 major differences between CTLs and MTLs:  undercarriage design, appropriate work surfaces, and ruggedness.

What’s the Difference?

Several compact equipment manufactures, including Bobcat, include CTLs (compact track loaders) in their product line up.  However, it is primarily Caterpillar (and ASV in the past) who uses the term multi-terrain loader (MTL).  To the untrained eye, they don’t look much different, and even the RitchieWiki treats them as if they are almost the same by discussing both under the heating of multi-terrain loader.  So what is the difference between them?


Undercarriage Design

While CTLs and MTLs both use tracks and look practically identical, there is a major difference in how the undercarriage was designed.  The undercarriage includes the tracks, sprockets, track motors (aka, final drive motors), idlers, and wheels.  These different parts and mechanisms interact to the traction and flotation needed for CTLs and MTLs to move even in difficult terrain.

In the MTL, the undercarriage is designed for extremely low ground pressure, even lower than that of a CTL.  For that purpose, the MTL uses all rubber tracks, rubber coated wheels, lighter weight components wherever possible, and even weight distribution.  In addition, the undercarriage is suspended, which results in tracks that are able to maintain good contact with the ground even on extremely uneven surfaces.  CTLs have a much stiffer undercarriage that is designed for ruggedness, durability, and the ability to work where skid steers either cannot or would do too much damage.  Even the tracks on the CTL are designed to be more rugged as they are reinforced with steel cable.  Also, the undercarriage of a CTL is rigid instead of suspended.

Outcome of Undercarriage Design


Because of the differences in undercarriage design, that means that the CTLs and MTLs are going to perform more efficiently on difference surfaces. The CTL can work on more delicate surfaces than a skid steer loader by design; the MTL, also by design, can handle even more delicate surfaces than the CTL, including sods and lawns.  The MTL is not designed to work on aggressive, unforgiving surfaces like gravel. It can get the job done, but that is not a good use of its features because of the resulting wear on the tracks and other components in the undercarriage.

On the other hand, a CTL could be used on delicate surfaces but expect to see that surface show some signs of damage.  Again, you could get the job done with a CTL, but that is not an efficient use of its features like ruggedness and durability.

Because of the way the undercarriage is designed (including the emphasis on lightweight components), MTLs can travel at faster speeds than equivalent CTLs.  The ride on an MTL is going to be smoother because of the suspended design of the undercarriage, in contrast to the rigid design of the CTL.

It All Ties Back

The major difference between a compact track loader and a multi-terrain loader lies in the design of the undercarriage.  The compact track loader has a rigid, rugged design that combines flotation and tractive power in such a way to allow it to work on surfaces that skid steer loaders cannot.  The multi-terrain loader took things a step further with a lightweight, suspended design that allows it to work on the most delicate surfaces.  While they may look very similar, they are in fact very different.

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