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High-Flow vs. Standard-Flow Skid Steer

High-Flow vs. Standard-Flow Skid Steer

A skid steer or skid steer loader is a type of heavy-duty compact equipment primarily used in earthmoving, digging, and hauling. These vehicles have a tight turning radius and are compatible with many attachments.

The types of attachments they can power depends on their hydraulic system — standard or high-flow. What sets a high-flow skid steer apart from a standard-flow machine is its significantly higher flow rate — it creates more hydraulic horsepower, allowing the loader to operate heavy-duty high-flow attachments, like stump grinders, mulchers, and cold planers.

Some machines allow you to switch between standard flow and high-flow hydraulics, for added versatility.

In this post, we go over the differences between high-flow and standard-flow skid steers and how to pick the best type for your job.

Table of Contents

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High-Flow vs. Standard-Flow Hydraulics

Hydraulics are at the heart of how high-flow and standard-flow systems compare. A skid steer’s hydraulic system works with the machine’s engine to transform energy to the attachment controls, providing the horsepower it needs to power them.

high flow skid steer vs standard flow skid steer

High-Flow Skid Steer

The main advantages of high-flow machines are their increased power and lift capacity and compatibility with powerful attachments. High-flow systems generate power by delivering a greater volume of fluid in a given time as compared to standard flow.

A high-flow skid steer works in applications that require more powerful movements or operations, like lifting heavy loads or powering add-ons like brush cutters, rock saws, cold planers, and drop hammers.

Many modern high flow machines can also operate with standard-flow hydraulics when you switch the high-flow option off, making them more versatile. You can also modify a machine’s flow capacity with auxiliary hydraulics, but it’s usually costly.

Standard-Flow Skid Steer

As the name suggests, standard flow is the regular flow rate designed for typical hydraulics operations. It’s suitable for most standard applications and tools that don’t require as much power. Some standard flow attachments include pallet forks, trenchers, augers, and hammers.

This is the standard capacity among common skid steers. Standard-flow systems are optimized for efficiency and longevity at this flow rate.

Calculating Hydraulic Horsepower

If you’re curious about your machine’s specs, there are a few key measurements to look for. Knowing the flow rate in gallons per minute (GPM) and hydraulic system pressure (PSI) will help you calculate the hydraulic horsepower (HP), which tells you how powerful the machine is.

To calculate the hydraulic horsepower, multiply hydraulic system pressure by the flow rate. Then, divide that number by 1,714. For example, if your hydraulic system pressure is 3,336 PSI and the flow rate is 26 GPM, the hydraulic horsepower is 50.6 as calculated by (3,336 x 26)/1,714.

Here are some examples of specs for popular skid steer models. These models allow you to switch from standard-flow to high-flow modes.

Model Standard Flow (GPM) High Flow (GPM) Hydraulic System Pressure (PSI) High-Flow Hydraulic Horsepower (HP)
Caterpillar 226D3 18 26 3,336 50.6
Kubota SSV65 18 28 3,271 53.4
Bobcat S76 23.3 30.3 3,500 61.9
CASE SV280B 24.2 37.6 3,050 66.9
John Deere 330G 23.5 36.5 3,450 73.5
Gehl R260 24 35 3,300 67.4


How to Turn On High-Flow Hydraulics

You can turn on high-flow hydraulics by pressing the correct buttons on your skid steer. Each skid steer model is different, so make sure to read your operating manual before using the machine. Your manual will show you exactly how to access the high-flow option and get it to work.

Most follow these basic steps to turn on high-flow hydraulics:

  1. Start the engine.
  2. Consult your manual to find the location of the hydraulics button. Once you’ve located it on your machine, press the button.
  3. The high flow light will turn on, indicating that high-flow hydraulics are engaged. You may need to increase the engine with the throttle engaged when you switch into high flow.

Then, to switch back from high to standard flow:

  1. Keep the engine running.
  2. Press the hydraulics button again.
  3. Turn off high flow and switch to standard flow according to the instructions in your manual.

Depending on what machine you’re working with, it might be able to identify the type of attachment and switch hydraulics automatically. Others require a manual adjustment from the operator.

Is High-Flow Necessary on a Skid Steer?

You’ll typically need a high-flow skid steer for heavy-duty applications, like cutting through thick rocks or cutting up thick trees or brush because they require more powerful attachments and greater performance.

Otherwise, if your application isn’t as power-hungry, standard hydraulic flow rates should work just fine. Activities like lifting pallets and scooping up dirt are within the wheelhouse of standard flow.

is high flow necessary on a skid steer

What Attachments Need High Flow?

Some attachments absolutely need high flow to work, while others may just be more effective when paired with a high-flow skid steer. Either way, make sure the attachments you use are meant for high flow before attempting to use them. Checking with your manuals for both the skid steer and the attachments is the best way to ensure compatibility.

Here are some common high-flow attachments:

  • Trencher: In addition to digging trenches, this attachment can easily cut through hard, rocky soil when powered by high-flow hydraulics, improving jobsite efficiency and preventing stalling that can happen with standard-flow models.
  • Brush cutter: Though they’re still functional with standard flow, high-flow systems give brush cutters extra power to cut through thick undergrowth for more effective and efficient operations.
  • Auger: More hydraulic flow to an auger means more torque, making it highly effective for cutting through rocky soil conditions. Standard flow can work just as well if you don’t need a lot of power, but the more difficult the material is, the easier it is to manage with high flow.
  • Rotary tiller: Though it can function with standard flow, high-flow capabilities increase a rotary tiller’s operational speed, allowing for faster tilling of harder ground and improved job efficiency.
  • Concrete planer: Concrete planers only work with high-flow systems. They’re necessary to achieve the power and speed required for effective concrete planing, crucial for construction and foundation-laying tasks.
  • Snow blower: Pairing a snow blower with a high-flow skid steer allows it to shoot snow much further than it can with standard-flow models, making snow removal faster and more efficient.


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Ready to Rent a High-Flow Skid Steer?

Both high-flow and standard-flow skid steers are effective machines, but when you need that extra burst of power, a high-flow machine is your best bet. And since high-flow machines have standard-flow capabilities, a high-flow skid steer has all your needs covered.

Whether you’re looking for high flow, standard flow, or everything in between, you’ve come to the right place. Start digging into your next job today with a skid steer rental from BigRentz.


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