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What Is a Skid Steer?

What Is a Skid Steer?

A skid steer, sometimes called a skid loader or wheel loader, is a compact, multipurpose piece of construction equipment often used for digging. It’s maneuverable, lightweight and its arms can attach to different tools for various construction and landscaping jobs.

The skid steer loader will either have four wheels or two tracks. The front and back axles automatically synchronize their movements, but drivers can operate each separately from the wheels on the other side of the machine.

The wheels remain in a straight, fixed alignment and do not turn. To turn the device, a skid steer operator needs to increase the speed of the wheels on one side, making the wheels skid or drag across the ground as the device rotates in the opposite direction. This steering function is what gives the machine its name.

How a skid steer turns

What Is a Skid Steer Used For?

The hallmark characteristic of the skid steer is its variety of attachment options, making it possible to perform a wide range of jobs using the same piece of equipment. The standard attachment for a skid steer is a bucket, but teams can swap this out for any number of alternatives that make it possible for a skid steer to perform the functions of many different types of equipment. Traditionally, operators use a skid steer’s bucket to lift or move heavy materials.

Clearing Snow

A skid steer’s bucket can quickly clear snow off roads or a job site, but in more severe winter conditions, operators may choose to use a snow blade or snow blower attachment.

Excavating

A skid steer can also perform excavation tasks, thanks to attachments such as a ripper, trencher, tiller or wheel saw.

Construction

Skid steers can help speed up work on construction and building projects, and can be outfitted with a cement mixer or pavement miller.

Landscaping

The stump grinder, wood chipper, tree spade and trench-digging attachments make a skid steer a good choice for landscaping work, while pallet forks and bale spears are best suited for warehouse tasks and farm work.

Trenching and Digging

Finally, skid steers offer a wide range of popular digging attachments such as the trench-digger, backhoe and auger (which operates like a corkscrew to dig a precise hole).

In almost any work site scenario, the correct attachment makes your skid steer the best choice for any task. With this in mind, teams need to ensure that skid steer operators stay up to date on safety and maintenance guidelines for the skid steer itself and the attachments they use for each project.

Skid steer attachments

How Much Does a Skid Steer Weigh?

Skid steers come in a few different sizes, each of which works best for different types of jobs.

  • Small-frame skid steer: <1,750 lbs., <50 horsepower
  • Medium-frame skid steer: 1,750-2,200 lbs., 50-70 horsepower
  • Large-frame skid steer: >2,200 lbs., >70 horsepower

Small-Frame

Small frame skid steer details

The small-frame model is lighter and more maneuverable in tight spaces, making it the best choice for interior work, landscaping and site development.

Medium-Frame

Medium frame skid steer details

A medium-size skid steer is often used with various attachments to function as a backhoe or digger in places where those machines would not fit. Since the medium-frame skid steer is lighter than traditional demolition equipment, you can equip it with tires or tracks and drive over asphalt or concrete without damaging the surface.

Large-Frame

Large frame skid steer details

Operators use large skid steers for extensive demolition and excavation work. Whereas large-scale demolition machines need to be transported by a semi-truck, a wheel loader can perform many of the same excavation tasks while maneuvering around a work site.

Many guides are available to help you figure out which skid steer is right for your project, or you can talk directly with a professional supplier.

What’s the Difference Between a Skid Steer and a Bobcat?

Some professionals refer to a skid steer as a “Bobcat” or “Bobcat machine.” Bobcat is one of the construction manufacturing brands that produce skid steers, like their competitors John Deere and Caterpillar. As a result, there isn’t any difference between a skid steer and a Bobcat loader. Instead, Bobcat is only a brand name for skid steer loaders. In the same way that people now say “Google” when they mean “to search,” oftentimes people will say “Bobcat” when they mean “skid steer.”

Should You Buy or Rent a Skid Steer?

Whether or not you should buy a skid steer depends on the size and frequency of your projects. Keep in mind that you’ll need to make the same decision about your attachments, which can be bought or rented separately.

If you find that you use a skid steer on almost all of your projects, it may be worth investing in a machine of your own. However, remember that equipment ownership incurs costs of its own — your skid steer will need maintenance and upkeep, which may cost a few thousand dollars a year. You’ll also need different attachments for various jobs, each of which will cost several thousand dollars and require maintenance of their own.

If your skid steer usage is less frequent, it likely makes more financial sense to rent one. You can prorate the cost to ensure you’re only paying for the time you need, and you can avoid the hassle of buying an attachment you may only use once.

The best way to figure out exactly what size, type and rental period you need for your project is to speak with a professional who can assess your specific needs and get you the best equipment for your next project.

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