Choosing a Skid Steer Loader

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Whether you’re working on a construction site, park, farm, or another type of job site, a skid steer may be just the piece of equipment you need. This versatile machine features easy maneuverability, compact design, and easy operation. However, fundamental differences exist among various skid steers available for rent. Consider what you need from your skid-steer loader to find the best one for your needs.

Choosing a Skid Steer Loader

  1. Consider What Size Skid Steer Will Get the Job Done Efficiently
  2. Skid steer loaders come in various sizes, from compact machines weighing close to 1,750 pounds to larger ones weighing more than 2,200 pounds. Different-sized skid steers are made for different jobs and job sites with various dimensions.

    Think about the size of your job site. Consider not only its dimensions but also whether your site has open space suitable for a large machine or obstacles that make a smaller unit a smarter choice. You could tackle a job on a large job site with a compact skid steer, but the effort wouldn’t be an efficient use of time. Similarly, trying to move a large skid steer around tight spaces could slow down your work compared to what you could accomplish with a smaller machine.

    Small-frame skid steers are ideal for demolition work inside buildings because they’re compact enough to fit through entryways and hallways. They also work well on job sites in built-up urban areas where operators need a machine small enough to fit between houses built side by side or through gates. In contrast, a large skid steer would be large enough to build a road or excavate a large block of land.

    As a skid steer’s size increase, so does its power. A small skid steer will typically have less than 50 horsepower, while a large machine has more than 70 horsepower.

    When you have an intensive job to do, a larger, more powerful machine is more capable. For example, a tough indoor demolition job may require a medium skid steer rather than a small one. This medium skid steer would have slightly more power for taking down brick walls, for example, while still being small enough to pass through entryways a large machine could not. A large skid-steer loader would be able to lift items too heavy for small and medium skid steer loaders.

  3. Think About Your Job Surface
  4. Certain compact wheel loaders will work better than others on different types of terrain. Compact wheel loaders with wheels work best on flat, hard surfaces. They can’t handle rocky ground, soft mud, and other challenging terrains. However, compact track loaders are designed to operate on these surfaces.

    The tracks glide over the top of challenging surfaces, rather than sinking down as wheels do, so they’re perfect for crossing snow, sand, and other hazards. A wet surface also won’t trouble a track loader, which makes these machines capable of maximizing work time in areas prone to thunderstorms. When your skid steer has wheels, you would need to wait for your site to dry out after rain to work safely.

    Tracks may be more versatile, but they’re not always the best choice. These rubber track components wear more quickly than wheels on hard surfaces such as concrete and asphalt. Tracks are also more expensive to replace. This factor is but one item that makes compact track loaders more expensive to maintain than wheeled units. You may think this feature doesn’t matter to you if you’re renting, but rental companies consider these costs and price their compact track loaders accordingly. You won’t want to pay more for a compact track loader if you’re using the equipment on hard, flat ground.
    Consider the surface of your job site carefully prior to choosing a skid steer loader for your work.

  5. Assess the Lift
  6. Skid steer lifts have either vertical or radial lifts. Different types of lifts have different capabilities and limitations.

    A skid steer with a vertical lift makes accessing high, out-of-the-way spaces easy. This type of skid steer also has more reach at the midpoint of its lift cycle than radial lifts. As such, this type of skid steer is ideal for lifting pallets from a truck and moving them to another location. If most of your work is at eye level or above, a skid steer with a vertical lift is the optimum machine.

    If you’re working closer to the ground, digging holes for a property’s foundations or landscaping a park, a skid steer with a radial lift can suit your purposes better. Radial lifts have a simple, compact design that weighs less than most vertical lifts.

    Sean Bifani, Gehl’s product manager for skid steers, notes that both skid steers with vertical and radial lift designs can tackle most jobs. If you need your skid steer for a variety of applications, deciding what type of lift to select likely doesn’t matter much. However, if you have only one type of job in mind, renting a skid steer with a lift that excels at that type of task can be smarter.

  7. Look at the Controls
  8. Different skid steer loaders have different control options. Traditionally, skid steers had lever and pedal controls. Many modern manufacturers have moved away from these controls and now have joystick controls. These more contemporary controls can be operated with less force than levers and pedals. With practice using joystick controls, many operators also feel they’re more precise. If you prefer the former form of technology, you may look for one of the skid steers with the optional lever and pedal controls, both features which provide more operational flexibility.

    All types of skid steer controls ultimately do the same job, so you should consider what controls feel the most natural for you and your employees when selecting your skid steer. Many experienced operators still prefer the levers and pedal controls with which they’re most familiar. These industry veterans typically say levers and pedal controls offer a more tactile operating experience which lets them feel how much power they’re applying. Younger operators have warmed up to joystick controls.

    If you have a mix of ages and experience levels in your workforce, you may want to consider one of the newer skid steers with a variety of different controls.

  9. Assess Other Functional Features
  10. Many skid steers have different features which help them function slightly differently to others available for rent. When you’re trying to make your decision, these extra features could help clarify your choice.

    Some models have lights which make them appropriate for work at night. If you plan on working on jobs once the sun sets or starting early in the morning, you may prefer one of these skid steers to improve safety.

    Some skid steers have larger tires than other models of comparable size. Larger tires add some extra reach and improve stability, especially when tipping the bucket. Only a few inches can make all the difference.

    It’s not uncommon to see skid steers with bars across the back of the cabin that block the operator’s rear view. Other models offer 360-degree views for better visibility. When working on dangerous or crowded job sites, improved visibility in all directions may be a significant drawcard.

    Consider all the features a skid steer offers and the benefits they may have for you to decide whether a skid steer suits your needs.

  11. Think About Your Skid Steer Attachments
  12. Different attachments can boost a skid steer’s versatility and make your work easier. However, not every attachment is compatible with every skid steer. Certain attachments require a degree of power than only selected skid steers can provide. For example, a small skid steer is strong enough to work with a hydraulic breaker or grapple attachment. However, wheel saws and forestry cutters require the type of power you’ll find only in large, high-flow machines.

    If a skid steer doesn’t have the power you require, don’t automatically count it out. You can add high-flow systems to smaller skid steers to better power attachments. However, you must carefully consider the cost of this power enhancement.

    A skid steer’s available power is a crucial consideration for attachments, but it shouldn’t be your only one. Some skid steer designs are better suited to some attachments than others. For example, skid steers with radial lifts have fewer moving parts than machines with vertical lifts, so they’re less likely to sustain damage working with high-stress attachments that vibrate, such as rock saws.

    Identify the skid steer attachments that will improve your efficiency, then find a skid steer that suits your desired add-ons.

While the variety of skid steers can make choosing the right one confusing, considering your job and job site carefully can help you make the right decision. If you’re still not sure which skid steer is best for you, BigRentz can help. We have a variety of high-quality skid steers for rent which can help you tackle jobs big and small. Our rental logistics advisors can help you choose the best skid steer and attachments for your needs for an affordable daily, weekly, or monthly fee.


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