Heavy Equipment Guide Logo

This ad will close in 15 seconds

Which is better for your needs: compact excavator and skid-steer loader or backhoe loader?

TC60 compact crawler excavator & TSV60 skid steer loader.
TC60 compact crawler excavator & TSV60 skid steer loader.

Company info

200 Nyala Farm Road
Westport, CT
US, 06880


Read more

Just a few decades ago the backhoe loader was the most popular machine on a jobsite. The ability to operate as a loader and a backhoe made it one of the most versatile and revenue-driven pieces of equipment in a contractor’s fleet.

All of that changed in the 1990s when manufacturers began to promote the combined working force of a skid-steer loader and compact excavator together. For a comparable level of investment, contractors could now have two machines instead of one.

As the market for compact equipment grew, the versatility stronghold that the backhoe loader once had on the jobsite began to erode.

“While the demand for skid steer loaders and compact excavators have certainly increased in the last five years, backhoes loaders still have their place in the market,” says Ernie Ferguson, division sales manager of compact equipment for Terex Construction Americas. To understand which is better – a skid steer loader and compact excavator, or a backhoe loader – it’s important to look at the needs of the work being performed in certain markets.


A major reason for the growth in compact equipment is because construction sites are getting smaller. When working in confined jobsites, skid steer loaders and compact excavators provide superior maneuverability and a smaller footprint than a backhoe loader. In fact, these smaller machines have replaced a lot of larger equipment once used for the same job.

“Skid steer loaders and compact track loaders can be outfitted with dozens of attachments, and compact excavators will operate in areas that are harder to reach with a backhoe,” says Ferguson. “And while it will take the contractor two machines to do the job of one, many of those added costs are made up in fuel savings since these units are more fuel efficient than larger backhoe loaders.”


Crews are performing a wide range of work including curb and gutter repair, landscaping to lift-and-carry jobs and snow removal. The number one reason why municipalities prefer backhoe loaders is travel speed. Since many of the jobs municipalities are performing are relatively close to one another, it is often more efficient to drive the machine from job-to-job instead of trailering it. When comparing the 25 mph road travel speeds of a backhoe loader to the 8 to 12 mph of a skid steer loader and 3 mph of compact excavator, it’s easy to see why a municipality would prefer a backhoe loader.

“Looking beyond the travel speeds, municipalities are able to work with a small crew when they use a backhoe loader,” says Ferguson. “The backhoe loader’s size, horsepower and attachment versatility are also important qualities.”

To illustrate that point, Ferguson points to all the different tasks involved with repairing a storm sewer. The job involves using a hydraulic breaker attachment to bust-up concrete, a loader for removing and loading the concrete into a truck, and a backhoe to dig out the area and/or place any heavy gutter grates. “In this instance, it just doesn’t make sense to haul in two machines when one machine and one operator can get it done in less time,” he adds.

Utility work

Digging depth, bucket capacity and horsepower are important to utility contractors. Backhoe loaders can dig deeper and move more dirt in a shorter period of time than a compact excavator and the unit’s outriggers provide better stability on uneven ground. In addition, the added horsepower of a backhoe loader delivers better breakout force for tough digging conditions. To get this same level of performance, a utility contractor would have to use a mid-size to large excavator.


“The landscaping market is dominated by compact equipment,” Ferguson says. “Skid steers use a wide range of attachments to replace niche tools and reduce the amount of hand labour work being done. And while compact excavators aren’t used on every jobsite, when the need arises it only makes sense to bring in a compact excavator or use a backhoe loader attachment on the loader.”

Another major reason for the popularity of the skid steer loader and compact excavator combination among landscapers is the transportability of these machines. Because of the size and weight of the compact equipment, contractors are generally able to trailer them behind a standard pickup truck instead of a larger vehicle that requires a commercial license. Since many contractors will work on several different sites throughout the day, this reduces expenses and create efficiencies.


Backhoe loaders, skid steer loaders and compact excavators are among the most profitable and rented pieces of equipment in a rental yard’s fleet. “When a contractor isn’t going to be using the equipment on a regular basis, renting makes sense,” explains Ferguson. “It gives them the best opportunity to match the exact machine they need for the job, which will help to minimize their equipment fleet overhead, while reducing operating expenses. In addition, the equipment is delivered and serviced by the rental store to further reduce their responsibilities on the job.”

Ferguson also points out that many novice operators prefer to rent skid steers loaders instead of backhoe loaders, because of the perception of being easier to use. And, in most cases that is true. “Skid steer loaders come standard with pilot controls, which are much easier to operate than hand/foot controls,” he explains. “This becomes an even more important benefit when running a machine for an extended period of time because it can reduce operator fatigue.”

For many experienced operators, it’s all about moving material as quickly and efficiently as possible, and renting a backhoe loader is like getting two machines for the price of one.

Maintenance considerations

A contractor’s decision between a backhoe loader or a skid steer loader and compact excavator combination should largely be based on the work being performed but contractors also need to look at all maintenance expenses.

“The most obvious comparison to look at is the servicing of one machine versus two machines,” says Ferguson. “However, it’s not that clear cut since both machines likely will not be operating the same number of hours as a backhoe loader, which means the service intervals will not be the same. Depending on usage, two machines may or may not cost more to maintain than one.”

While maintenance may be more expensive for two machines, it also has its advantages when looking at potential downtime. Service times can be rotated and a breakdown will not completely shutdown operations when using a skid steer loader and a compact excavator together.

The choice

A number of manufacturers have introduced new, lower price-point backhoe loader options that compete with what a contractor will pay for skid steer loader and compact excavator. “Since prices are comparable, the decision to use a backhoe loader or a skid steer loader and compact excavator is largely based on the needs of the job,” says Ferguson. That, and of course, what machine an operator is most efficient at operating on a specific project. It is not the cost of the machines as much as the productivity on a specific job that matters. 

TLB840 Backhoe loader.

More from Earthmoving

How to get the most out of each gallon

Fuel is one of the greatest operating costs for any contractor who owns heavy equipment and/or trucks. Working in a way that can save fuel can end up saving a lot of money.

The 60,000th Liebherr crawler excavator on the Champs Elysées

Within the framework of organising a Liebherr event at the House of Alsace, in the heart of the Champs Elysées, the 60,000th Liebherr crawler excavator occupied a very special place on the world's most beautiful avenue on 12 and 13 September. The perfect way to showcase the expertise and continuity of the historic Liebherr production site in France, in Colmar, Alsace.

Subscribe to our free newsletter

Get our newsletter

Learn more

Ditch Witch's largest stand-on skid steer delivers 5,500 pounds of breakout force

Hardscape, landscape and tree care operators looking to step outside the cab and gain a 360-degree view of the jobsite, without compromising power, can now turn to the Ditch Witch SK3000. The new Ditch Witch SK3000 full-sized stand-on skid steer is built with the power to complete a wide range of landscape, hardscape and tree-care projects typically reserved for traditional skid steers, but with the convenience of a stand-on machine.

Cat's new 6-ton-class mini hydraulic excavator features Cat Stick Steer for improved operator control

The new Cat 306 CR Mini Hydraulic Excavator marks Caterpillar's entry in the 6-ton class offering. Designed with an improved customer experience in mind, the 306 CR mini excavator is built to exceed customer expectations with strong performance, enhanced operator experience and simplified maintenance with extended service intervals. With standard exclusive features like stick steer and new LCD monitor, it provides a great value for customers and boasts industry leading performance, according to Caterpillar.

Bobcat's new articulated loaders squeeze into small spaces

Bobcat's new small articulated loaders provide customers in landscaping, tree care, tree removal and facility maintenance a great option to minimize workload and complete projects quickly and efficiently. These machines have the ability to fit into backyard areas and are capable of carrying small pallets of block or landscape materials with low turf disturbance. 

John Deere updates JDLink with new notification centre, improved mobile app

Designed to improve user experience for intelligent machine management, John Deere Construction & Forestry is adding new capabilities to its JDLink platform, including notifications and adjustments to JDLink Mobile. These updates will assist in further driving valuable machine insights and providing a fast, reliable, easy-to-use telematics solution.

JCB's first electric mini excavator now available in North America

JCB's 19C-1E, the company's first fully electric mini excavator, is now available in the United States and Canada. The 2-ton (1.9-tonne) 19C-1E is ideally suited to construction and excavation applications within enclosed or urban jobsites, or noise- and emissions-sensitive environments such as hospitals and schools. It offers the same power as JCB's diesel-powered 19C excavator yet produces zero exhaust emissions and one-fifth of the noise. 

Subscribe to our free magazine

Get Our Magazine

Paper or Digital delivered monthly to you

Subscribe or Renew Learn more

Preventing damage to buried utilities

When you start up an excavator or a backhoe and begin to dig, do you ever consider the risks? Just beneath our feet are hundreds of thousands of kilometres of pipes and cables, that crisscross the country and provide the essential services that we rely on every single day. This underground infrastructure is a crucial component for the comfort, productivity and safety that we expect in our day-to-day lives: it distributes electricity, natural gas and clean drinking water, as well as cell service and internet – facilitating both electronic communication and financial transactions. Striking a buried utility line can result in inconvenient outages for entire neighbourhoods, and even cause harm to yourself or others. A damaged utility line will require expensive repairs and can result in fines, penalties and litigation.

JCB North America's largest wheel loader now has high-lift option

JCB is offering a new high-lift (HL) loader arm option for its 457 HT wheel loader. With a hinge pin height of 15 feet 5 inches – 23 inches higher than the standard ZX loader arm – the JCB 457 HT HL is now the highest lifting four-cylinder, 4.5-cubic-yard loader available in North America. 

ICUEE 2019: What to see at the demo expo, part four

ICUEE, the International Construction & Utility Equipment Exposition, will take place October 1-3 in Louisville, Kentucky. ICUEE is the utility industry's largest trade show, covering 28+ acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits, and bringing together more than 18,000 utility professionals every two years.

ICUEE 2019: What to see at the demo expo, part three

ICUEE, the International Construction & Utility Equipment Exposition, will take place October 1-3 in Louisville, Kentucky. ICUEE is the utility industry's largest trade show, covering 28+ acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits, and bringing together more than 18,000 utility professionals every two years.

Contractors hit compaction quality targets with Cat COMMAND

Caterpillar has announced the release of Cat COMMAND for Compaction, an operator-assisted technology that automates the soil compaction process and helps contractors achieve compaction quality. The COMMAND for Compaction system is available for use on select Cat vibratory soil compactors as a dealer installed kit on both new and existing B-Series machines.

Subscribe to our free newsletter

Get our newsletter

Learn more

JCB brings 13- and 15-ton X-Series excavators to North America

JCB today announced the availability of two new X Series excavators in North America, the 13-ton 131X and the 15-ton 150X. Like the 220X introduced in 2018, the two new X Series models result from JCB's four-year development program to create the industry's most productive, comfortable and easy-to-use large tracked excavators.

Zero/60 Financing Now Available on CASE Compact Wheel Loaders

Through the end of September, contractors can get behind the controls of a new CASE compact wheel loader for zero percent financing for 60 months! This allows businesses to invest in their fleet knowing their payments are going towards the machine and not financed interest! CASE compact wheel loaders are the perfect machine for supply yard work, snow removal, and for those contractors who need more lifting power and reach than made possible with skid steers or compact track loaders, but who don't need a full-sized wheel loader.

Teen contractor owns his company and his future

Lance Matheson from Layton, Utah, is not your average kid – most 14 year olds don't operate excavators, let alone run their own contracting business! Learn how Lance started Sage Demolition and Land Clearing and his plans for the future of the company in these videos from Volvo.

Digitalization drives improved maintenance

Evolved technology is changing the game within the industrial equipment landscape. With a variety of new technological advances happening at the blink of an eye, your machine maintenance process no longer needs to rely on outdated data or guesswork to get the job done. 

Bell exclusively selects Allison Transmissions for articulated dump trucks

Allison Transmission Holdings Inc. announced a partnership with Bell Equipment. In addition to utilizing the Allison 4800 ORS in an industry leading 60- ton articulated dump truck (ADT), Allison introduced the 3400ORS transmission for the Bell B30E (ADT). Additionally, the South African manufacturer has recently announced the extension of Allison Transmission as their exclusive transmission supplier for the next five years.

Caterpillar rolls out 16 new D3 Series skid-steer and compact track loaders

Caterpillar has released 16 new Cat D3 Series skid-steer loader (SSL) and compact track loader (CTL) models. These new machines advance the D and D2 Series' reputation for quality, comfort, and performance and deliver improvements in operator experience, and track loader stability. An industry first, the D3 Series models also support a line of new Smart Attachments. This advanced machine technology recognizes certain attachments and tailors the controls and operator information to match the tool and the task.

Subscribe to our free magazine

Get Our Magazine

Paper or Digital delivered monthly to you

Subscribe or Renew Learn more