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

Website:
terex.com

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.

Construction

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.”

Municipalities

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.

Landscaping

“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.

Rental

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

John Deere invites operators to get comfortable in the powerful new L-Series wheel loaders

Designed for the toughest and most demanding work sites, the new John Deere Class Production Class L-Series wheel loaders offer customers the power and comfort they need on the job. Three models – including the 744L, 824L and 844L– are equipped with a roomier cab, new electrohydraulic (EH) controls and an improved HVAC system, resulting in better overall all-day comfort and productivity.

Komatsu's Proactive Dozing Control logic is integrated 100 percent of the time for boost in productivity

Komatsu America Corp. recently introduced its Proactive Dozing Control logic, a fully integrated dozing control system that allows operators to perform auto-stripping, auto-spreading and high-production dozing, as well as finish grading. Available on the Komatsu D51EXi-24, D51PXi-24, D61EXi-24 and D61PXi-24 dozers, Komatsu's Proactive Dozing Control logic is built on the company's existing intelligent machine control.

Fecon introduces cab guard for mid-sized excavators

New Fecon Cab Guard protects mid-sized excavator windows from flying debris.  Durable polycarbonate panels, tested using ballistic testing standards, protect cab windows (and the operator behind them).  Designed with a universal fitment to most makes/models in the 8-12 ton class, this add-on attachment installs in less than 30 minutes without special tools or modifications to the cab.  Hinged polycarbonate frame allows for easy cleaning.  Polycarbonate panels can be replaced without removing the guard frame, saving time and labor.   A kick-open feature allows egress through guard in emergency situations.  Ideal for mid-sized (8-12 ton) excavators tasked with land clearing, ROW mulching, forestry operations, pipeline work, and more.

Case continues to tinker with Project Minotaur

A mythical machine arose at CONEXPO 2017 with Case's introduction of Project Minotaur. According to Case, Project Minotaur is the world's first dozer-compact track loader hybrid. Since that unveiling the company has documented the journey of Project Minotaur in a series of videos.

Subscribe to our free newsletter

Get our newsletter

Learn more

John Deere adds high-lift option to compact wheel loader

John Deere compact wheel loader operators can now reach new heights with the addition of the high-lift option on the 344L Compact Loader. The 344L High-Lift offers operators increased height and further reach for dumping or stacking, ag material handling, general construction or landscaping and snow removal tasks. 

Pushing precision: an in-depth report on dozers

It used to be that contractors would use crawler dozers for a very specific type of job: pushing a whole lot of dirt in a short amount of time. They are a workhorse for cutting down to grade, even today, but with advancements in technology owners are using these powerful machines for much finer detail work than ever before. We asked our industry experts to tell us how the dozer landscape is changing and how pushing dirt has turned into much more.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG wins Construction Junkie's Best Construction Podcast vote, introduces new direction and host – Missy Scherber

Beginning in August 2019, construction business owner and social media influencer Missy Scherber will take the mic as the host of CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio in a new series called "Contractor Conversations." This announcement comes on the heels of CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio being named Best Construction Podcast by Construction Junkie for the second year in a row.

Watch JCB's first electric compact excavator do the bottle cap challenge

The bottle cap challenge is the latest internet sensation and involves performing a precise roundhouse kick to spin the cap off a bottle without knocking the bottle over. It was started by Farabi Davletchin, a Kazakh Taekwondo champion, who then challenged action stars such as Jason Statham to give it a go – and now all the kids are doing it. Not to be left out of the silliness, JCB has gotten in on the fun with its first electric compact excavator performing the stunt.

Cat marks 30,000 rollers with special-edition utility compactor award

Caterpillar Inc. recently celebrated 30 years of small vibratory roller manufacturing and surpassed the 30,000th roller production mark. To commemorate the milestone achievement, Caterpillar held a sweepstakes in the United States to give away a special-edition Cat CB24B roller. Thousands of contractors entered the Feelin' Lucky sweepstakes held from February 4 through April 15, 2019.

Subscribe to our free magazine

Get Our Magazine

Paper or Digital delivered monthly to you

Subscribe or Renew Learn more

CASE Extends 0/60 Financing on Skid Steers/CTLs

CASE has extended 0/60 financing on its entire line of skid steers and compact track loaders, including the powerful new TV450 CTL. The newest and largest CASE CTL ever built features an industry leading 9,188 pounds of breakout force, and optional high-flow (3,450 psi at 39.5 gpm) and enhanced high-flow (4,000 psi at 35 gpm) hydraulics for high-power attachments.

Earthmoving business booming at bauma

Volvo EC200E Excavator
The EC200E crawler excavator gives a new choice for contractors and rental companies who want Volvo quality with exceptional value in light to medium applications.

Liugong North America introduces new high production wheel loader

LiuGong North America (LGNA) has introduced its new 877H wheel loader, a high production machine, to fill the gap between its 856H and 890H wheel loaders. The new machine has a Cummins QSL9 engine, generating 331 HP. With an operating weight just over 54,000 pounds and a bucket size of 5.5 cubic yards, the 877H is positioned to fill the needs of the most common "rock and dirt" bucket applications, including in the aggregate industry. The 877H transmission and axles are manufactured in Germany, then imported to factories in China for assembly. 

Discover how Komatsu’s new dozing logic moves machine control beyond finish grading into rough dozing

Machine control has been around for some time and many contractors have benefited from the advantages these tools have provided. However, in the last few years dramatic functional developments have improved the way many contractors move dirt, adding efficiency and precision where there used to be judgment calls and plenty of boots on the ground measurements.

Subscribe to our free newsletter

Get our newsletter

Learn more

John Deere's latest dozer boasts larger engine, increased weight and new operator station

Designed to meet the demanding needs of today's earth movers, the new John Deere 850L Dozer boasts the productivity, reliability and durability customers expect in a production dozer. A few of the customer-inspired updates include a larger displacement engine, increased operating weight, new operator station, and several improvements to maximize reliability and durability.

Cat M Series wheel loader updates include lower operating costs and improved operator comfort

2019 updates for Cat M Series Medium Wheel Loaders (950M – 982M) include technology advances that provide: lower operating costs via extended service intervals; enhanced operator comfort with new seats and suspensions; added machine configurations; expanded productivity measurement tools; remote software update capability; and more.

Volvo launches Haul Assist with on-board weighing in North America to optimize hauler loads

Volvo Construction Equipment continues to add to its portfolio of productivity services with the North American launch of Haul Assist, a system that shows how much material an articulated hauler has moved, providing operators data and real-time insights to help achieve optimal payloads and improve productivity. Haul Assist comes standard on Volvo's A35G through A60H haulers and is optional on the A25G and A30G models.

John Deere expands offering of grade guidance technology to 56-ton excavator

Power and precision converge with the new grade-guidance-technology equipped John Deere 470G LC excavators. First introduced for the 210G LC and 350G LC excavators, John Deere developed this solution in cooperation with Topcon Positioning Group. The integrated grade guidance system provides the operator with the bucket's location in relation to a 2D reference or 3D design surface. This information arms operators with the detail they need for precision excavation projects, such as digging trenches for pipes, shaping ditches or slopes or digging structure foundations. 

Volvo's Load Assist, Dig Assist now standard on select excavators and wheel loaders

Volvo Construction Equipment continues to unlock the full productivity potential of its excavator and wheel loader lineup with its basic package of Dig Assist – Dig Assist Start – now standard on new EC220E to EC480E excavator models, and its Load Assist system now standard on new L150H to L260H wheel loader models.

Discover Hitachi - world leading producer of intelligent excavators

When the job requires power and precision to get things done right, you can count on Hitachi's production-class excavators. As the exclusive distributor of Hitachi in Canada, our production-class excavators help make sure you stay on schedule with a generous swing torque, digging force and lift capacity. You can rest assured knowing your equipment is working hard for you, and experience time-saving and productivity boosting advantages - from grouped service points to at-a-glance gauges. To learn more how you can get a get high-quality performance with minimized daily operating costs

Subscribe to our free magazine

Get Our Magazine

Paper or Digital delivered monthly to you

Subscribe or Renew Learn more