EQUIPMENT OPTIONS: Skid-steer loaders

Selecting the right skid-steer loader for your operation can be baffling — there are so many choices. In addition to the several manufacturers of skid steers, you also must consider all the options, add-ons and work tools available for skid steers. Before you start looking at the many skid steer models available for purchase or rental, you should consider two key issues.

  • Analyze the type of work you do

    What are the typical projects you work on and what tasks are required to complete those projects? Is your business changing? What are the time-consuming, manual-labor-intensive tasks that could be completed with the help of a skid-steer loader?

    Do your projects regularly require loading material into a truck or over an obstacle that requires great lifting heights? If so, then you might consider a vertical-lift machine. These units often provide greater lifting heights and can be useful for placing loads high up for storage. Look for vertical-lift machines with strong, well-designed linkages so they can maintain control of heavy loads at maximum reach and lift height.

    If digging with a bucket or using complex hydro-mechanical work tools will be one of the machine's main tasks, a radial-lift machine may provide more durability and control due to fewer wear points in the lift linkage.

    If you are unsure which lift design may be best for your purposes, look into this aspect of design carefully. When you test out a skid steer you're considering, be sure to lift loads in a way that reflects your actual operations.

  • Assess your use of and need for skid-steer work tools

    What work tools do you currently own or rent, and what additional work tools would make your business more productive and profitable? Typical work tools for landscapers include trenchers, augers, rakes, tillers and buckets. However, the available implements number in the dozens. You'll want to ensure that the tools you need are available for the skid steer you buy. Or, if you already have several such tools, you may want to purchase a skid steer that accommodates them.

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Remember that just because a tool will mount on the machine, that doesn't automatically mean that it will perform well. Do the majority of your tasks require high-flow hydraulic work tools? Some tools, such as stump grinders or large augers, require extra hydraulic capacity to operate. Standard-flow versions of these tools may be available, but may not have the muscle of high-flow units. Considering what kinds of work tools will best suit the type of work you do is important for maximizing your skid-steer loader's potential.

Of course, you'll need to carefully consider the specifications of the loader itself too. How large a unit do you need? That, of course, depends on the type of work you do. Don't fall into a “bigger is better” trap. For many operators, the greatest advantage of skid steers lies in their ability to operate in tight spaces. Perhaps “smaller is better” will be true for you. For example, some skid steers are small enough to fit through yard gates. This kind of accessibility can be a great advantage.

Once you have a handle on the nature, scope and size of the projects you work on, you can then start to match a machine and work tools to those tasks.

Financing

Is financing available from the manufacturer? Is the dealer or manufacturer willing to help customers select the right financing option (lease vs. purchase)? It can be a great help doing business with a dealer or manufacturer who helps you arrange the best financing, whether it's helping you meet cash flow requirements, free up existing bank lines for other purchases or arranging a variable payment schedule.

Maintenance

In selecting a skid-steer loader, preventive care and maintenance is a major consideration. One of the most important costs to recognize at the time of purchase is that of downtime. The question of who will do the maintenance is basic — it's either you or your dealer.

If you plan to keep routine maintenance in-house, it becomes a question of which machine is easiest to work on. Look for such things as ease of access to components and spin-off filters and other designs that reduce the need for hand tools.

Also consider whether the cab needs to be raised for routine maintenance. If so, does the space offer easy access? Ease of access is a critical maintenance consideration.

Operator comfort

Operator discomfort and fatigue can negatively affect productivity and safety. A basic question to ask is “How many hours a day does the operator spend in the machine?”

Clearly, a skid-steer loader that's easy to get in and out of as well as operate will reduce fatigue and contribute to a more comfortable and productive operator. Less fatigue at the end of the day makes for a more productive operator both on and away from the job site. Unless your day ends when you turn the machine's key off, this is a real consideration.

Evaluate the ease with which the operator can manipulate the machine's controls. Use them for an extended time and see if fatigue sets in the arms and legs. Also pay attention to the noise level inside the cab. This is another aspect of operator comfort that merits consideration.

Clear visibility from the operator's seat to the work tool and the surrounding work site provides greater operator comfort as well as increased productivity and safety. Something as simple as a well-designed cab that allows the operator to see the bucket edge or work tool without leaning or reaching is important to efficient operation.

Resale value

Any way you look at it, it pays to buy a quality machine. If you plan to “keep it ‘til it dies,” a high-quality machine will end up costing you less because of fewer repairs and less downtime. A better-built machine that is more durable and reliable will have a higher resale value regardless of whether you trade the machine every year or keep it for 10 years. Machines with higher quality and stronger resale value tend to be priced higher, but they may be worth it. Consider the adage, “The bitterness of poor quality lingers long after the sweetness of a cheap price is forgotten.”

Dealer dependability

Selecting the right dealer can be as crucial as selecting the right machine. Many contractors ask, “Will this dealer be around in 10 years when I want to trade in this machine?” With the consolidation of dealers in North America expected to continue, this should be a consideration at the time of purchase. Also the cost of downtime should be a crucial factor when selecting a dealer. Do you know what each hour of machine downtime costs your company? An equipment dealer that has in stock the parts when you need them as well as the trained technicians and shop facilities to complete the repairs fast and efficiently can actually save you more money in terms of lost revenue than the cost of the repair.

Look, test, rent…then buy

With so many skid-steer loaders to choose from, it is smart to evaluate as many machines as you can before making a purchase decision. Kick a few tires. You may be surprised to see how far some machines have evolved — there have been a lot of innovative changes made to skid-steer loaders in recent years.

Also, as part of your pre-purchase evaluations, consider renting a machine before buying it. With a rental, you can conduct your own field testing with the landscaping projects typical to your business. If you do rent a skid-steer loader, make certain the rental house fully briefs you on the machine's features and operating capabilities. Each manufacturer's products have some unique qualities, and you need to know them before you operate them for the first time.

Doug A. Johnston is sales manager of skid-steer loaders and multi-terrain loaders for Caterpillar Inc.

Who: All Season Vehicles, Inc.

What: RC-30

Description: The RC-30 is a driveable, all-surface loader that fits in the back of a pickup. The vehicle's undercarriage is attached to the frame with two suspended heavy-duty rubber-torsion axles to minimize the shock load on the track and the machine, resulting in greater durability. It is powered by a 31.5-hp Caterpillar 3013 engine, and has an operating weight of 2,850 pounds. It stands less than 4 feet wide and 6 feet high.
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Who: Bobcat Co.

What: A220

Description: The Bobcat A220 is the first loader of its kind to offer selectable steering modes — all-wheel steer (AWS) and skid-steer — with the flip of a switch in the operator's cab. Other features include a two-speed travel option (with top speed of 12.4 mph), low-effort joystick controls, a low-speed/high-torque “inching” mode, foot-pedal accelerator and a rated operating capacity of 2,200 pounds.
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Who: Case Corp.

What: XT skid steers

Description: The Case XT family of skid steers range from 60 to 85 hp with lift capacities from 1,500 to 3,650 pounds with counterweight. More than 75 attachments are available for XT skid steers including augers, brooms, backhoes, landscape rakes, snowblowers and buckets. Newly designed loader arms provide new levels of reach and lift height, giving the XTs a wide range for lifting, placing and dumping.
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Who: Caterpillar Inc.

What: Vertical-lift skid steers

Description: The Caterpillar 252 and 262 skid-steer loaders feature a unique linkage that provides a lift height of more than 10 feet 8 inches and a reach of 32.5 inches at a bucket angle of 45 degrees. These skid steers also have a rated capacity of 2,250 pounds for the 252 and 2,500 pounds for the 262. A long wheelbase of 48.3 inches increases grading ability and provides operators with a comfortable ride.
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Who: Finn Corp.

What: Eagle skid steer

Description: Standard features for the Eagle skid steer include a 25-hp engine, rugged-frame construction, oil cooler and skid, pivot (zero-turn) and differential steering. It also offers two sets of quick-change couplers (motor and cylinder) and is equipped with a 4 ft3 bucket. A universal faceplate allows use of all standard mini-skid steer attachments, including trencher, auger, box rake, tiller, scarifier and snowblower.
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Who: Gehl Co.

What: AVANTAGE

Description: The Gehl AVANTAGE series of mini-loaders features a skid-steer model with lift capacity of 700 pounds, while being as narrow as 33.5 inches. The comfortable operator's platform features an adjustable padded seat with standard armrest. A seatbelt keeps you safely on board, protected by the ROPS-certified roll bar. The unit is available with a 20-hp, diesel engine, and also features full-time 4-wheel drive.
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Who: Gravely

What: Skidster 200

Description: The Gravely Skidster features quick-release attachments and 10-gallon fuel capacity. Choose from a 20-hp Honda gas engine or a 20-hp Kubota diesel engine. Other features include an enclosed drive chain, narrow radius, light-weight design, balanced weight distribution and extended dump angle.
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Who: John Deere

What: 270

Description: The 270 skid steer is powered by an 82-hp-gross John Deere 4045D engine with cast-aluminum, high-ring pistons that starts easily and is fuel efficient. It has a 2,600-pound operating capacity (3,000-pound with rear counter weights). It's long wheelbase with low center of gravity provides more stability. A Quik-Tatch mounting system automatically sheds mud and debris. Choose from hand or foot controls.
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Who: Kanga

What: Mini skid steer

Description: Kanga mini skid-steer loaders offer hydraulic relief valves to prevent operator abuse and overloading. They feature lifting overload safety valves, enclosed wheel drives and chains, auxiliary hydraulic power outlets and quick-release attachments for all accessory implements, which include a bucket, stump grinder, trencher, blade and auger. Deadman controls stop the machine should the operator leave it.
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Who: New Holland

What: Ls180

Description: The Ls180 features a Superboom design and a lift capacity of 1,751 to 2,201 pounds. It offers one of the longest wheelbases in the industry, allowing the machine to be more stable over rough terrain. It also has a lower center of gravity because the components are set lower in the machine. Pickup-and-Go mounting plate conforms to the industry standard universal mounting that most manufacturers have adopted.
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Who: Ramrod

What: Trackmaster

Description: Ramrod has extended its line of mini-skids with the Trackmaster, which is designed for landscapers and contractors who commonly work in sandy, muddy or boggy conditions. The tracks allow the machine to go from soft soil to turf to asphalt quickly and easily with minimum damage to the surface. The machine features a dedicated track, meaning that tracks are not over the existing tires. It is a track machine all on its own. It is powered by a 23-hp engine and has a 900-pound operating capacity.
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Who: The Toro Co.

What: Dingo TX 425

Description: With increased horsepower, enhanced ground-to-track contact for maximum ground-engaging power and low ground pressure, the Toro Dingo TX 425 is designed to handle a variety of landscapes and difficult-to-navigate terrain. Powered by a 25-hp, air-cooled Kohler Command Pro engine, it offers more than 35 quick-change attachments, including auger, trencher, vibratory plow, snowthrower and rotary broom.
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