Need to Rent or Buy a Mini Excavator?
Mini excavators are compact pieces of equipment which can get a lot done. Their long reach and bucket are perfect for digging trenches, demolition, landscaping, or any job that other equipment isn't easily able to access.
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MINI EXCAVATOR FAQs
Learn More about Mini Excavators and Renting or Buying One
A “mini excavator” is hardly mini when you consider they weigh between 2 and 6 tons. These machines, also called compact excavators, can handle a broad range of applications including forestry, ditch digging, utility work, demolition, landscaping, brush cutting, and more.
They are about the size of the average skid steer loader, and come with a heavy-duty arm mounted to the bulldozer-style tracks. This allows the machines to effortlessly handle digging operations in a compact environment. Our BuyerZone Mini Excavators Buyer’s Guide will provide you with everything you need to know before you rent or buy your own excavator, including;
- Basic features
- Choosing the right size
- Features to look out for
- How to choose an excavator seller
- How much a mini excavator will cost
After determining the best excavator for you, we can connect you to sellers near you for free custom quotes.
A mini excavator includes an engine, cab, dual bulldozer-like tracks/treads, an attachment, and a boom arm. While all of these are important, there is one element that requires more of your attention than the others.
The cab will be where the operator sits and works. They generally rotate a full 360 degrees on top of the tracks. The engine, powered by diesel, is what gives the tracks and hydraulic systems the power they need to move the excavator and handle digging tasks. The rubber or steel tracks move the excavator around a work site, even across loose and muddy terrain. The boom, which is the arm that holds attachments, gives the machine digging power.
The attachment is the things that does the work though. Most excavators are made and sold with a standard bucket – a toothed scoop that digs into gravel and dirt – and they can support a range of attachments such as mulchers and brush mowers.
The main challenge for renting or buying mini excavators comes in finding the right size machine for your needs. Here are some of the main sizing considerations to bear in mind.
Given that the main advantage to using a mini excavator is being able to work in an enclosed space, the actual physical size of an excavator must be taken into account. Measure confined areas and narrow gates where you will need to use the machine to give yourself an idea of the upper limit size that you can work with.
Dig depth is another important consideration. How far down do you have to dig? Excavators are commonly rated with “dig depths” of between 5 feet to 14 feet and above. A dig depth of between 5 and 7 feet should prove to be enough for most jobs, including landscaping, utility, and basic residential construction. That said, the most popular dig depth is around 10 feet.
The dump height of an excavator should also be considered. This is how high the bucket on the machine can lift up to deposit the materials inside into a dump truck. The dump height isn’t as important as dig depth, but there are some cases where it will be very important. The average dump height is between 5 and 10 feet.
The overall weight of the machine should be considered. These machines weigh anywhere between 1 ton to 10 tons (for comparison, a full-sized excavator can weigh up to 50 tons). If you want to minimize the damage to expensive turf and landscaping, then you should opt for a lighter machine. They have a reliable durability but are light enough to not cause too much damage to the surrounding environment.
A smaller excavator can also be towed behind pickup trucks without the need for a commercial driver’s license, which makes transporting to and from a work site much easier, while reducing the costs of picking up and returning rental equipment.
The final main consideration is that of trench width. How wide do you need the trench you dig to be? Bucket sizes can be anywhere between 9 and 36 feet and they often come with a 45-degree tilt in either direction with deluxe models. In general, a larger excavator will be needed to lift a larger bucket. Given their wide range of potential applications, the most common bucket size is 24 inches.
Some mini excavator sellers provide maintenance contracts with customized pricing built around individual needs. If you are getting a new excavator, then these maintenance contracts aren’t worth it. More often than not, you could handle the basic preventative maintenance on your own, while relying on the manufacturer’s warranty to cover potential breakdowns.
If buying a used excavator, then having that extra protection afforded by a maintenance contract is good value. Just getting a technician to inspect and lubricate the excavator once or twice a year helps prevent small problems from becoming big ones.
It’s possible to rent out a mini excavator for between $150 and $500 per day, with a discounted rate offered for a weekly or monthly rental to significantly reduce the rental rate. Long-term rental can reduce the rate by up to 70%. Renting gives you a good chance to test out the machine and see what they can do without having to purchase it. Renting is also a smart choice if you only need the machine for sporadic, short-term jobs.
Working in Tandem
Combining mini excavators with skid steer loaders is a good idea, and it gives you the potential to replace a full-sized backhoe loader. As well as being more economical, having the two separate machines allows for you to do both jobs at once. This will require having two operators though, and a skilled operator is harder to find than cheap equipment.
The Best Tool for the Job
If you are operating tools that run on hydraulic power – such as thumbs, augers, and other powered attachments – then ensure that the excavator is supplying enough hydraulic pressure to power the attachment. The tool may be damaged if you use too much power, but it also won’t work properly if you don’t apply enough.
Prices vary drastically from one manufacturer to the next. The numbers below will give you a rough idea as to the cost of an excavator, but keep in mind that there are many factors that can influence those prices.
A new mini excavator won’t be cheap to get. Their prices range from around $19,000 at the lowest end (around 2 tons) to between $60,000 and $100,000 for larger models of between 6 and 8 tons. However, when compared to the cost of a full excavator – between $130,000 and $500,000 – then the cost of a mini excavator sounds like a bargain.
A $20,000 mini excavator should have a dig depth between 4 and 6 feet, with a dump height of between 5 and 7 feet. They weigh between 1,500 – 2,100 pounds with an engine between 10 and 12 HP.
The most common mini excavator models cost between $30,000 and $40,000 brand new. These typically weigh between 6,000 and 7,000 lbs, have a dig depth of 10 feet, and average around 30hp with their engines.
On the high end of the scale, an $80,000 model digs up to 11 feet, reaches over 18 feet, dumps over 12 feet, and weighs anywhere between 10,000 and 12,000 lbs. These models also have a powerful 40 – 50 hp engine.
Mini excavators provide almost all the same features and options as a full-size excavator. The main difference between the two is their scale. Here are some features that you should consider looking into.
Unlike some other kinds of compact equipment, these features are only available with a diesel engine. There are electric powered mini excavators, but these are rare to find and they tend to be lighter, lacking in the digging depth and power department. Then there’s the issue of plugging them in, even with a 75 foot cord. A diesel rig, on the other hand, lasts for around a day and a half with a full tank.
Do you plan on digging through sand or another kind of loose soil? Perhaps your job site is covered in hard debris and rocks. As is the case with other machinery that is powered through a combustion engine, the details of the job can affect how much power is needed to complete it. The horsepower for mini excavators ranges between 10 to 50 horsepower, and it is mostly dependant upon the weight of the machine.
Steel tracks and rubber tracks are popular with mini excavators. Steel tracks offer greater durability and have better traction with loose dirt. However, with landscaped and paved areas, rubber tracks are better because they reduce surface damage. Rubber tracks can, for example, drive over a curb without doing any damage.
Bolt-on rubber pads that are affixed to steel treads provide a helpful compromise. These give you the power of a steel track with the option to switch to a less-damaging rubber pad as and when you need.
Swapping out attachments on your rig gives you more uses for the mini excavator. There are different types of buckets available for different digging jobs. There are several other attachments including augers (to bore holes), thumbs (to pinch and grip), and hydraulic hammers. There are some mini excavators that come with “quick attach” couplers like those found on skid steer loaders, giving you the power to use the same attachment with both machines.
Most compact excavators have boom offset or swing booms. This popular feature moves the entire digging arm to the left or right, allowing for the excavator to dig trenches parallel to their own tracks. This is great for working in tight spaces or next to an existing wall or structure.
Given the size, weight, and power of a mini excavator you shouldn’t expect them to win any races any time soon. They can move at an average of between 1 and 3 miles per hour. On top of this, some of them have 2-speed travel that allows an operator to move slower when transporting heavy loads or a full bucket.
Zero Tail Swing
Compact excavators made with zero tail swing – also known as “compact radius” excavators – are able to completely rotate the cab within the width of their tracks. This means that the operator won’t bump anything with the “tail” (back part) of the excavator cab.
Most excavators are sold with a backfill or bulldozer blade as standard. This goes below the boom and makes it easy to refill and level when you finish digging without the need to change attachments.
Enclosed cabs similar to those found on skid steer loaders can be found with mini excavators. These cabs protect the operator from the elements and they are becoming more popular, particularly for people using their rig in extreme climates. These cabs can be made with air conditioning and heating too.
If you regularly leave your excavator at the job site overnight, then try to find one that comes with anti-vandalism features such as being able to lock up the controls. These features are great for preventing theft as well as vandalism.
The majority of mini excavators are made with “pilot hydraulic” controls. These are ergonomic joysticks that make a vast improvement over the mechanical levers used in the past because it is easy to learn how to use them, and they can be comfortably used for a long time.
Ease of Use
The “feel” of a machine is important, but it isn’t possible to judge that from the brochure or sales pitch. Don’t be afraid to take the machine out for a test drive/dig. Also let the person who will be operating the machine have a go themselves to judge the comfort, visibility, and responsiveness of different machines.
The maintenance costs attached to mini excavators are the lowest costs among comparably-sized equipment. Even so, they do require regular cleaning and maintenance. Check out how easily you can gain access to the hydraulic systems and engine. Ask the seller for a demonstration on routine preventative maintenance including lubrication, fluid top off, and filter changes.
Mini excavators come with a wealth of customization options. This allows sellers to provide you with a machine that offers the perfect combination of productivity and safety through a combination of features.
Mini Excavators can have a variety of different attachments added on either bucket end. Standardized couplings make it easier to find an attachment for your machine, which fits your needs.
Some commonly used attachments are below:
- Forks – allows it to lift pallets like a forklift would
- Multi-purpose buckets – features a jaw which can close on items, or be left open for standard bucket use
- Grappling buckets – with large 'grapple' arms to grab materials
- Jackhammers – hydraulic hammers to crush stone or break up pavement
- Cleaning Brooms – to sweep up sites
- Angle blades – a front shovel designed for pushing material like a bulldozer
- Lifting booms – to lift heavy items similar to a crane
- Trenchers – for digging trenches (comes standard on the excavator arm)
- Snow blowers – They're surprisingly effective snow removal tools for winter
- Stump grinders – grind unwanted stumps below ground level
- Rototillers – churn up soil for planting or removal of overgrowth
When you purchase a mini excavator, you are entering an ongoing relationship with the one selling you the equipment. The seller offers the support you need to keep the machine running, so you want to make sure they are stable, reputable, and offer high quality service.
Some of the most important questions to ask when choosing a mini excavator seller include;
- How long has your business been operating?
- What kind of parts inventory do you have on-site?
- How many technicians have you got employed? What kind of training and experience do they have?
- Do you provide on-site service if I need to have the excavator repaired?
- Do you provide guaranteed response times?
- Can you provide a loaner machine if mine is taken in for repairs?
You should also scope out their facilities. Just seeing the service area and parts workshop should give you a good idea of what the seller can do.
Get the Scoop
It is worth talking to other businesses in the area to get an insight into the strengths and weaknesses of a seller. Talk to your peers and find out who they turn to for their compact construction equipment, and ask them for their opinions on the sellers you are considering using.
It’s worth asking for customer references as well. Try to get references from customers who used their rigs for similar applications. Here are some things to ask references;
- How long have you been with the dealer? How many machines have you bought from them?
- Did you get the best machine for your applications?
- Would you buy another machine from the seller?
- How were they when it came to repairs and maintenance?
- What do you think they could do to improve their services?
Finally, you should always trust your instincts. If you run into a pushy seller who cares more about offering you a great deal rather than offering you the right solution for you is one you should avoid. A helpful and knowledgeable salesperson is a much better partner to get involved with in the long-term.
Most excavators are sold with one bucket, with different buckets and attachments offered at different price points;
- New standard buckets can cost between $600, and $1,000 new or between $100 and $400 used depending on the size and configuration of the machine and what you need the bucket for.
- Deluxe buckets with tilt options for a greater degree of accuracy cost between $3,500 and $4,500 new and between $800 and $2,000 used.
- Power attachments such as thumbs cost between $1,000 and $3,000
- Hydraulic hammers cost between $5,800 and $13,400
If you need the excavator for day-to-day work, then you should invest in getting a new excavator. If you only want to use it on an occasional basis or only need it for a short amount of time, however, then getting a used one can save a lot of money.
Excavators are made with an estimated 8,000 – 10,000 hour expected operating lifespan. The majority of used models on the market still have a lot of life left in them. A model that is a few years old and has a few thousand hours of use can be up to 25% cheaper than a new model, while an older excavator with a bit more wear and tear can be around half the cost of a new excavator.
As well as coming with a reduced cost, used excavators also offer (exemption from) environmental compliance. The Tier 4 directive of the EPA, which regulates engines for diesel engines in non-road vehicles, attempts to curb pollution by forcing manufacturers to refine their engines and fuel controls.
However, it is only mandatory for machines produced after Jan. 1, 2013 to comply with these regulations. It won’t affect the continued use and operation of machines built before then either. As such, sellers expect there to be a rise in demand for older models due to their reduced maintenance costs.
Test driving a used machine is more important than a new one. Pay attention to the feel of the machine, in particular, whether the tracks are able to move freely and the arm controls respond well. Don’t be won over by a fresh coat of paint, as this could be a sign that something is being hidden.
Check the undercarriage of the machine for rust, bad repair work, and any excessive wear. Check hydraulic seals for signs of possible leaks and other problems, and be sure to check the engine for any noticeable signs of neglect, such as worn belts and cracking hoses.