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Skid Steers are one of the most versatile pieces of heavy equipment out there. Along with a standard bucket, they can be outfitted with a variety of attachments such as an auger, fork, mower and more.
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When it comes to construction equipment, it doesn’t get much more versatile than a skid steer. They are compact, easy to maneuver, and can be fitted with a range of attachments for different purposes. This makes them an important tool for construction, landscaping, manufacturing, recycling, and other industries.
A skid steer is built on four wheels that are close together. They have an engine in the rear, kept behind the operator’s seat. The sides of the cab have two arms that are connected to the chosen attachment, which will do most of the actual work. This can be forks for moving pallets, a bucket for landscaping, a drill for renovation, or any other kind of tool.
The name “skid steer” comes from how these vehicles are controlled. They don’t turn like cars do – turning the wheels to change the direction. Instead, they are controlled by running the wheels on one side while disabling the wheels on the other side. A loader essentially “skids” with the stopped wheels to turn around them, allowing a skid steer to turn around completely within its own length.
Skid steers are commonly referred to as “Bobcats” after the main brand that makes them. While a seller will likely know what you want if you tell them you want a bobcat, it would be better to use the more generic terms of “skid steer” and “skid steer loader”. While Bobcat no doubt enjoys the free attention they get, the truth is that there are about ten different skid steer manufacturers out there. Don’t get stuck with using the wrong name for them.
This skid steer loaders buying guide outlines everything you need to know in order to find and buy the right loader for you, including how to choose a skid steer seller, finding attachments, and preparing for the actual purpose. Once you’ve finished looking through the guide we will connect you to a skid steer loader seller near you, completely free.
The journey to finding the right machine for you and your needs is to think about the job that needs doing and the terrain you are working on.
Here are the three main criteria that you should consider before renting or purchasing your skid steel loader;
The physical size
The physical size of the loader is one of the most important considerations. Measure the gates, garages, and entrances that the skid steer has to go through. Skid steers come in a range of sizes between 3 feet and 6 feet, with heights between 6 and 7 feet tall. Understanding the size limitations of your job helps to find the right loader for the job.
The next important consideration is how high a loader can go – and how high it needs to go for your job. If you want a loader to fill up a 9-foot high dump truck, for example, then you need one that can dump that high. The dumping height is typically measured as the “height to hinge pin”, which is the pivot point between the skid steer loader and its bucket. The dumping height can range between 8 foot for small models to more than 12 feet on larger ones.
Finally, you should consider the lifting capacity of the loader, also called the operating capacity. Unlike the actual physical size of the loader and the dumping height, there is some flexibility with lifting capacity. As the lifting capacity of a machine goes up, so too does the physical size. The downside is that if you need access to an enclosed space, you might be forced to settle for a less-than-optimum loading capacity.
Compact Equipment Magazine says that the most popular skid steer loader size is between 1,750 lbs and 2,200 lbs. Anything over this is considered a heavy-lift skid steer loader. Several manufacturers have begun introducing skid steers with a rated operating capacity of up to 4,000 lbs, but any business that needs one with that much power would be better served with heavy equipment such as a full-size front-end loader.
When it comes to choosing tires for a skid steer, the main choices are pneumatic tires (hollow rubber tires filed with polyurethane foam or air) and solid rubber tires.
- An air-filled tire offers the smoothest ride for bumpy and uneven surfaces, but they come with the risk of having a flat tire. This option is also the cheapest.
- A foam-filled tire won’t get punctured and go flat, but they are more expensive than their air-filled cousins. A foam-filled tire can cost up to $400, each. Given that they are also heavier than a general air-filled tire, they put extra strain on the transmission of the loader and can cause breakdowns.
- A solid rubber tire is generally thinner, so they don’t come with these weight problems. They are also impervious to flats. The downside is that they have the least comfortable ride experience.
If you are planning on using the loader primarily on a smooth surface or paved road, or the operating environment is filled with puncture hazards (for example, a recycling center with broken glass), then a solid rubber tire is the best choice for longevity. Air-filled tires will be the most economical choice, not to mention the most comfortable choice, for the majority of general purpose tasks.
Compact track loaders are a close relative of skid steer loaders. These machines are also known as rubber track loaders or multi-terrain loaders and they are essentially the body of a skid steer loader mounted on to dual treads, similar to a bulldozer or tank, rather than wheels. These compact track loaders come with the advantage that their tracks are better suited to loose terrain and mud.
As they spread the weight of the loader across a larger surface, a track loader generally does less damage to the terrain than a wheeled loader.
All in all, track loaders are bigger than skid steer loaders, have more capacity, and – with that – a larger price tag. They are generally purchased as part of an overall fleet of vehicles including skid steers or are used for times that they will be used on loose terrain for the most part.
If you only require a track loader occasionally, then you can even purchase a conversion kit that fits over the wheels of a skid steer loader to give them treads.
After comparing your options and narrowing it down to a few different models that suit your needs, you should try them out and consider the following aspects;
The person using the skid steer could be in that cab for hours at a time. How comfortable is the seat? Is it easy to control? Can you get in and out without a problem?
Having good visibility makes work faster and safer. Are the edges of the bucket visible from the cab? Can you see to the sides?
Skid steers may be tough, but they still require maintenance. Is it easy to get to the engine and hydraulic pumps of the machine? What kind of maintenance service schedule is recommended for it?
Get in the Skid Steer
Most sellers have their own “tow and show” trailer that is attached to a demo model for you to test out. That should give you a good sense of the characteristics of the machine and show you if it’s a good fit for you or not.
Stick to a Maintenance Schedule
It takes good attention to detail to maintain a skid steer. The oil and hydraulic fluid must be changed as soon as possible. If you regularly use your skid steer then you should consider going above and beyond the recommended maintenance schedule.
Know Which Extras – If Any – You Need
If your loader is going to shuffle back and forth all the time, you should be picky when deciding on controls. Landscapers like their machines to have some extra reach. Extra power helps with general construction. Be careful when choosing attachments. Most people will only use one or two attachments with their machine. Don’t get something just because you think you might use it. Don’t forget that attachments can be rented when you need them. If you constantly rent out the same attachment, then you should consider purchasing it.
The prices for skid steers are fairly consistent across different brands and vendors. Costs are mostly determined using the operating capacity of a loader. The range of costs goes from being around $12,000 for a small 650lb machine to $55,000 for 3,000lb machines.
Let’s break this down more;
- Under 1,350lb capacity = between $17,000 and $20,000
- 1,600lb capacity = $18,000 to $22,000
- 2,000lb capacity = $22,000 - $28,000
A heavy lift skid steer loader – one with over 2,200lb capacity – is more expensive; costing between $33,000 and $55,000. Compact track loaders will also be more expensive, and tracked machines can cost anywhere between $30,000 for a small model to $98,000 for a large one.
As is often the case with heavy machinery, there is a correlation between the cost and quality of a skid steer. A proven and reliable brand of loader will come with a higher price tag. Sellers will generally have many brands, so be sure to compare prices. Just keep in mind that paying a little more for that added reliability is a worthwhile investment.
Renting a skid steer for a month is a great way to get to grips with them before making the purchase. For reference, renting out a 1,600lb skid steer for a month generally costs between $1,100 and $2,000 – excluding taxes and a damage waiver. There are some sellers that deduct the cost of renting the machine from the purchasing price if you go ahead and make the purchase.
Here are some cost-saving factors to consider when choosing a seller;
Ask the potential seller about their service policies. Learn more about how they manage breakdowns. Will they provide you with a quick repair? If you have to take the machine into the shop for a bigger maintenance job, can they pick it up for you or would you need to transport the loader yourself?
Given that loaders require servicing over time, you should choose one that is relatively close to you. This doesn’t mean you must always go with the closest option – find one no more than 150 miles away so that the round trip doesn’t take more than half a day.
There are many equipment sellers that have been serving the industry for several decades. Finding a seller that has been in business for a long time is generally a great indication they’ll continue to be in business for some time yet, and can provide long-term support for the purchase.
However, not every construction equipment seller is well-versed in skid steers. There will be some sellers that are more familiar with backhoes, full-size wheel loaders, and bulldozers. They do sell skid steer loaders, but they represent only a small amount of their sales. A seller that specializes in skid steers is likely going to be better able to answer your questions and guide you to the right machine for you.
Sellers that do a lot of skid steer business will also be likely to have more attachments available and would be more willing to rent them to you.
Having this kind of relationship can help when you need something only a few times a year, such as a hydraulic hammer. It would be a waste to spend $10,000 buying one when you only use it that often. Consider the selection of rental options when choosing a seller. These rental options add a lot of value to the purchase.
You should also never overlook personal reactions. You want to pick a seller that is honest with you and you have an easy time working with. Something else to keep in mind is that saving $1,000 on the initial purchase is nothing compared to the ongoing costs of having the machine for years.
Rather than focusing on the initial purchasing price, aim to build a relationship with a good seller that adds value to the purchase across the lifetime of the loader.
One reason that skid steer loaders have become so popular is that they can use a range of attachments that make them suitable for different kinds of jobs. The basic loader attachment is a bucket. This basic scoop can be used to pick up and move gravel, soil, mulch, and other materials on a job site.
The other popular choices for skid steer attachments are;
- Pallet forks – allows the skid steer to work as a forklift
- Multi-purpose/4-in-1 buckets – a “jaw” that can open and close
- Grapple buckets – these buckets have “arms” for grabbing loads
- Hydraulic hammers – these break up rock and concrete
- Brooms – powered brooms for cleaning a job site
- Cold planers – for scraping and leveling pavement
- Angle blades – these are similar to bulldoze blades and are used to for pushing and leveling
- Lifting booms – for picking up and moving heavier objects
- Trenchers – for digging trenches
- Snow blowers and pushers – popular options for getting rid of snow in parking lots and other tight spaces
- Stump grinders – for eliminating tree stumps
- Rototillers – till soil ready for planting
There is an almost endless variety of different attachments. Some companies offer up to 50 different kinds. The good news is that you don’t need to purchase that many attachments at once. Most people buy their machine with a few critical attachments and buy other accessories as and when they are needed. There’s also the option of renting an attachment, which helps if you only need them occasionally.
The powered attachments for a skid steer loader are generally connected to the hydraulics. That said, there are some attachments – such as the stump grinders and cold planers – that require high-flow hydraulic systems for power. Not all loaders are made with this hydraulic system, so make sure that you take a look at the power requirements for attachments before hiring/purchasing them.
Just about every attachment is interchangeable between different brands and models of skid steer loaders due to a universal loader attachment bracket known as the “quick attach”. There are some compact wheel loaders and compact tractors that use this system too, allowing you to transfer attachments between several different machines.
When you buy or rent an attachment, make sure to take a look at the specs for it. There are some attachments that don’t have this universal fit. A backhoe, for example, generates enough torque to come off of a quick attach without any extra support. They are attached to the frame directly as well as the quick attach. For cases like that, the attachment won’t work with loader brands other than the one they were made for.
As well as purchasing a skid steer, you will need to pick up one attachment, at least, to get a job done. Different attachments can have different prices. The basic bucket attachment will cost between $700 and $1,200, while specialty buckets – such as the 4-in-1 – will cost between $3,00 and $4,200. Other basic attachments such as augers and pallet forks also cost between $700 and $2,400. Bigger attachments, such as power rakes, sweepers, trenchers, and rotary mowers cost anywhere between $1,200 and $9,100.
Complex powered attachments like flail mowers, hydraulic hammers, cold planers, and backhoes come with significant price tags, even as much as the machine itself. You should expect to have to pay between $10,00 and $24,000 depending on the size of the attachment. Some of these high-end attachments also need high-flow hydraulics, which will add another $2,000 to the cost. The costs for adding cab enclosures and air conditioning/heating to a skid steer is between $1,500 and $6,000. Installing rubber tracks adds another $5,000.
You should expect to receive at least a one-year warranty for the parts and labor with a new skid steer. Much like with cars, it’s possible to get longer warranties for particular subsystems, such as getting two to three years warranty for a powertrain. There’s also the option to have the warranty extended for a price. If you’ve got your own equipment maintenance personnel and facilities ready, then don’t bother with that. If not, then you should consider it.
Skid steer sellers are sold used and new through most dealers, including being able to purchase used equipment. While buying used can save money, the risk isn’t worth it if you’re planning to use the machine all the time. Used loaders are typically out of warranty and their previous owner may not have been so careful with them, which can lead to some downtime and costly repairs for you.
If the machine is to be used on a part-time basis, then you could find great used skid steer deals. A good mid-sized skid steer that costs $20,000 brand new will cost around $14,000 - $16,000 used. Try to find a machine that has between 1,000 – 2,000 operating hours. This is enough time to knock the price down a bit while ensuring that the machine still has a lot left to give you. There are many used skid steer loaders sold with only 200 – 500 hours of usage, but that is generally not enough for a significant price drop, canceling out the main reason to opt for a used machine.
As well as their reduced costs, a used skid steer currently comes with another benefit; exemption from environmental compliance laws. The Tier IV directive of the EPA, which regulates engines for non-road diesel engines, forces manufacturers to produce refined engine and fuel controls to cut emissions. However, that regulation is only applicable to machines produced after January 1, 2013. It doesn’t affect the operation of machines made before this date.
Before you start taking advantage of the legal loophole though, you should assess the regulations for your job. Industry insiders say that some job sites have started demanding mandatory Tier IV-regulated machines, and the trend is expected to become more prevalent in the coming years. This means that older machines have dropped significantly in value as Tier IV compliance becomes adopted more widely.