In any given year between 50,000 and 70,000 skid steers are bought by contractors in the United States, and versatility of the machine is the primary reason contractors add it to their production fleet.
Mike Fitzgerald, product representative for Bobcat, adds that the market for skid steers has grown substantially in the last 10 to 20 years. "Twenty years ago you'd see a skid steer parked on a job site either finished with its work or waiting to be used," says Fitzgerald. "Today it's not unusual for a skid steer to be used on a job all day because of what it can do, because jobsites have gotten smaller, and because of the huge variety of attachments available to contractors."
Gregg Zupancic, skid steer and compact track loader marketing manager for John Deere, adds that skid steers now often replace several larger pieces of equipment, each of which can do only one type of job. "Contractors can use skid steers as a surprisingly strong production enhancer for their fleet. For a relatively low acquisition cost or monthly payment a contractor can put himself in a skid steer," Zupancic says. "You might be able to get two skid steers plus a few attachments for less than what it would cost to buy a dozer, for example. And the versatility of attachments available, either through purchase or rental, makes this a piece of equipment that has really come into its own in the last 20 years."
1. How much weight will you be lifting?
While the Association of Equipment Manufacturers categorizes skid steers (and compact track loaders) by weight, owners and operators need to place much more emphasis on rated operating capacity, generally referred to in specifications as ROC, which indicates how much weight the skid steer can safely lift. ROC measurements are standardized through SAE.
"A lot of contractors don't really understand what that rated operating capacity really means but it's really a good thing for them to know," Zupancic says.
To determine the ROC, each model of skid steer is tested using the same procedure: The skid steer bucket is raised in the lift path to the point where the bucket is farthest from the operator. With the bucket extended it is filled with weights until its rear wheels lift off the ground, in other words until it tips slightly forward. That measurement is the skid steer's tipping load. The industry divides that tipping load by 50% to determine the ROC, so if the tipping load is 3,000 lbs., the rated operating capacity of that unit is 1,500 lbs. (ROC for compact track loaders is determined through the same process, but CTLs are usually rated at 35% of their tip load instead of 50%.)
"It is very important to understand that rated operating capacity has nothing to do with a machine's breakout and lift force capabilities," says Caterpillar's Pierre L. Verdon. "Machines with equal rated operating capacities may have completely different breakout and lift-force capabilities."
Zupancic says contractors shouldn't skimp on the ROC either and should look at a unit that has a rated operating capacity at or above the expected regular lift weight. "If you're regularly going to be lifting 2500 lbs. you don't want to get a skid steer rated at 1700 lbs.," he says. "Technically that might fit in the range but by pushing the skid steer so close to it's limit a contractor would be negating any margin of safety the industry and manufacturer build in. In a case like that the contractor really needs to look at a skid steer with a higher ROC rating, a skid steer that has a tipping load of 5000 lbs. and an ROC of 2500 lbs., for example."