Compact wheel loaders have proven an effective solution to fill the gap between skid steers and larger, full-size equipment. "Sometimes a full-size tractor-loader-backhoe or other equipment may be too large for a given work site, yet a skid steer or track loader may be too small to handle the job," Keith Rohrbacker, product manager, Kubota, points out.
But if current trends continue, this gap may not exist much longer. Skid steers are being introduced in increasingly larger size classes and capacities (see "Super Size Your Skid Steer", October 2010), with the potential to take on tasks formerly relegated to small wheel loaders.
"Large skid loaders have grown in popularity in recent years due to the power, lifting ability and sheer performance that they provide," says Kelly Moore, Gehl product manager, skid and wheel loaders. "Compared to a wheel loader, skid loaders in this category have more engine and hydraulic performance, giving them the ability to power a wide variety of attachments. When working on jobsites with limited space, skid loaders excel over wheel loaders due to their ability to turn within their own radius -- 360° turns are possible when needed."
Skid steers are also typically less expensive to acquire. According to David Caldwell, training/product manager at Takeuchi, the purchase price for a large skid steer may range from about $30,000 to $50,000, with monthly rental rates from $1,800 to $2,500. A compact wheel loader may cost from roughly $55,000 to $100,000 to purchase and $1,800 to $2,900 to rent.
"Pricing will always vary, but generally wheel loaders cost 12% to 18% more than a skid loader due to the design and component cost within these machines," Moore acknowledges. "Rental rates will correspondingly be higher on a wheel loader, as well."
The lower initial cost of a skid steer can be appealing given current economic conditions. But as with any type of acquisition, it's important to look beyond price. "The skid steer may meet a customer's immediate, short-term financial requirement, while providing satisfactory performance at the lowest cost. This being said, the compact wheel loader may actually be the better choice if the cost of ownership and the application are carefully evaluated," says Caldwell. "The compact wheel loader will consume less fuel, require considerably less maintenance and have a higher resale value."
"A major benefit is that wheel loaders are more economical to operate, offering up to 30% fuel savings," adds Jay Baudhuin, compact equipment product manager, Wacker Neuson. "Due to the design, skid-steer loaders need larger engines, and are less fuel efficient to run the hydraulics of the machine."
Of course, fuel savings will vary, and must be weighed against the application requirements. "Wheel loaders usually have smaller sized engines, are more economical and quieter than a skid loader," Moore comments. "On the other hand, a skid loader will be more suited for a job requiring higher hydraulic output to run demanding attachments."
TIRES, TURF AND TERRAIN
The skid-style steering of skid-steer loaders has its benefits -- and its drawbacks.
"A skid steer must rotate and change direction by skidding on the surface it is operating on, causing considerable tire wear," says Caldwell. "On the other hand, a compact wheel loader has an articulation point it utilizes for directional changes, reducing tire wear and replacement costs considerably."
Because the wheel loader does not skid on the tires to turn, the life expectancy of tires is greatly increased, Baudhuin indicates. "Tires are a costly maintenance item. Overall, repair and maintenance cost for a wheel loader is less than that for a skid steer," he asserts.
Frequent use on hard surfaces only exacerbates the differences in tire longevity. "Skid loaders' skid-style steering tends to increase tire wear when operated on hard surfaces like concrete, whereas a wheel loader will have a longer tire life due to the articulated-style steering," says Moore. "If a contractor finds that tire wear is becoming an issue from extensive operation on hard surfaces, a wheel loader might be a better option to have."