Possibly even more so than with most equipment, matching a skid steer to your business and the work you do can mean the difference between adding a productive piece of equipment to your fleet and buying some big iron that makes you feel good – until you walk by it sitting in the yard day after day.
And that’s not because the skid steer is a risky investment – it’s not. It’s because there is such an array of features, sizes and options that only proper planning and an examination of your operation will assure a productive and efficient match.
“You need to know what the expectations are for that machine,” says Mike Fitzgerald, product specialist for Bobcat. “You need to know what type of productivity you expect, you need to know the performance you expect.”
Knowing what you expect of your skid steer will affect the physical size of the machine you buy, the amount of power you pay for, the operator comfort you invest in, the hydraulics package you buy, the type of lift mechanism you opt for, the type of attachments you own or might need and more.
Frame and equipment size
One of the first considerations is the overall size of the skid steer. Frames are generally large, medium and small and there’s a relationship between the size and what the machine can be expected to do. Manufacturers say the most common mistake contractors make when buying a skid steer is not selecting the proper size, including horsepower, for whatever work they’re doing. “I’ve been on jobsites where they’re trying to do more with a smaller machine and also on sites with too large a machine for the construction area they’re working in and neither situation is very efficient or productive,” Fitzgerald says.
For example, larger units generally lift higher so if you are using the skid steer to load into a dump truck with higher sideboards you might want a larger skid steer. Size also plays a role depending on the jobsite.
“Where are you working?” Fitzgerald asks. “If you’re on an open area like a large parking lot then size might not be an issue – unless there are tight areas you need to fit into. If you’re working in tighter areas like streets then you might opt for a smaller machine.”
And if you’re trying to force a large machine into a tight area it will reduce productivity, where using a small machine on a large job in an open area will be less productive as well. “Smaller machines fit better in smaller spaces and do a better job of getting into smaller jobs and tight areas,” says Tim O’Brien, brand manager, Case Construction Equipment.
Size also plays a role in how you transport the skid steer. Not surprisingly a large-frame skid steer weighs more than a smaller-frame machine, and contractors towing with a pickup and lighter trailer might need to buy a smaller skid steer. “If you’re an owner/operator with a one-truck operation and you’re not going to upgrade then you need to look at a smaller machine,” Fitzgerald says.
O’Brien adds that owning a smaller skid steer better enables you to tow it and another piece of equipment, such as a mini excavator, on the same small trailer.
In general the larger the frame the greater the horsepower, but O’Brien says that relationship is not as clear cut as it once was.
“Today you can find the benefits you need in a machine that’s smaller than what you had originally,” O’Brien says.
Sean Bifani, Mustang product manager, says there are plenty of skid steers on the market so contractors should have no problem finding the right fit for their company.
“With the availability of different skid steer loaders with different operating capacities and different lift arms you want to find the piece of equipment that best serves the needs for the business,” Bifani says. “Typically, you don’t need to buy more than you need and it’s not effective to buy less than you need.”