The original model of the compact loader was conceived 60 years ago by two Minnesota blacksmithing brothers, Louis and Cyril Keller. The original Keller Self-Propelled Loader was built to clean upper levels of barns. It was compact and could pivot in its own length. A North Dakota firm, Melroe Manufacturing, saw its potential and contracted to produce the loader.
To make the loader even more nimble, Louis Keller discarded the original model’s steerable rear wheel and let the machine roll on four fixed wheels. But how could fixed wheels be steered? Keller’s solution was to distribute the weight of his loader so that one end would always outweigh the other. In practice, this means when a set of wheels on the heavier end counter-rotates to pivot the loader, the two wheels on the lighter end are carried—or skidded—in the direction of the turn.
Thus was born the “skid steer” loader, which Melroe soon marketed under the brand name of “Bobcat.” The rest is history.
Part of that history, incidentally, involves the creation of a kindred machine, the compact track loader. The Kellers foresaw a market for compact loaders rolling on rubber tracks, so they manufactured tracks for Bobcat skid steers. The tracks gave more flotation and traction on soft ground and birthed the parallel compact track loader industry, which today is a separate category of machine.
Selecting a skid steer is not a science, nor an art. It is a decision-making process rooted in logic. The logic of it can be boiled down to the following four considerations:
One size skid steer does not fit all situations. Nor does one size engine in a skid loader fit all tasks, nor one travel speed, one hydraulic capacity, or one lift height. These and other engineering distinctions in skid steers can make one loader more suitable then another.
So, you need to look critically at your tasks. Will most of your work with a skid steer loader be at ground level, loading fill dirt, pushing snow, operating an auger? Or will you frequently need to work at a higher level, unloading material into a truck, for example? Will you be traveling far enough that speed becomes a consideration? Will you be using attachments that require high-flow hydraulics?
You should know how you will use a skid steer loader before you go shopping for one.
Equipment manufacturers engineer machinery to efficiently perform identified tasks. Heavy machines on steel tracks and a blade on the front are ideal for leveling a hill or pushing material into piles. They’re called bulldozers. Highly maneuverable wheeled machines with a long hydraulic boom are perfect for transferring materials from the ground to second-story levels. They’re called telehandlers.
A skid steer can do none of that. It is designed to nimbly scoop up and dump relatively small bucketsful of earth, to blade or blow snow from a sidewalk, broom-clean a parking lot, transfer a hay bale from pasture to feedlot. A skid loader can perform these tasks with great efficiency and is a highly productive piece of compact machinery.
Be realistic about what you want a skid steer loader to do and you won’t be disappointed.
Only a fool buys a piece of compact equipment because it is green, or orange and white, or blue. While brand loyalty is understandable, blind loyalty to a manufacturer is short-sighted. Shoppers for a skid loader should enter the market with their eyes wide open. Truly excellent skid steers are produced by numerous manufacturers, and a smart buyer will evaluate them without bias.
On the other hand, manufacturers and dealers also should be a part of your calculation. Company reputations matter in respect to customer support, product reliability, and swift delivery of parts. When a bearing wears out or a hydraulic pump fails, will it be an inconvenience for you or a major headache? A topnotch machine won’t bring you satisfaction if it is backed by a lackluster service department.
A caveat for fleet managers: While the foregoing counsel on brands is universal, there is practical value in a fleet of skid steers wearing a common manufacturer’s logo. Having three Case skid loaders, four Cats, two JCBs, and a Takeuchi in the equipment yard invites headaches. Because different manufacturers’ parts aren’t interchangeable, the warehouse is fuller than necessary. Because service requirements vary, technicians must skip from manual to manual. And management software to monitor machine performance varies from brand to brand, so it is incompatible. This all can be avoided by selecting a manufacturer with a complete line-up of skid loaders and staying with it.
The first impulse when you decide to shop for a skid steer loader probably is to visit a dealership for a new or used machine. While that’s a good choice — and can lock in dealer support — it is not the only choice. Machinery auctions are a trustworthy source for second-hand equipment. Nationwide auction houses have been around for decades and have established inspection and warranty policies to protect your investment. Sales are transparent and customer satisfaction drives the process.
The auctions themselves are designed to be convenient. Heavy and compact machinery is arranged for hands-on inspection and sometimes is driven across a staging area for seated bidders. Even more conveniently, the larger auctions are simultaneously conducted online. This has the added value of bringing to bidders a skid steer for sale that is not on site, that, in fact, might be parked in an equipment yard in another state or country. The same buyer-protection policies apply to these long-distance transactions.
An auction by a reputable company is a reliable resource for a skid loader shopper.
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Not being totally responsible for the skid steer loader you rent or lease lifts the burden of ownership from your shoulders. Long-term maintenance is someone else’s responsibility. Having a sophisticated piece of equipment sitting idle and unproductive is not a worry when you only have it around when needed. Still, you should give thought to which skid steer loader you want for the short term.
Rental houses and dealers typically have in their equipment yard the more popular sizes of skid steers. These include powerful and sophisticated loaders for contractors who will lease them for a month to scoop and load and scrape 8-10 hours a day. But also offered are entry-level machines suitable for puttering around a backyard, cleaning up after installation of an irrigation system, or undertaking a weekend project at the country place. Getting the wrong machine will either waste your money or your time. If you clearly explain what you plan to do with a rented skid loader, you can leave a rental yard with the right machine.
Skid steers are safer than some pieces of rental equipment—chipper-shredders come to mind. The operator is seated in a protective cage. The loader has a low center of gravity, so it is not easily tipped, especially during ground work. Controls are intuitive and the learning curve is shallow. Still, not everyone is born to operate a piece of equipment. If you are a novice, learn what models of rentable skid steers are in local stores, then Google the models. See if one offers more automatic features than another or if one gives an operator a clearer view from the seat. Get comfortable with a rented machine before you ever strap yourself into it.
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These compact pieces of equipment aren’t incredibly complex, but they can hide deficiencies if you don’t know how to detect them. Let someone more knowledgeable than you evaluate a machine. If you are a mechanic or operator yourself, you don’t need assistance, but a second set of eyes can’t hurt.
The load-lifting and maneuvering of skid steers are mostly a function of hydraulic oil and pumps. Consequently, an intact hydraulic system is critical to performance. If a bucket sags lower while raised, worry. If the loader you are considering has leaking hoses or cylinders or balky pumps, you may spend more time working on it then working with it.
Skid steer loaders operate in a world of vibration and jolts. Booms are stressed when full buckets bounce as a loader encounters a bump or dip. The arms and frame are impacted when the leading edge of bucket is driven into a pile of material or the ground. So, be aware of cracks and welds and other indications that a loader has been banged around.
You may not know what a smooth-running engine sounds like, but you can instinctively detect suspicious rattles. Pay heed. If the skid steer is powered by a diesel, black smoke may be emitted when the engine is switched on. If dense blackness continues, it could mean the engine has a compression or fuel injection problem. Rev it. Run it. Check it out.
Skid steer loaders are hard on tires because when they aren’t rolling, their skidding. Tire manufacturers compensate for that with extra thick walls and treads. Still, wear happens, so see how much rubber is left. Also ask if the tires are pneumatic, foam-filled, or solid. Each can be OK, but if you’ve a preference, find out what the loader is rolling on.
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Pricing of skid steers depends on make, model and supply-and-demand pressures. Prices also can vary by region. So, guesstimates of the cost of a skid steer for sale are wide-ranging. However, some reasonable cost projections can be made.
A small Bobcat S70 skid steer is powered by a 24 hp diesel engine, produces just under 10 gpm of hydraulic flow, is 36 in. wide and stands slightly under six ft. The diminutive loader will cost about $12,000.
A midsize Case SR175 (67 hp) with a high-flow hydraulic package, 66-in. bucket, enclosed cab with AC, hydraulic coupler for attachments, and heavy-duty 12×16.5 pneumatic tires will come with a price tag of about $42,000.
A larger loader costs more, of course. A 90 hp Gehl V420 has 32 gpm hydraulic flow, 14×17.5 severe duty tires, self-leveling bucket, hydraglide, a vertical lift height of 12 ft. and a cab. Its price tag is $70,000, more or less.
Pricing used equipment is so dependent on condition that extrapolating prices is dicey. Still, it is safe to say a 2006 New Holland LS160 with a 42 hp engine with 1,500 hours on it, 1,500-lb. operating capacity, and 10×16.5 tires can be bought for $13,500.
A larger used skid loader—a 2016 Takeuchi TS80V2 — with fewer than 300 hours on its 74 hp Deutz engine, a 2-speed transmission reaching 11 mph, 31 gpm auxiliary hydraulic flow, and maximum lift height of almost 11 ft. — could cost $35,000.
A bigger machine yet — a 2017 100 hp John Deere 332G loader with a back-up camera, high-flow auxiliary hydraulics, deluxe lighting, an air-conditioned cab and quick-attachment connections — can be found for $62,000.
A full selection of used skid steer loaders can be found here. →
Rental prices for a mid-sized skid loader range widely—all based on regional demographics, construction activity, and area competition. An online survey suggests renting such a machine for a day can cost anywhere from $225 to $450 a day, $625 to $1,200 a week and $1,700 to $2,700 a month. In addition, some rental companies give corporate and fleet customers a lower rate.
You can search for skid steer loaders for rent here. →
“Skid steer for sale” — the ad is enticing, but it means a substantial investment for a buyer, particularly if the buyer is a new contractor or a property owner. Equipment dealers understand this and offer a variety of ways for buyers to pay for the machines. In the first place, some dealers offer lease agreements with an option to buy, sometimes at rates lower than traditional financing. Tax benefits accrue just as if you owned the machine outright.
Financing costs vary according to supply and demand, of course. Some manufacturers offer no-interest loans for five years or several thousand dollars in rebates up front. Some conventional loan providers specialize in heavy (or compact) equipment purchases, which is to say they understand that construction work seasons oftentimes are not 12 months a year and ag work is cyclical and seasonal. Tip: Investigate financing options before seriously starting shopping.
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As noted earlier, skid steers offer different levels of performance because they are engineered to different productivity standards. Following are several indicators of performance to look for:
Lifting and carrying some hand tools and several armloads of turf is about all the smallest skid steer loader can handle, 600 to 700 lbs. at most. These ultracompact loaders only have 25 hp or so with hydraulic power to match, so lifting a boulder or a cubic yard of soil is out of the question. At the other end of the load spectrum are 100 hp skid loaders that can lift one and a half tons. Don’t oversize, though it always is a good idea to get a machine with slightly larger lift capacity than you normally require just to give yourself a comfortable working margin.
Lift height and reach
The pivoting arms on skid steers operate in one of two ways. A radial lift configuration swings from a single pivot point so that a bucket will arc forward slightly on its way up. The pivot of a vertical lift system, on the other hand, is more complex and eliminates the outward arc. Reach and lift height of skid steers vary between the two systems, though the differences have narrowed. Each system enjoys certain advantages. Knowing how you will use your skid steer will determine a preference for one boom system or the other.
Hydraulic capacity and flow
Skid steers have auxiliary hydraulic systems that power a loader’s attachments — that is, the blowers and augers and mulchers that are hooked to the front of the boom. The separate hydraulic system comes essentially in two types: standard and high-flow. The first type typically ranges from 17 gpm on up to 25 gpm. That is sufficient flow for simple attachments such as grapples and augers. A high-flow auxiliary system tops out at 40 gpm, which is sufficient power to operate cold planers and snowblowers. When you rent or buy a skid steer, make sure it has ample flow to do the work you want done.
If the gateway to your backyard project is five ft. wide, you don’t want to rent a skid steer 66 in. from side to side. Or try to squeeze a seven-ft.-tall skid loader into a livestock alleyway 80 in. high. Size matters, and not just the size of the engine but also of the chassis. Manufacturers offer skid steers as narrow as 36 in. for narrow and confined applications. Numerous models are under 60 in. wide. While skid steers have grown larger with each new generation, even full-bodied skid loaders are still compact machines. Again, match the skid steer to the worksite application.
The EPA tiered regulation of diesel engines is 15 years old and pushed off-road construction equipment — including skid loader — engines into emissions compliance. Tier IV Final engines are equivalent to European Union Stage IV engines. A Tier V/State V level is in the wings. All that buyers of new or used skid steers need to know is that new and larger engines have emissions technologies that must be maintained, a cost-of-operation consideration. Older loaders may be less expensive to purchase because of lesser EPA requirements at the time of manufacture.
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When evaluating a skid steer for purchase or rental, have in mind the attachments you plan to use. This is key to selecting the right size of loader, but also to choosing a loader with the right features to accommodate desired attachments. Not all attachments are compatible with all skid steers because of power, weight, load capacity and hydraulic flow differences.
This is the standard skid steer fixture at the end of the boom. Its many variations include low-profile, 4-in-1, snow, sifting, stump and side-discharge. The work-horse attachment is offered in numerous widths and gauges.
This second-most-popular attachment is characterized by two projecting flat-steel struts that can slip inside pallets or underneath objects. Commonly used in warehouse or truck-loading applications, the fork is notably simple and functional.
The dozer blade comes in assorted dimensions and is commonly employed for shallow digging and earthwork. Variations include a long, narrow blade and a box blade, each of which is used to roughly level a site for concrete or asphalt pavement work.
This yawning hinged attachment grips a load rather than supports it. Grapples come in a myriad of tine combinations that are engineered to get a grip on such irregularly shaped materials as roots, brush, logs, boulders and brick stacks.
This earth-drilling attachment takes the back-work out of post-hole digging and similar applications. It requires sufficient auxiliary hydraulic capacity to operate and comes in direct-drive and planetary-drive versions, depending on soil conditions.
This is the answer to concrete surfaces littered with debris or driveways tracked with dirt. Some rotary brooms are angled for systematic side-to-side cleaning. Others have pick-up features that cart away unwanted accumulations of foreign material.
These attachments make snow almost welcome. They include simple angled blades that windrow snow and sided blades that contain and mound it. Snow blowers with auger collectors blow it to one side or the other of the skid steer path.
Sophisticated grading attachments from Trimble and other tech manufacturers can fine-tune grades within ½ inch. Applications include finish-grading for paving and final landscaping. GPS or 3D technology makes it possible.
Most owners of skid steers choose to run their machines on traditional pneumatic rubber tires with thickened side walls. Another option is foam-filled tires for enhanced puncture resistance. Solid rubber tires are often used when material being run over is particularly harsh or jagged. One tire manufacturer has introduced a one-piece rubber-and-wheel “tire” that rides comfortably without the risk of going flat. The heavier the tire, as a rule, the more expensive it is.
The operator platforms on all skid steer loaders are enclosed in a steel safety frame, yet many are open-air seating. Glassed-in cabs are an option with either slide-up front doors or wide-opening front doors for entry. A couple of manufacturers employ just one boom arm, therefore making a side-opening door possible. Midsized and larger skid steer cabs can be air-conditioned and heated.
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This Grand Rapids, MN Manufacturer started in 1983. In the North American market ASV offers two models the RS-75 and the VS-75. ASV also offers 3 International Skid Steer Models RS-50, RS-60, VS-60. ASV is now a publicly traded company. Their humble beginnings started with expertise in rubber track undercarriage design but now they are moving into a full range of industry leading products like Skid Steers.
This North Dakota manufacturer (now owned by Doosan) pioneered the skid steer loader and spawned an industry. It remains a popular choice and offers a dozen models, including its A770, which can switch from skid steer to all-wheel-steer when an operator believes a different steering mode will help with a particular task.
This Kansas manufacturer offers nine models of skid loaders, which are notably powerful machines in the industry. The company embraced Tier IV emission systems early on. Some models have operator-friendly electro-hydraulic controls that offer a range of speed and sensitivity settings so an operator can comfortably operate the machine.
This Illinois manufacturer has eight skid steer models, the largest 272 D2 XHP. Each skid loader model features a hydraulically driven demand fan, which kicks in when worksite conditions especially tax the engine and extra cooling is required to protect the power plant. Cat’s current Skid Steer offerings include machines with specs in the following ranges.
This Illinois manufacturer long ago moved from building agricultural equipment to construction equipment and offers eight skid steer models. Operators of its popular midsized machines can choose between foot and joystick controls and otherwise adapt a machine to personal preferences.
This Wisconsin manufacturer (now owned by French company Manitou Group) produces 10 skid steers.
This British manufacturer offers fewer models (4) than some manufacturers but more innovations. The company pioneered mono-boom skid steers, that is, just one arm on the right side raises and lowers material. This allows operator entry through a side door. The company also has introduced a “teleskid”—a loader with a telescopic boom.
This Japanese manufacturer produces skid steers in two mid-to-upper-size versions: 64 hp and 74 hp. A unique feature is a slide-up, front-entry door, which means entry and exit are possible regardless of the position of the twin booms. Another standard feature is a climate-controlled cab for operator comfort.
This Chinese manufacturer offers one model in the North American market, the 385B, the latest generation of its skid steers. Powered by a 70 hp Yanmar Tier IV Final engine, the skid loader features a cab that tilts 80 degrees for easy access to the engine compartment for servicing. Attention was paid to reducing operator cabin noise.
This Minnesota manufacturer (now owned by French company Manitou Group) has built skid steers for 50 years and today offers 10 skid steer models. The largest is the 98 hp 4200V with a tip load of 8,400 lbs. and a lift height of nearly 12 ft. The skid loaders come standard with an automatic hydraulic self-leveling system.
This U.S.-rooted manufacturer (now owned by Italian company CNH Industrial) has seven skid steers in the market, four of them with the vertical-lift system the company invented. Its machines range from hp to hp. A safety feature is an in-cab switch to lock a boom in place, an insurance against accidental drops.
This Japanese manufacturer offers two versions of the TS80 74-hp skid steer, one radial lift, the other vertical. It has an optional two-speed drive system that can zip the skid loader along at 11 mph, for projects with unusual travel distances. The heavy-duty machines each have a breakout force of about 5,900 lbs.
This Swedish manufacturer has eight skid steers in its lineup, ranging in power from to hp. The company has adopted the single-boom design with side-door entry. The company’s latest generation models have stronger booms, which has increased maximum lift height to 10 ½ ft. More spacious operator cabins are another feature.
This Wisconsin manufacturer began skid steer production just four years ago and now offers six models. The largest, the SW28, is a 74 hp unit with a vertical lift height of more than 11 ft. The skid steers come with a three-year full-machine warranty and four-year powertrain warranty.
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The skid steer loader broke the “Bigger Is Better” mold for construction equipment and heralded a new day of compact machinery. It accomplished this because it is a versatile and productive tool carrier. With a host of tool attachments, one skid loader is the equivalent of several more specialized machines. Whether you are contemplating renting one to augment your fleet of equipment or buying one for personal or commercial use, the skid loader is a work horse that will not disappoint—so long as you get the loader that best fits your situation. That’s the key.
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