Buying a Skidsteer
So you’re ready to buy a skidsteer. Great! You probably have questions, especially if this is your first big equipment purchase.
If you’re new to the industry, or just heard some jargon somewhere and are interested in knowing what a skidsteer is, below is the best definition we’ve found (if you know what one is, skip the highlighted paragraph.)
Definition: Skidsteer (skid’ stîr) n. A self-propelled land vehicle propelled by an internal combustion engine with hydraulically-powered mechanical arms capable of utilizing various connecting attachments to aid in construction or demolition in many construction-related fields. The name ‘skidsteer’ originates from the method used to steer the vehicle. Instead of wheels articulating on steering linkages, they are held firmly in place and steering is accomplished through certain wheels stopping or reversing direction during travel to execute a turn. This wheel stoppage causes a forced skid. This type of machine is sometimes called a skid loader.
Choosing which brand of iron you’ll be putting on your trailers and on your jobsites is critical. Make the right decision and you have a skid steer that performs all the tasks you need it to, with a short learning curve and with little down time. Which of course translates into increased profits for all projects that include the use of your skid steer.
Make the wrong choice in brand and model of skid steer and you could end up with a machine that’s under-powered for the tasks in front of it, or if poorly constructed, it’s incapable of performing required tasks consistently and effectively. Frustrated employees and lost productivity. Money down the drain.
That’s why the topic of skidsteers comes up so often in our online forum discussions. In fact, all of the heavy equipment landscaping companies use to install their hardscapes and softscapes are discussed here. I’m Jeff Pozniak, the administrator of the Ground Trades Xchange, and I also own a landscaping company in Wisconsin. Of all the tools our company uses, our skid steer has to be the most important. On a job site, a skid steer can do the work of several men, carrying a full skid of pavers or retaining wall block right to where it’s needed. Add on an attachment like a Harley rake and your skid steer becomes a powerful grading machine. Even though most skid loaders cost $25,000-40,000 new (or you might be able to get a good used skid steer for $10,000-15,000), they are worth their weight in gold.
Which Skid Steer to Choose?
The perennial question. There are a lot to choose from today. Pictured at the top of the page are models from Bobcat, Case, New Holland, Caterpillar, John Deere, Gehl, Mustang, Thomas, ASV and Takeuchi, and together own 99% of the skidsteer market. If the number of units of a particular brand for sale on auction sites is any indication, Bobcat dominates the market. Caterpillar and Case own roughly equal shares (though lagging far behind Bobcat), with New Holland owning slightly less market share. Those brands are followed by John Deere, Gehl and ASV, then the rest of the pack. While brand popularity may be an important reason to base you decision, it shouldn’t be the only one. Below is a list of things to consider when purchasing a skidsteer (or skid steer fleet). The list was compiled from information posted by members of our discussion forum. Back to Top ^
That was mentioned earlier, so let’s delve into it deeper. Choosing a more popular brand can have it’s advantages. When it comes time to sell your machine, having a popular brand will give you a wider market to sell your used skidsteer to. A more popular brand usually means that parts will be more readily available. No special orders when wear parts like pins and bushings burn out – dealers will have the parts in stock. Back to Top ^
Often underrated, buying from a reputable local dealer can be as important as any other determinant when buying your skid steer. Buying your skidsteer from a local dealer usually means there are mechanics on staff that have been trained to work on your specific machine. This usually translates to shorter “in the shop” times, and fewer hours billed to you for repairs, because they know how to fix what needs fixing. As mentioned above, parts availability is also less of an issue when you buy from a local dealer. The trick is to find a local dealer worth building a relationship with. Back to Top ^
Of course, buying a skidsteer that can perform the tasks you need it to perform is critical. And for my money, I’m not big on using SAE-rated lifting capacities or brochures to make my decision. I like testing the skidsteer. For example, our company does a lot of hardscape installations, so it’s important to us that our skid steer can lift a full pallet of pavers or retaining wall block. So I had a skid of the heaviest retaining wall block loaded into one of our trucks, then I visited a few local dealers. It was eye-opening and sometimes laughable when a sales rep would brag on the machine’s ability to lift, but when I would try to lift that pallet of block and the ass end of the skidsteer started pointing toward the sky, there wasn’t anything more that needed to be said. On to the next skidsteer. Back to Top ^
Consider all the possible uses you’ll have for your skid steer today as well as down the road. Do you hope to use some of the skidsteer attachments available? Most have some minimum auxiliary hydraulic flow rate to operate, and some require a lot of hydraulic pressure to work. Will you be plowing snow with your skidsteer? Does that brand offer a cab enclosure? Heater? Will operators be spending many consecutive hours in the machine, making creature comforts important? Back to Top ^
Hand or Foot Controls
Consider this carefully, because the brand you buy today (with the hand and foot control options they offer) may lock you into a particular brand for future purchases for years. Take us, for example. We run a Gehl 6635 SXT skidsteer, and have been very happy with it. One of the things I like about the machine is that all maneuvering and arm movements are accomplished with hand controls. All machine movements are on the left hand, all arm movements are controlled by the right. But if I hop into a Case skidsteer, machine movements are controlled with both hands, as are the arm movements. And there’s nothing wrong with that arrangement, if that’s what you’re used to. But if you are used to one brand and get plopped into another, it might be several days before you can unlearn the controls of the previous skidsteer and acclimate yourself to the new one. You might also cause serious damage to the property you’re working on if you aren’t familiar with the machine’s controls. Back to Top ^
Skid Steer – Tires or Tracks? Or Both?
Every manufacturer has come out with their own line of rubber track skidsteer in recent years. They present some significant advantages over their rubber-tired counterparts:
- Less ground pressure, resulting in fewer torn-up yards.
- Better traction, allowing for work in more muddy job sites.
But with those important advantages also come a few disadvantages:
- More complex and expensive maintenance. Track replacement can be as much as $4,000.
- Greater initial purchase expense (as high as $12,000 more expensive).
But most of those that own rubber tracked skidsteers swear by them. Another option is to purchase a model with tires and purchase after-market skidsteer tracks. Tracks can be steel or rubber; rubber tracks tend to be easier on the surface you’re driving on but harder on your tires, while steel tracks are easier on your tires (because they can slip more) but harder on the surfaces where you drive. A decent set of tracks can cost anywhere from $2,500 – $5,000. Back to Top ^
Buying Used Skidsteers
All of that is well and good if you’re buying a new skidsteer. But what if you’re looking to buy a used skidsteer? In buying used, all of the advice above still applies, with a few added pieces of advice to consider. The discussion linked here provides some excellent information about the things to check on a used skidsteer before you buy.
And if you still have questions or concerns about your purchase, or are considering options other than a skidsteer (like comparing a TLB to a mini-skidsteer to a skidsteer)you can always become a member of our landscaping discussion forum. Registration is quick, easy and free, and you’ll be able to ask your question to thousands of skidsteer owners and operators. Back to Top ^