Get the right plan in place & evaluate your options to find the best fit
by Jason Archbold
May 31, 2017

Demand for compact excavators has grown tremendously over the 30 years since some of the first models made their debut in North America. In fact, according to data from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), the compact excavator market has grown by 218 percent within the past 6 years. Because of this upward trajectory, many contractors realize that renting compact excavators can provide a versatile solution and a viable alternative to larger tractor loader backhoes on a variety of jobsites. Compact excavators, specifically in the 3- to 4-metric ton size, provide features different from larger machines, while boasting machine performance, versatility and visibility. By considering jobsite conditions, excavator arm and tail-swing configurations, attachment versatility and trailering considerations, you can make a better decision on whether renting is the right option for your jobsite.

1. What are the jobsite conditions & limitations?

Two of the most important factors to consider are the type of work and the type of jobsite where the work is being done. You or your operators may be clearing and prepping a jobsite one week, installing utilities another week and performing demolition the next week. For this reason, contractors gravitate toward compact excavators that deliver performance and attachment versatility on every jobsite. Also consider space limitations, especially regarding width and operating weight. Some manufacturers offer compact excavator models with retractable undercarriages if you are working in confined areas, such as established, residential areas. This feature allows you or your operators to retract the excavator’s undercarriage, pass through a gate or fence and then expend the undercarriage before working.

2. Do you need additional reach, height or depth?

Manufacturers know that you don’t want to sacrifice performance for size, so they are packing their smaller excavator models with the power and options necessary to be more productive. In addition to standard arm configurations, some compact excavators are available in long-arm and extendable-arm options for added reach, dump height and digging depth. Both configurations can be valuable timesavers for your operators because you do not need to reposition the machine as often. The extendable-arm option is especially useful in utility installation and preparation because the arm has a long-enough reach to remove spoil away from the trench. This excavator arm option also works well in truck-loading applications to improve
jobsite productivity.

3. How close will you be working next to objects?

If you and your operators work in confined residential areas, you may need a compact excavator with minimal tail swing or zero tail swing. Minimal tail swing and zero tail swing can give you and your operators more unrestricted rotation and flexibility when working close to objects or against a wall. The zero-tail-swing feature virtually eliminates the chance of the excavator’s tail inadvertently contacting surrounding objects. The minimal-tail-swing feature significantly reduces the chance of hitting the front corners, and the frame stays within the width of the tracks to avoid damage to nearby objects or structures.

Generally speaking, a zero- or minimal-tail-swing compact excavator of a given size will be wider than its conventional-tail-swing counterpart. If you anticipate routine work where your operators must pass through narrow property lines, gates or fences, a conventional tail swing may be a better fit. The typical width of a conventional tail swing, 3- to 4-metric ton compact excavator will be about 60 inches, whereas zero- and minimal-tail-swing excavators with similar performance will have a width of about 70 inches.

In addition to tail-swing types, other compact excavator features include independent boom swing and slew function. Independent boom swing enables excavator operators to dig parallel and immediately adjacent to an existing structure. Your operators can dig on either side of an obstacle without repositioning the excavator. A compact excavator’s slew function gives operators the ability to rotate and place the spoil in the most convenient location.

4. What attachments do you need to add?

In addition to renting a compact excavator, think beyond buckets and consider what other attachments may increase your productivity and bring in more revenue. One of the advantages of renting compact excavator attachments is the ability to increase excavator utilization without purchasing a machine until you are ready or have enough work lined up to support buying a machine. Plus, attachments allow you to easily adjust to changing markets and applications.

Some excavator manufacturers’ attachments have been vertically integrated with the machine’s electronics and hydraulics, providing for more flexibility, uptime protection and convenience while on multiple jobsites. Other common compact excavator attachments include augers, buckets, hydraulic clamps and grapples. For one-off jobs, you may decide to utilize specialty attachments, such as flail mowers, packer wheels, plate compactors, rippers and trenchers, which have multifunctional capabilities that can help expand your services. Renting specialty attachments for seasonal work gives you the flexibility to take on additional opportunities, without the commitment of buying attachments until you are ready.

5. Are you properly securing your excavator?

When you or your operators transport a compact excavator, it is important to use good, consistent hauling techniques as outlined in the manufacturer’s operation and maintenance manual. Proper hauling practices, such as using the right size of transport and towing vehicles and correctly loading, positioning and securing equipment and attachments, will help minimize loading issues that may be out of compliance and slow your productivity.

All states and local municipalities have regulations based on gross vehicle weight rating, or the maximum operating weight or mass of a piece of equipment as specified by the manufacturer. Load ratings will vary from state to state, so check federal, state and local laws and regulations regarding weight, width, length and height of a load before preparing to transport your equipment on public roads, bridges, highways and interstates.

With the growing popularity of compact excavators comes increased machine choices. Before determining which is the right fit, make sure to take into consideration jobsite conditions, machine size, attachment versatility and trailering needs. By having the right plan in place and evaluating your options, you can find the right machine to fit your application.