Understanding when a tool carrier is a better option than a wheel loader.

Moving materials around a rough, muddy jobsite is a daily challenge for most contractors. Pallets come in on trucks and must be unloaded as quickly and efficiently as possible. Pipe and other odd-shaped items must be moved from storage areas to work areas. Material handling delays can slow down an entire project and result in crews waiting for materials to be delivered.

Adding a tool carrier to your equipment fleet is one way to improve your ability to unload, load and move palletized materials, piping and other materials. A tool carrier is a specialized type of wheel loader that uses a parallel-lift linkage system instead of the Z-bar linkage system found on standard wheel loaders. While a tool carrier and a wheel loader can do most of the same work, a tool carrier does have some distinct advantages for material handling.

The Nature of the Project

With almost every equipment acquisition decision, evaluating and understanding the nature of the work to be done is the primary factor in deciding which machine will do the best job.

Will you be primarily digging, moving and loading granular materials such as sand, gravel and crushed stone? Or will you be primarily unloading, loading and moving pallets of materials such as brick, block, precast concrete or rolls of sod?

What are your other needs? Does your project involve moving large amounts of piping or other odd-shaped materials? Will you be using a grapple or a clamp to handle any of these materials?

Also, consider visibility. Does the operator need a clear view of the pallet forks as when unloading trucks?

Once you have considered all aspects of the project, quantify the time spent on each activity to make your decision.

"If you are digging into piles and loading trucks more than 50 percent of the time, then a standard wheel loader with a Z-bar linkage system is probably your best choice," says Chad Ellis, product and governmental sales manager for Doosan Infracore Construction Equipment America. "The Z-bar linkage on a wheel loader generally provides more power and reach for digging and loading high-sided trucks."

On the other hand, Ellis says, if you load and unload pallets and move them around the jobsite 60 to 70 percent of the time, then a tool carrier is the best choice.

"Visibility is much better with the tool carrier for certain applications," he says. "The design of the parallel-lift linkage system on a tool carrier provides additional visibility to the work area. The operator can easily see the pallet forks, the load and the truck bed or work area where the pallet is being placed."

The Pros and Cons

Tool carriers are generally specific, factory-built versions of wheel loaders. While the same model may be available in both a wheel loader and a tool carrier version, it is not generally feasible to convert a wheel loader to a tool carrier or vice versa once it leaves the factory, Ellis says.

The in-line, parallel-lift linkage used on most tool carriers provides the operator with greater down visibility. In contrast, the Z-bar linkage on a wheel loader places the hydraulic cylinder directly in the center of the operator's field of vision.

In addition, when the operator picks the work tool off the ground with the tool carrier's parallel-lift linkage system, it raises flat rather than rolling back as it would on a wheel loader. This time-saving feature is extremely helpful when loading or unloading pallets or anything else that you want to keep level.


The Z-bar linkage on a standard wheel loader has some advantages as well, including greater bucket breakout force. The Z-bar design also has fewer moving parts to maintain.

However, Ellis says that specifications for reach and lifting height on tool carriers are nearly equal to those of wheel loaders, and the tool carrier lift arms have improved durability. As a result, tool carrier configurations now provide all-around performance like standard wheel loaders.

Operating Trends

Tool carriers typically fall into the 125- to 200-horsepower range, Ellis says. Along with road building, typical applications include utility construction and pipe laying, metal and scrap recycling and landscaping.

Nearly 90 percent of all tool carriers are ordered with optional quick couplers, which make it easy to change work tools. Another must-have option is a load isolation system, which dampens the up-and-down movement of the load while traversing rough, rutted jobsites.

While auxiliary hydraulics were formerly common on tool carriers, today they are ordered no more frequently than on a standard wheel loader, Ellis says. Pallet forks and general-purpose buckets top the list of most popular tool carrier work tools.

Telescopic Tool Carriers


A third option is the telescopic tool carrier. Designed for contractors to lift and place materials above ground level, the telescopic tool carrier offers excellent maneuverability, extended reach and the ability to handle a variety of attachments.

These versatile machines can pick and carry loads as well as reach up and over obstacles and place loads atop multi-story structures. Telescopic tool carriers generally have telescoping two- or three-section booms similar to a hydraulic crane.

In addition to pallet forks, telescoping tool carriers can also be equipped with buckets, clamps, grapples and even lifting jibs. In many cases, the same attachments for large skid-steer and compact track loaders can be used on telescoping tool carriers. Most offer three-steering modes that make them ideal for navigating congested jobsites.


Construction Business Owner, June 2011