A bobcat excavator goes to work.
5 things to consider before you add to your fleet

Excavators are more powerful, productive and durable than ever before. To keep up with their continued popularity, equipment manufacturers have introduced models that can be tailored to your specific needs. But with so many options, how do you select an excavator that’s right for you?

If you frequently rent excavators or hire subcontractors who use them, look closely at the tasks they perform. This will help you anticipate what you need from a machine of your own. It’s also important to think about how adding a variety of attachments to your excavator could create new business opportunities. To get started, consider the following five factors. 

1. Size, Weight Class & Tail Swing

Size is one of the most important specifications to consider when comparing excavator models. To get the most out of your machine, ask whether the desired excavator is the right size to perform the tasks at hand. Can it access your required jobsites? Can it achieve the expected performance regarding dig depth, reach and dump height? Your ideal excavator needs to be able to access your jobsites and then also have the capacity in terms of width, height and weight to do the work once it’s there. Each jobsite demands different features. If you work in confined areas like residential properties or commercial jobsites, every inch matters. Larger excavators can weigh more than 10 tons, so make sure your jobsite can accommodate the overall size and weight of a larger machine.

However, height, width and weight are only part of the equation. Tail swing configuration is another feature to assess before committing to a machine. A zero- or minimal-tail-swing excavator of a given size will generally be wider than its conventional-tail-swing counterpart. If you anticipate routine work where you or your operators must pass through narrow property lines or gates, a conventional-tail-swing excavator may be a better fit. 

The typical width of a conventional tail swing, such as a 3- to 4-metric ton compact excavator, will be about 60 inches, whereas a zero and minimal tail swing excavator with similar performance will have a width of about 70 inches. Some manufacturers also offer a retractable undercarriage in select compact models when you need a machine that won’t sacrifice over-the-side lift capacity for accessibility through tight entryways like fence gates.

2. Arm Configurations

Standard arm configurations come with every excavator model, giving you maximum breakout force and lifting ability with greater digging performance. However, if you need greater reach and dig depth, some compact excavators can be equipped with a long-arm option. 

Extra reach, combined with higher dump height, allows you to do more work without repositioning the machine and helps load trucks easier. The long-arm option includes additional counterweight to enhance your excavator’s lifting capabilities.

If you need even more reach, some manufacturers offer extendable arm option for select compact excavators. It offers the best of both worlds: power and lifting performance combined with the ability to extend the machine’s dig depth and reach when you need it.


3. Power & Performance

Next, you should consider the specific tasks you need a compact or large excavator to perform. Smaller compact excavators can bring precision and power to confined areas, but they will offer less digging force and lower lift capacity than midsize excavators. 

Larger models can push through more demanding tasks with powerful hydraulics and higher horsepower. At this stage of the decision-making process, pay attention to equipment specifications like horsepower, rated lift capacity, digging force and dig depth.


4. Comfort Features & Technologies

Your operators spend the majority of their time in the cab of a machine, so it’s important to consider comfort features before adding an excavator to your fleet. Simple features like an enclosed cab with heating and air conditioning, operator-friendly controls and overall ergonomics go a long way in promoting a comfortable work environment. 


An essential feature in the compact equipment industry is wireless communication technology—also referred to as telematics—which allows you and your operators to maximize uptime and provide better peace of mind. The technology works with electronic sensors in your equipment to collect machine-specific data and sends it out via a wireless network to a mobile device or computer.

In-cab displays enhance a machine’s functionality to provide critical information to you and your operators. Some solutions offer device connectivity, which can improve security and can be paired with a rearview camera. 

With some of the higher-end display technology, you can observe fuel levels, coolant temperature, engine revolutions per minute, hydraulic flow and on-board diagnostics, which will allow you to optimize uptime and serviceability. Additionally, with select displays you can monitor and position machine attachments and track operator productivity in detail. 

Advanced attachment mounting systems can match operator preference to the task and act as the ultimate timesaver. Hydraulic activated systems allow you and your operators to secure attachments within seconds by pressing a switch inside the cab that automatically connects the machine’s attachment. 

5. Transportation Considerations

The weight and size of an excavator is just as important when you’re not operating. It impacts how you will transport the machine to and from jobsites. Double check the weight limits of any vehicle you plan to use and think about how you plan to haul your excavator before selecting a machine size. 


Due to their size, large excavators require different transportation equipment than compact excavators. If you are used to hauling your compact excavator with a three-fourths-ton pickup truck, you’ll have to adjust your line of thinking when looking at an excavator in the 10-ton plus size range. The size and weight of these machines often calls for a larger truck-and-trailer combination compared to a compact excavator.

In addition to securing the proper transportation, it’s important to take weight-limited roads or bridges into account. Once you start considering excavators larger than 10 to 15 tons, you may need to assess local, state, province and national weight limits. If it’s over the weight limit, a special transportation permit may be required when moving the equipment. Each model is different, so it’s important to confirm and check the weight against all legal requirements.


Do a Real-Life Demo

Above all, the best way for you to compare excavator models is to operate them on your jobsite. Not all excavators are created equal and operating a machine in everyday situations goes a long way in helping you see how it would perform as a member of your fleet. 

During the demo, be sure to examine the machine’s versatility, operator comfort, ease of routine maintenance and, of course, performance, so you know exactly what to expect from your most recent equipment purchase. 

The addition of an excavator could drastically improve your fleet’s productivity and versatility. But, before you buy, make sure you have considered all the factors involved, so you can find the best fit for you and your equipment operators.