Before choosing a loader, be sure to determine how, where and when the loader will be used.

Selecting a loader for maximum productivity is not as simple as finding one with the most horsepower. With so many different loader sizes and options available, horsepower is only one consideration. You also must decide if you want tires or tracks, a vertical or radial lift, an enclosed or open cab and a compact or full-size loader.

“These decisions are dependent on three factors: first, the type of work you are doing; second, what ground conditions you will encounter on the job; and third, the time of year you are operating,” says Jamie Wright, product manager of Terex Construction Americas. 

“Loaders are not created equal,” Wright says. “They come in all different sizes and styles, including a variety of skid-steer, track loader and wheel loader models to choose from. To get the quickest cycle times and the best productivity, you need to match the loader to the jobsite conditions.”

Analyze the Work

Before choosing a loader, first determine how the equipment will be used. A loader is capable of doing it all—including site preparation, excavation work, landscaping jobs and demolition projects. 

To find the right loader, Wright suggests analyzing the project specifications: What type of material will you be moving? What is the density of that material? How much material needs to be moved? Are there any space restrictions on the jobsite? 

Horsepower and operating capacity are also two important factors to consider. Higher horsepower offers more dynamic force for pushing and production, but it also results in a heavier machine. If a project site has weight restrictions, then you may need to opt for a smaller horsepower unit. 

“Know the loader’s operating capacity, including tipping load and lift capacities, when ‘spec’ing’ the unit for a job. You need to make sure the loader you choose can handle the materials you’ll be moving. The weight of the material and how quickly it needs to be moved will also influence the size of the bucket you need—the bigger the bucket, the bigger the loader,” Wright says.

 “‘Spec’ing’ a loader with higher travel speeds can increase productivity: The more miles per hour it can travel, the quicker the cycle times you can achieve,” Wright says. “Boom speeds will tell you how fast the loader can load and unload the material.”

Boom design also influences productivity. Loaders engineered with a radial lift path, which means the loader arms raise in an arc pattern, are better suited for digging applications. Vertical path loaders work best for loading applications because the boom stays the same distance from the loader through the entire lift. 

Size also matters. If you will be working in space-restricted areas, you should consider a small machine, such as a skid-steer loader or compact track loader. If the operating area is more open, a larger wheeled or track loader is an option.

Assess the Conditions

Once you know what the loader will be used for, you must assess the site conditions where the loader will be working. 

“Because skid-steer, compact track and many larger loaders use the same attachments (buckets, dozer blades, mulchers, augers, trenchers, levelers, box rakes, snow blowers, etc.) and perform in the same applications (construction, landscaping, rental, forestry and agriculture), the type of surface you will be working on significantly impacts the productivity and cycle times of the loader,” says Wright. “When working in soft underfoot conditions, a loader with tracks will be more effective. When working on harder surfaces, a wheeled loader is better suited.

Wright says you should graduate to a full-size wheel loader or track loader when you need a higher payload and larger bucket capacity. The wider and longer wheelbase of these larger loaders offers enhanced stability in all ground conditions, as well as a smooth ride for the operator.

Anticipate the Weather


The weather conditions you work in should also be considered when selecting a loader. The weather not only affects your loader’s cycle times, but it also influences your operators’ productivity.

For instance, the weather determines if you will be more productive with tires or tracks, Wright says. During rainy months when wet conditions cause muddy and sloppy ground conditions, a track loader is a better option. In drier summer months, the application determines whether tires or tracks would be best. 

“Loaders are built to work in extreme temperatures, so they can remain productive to keep sidewalks, driveways, cul-de-sacs and parking lots cleared,” Wright says. “Track loaders perform well in snowy conditions, but loaders with wheels can be quite effective on paved surfaces.”

If you will be using the loader throughout the year, you may want optional over-the-tire track attachments to get maximum versatility. Some manufacturers offer the option to choose between tracks or tires at the time you put a machine to work. Over-the-tire tracks are used in a variety of applications, such as general 

construction, landscaping, land clearing, side hill work and agriculture. These attachments are best suited for applications in mud, sand, dirt and clay—anywhere traction and flotation is required. With that flexibility, you can take on more jobs. 


“Over-the-tire track attachments not only give you the increased traction and flotation necessary to maneuver in different soil and working conditions, but these attachments also add some ground points of contact, increasing stability and bettering the ride,” Wright says.

A final factor when choosing a loader is making sure it is properly equipped for the operator’s comfort. An operator will be more productive if he is comfortable, Wright says.

Options, such as an enclosed cab and heat, keep the operator comfortable and productive during long hours in winter months, and air conditioning is appreciated during the summer months. When working in dusty conditions, a sealed and pressurized cab is a must. 

A suspension seat makes all the difference in reducing operator discomfort and fatigue. The setup of the machine’s operating controls, the noise level inside the cab and the visibility outside the cab’s windows also contribute to a more comfortable and productive operator.

Wright says it is wise to test any loader you are considering in actual working conditions. “Matching the loader’s design and capabilities to the application is vital to productivity: analyze, assess and anticipate.”

Questions to Consider

  • What type of material will you be moving?
  • What is the density of that material?
  • How much material needs to be moved?
  • Are there any space restrictions on the jobsite?
  • What type of surface will you be working on?
  • What are the typical weather conditions where you work?


Construction Business Owner, April 2011