Determine how to effectively choose, operate and maintain skid-steer loaders to increase efficiency and gain a return on investment.

Whether you are a long-time skid-steer loader owner/operator or you would like to enhance your equipment fleet, there is no question that matching the machine to the job should be your top consideration. Doing this is the first step to increased efficiency and uptime, as well as easy regular maintenance. In addition, skid-steer loader attachment options offer a versatility that is hard to match.

“It used to be that you either had a very large machine and a shovel, but nothing in between,” says Mike Fitzgerald, Bobcat’s loader product specialist. “Compact equipment, such as a skid steer, makes an operator’s job immensely efficient and eliminates a lot of manual labor.”

Making a Selection

When choosing a skid-steer loader, let the dealer know exactly how and where the machine will be used. Are you picking up material and loading it into a truck, requiring extra lift and reach? Or are you doing final grading work? Do you need the machine to fit into tight spaces, like residential backyards, or do you have plenty of room on new construction sites? These are all important parameters that help a dealer better understand your needs. Some dealers offer a wide range of skid-steer loaders from the very compact to those machines with exceptional lift height. 

The environment in which you will be using the machine is another important consideration. Do you primarily work in cold, snowy conditions or in the heat, dealing with dust and debris? Pressurized cabs provide the operator excellent protection from the elements while maintaining a comfortable temperature inside the cab. 

Some dealers offer machines that are extremely large and powerful to match most working conditions and terrain. “We chose to design the large S850 because we had countless requests from customers who wanted something large and powerful to match with most any working condition and terrain,” Fitzgerald explains. “Also, it doesn’t matter how large you make a machine, someone always wants the option of something bigger.”

Best Operation and Maintenance Practices

For a skid-steer loader’s operation and maintenance, Fitzgerald says, “It’s always best to first and foremost follow the manufacturer’s instructions that come with the machine. Match the machine to the job. Don’t try to load the bucket beyond its rated capacity. If you’re using hydraulically-powered attachments, like 
a breaker, be sure the auxiliary flow is within the appropriate range for the breaker.” 

Following the recommended operation and preventive maintenance guidelines will ensure a machine performs efficiently and will minimize costs by preventing unnecessary repairs. Machine performance varies based on who is operating the equipment. Fitzgerald suggests that if a foreman or owner notices one person operating more effectively than another, then find out the operating differences, and he or she should implement those efficiencies when training new operators.

Fleet Management

Fleet management practices often depend on the owner’s business preference. But ultimately, fleet management should be based on efficiency and job costs. Bigger pieces of equipment move more material in a shorter amount of time than smaller machines. For site preparation or new construction, a large machine might be the best option to move material quickly. However, in more confined areas or on established jobsites, a smaller machine might be the most efficient because it reduces manual labor and fits into spaces easily. 

In addition, fleet management includes upkeep and maintaining equipment information. Some skid-steer loaders have instrumentation panels that sync with the machine’s internal system and controls. This provides feedback to the operator regarding oil, transmission and other fluid levels, as well as operating hours and wear on compatible attachments. Also, skid steers that have security features offer an additional fleet-management benefit.

Attachment Versatility

Manufacturers offer a variety of skid-steer loader attachments for most job applications. This versatility eliminates the need to subcontract portions of a larger job and allows business owners a way to easily adjust to changing markets, applications or multiple jobs. 

The variety of attachments also provides the option of year-round operation, enabling the operator to use the skid steer in various applications through a low initial investment with a great return. If a one-off job opportunity comes along, it is easy to rent an attachment, and in most applications, compact equipment coupled with attachments work as well or better than dedicated machines. 

Some attachments also feature smart hydraulics that allow machines to identify the attachment and lock out non-required functions (like high flow) to limit damage to the attachment and machine. 

“Compact equipment can do 80 percent of the work,” Fitzgerald says. “You can make a profit as long as you have the machines and attachments to complete the job.”

Questions to Consider

  • How and where will you use the skid-steer loader?
  • What is your typical working environment?
  • Do you need a smaller or larger machine, or both?
  • What skid-steer loader attachments will be helpful to the job?
Construction Business Owner, March 2011