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Choosing a skid steer loader

Since its introduction more than five decades ago, the skid steer loader has evolved from a machine that mainly functioned to remove chicken manure to a multi-purpose workhorse that maneuvers around in the tightest of spaces.

As these agile machines have made their way to an increasing number of farms, more and more manufacturers have responded by offering consumers myriad choices. But with so many to choose from, selecting the right skid steer to meet the needs of your operation can be mind-boggling. In addition to a variety of manufacturers, you also must take into account all the options, add-ons, and work tools available for these machines.

8 Questions To Answer

Before you consider any make or model of skid steer loader, answer these eight questions to determine a starting point in selecting a machine.

1. What type of work or chores will you need to tackle? “Start with what you will use the machine for. Are there any constraints in terms of physical size, such as width and size of machine? Are there narrow corridors you have to maneuver in? The answers to these questions will narrow down your choices,” says Chris Knipfer, Bobcat marketing manager.

Bigger is not always better. For many, the biggest advantage of a skid steer is its ability to squeeze into tight spaces.

“On top of that, what you plan to attach to the front of the machine will also impact the size of skid steer you choose,” Knipfer notes.

2. Do I need a machine with vertical lift or radial lift? If you do a majority of your work at eye level and above, vertical-lift-arm machines might be your best option because they typically have greater rated operating capacity than radial-lift-arm for a comparable-size machine, more maximum lift height, and the maximum bucket reach comes at maximum lift height.

If your work is done at eye level or below, radial-lift-arm machines are better because they get their maximum bucket reach at eye level, and they have fewer linkages. So when you're working with attachments — specifically buckets — if you're trying to do a fine grade, a radial-lift-arm machine accomplishes that easier.

3. What attachments will I need? A wide variety of attachments is available. When you're looking at work tools, ensure that the ones you need are available for the skid steer you buy. If you already have several, you may want to purchase a unit to accommodate them.

Remember that just because a tool will mount on the machine, doesn't automatically mean it will perform well.

“It's important to fit the attachment to your machine so you don't over- or underutilize a machine. For instance, if you just buy a bucket, make sure it is big enough for what you need it to do but not too big to where the machine can't effectively use it,” says Knipfer. “When you get into the advanced attachments that have controls, make sure those controls are matched to the capabilities of the machine.”

Some tools, like stump grinders or large augers, require extra hydraulic capacity to operate. Standard-flow versions of these tools may be available but may not have the muscle of high-flow units.

Manufacturers approve specific sizes of each attachment for every machine and provide that information to dealerships to help maximize your skid steer's potential.

4. Who will handle maintenance? If you plan to do routine maintenance yourself, it becomes a question of which machine is easiest to work on. Easily accessible components and filters that don't require removing multiple covers or are in hard-to-reach places are features that you should be sure to note when spec'ing a piece of equipment. You want routine maintenance to be as efficient as possible.

Does the cab need to be raised for routine maintenance? If so, is there enough space to access components and filters?

5. How many hours a day will be spent in the machine? Operator discomfort and fatigue can negatively affect productivity. Obviously, a loader that is easy to get in, get out of, and operate will reduce fatigue and increase productivity. Things to evaluate inside the cab include ease of manipulating the machine's controls, noise level, clear visibility of your surroundings, and whether attachments are within easy reach.

6. What type of tire is best for the terrain I'll be covering? “There are a multitude of tire options. Typically, what Bobcat has available from the factory is standard-duty tires,” says Knipfer.

But customers do have a number of upgrade options, including heavy-duty, turf, solid, or poly-filled tires.

“Basically, a heavy-duty tire is a change in the tread for maximum durability and life. Turf tires are big, wide tires with minimal tread. Solid tires are made of solid rubber. Poly-filled tires are similar to a solid tire but are more like a regular tire filled with special poly material,” says Knipfer. “The advantages of poly or solid rubber are that you don't get flats. But the disadvantages are that they are very heavy and don't flex very much, which means a bumpier ride.”

7. What should I know about resale value? Anyway you look at it, it pays to buy a quality machine. If you plan to keep it until the wheels are ready to fall off, a high-quality machine will end up costing you less because of fewer repairs and less downtime.

“Resale value should definitely be a consideration,” says Knipfer. “A better-built machine that is more durable and reliable will have a higher resale value regardless of whether you trade the machine every year or keep it for 10 years. But it's even more important for the customer who plans to turn equipment over annually or semiannually.”

Typically, machines with higher quality and stronger resale value are priced higher. But they may be worth it.

8. Do I know a dependable dealer for the make/model I'm interested in? Selecting the right dealer can be as crucial as selecting the right machine.

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“The machine is only as good as the dealer,” says Knipfer. “Something will eventually wear out or break. Even if you fix the machine yourself, you are not going to have the ability to manufacture the parts that need to be replaced. It's important to have a dealer who is knowledgeable and can provide you with parts in a timely manner.”

Knipfer says there also might be a time a repair goes beyond what you're capable of or you simply don't have time for. “You need to have someone you can rely on and who is ready to do it,” he says.

Kick A Few Tires

Try to evaluate as many machines as you can before making a purchase decision. Don't be afraid to kick a few tires.

Each skid steer manufacturer offers its own unique set of qualities. Know what they are and how they can impact your purchasing decision. Once you narrow the field, you will have a better handle on the type of machine that will work best for your operation. 

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