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Comparing Used Backhoe Loaders

For tractors, it’s all about horsepower. For backhoe loaders, it’s all about digging depth.

True, these workhorses of construction (as ubiquitous on building sites as a worker leaning on a shovel) come in different power classes. Their output is in a narrow range, though, from 75 to 110 hp. 

Digging capacities are more varied, with the most common class of backhoes providing a depth of 14 to 15 feet. A second, larger class of machines has a 15- to 16-foot depth. There are some models that fall outside this category such as JCB’s 3C-15 with a 20.8-foot depth. One common option, the extend-a-boom, offers an extending internal mast that increases digging depth an additional 5 feet. 

There is a second distinction regarding differences in loader lift capacity and breakout force. The latter term describes the maximum amount of one-time (as opposed to sustained) lift a loader can exert to break out a scoop of packed dirt, for example. Manufacturers also readily offer a loader’s sustained lift, as well.

Lumping all makes of backhoes together by their general digging depth classes mentioned before, there are two lift capacity ranges:

  • 14- to 15-foot digging depth class backhoes have lift capacities ranging from 5,500 to 8,200 pounds.
  • 15- to 16-foot depth class models have lift capacities from 6,300 to 8,800 pounds. 

Interestingly, breakout force capacities aren’t as closely grouped. For example, models in the 14- to 15-foot digging depth class generally have breakout lifts ranging from 8,600 up to 11,500 pounds. JCB and New Holland models, however, have breakout capacities ranging from 11,000 up to 15,000 pounds. 

The same is true for backhoe models in the 15- to 16-foot digging depth class. Generally, their breakout forces range from 10,000 to 14,000 pounds. The JCB models in this digging depth class, however, offer breakout performance ranging from 14,500 to 16,400 pounds.

Where backhoe loaders do vary a great deal is in the way they’re equipped. The Pocket Price Guide bears witness to the fact that options, second only to hours, have a large impact on values. Beyond the extend-a-boom feature mentioned before, options that boost backhoe prices include:

  • Four-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is now common on backhoes, which has partially erased the impact the option has on used values. However, figure on giving 10% to 15% more for a loader with four-wheel drive.
  • Autoshift. Such transmissions offer fully automatic shifting to allow the operator to focus on loader functions.
  • Closed-center hydraulic system. As is the case with tractors, closed-center systems (that use a piston pump) provide full hydraulic power at any engine speed.  
  • Pilot hydraulic control system. This feature offers operators greater flexibility as they can easily switch from backhoe- to excavator-control patterns, usually with the flip of a lever. 

Even more important than options, wear and tear on a backhoe represents a crucial difference when sizing up different machines. Construction gear generally doesn’t receive the care doled out to farm iron since the owner often is not its operator. Scott Steffes with Steffes Auction says iron from a construction site with 4,000 hours certainly could have more wear than a tractor with equal hours.  

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