Tips for Choosing a Skid Steer

To get the most bang for your buck, match the machine to the application.

On the construction site, on the farm or in the industrial plant, skid steer loaders are the little engines that could (though not all skid steers are little). Compact, maneuverable and able to “skid” around corners, they’re incredibly useful for digging, grading, leveling and even demolition, not to mention jobs like brush cleaning and snow removal. In short, they’re pretty much a must-have.

If you’re in the market to buy or rent a skid steer, choosing the right machine will help you get the job done as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. Here are a few tips to consider in making your selection.

Choose the right size

The size of your job and the size of the space you’ll be working in (as well as the spaces you’ll have to fit through to get there) will dictate the size of machine you need. The sweet spot is a machine with enough horsepower and rated operating capacity (ROC) for the weight you plan to lift. The ROC of a skid steer is half of the tipping load. Skid steer ROCs range from around 700 pounds to more than 3,000 pounds. Don’t confuse the ROC with the weight of the machine. 

RELATED: What Size Skid Steer Do I Need? 

Medium-size machines, with an ROC of 1,300 to 1,900 and a weight of 5,000 to 6,000 pounds, are the most common and can be used for a wide variety of jobs. Skid steers in the lower end of the range generally work well for landscaping, minor interior demolition work and jobs in tight spaces. 

You’ll want a large-frame skid steer, with a large bucket or blade and more horsepower, for moving significant quantities of gravel or bricks, for grading or excavating a large jobsite or for building a road. If you have the space, a larger machine can save you time on the job.

Decide on wheeled vs. tracked

Will you be working on smooth surfaces or rough terrain? Wheeled skid steers travel fast over level, hard surfaces such as asphalt, concrete or hard-packed dirt. They’re also better on landscaped surfaces, which tracked skid steers can dig up. 

For rough, uneven or muddy surfaces, you’ll want a tracked skid steer. These machines, which cost more than wheeled skid steers, can travel easily over loose gravel, sand or snow, and they won’t compact the ground. 

Consider attachments ahead of time

With the right attachment, a skid steer can be used to perform countless tasks. But not every attachment will work with every skid steer. Consider the attachments you plan to use before choosing a skid steer. 

RELATED: 9 Ways to Save Money with Skid Steer Attachments 

Many attachments call for a skid steer with the higher horsepower (over 70) that comes with a large frame and an ROC of at least 1,800 to 2,000, since the attachments are hydraulically operated.  

A high-performance attachment such as a cold planer, auger, trencher or wheel saw

may require not only more horsepower, but also a high-flow hydraulics system. A high-flow hydraulics system will provide more flow to the attachment, letting you get the job done faster and, because the system won’t usually be operating at full capacity, increasing its lifespan and potentially reducing downtime.

How high do you need to lift?

Traditional skid steers are radial lift machines, intended to push, dig or otherwise move materials around but not lift them to any significant height. If you’ll need to lift materials, a vertical lift steer skid is the better bet. These provide more reach at full lift height. A general rule of thumb: If you’ll need to lift to eye level or above, consider a vertical lift skid steer.

Skid steers are highly versatile, but some are more appropriate — and more productive — for certain applications than others. United Rentals can assist you in selecting a skid steer for your next project. Simply contact a United Rentals sales representative at a branch near you or call 833-451-5765.

Marianne Wait is an editor and writer who creates content for Fortune 500 brands. 

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