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skid steer

What Size Skid Steer Do I Need?

Right-size the machine to maximize efficiency and avoid unexpected hassles.

Skid steer loaders are amazingly versatile machines. Compact and highly maneuverable, with zero-radius turning, they’re perfect for loading materials, digging, grading and leveling — and performing many other tasks, with the right attachment — in a backyard, in a park, on an outdoor construction site, inside a building or just about anywhere else work needs doing.

The smallest skid steers, with a rated operating capacity (ROC) of about 700 pounds and an overall weight of about 3,000 pounds, can fit through a walkthrough backyard gate and are popular for homeowner projects. “These tiny machines certainly beat using a shovel and wheelbarrow,” said Scott Hill, an inside sales representative with United Rentals.

On the other end of the spectrum, said Hill, “you have very large machines with an ROC in the 3,000-plus pound range for someone who doesn’t have room for a full-size backhoe or wheel loader. These skid steers have plenty of horsepower and a good-size bucket and can move a lot of materials.”

When deciding what size skid steer you should rent, factor in these seven variables:

What type of job will you be doing?

Moving a large amount of gravel or bricks, grading or excavating a large jobsite or building a road, for example, will require a larger machine, with a larger bucket or blade and more horsepower. Landscaping jobs typically require a small machine, as do small interior demolition jobs. Medium-size machines, with an ROC of 1,300 to 1,900 pounds and an overall weight of 5,000 to 6,000 pounds, are perfect for in-between jobs.

How much weight will you be lifting?

The rated operating capacity (ROC) indicates how much weight the machine is designed to safely lift.

How much room do you have?

The size of the area will determine the maximum dimensions of the machine you can use. For a backyard project, make sure the machine can fit through the gate or fence opening. If the area has trees that you’ll need to maneuver between, make sure the skid steer will fit between them. In other words, if the trees are 5 feet apart, don’t rent a skid steer that’s 7 feet wide.

If you’ll need to lift material, how high?

A skid steer may or may not be able to dump material into a dump truck, for example, depending on the size of the machine and whether it features a radial or vertical lift design.

What surface will you be operating on?

Say you’re working on a golf course. “If you get a machine with a very heavy operating capacity, you’re probably going to tear that grass up,” said Hill. The machine could also sink in. The same is true if the surface is muddy. The surface will also determine whether you need a wheeled or tracked skid steer.

How important is speed?

Of course, a larger machine can move material faster, with fewer trips. “I always remind customers that time is money,” said Hill. “If you can rent a larger machine for X dollars, you could get the job done in a 24 hour period vs. two days with a smaller machine.” Small machines not only have smaller buckets but less horsepower. “You’re going to be moving less material and moving it slower vs. a larger machine.”

What attachments will you be using?

You’ll need a machine with an ROC of at least 1,800 to 2,000 to use many attachments, since the attachments are hydraulically operated. With certain attachments in particular, the performance will decrease with a smaller machine. “It’s going to bog everything down,” said Hill. “If you’re using a breaker, the breaker will not be hitting with same amount of force. If you’re using an auger, you’re not going to be able to get a decent dig out of a large-diameter auger on a small machine.”

A good rental equipment provider will talk you through these considerations and advise on the size and type of machine you need and any attachments that could help you do the job more efficiently.

To rent a skid steer from United Rentals, visit your local branch or check out the skid steers in the online catalog.


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

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