Updated:
February 6, 2022

What Is a Skid Steer: Everything You Need to Know

Skid steer in parking lot
Articles
Glossary

A skid steer is a versatile piece of equipment that's used for construction and landscaping projects. Wondering how the skid steer got its name? The wheels (or treads) of a skid steer are fixed in one direction. In order to turn, the driver applies more speed to one side of the machine, causing the wheel to ‘skid’ into the turn.

These pieces of machinery have a load capacity from 800 pounds to over two tons. Even so, they’re light and move around easily. Not only that, but they come with various attachments to the machine’s arms. Versatility is why skid steers are so popular, and they are commonly used for construction and landscaping.

What Is a Skid Steer Used For?

A skid steer is a piece of construction equipment that’s main purpose is digging and hauling materials. These machines offer high power in small frames and can perform heavy tasks in small spaces. They also reduce the need to have more heavy-duty machines for different jobs, as many attachments come with every size and model. 

A few more common skid steer uses are:

  • Excavation
  • Digging or trenching
  • Landscaping
  • Construction

The variety of sizes, models and attachments that skid steers offer make them especially useful for managing your fleet, since they’re very adaptable.

What Sizes Do Skid Steers Come In?

Skid steer loaders are categorized into three sizes: Small frame, medium frame and large frame.

Each size has a specific rated operating capacity, or ROC.

A small frame produces under 50 horsepower and can lift a maximum of 1,750 pounds. A medium frame produces 50-70 horsepower and can lift anywhere from 1,750 to 2,200 pounds. Large frames produce over 70 horsepower and can lift anything over 2,200 pounds. 

When determining what size skid steer you need, you will want to consider how large your work space is, what materials you’re handling and how much time you’ll spend working with them.

A small frame skid steer can operate in tight spaces and drive through narrow paths. They’re the most common, and can normally be found on landscaping projects.

Medium-size loaders, as the name would suggest, offer a middle ground between compact and powerful. They’re stronger than small-sized skid steers, but not quite as powerful as larger models. Medium frame track loaders are often used on road work, since they offer standard construction power while still being small enough to drive over asphalt or concrete.

The large loaders are the most suitable for extensive work within grading, drilling and extensive demolition work. While storing and maintaining them might be more difficult than some small models, they are large enough to move around sites without needing to be transported by a semi-truck.

Do Skid Steers Come With Attachments?

Yes! There are a variety of skid steer attachments. Buckets are the default on most track loaders, but they can be removed and replaced with another type of attachment. Skid steers generally come standard with a pressure release coupler block. This means you can remove the attachment hydraulic hoses with little effort.

There are various attachments that you can get for your skid steer. To name a few:

  • Drill Bit Augers - for drilling into terrain.
  • Grapple Buckets - for transporting oversized objects.
  • Box Blades - for grading landscape.
  • Hydraulic Breakers - for breaking up hard surfaces like stone and concrete.
  • Landscaping Tillers - for tilling soil.
Grapple Attachment on Skid Steer
Grapple attachment on skid steer used to carry pipe

Not every attachment will be useful for every job, and it’s possible you may not have all of these attachments at your disposal. Regardless of how many attachments you have available, your skid steer offers versatility that other machines do not. There is also a lot of value in renting a skid steer, since you’ll have a wide set of attachments available for whatever specifics you need.

Buying vs. Renting a Skid Steer

Ultimately, the decision between renting or buying your skid steer boils down to how much use you anticipate getting from your machine. If you see yourself only using it in specific situations or in short bursts, it might be better to rent. By renting, you can avoid paying for the machine when you are not using it. If you see the skid steer as a long-term member of your fleet, you may benefit from the more control you have over a fully-owned machine.

Don't forget that you can also purchase used skid steers. In some cases, buying used is even better than buying new. Generally, used track loaders are less expensive than new ones. Finding a high-quality skid steer that is also used is also very doable.

How Should You Choose Your Skid Steer?

There are a few things you should take into account when deciding on a skid steer. Your current and future projects are a good place to start. Identify a few tasks you would need the machine to do, then decide which model has the right amount of size and power.

You should also consider where you’re working. Some small models may struggle on uneven terrain, and some larger models may not fit in tight work spaces. Make sure to pick a size that best fits your environment. Finally, keep in mind possible storage and maintenance costs. Larger models, for example, are more expensive to store and maintain.

What Else You Should Know When Choosing A Skid Steer

As we've mentioned, skid steers are popular because they are so versatile. For this reason, it can be hard to pick the appropriate loader, even for the most seasoned construction experts.  A good starting point would be familiarizing yourself with different manufacturers and models. Next, look at the functionality that each model offers and what would work best for your particular project. For example, many models have strayed away from the traditional lever and pulley system to  a modern joystick control. Some even come with electronic dashboards.

You also want to base your decision on the lift, size and horsepower. Skid steers have two different types of lifting capacities: radial and vertical. Machines with radial lifting will lift the arm in a curve, whereas machines with vertical lifting will raise their arm straight upwards. 

A radial-lift will give you more of a forward reach, which is better for lifting materials over certain heights or unloading flatbed trucks. A vertical lift gives you more height and offers the ability to lift heavier loads.

Keep Everything In Mind

Ultimately, the key to finding the right kind of skid steer boils down to finding the machine that best suits your needs. You will get the most returns from your choice if you pick a skid steer that is the most useful to you.

With so many options available, it might be hard to decide which fits best for you. If you’re unsure (or would simply like the help of a professional), EquipmentShare has you covered. With locations all over the country, we’re ready to help you complete your projects quickly and efficiently. Find an EquipmentShare Location Near You.


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