Backhoe vs. Bulldozer: Picking The Right Machine for The Job
Despite the alliteration, bulldozers and backhoes have very different functionality. It's important to understand the similarities and differences between backhoes and bulldozers to get the most out of their performance.
What's a backhoe?
If you throw the best parts of a wheel loader and an excavator together, you'll have a backhoe. The back side of the machine has an excavator-like arm and a digger, allowing it to dig holes, trenches, and more, while the other side has a bucket that makes it a great earthmoving machine. The bucket is typically around 1.3 cubic yards and is great for lifting and dumping materials into dump trucks. The arm has two outriggers that add stability while the machine digs.
It's important to note that, unlike excavators, backhoe buckets don't have a thumb. Thumbs, which function exactly as human thumbs do on a hand, enable the machine to easily pick up material. Since backhoes don't have thumbs, their buckets are better at digging than they are at grabbing.
A backhoe's cab is completely sealed, though all windows are clear so the operator has lots of visibility. Because each part of a backhoe has a different function, they're considered to be multipurpose machines. They can dig, lift, dump, and remove material, and are great to have on-site for multiple jobs.
What's a bulldozer?
When you think of heavy construction equipment, bulldozers are probably one of the first images that come to mind. Bulldozers have sealed cabins and a variety of different blades. They typically run on tracks instead of wheels, since tracks are more efficient on sticky and rough dirt.
Wide-track dozers, also known as low-ground pressure (LGP) models, have larger front blades that prevent the dozer from sinking into the ground and getting stuck. Bulldozers have multiple attachments, which are all mainly used for clearing large quantities of material, earthmoving, excavation, and grading.
Bulldozers come in a wider range of models and sizes than backhoes and can be used for jobs ranging from residential roadwork to quarrying and mining.
How are backhoes and bulldozers different?
Backhoes and bulldozers are very different machines and the main thing driving their differences is functionality. They are super versatile machines that specialize in digging and light earthmoving projects while dozers specialize in clearing material and heavy earthmoving.
Digging vs. Clearing
As an excavation machine, backhoes come in handy when digging. The excavator bucket scoops dirt toward the machine which allows it to dig trenches for utility projects and remove material easily. Dozers can be used for digging as well, but only for shallow trenches and creating slopes. Because their blades can't reach the depths that a backhoe bucket can, digging is not a primary application of dozer machines.
In terms of material clearing, bulldozers have the upper hand. The front end of a dozer can easily push through large piles of dirt or gravel while a backhoe would not be nearly as efficient in this capacity. As such, bulldozers are a great option for grading work, land clearing, and pushing material. And, since dozers run on tracks, they don't lose their traction over material piles in the way that backhoes do.
The front bucket on a backhoe can clear some material, however, because of traction issues, backhoes are better equipped to stay in one spot and lift the material up to a certain height. And because of their size, these machines are typically used on light and medium-duty projects while dozers are most common on commercial and large-scale projects.
Because of their clearing and demolition abilities, you can almost always find a bulldozer on quarries, farms, and other construction sites pushing debris and other heavy materials.
Backhoes have an excavator arm and front bucket, while bulldozers have a front blade and nothing attached to their backside. These structural differences largely account for how their purposes differ.
Another structural aspect to consider is that the majority of backhoes run on wheels, while the majority of dozers run on tracks. You can find both machine types in their alternative wheel type, but it isn't an equipment standard.
Since dozers have tracks, they have much more stability on wet, muddy, or non-level earth. The traction dozer tracks provide is much better than the traction capability found on wheeled backhoes.
There are fewer attachments available for backhoes than bulldozers because the rear arm of the machine needs an attachment that won't interfere with the machine's overall stability. Augers, couplers, and rippers are among the few rear backhoe attachments. Brooms, snowplows, and grapples are common on the front end.
Bulldozers only have an attachment site located at the front of the machine. Since there are so many types of terrain that need clearing, there are a lot of bulldozer blades to choose from, which all have their own purpose. They can also be equipped with root rakes, winches, rippers, and more.
Bulldozers are powerful, rugged machines. Depending on their size, there are various degrees of strength and engine power. The smallest dozers start at 80HP while ones with operating weights over 100,000 can have up to 890 HP!
In comparison to dozers, backhoes are smaller and less powerful. Their operating weights range from 16,000- 19,500, and models have between 74 and 100 HP. Backhoes are capable of performing solid work at an efficient pace, but bulldozers bring another level of power to the table.
How are backhoes and dozers similar?
With these two machines, the differences outweigh the similarities. While both backhoes and dozers can be used for transporting materials, the front bucket on a backhoe is better equipped to lift material than a dozer.
When dozers push material, they're technically transporting it from one spot to another. The blades can't lift material up to elevated heights the way buckets can, but they can start the transportation process. These machines often can complement each other very well on medium-sized projects.
Bulldozer vs. Backhoe Summarized
The best way to summarize the difference between bulldozers and backhoes is as follows: The former is best at clearing material, grading, and pushing material, while the latter is best used for digging, moving, and lifting material.
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