Excavator vs Mini Excavator: Which One Should You Choose?
There's more of a difference between mini excavators and standard excavators than size alone. Specs, maneuverability, cost, and job requirements should all be part of the conversation when comparing these two machines.
What is the difference between Excavators and Mini Excavators?
Excavators are a type of heavy equipment used for digging and gathering material. They have a sealed cabin, called a turret, that rotates 360 degrees and an articulating arm with an attached bucket. The turret usually sits on tracks, but some excavator models have wheels.
Put simply, mini excavators are the mini version of an excavator. They're smaller in size and weight and typically better suited for small-scale projects and job sites with restricted space.
For the most part, mini excavators share a similar structure to larger machines. The biggest difference is that the smallest mini excavators typically have non-marking rubber tracks as opposed to steel tracks. They also have reduced tail-swing, which refers to how far the machine's rear end swings while the front end moves in the opposite direction. This, in addition to their compact frames, is why mini excavators are great for working in small spaces.
First, how do we define "mini" when classifying mini excavators? Well, mini excavators weigh anywhere from 1 to 10 tons, or between 2,500 and 22,000 lbs. Anything over 13 tons is standard-sized, while machines over 40 tons are considered large. However, mini, standard, and large excavators are further broken down into additional weight classes. Classification also varies between excavator manufacturers.
Mini excavators are broken down into 1-2 ton, 3-5 ton, and 6-10 ton categories. The 1-2 ton class is the smallest of mini excavators. They can dig trenches 6' to 9' deep and can lift and dump material to a height of 7' to 9'. The 3-5 ton models can dig as deep as 9' to 12' and can reach heights between 10' and 12'. The 6-10 ton class is commonly used when you need a compact machine that's capable of digging to larger depths but not the power of a standard excavator. They can dig holes anywhere from 11'-15' and have a dump height in the 12' to 16' range.
Standard and large excavators are sorted into 13-15 tons, 16-22 tons, 25-40 tons, and 40+ tons categories. The largest one on the market, the Hitachi EX8000, weighs 925 tons! Excavators in the 13 to 15-ton category are cheaper and much easier to transport. They're capable of digging 19' deep and can dump material up to 23'. The 16-22 ton class has more reach and weight capacity, as they can dig up to 22' deep and lift up to 23'.
25 to40-ton excavators are staple sizes on site. These machines have the capabilities that usually come to mind when working with these machines, including digging holes 22'-25 deep and dumping material 25' high.
The standard operating width for all mini excavators is 52''. However, when the tracks retract inwards, they become only 39'' wide. Machines of this size can easily fit through a personnel door, making them incredibly useful for jobs like indoor demolition. Whereas standard excavators weighing less than 40 tons are generally 8' wide and excavators over 40 tons are roughly 10.5' wide. These machines require much more operating space than mini excavators.
An excavator's structure can also change based on its size. Mini excavators and smaller standard excavators have rubber tracks, with the option to switch to steel tracks. 10-20 ton models may have a dozer blade attached to the front, which makes the machine more stable and clears additional material. 13 to 24-ton excavators can have a hydraulic thumb, as opposed to a rigid thumb. Hydraulic thumbs have more mobility, so they can pick up non-uniform material. Larger machines are less likely to have thumbs and dozer blades.
Horsepower increases with machine size. Larger excavators are much more powerful than their mini counterparts. Standard and large excavators have horsepower specs ranging from 53 to 524, while mini excavator horsepower only ranges from 10 - 75. It's important to note that the two ranges do overlap. If your job site is crowded and requires a compact machine, mini excavators with 60 or 70 HP are a great substitute for smaller standard-size models.
Despite their lower horsepower specs, mini excavators still have powerful reach and excavation capabilities for their size.
How much does it cost to rent each machine?
Due to the wide size range of standard and large excavators, these machines can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 per day to rent. A 500-ton excavator fit for quarries is going to cost significantly more than a typical 25-ton model found on regular construction sites.
You can rent mini excavators for any price between $350 and $850 per day. They're much cheaper than their larger counterparts because of their size. Be mindful that mini excavator attachments can also drive up the price as well.
Which one should you choose for your project?
The best way to choose between a regular and a mini excavator is to look at your project's requirements. Required depth, breakout force, dump height, and bucket capacity are all important specs to evaluate. These will often rule out whether a mini excavator is too small for your project. Any restrictions to machine width may tip the scales in favor of a mini excavator since their frames are small enough to fit into tight spaces.
If your project doesn't require larger, more powerful models, then it's best to choose a mini excavator over a regular-sized machine when the following conditions apply:
- Space and access on site are restricted (fitting through personnel doors)
- Crowded, urban job sites contain obstacles that the machine will need to maneuver around
- Require significant transportation around the job site
- Transportation methods and/or costs are a concern
Excavator Use Cases and Benefits
One of the main benefits of excavators is their range. The smaller models have enough power and bucket capacity to complete small and mid-sized projects, while the larger models can tackle massive excavation and demolition jobs. This massive spec range isn't something you'll find with mini excavators, since miniature models as a whole cater to smaller projects.
Depth, breakout force, and reach capabilities are greater on standard-sized models. That's why project requirements are the main reason for choosing one machine over the other. The benefits of either machine go out the window if that machine can't perform the tasks expected of it.
The major downsides to standard and large excavators are cost, transportation, and maneuverability. As we've discussed, the larger machines are much more expensive to rent and purchase. And transportation costs only increase the bill. Most excavators need to be transported to the job site with a tractor-trailer or flatbed trailer. Larger models may need to be disassembled before transportation, which often involves removing the stick and tracks. Because of their size and larger tail swing, standard excavators are also less maneuverable on site, even if you get a model with a reduced tail swing.
Common applications for these machines include larger landscaping, digging foundations, material handling, demolition, mining, and construction projects.
Mini Excavator Use Cases and Benefits
Due to their lightweight frames, mini excavators exert less force on the ground below them. In urban or residential job sites or other areas that can't sustain machines with substantial operating weights, mini excavators are a great option. In addition to their ability to navigate tight spaces, a major advantage of miniature machines is that their digging and reach capabilities reach a maximum of 15' and 16, respectively. For smaller projects or residential utility digging, mini excavators are a cost-friendly, fuel-efficient alternative to smaller standard excavators.
Mini excavators are mainly found on residential and urban construction projects. Use cases include landscaping projects, digging small trenches, tree planting, small foundations, utility digging, stump removal, and material handling.
There are many attachments outfitted for mini and standard excavators including breakers, augers, and swivel buckets. This enables both machines to perform various applications.
Need to rent a standard or mini excavator?
For your next excavation project, check out DOZR's rental equipment marketplace for excavator and mini-excavator rentals!