Skid Steers: Everything You Need To Know
Last updated December 12, 2022
Skid steers are one of, if not the most common, pieces of heavy equipment. Seen on almost every job site, skid steer loaders are the workhorse of the construction industry. This is primarily because of their range of sizes, the versatility of attachments, and overall performance capabilities.
Skid steers are available with either wheels or tracks. The tracked versions are typically called compact track loaders or tracked skid steers. These machines have a metal chassis and structure with two lifting arms on each side. Its compact size makes it a popular machine in smaller and medium-sized work projects and locations.
The cab is often caged and the most popular attachments are a bucket or forks. That being said, it can also be fitted with several other attachments like a sawtooth bucket, auger, and many more, as we will touch on later.
The Basics of a Skid Steer
No matter what your project is, you can find a skid steer model that will serve your needs and purposes. This piece of equipment can perform many jobs including dozing, grading, digging, lifting, land clearing, and transporting materials around any site. They are also great machines for snow removal in the winter season. It’s safe to say that they are multi-purpose, multi-terrain equipment that help keep a project moving.
The skid steer has dual hydraulic arms, giving it great lifting capacity. These small but mighty machines have rated operating capacity (ROC), also known as lift capacity, from 1,250 lbs to 4,200 lbs, depending on the make and model. This makes them great for lifting and moving lighter to medium-weight materials.
Most skid steers have two different lift paths: radial or vertical. Radial lift follows a curved, C-shaped, angle when raising the bucket and arms because they have only one pivot point. This makes it so that there is reduced reach at maximum lift height and is great for jobs below eye level like heavy digging and material transportation.
On the other end, vertical lift machines have many pivot points and are better for jobs above eye level. Their ability to lift higher makes them better at earthmoving and material handling tasks. However, they do require more maintenance than radial lift machines.
If you're managing a smaller project like earthmoving, material handling, agriculture, paving and grading, landscaping, or residential construction, a skid steer rental can help you.
The Most Important Skid Steer Specs
This machine has three sizes: small frame, medium frame, and large frame skid steers. As a general practice, small frame models have ROCs under 1,750 lbs, medium frame models have ROCs between 1,750 lbs to 2,200 lbs, and large frame models have ROCs over 2,200 lbs. ROC is the spec most contractors care about as it signifies how much a skid steer can lift, which is often the primary reason to rent a skid steer or have one on the project site.
Beyond the ROC, other important specs include how high a machine can lift, the operating weight, horsepower, width, and wheelbase. These specs are important because they can all factor into whether or not a specific machine is right for the job.
Skid Steer Attachments For Different Tasks
With over 100 attachments available, this helps to diversify the capabilities of the equipment. This helps make them versatile pieces of construction equipment for spring, summer, winter, or fall. Attachments also help increase productivity and allow you to reduce the need for larger machines, depending on the task at hand.
Attachments for Material Moving
Moving material is the main job of a skid steer. Attachments like buckets, including rock and smooth, and dozer blades make it easy to move soil or other materials, depending on their weight. It is faster and easier than doing so by hand and adds a level of efficiency to any job while also often reducing the need to use a wheel loader or backhoe. You can even use a pallet fork attachment to reduce the need for a forklift.
Attachments for Digging
When hand shoveling would take too long but the job is too small for a mini excavator, digging attachments may work best for you. Attachments like the sawtooth bucket, backhoe, and more allow skid steers to dig rocky landscapes, hard-packed soil, or when digging right into the ground.
Attachments for Grabbing
Available in many shapes and sizes, grapplers feature retractable claws for gripping and grabbing. Mainly used in construction sites for moving larger objects and debris, farmers can also use of this attachment for pulling stumps and carrying logs.
Attachments Snow Clearing
Steel rotating augers make plowing through deep-packed snow easy. Skid steer snow plow attachments like the common bucket or snow blower can be used to clear heavy snow and can be great for narrow spaces like sidewalks or between buildings.
A dozer blade attachment can be added to a skid steer to help with landscape grading and pushing heavy loads. If the job is too small for a dozer then the skid steer can fill that gap. For land clearing, there are also mulchers, stump grinders, log splitters, brush cutters, and tree shear attachments.
Other Attachments for Skid Steers
While these are the most popular attachments, the skid steer can also be fitted with concrete breakers, auger drills, graders, tillers, and mowers. It would be more difficult to find a job that the skid steer can’t help with than one that it can.
Tracked vs Wheeled Skid Steer
Skid steer chassis can be fitted with a continual track system made of rubber or metal, or they can be fitted with wheels. Both types are readily available for rent at DOZR. This is key to having the best equipment for the job as tracked and wheeled machines are suited for specific jobs, depending on the environment.
When to Use a Wheeled Skid Steer
Wheeled skid steer models work best for even, hard ground. When moving over hard terrain like finished concrete or asphalt, wheels are much better fitted than a track because of the control they have in those environments. Wheeled skid steers also cost less to maintain because wheels, in general, cost less money and are more fuel-efficient.
Wheels generally require less maintenance and do not break as easily as tracks go through a lot of wear and tear, primarily due to the harsher environments they work in. It is also much easier to clean the undercarriage of a wheeled skid steer than a tracked one meaning that preventative care is easier to maintain.
When to Use a Tracked Skid Steer
Also commonly called compact track loaders, tracked machines are better for certain terrain types. For example, snow, mud, and sand are easier to drive over with powerful track models. They were built to master uneven terrain and slopes since they disperse their weight across the tracks instead of isolating it to four wheels.
If the job is going to be muddy and messy by nature, choosing a tracked skid steer will help keep efficiency and productivity up since it won’t impact the effectiveness of the equipment. However, it is important to clean the undercarriage of a tracked machine, especially in the winter, as it can affect the performance of the machine.
For even smaller jobs like residential pathways, there are walk behind skid steers, which are tracked, that can be rented to get the job done.
Skid Steer Brands and Models
There are many manufacturers to consider when buying or renting a skid steer. Most companies make a wide variety of sizes and models to accommodate several types of projects.
Some of the features that may change from model to model could be whether they provide great visibility or not, the engine type, and their attachment compatibility. All of these brands, including their different attachments, are available for rent on DOZR, depending on the partner.
Being the first company to develop and launch what is known today as the skid steer, Bobcat is one of the most popular suppliers of this machine in the world. It's fitting then that they also provide the widest selection of skid steers with the M2, M3, and R-Series machines, each known for their different features including fuel efficiency, size, and power. All of their models also have Bobcat engines that are efficient, high-powered, and reliable.
The smallest Bobcat skid steer, the S70, has a ROC of 760 lbs and an operating weight of 2,892 lbs while their largest model, the S850, has a ROC of 3,950 lbs and an operating weight of 10,237 lbs.
With 8 models currently being manufactured, Caterpillar skid steers are an extremely common sight on most construction projects. More powerful than most other brands with a better range of ROC, the D3 series of Cat skid steers are suitable for any job.
The smallest Cat model, the 226D3, has a ROC of 1,550 lbs, an operating weight of 5,849 lbs, a lift height of 9 feet and 9 inches, and 67 horsepower. Their largest model, the 272D3 XE, has a ROC of 3,700 lbs, an operating weight of 9,573 lbs, a lift height of 10 feet and 8 inches, and a horsepower of 110, making it one of the most powerful options on the market.
A legendary company in the construction and agricultural industries, John Deere skid steers should be on every contractor's radar when looking for rental and purchasing opportunities. With models in every frame size, current models include everything from the 316GR, with a ROC of 1,750 lbs, to the 332G, with a ROC of 3,600 lbs. Their machines are also extremely powerful with horsepower ranging from 65 to 100.
Known for more than just their compact equipment, CASE has been developing skid steers for more than 50 years. In their product portfolio, CASE skid steers include the B Series which have ROCs ranging from 1,600 lbs on their smallest model, the SR160B, to 3,400 lbs on the biggest model, the SV340B. CASE models have both radial lift and vertical lift as signified by the R and V in the model name.
Acquired by Manitou in 2008, Gehl is one of North America's largest construction equipment manufacturers. Producing models across every frame size, Gehl skid steers are perfect for almost any job.
Their smallest model is the R105, which has a rated operating capacity of 1,049 lbs and 34 horsepower. Their largest model is the V420, with a ROC of 4,200 lbs and 120 horsepower. This makes it one of the most powerful machines on the market.
Gehl models are made with radial or vertical lifts. This is signified by whether the model type starts with a V or an R.
Founded in 1983, ASV only makes two models. However, they are very popular amongst contractors and construction workers for being high-performance, posi track, and having a versatile amount of attachments. ASV skid steers include a radial lift model, the RS-75, and a vertical lift model, VS-75. The ROC of these models is 2,600 lbs and 3,500 lbs, respectively.
Founded in England in 1945, JCB is a top manufacturer of construction equipment. There are currently four JCB skid steer models in production including the JCB 215, 270, 300, and Teleskid 3TS-8W. The teleskid is the first of its kind being a crossover between a telehandler and a skid steer, giving it better rich and lift capacities than most other models on the market. The range of ROC on JCB models is 2,112 lbs on the 215 to 3,208 lbs on the teleskid.
Originally founded in Germany, Wacker Neuson has been around for over 150 years. As a construction equipment manufacturer, they produce mostly for the compact equipment market. In the Wacker Neuson skid steer portfolio, they currently have eight models ranging from the SW16 to the SW32.
These machines span from small framed machines to large frames. The smallest model, the SW16 has a ROC of 1,600 lbs and 56 horsepower while the largest machine, the SW32, has a ROC of 3,200 lbs and 100 horsepower.
Founded in Japan in 1890, Kubota is one of the most trusted construction equipment suppliers in the world. Widely known for supplying engines to many of the suppliers on this list, Kubota decided to build a couple of their own: the SSV65 and SSV75.
These models are both on the smaller side with ROCs of 1,950 lbs and 2,650 lbs, respectively. Despite not having a diverse amount of options, Kubota skid steers are respected in the industry for their brand trust and for being great products for small-scale projects.
Founded in 1888, Manitou has been a staple in material handling and earthmoving equipment for many years. Today, they are responsible for brands like Manitou, Gehl, and Mustang by Manitou.
While we've already covered Gehl, they also create radial and vertical lift skid steers of their own. In fact, they have one of the widest ranges of products on the market with 10 models. Manitou skid steers, also known as Mustang skid steers, include popular models like the 2200 R, 2600 R, 4200 V, and many more. The range of ROC on Manitou machines is 1,049 lbs to 4,200 lbs with horsepower ranging from 33 to 120, providing many options across the different frame sizes mentioned above.
Known more for their agricultural equipment, New Holland also produces a wide array of construction equipment including skid steers, mini excavators, and more. Their line of machines currently has 6 models: the L316, L318, L320, L321, L328, and L334 which are all extremely popular depending on the requirements of the job.
The ROC on these machines ranges from 1,600 to 3,400 with horsepower ranging from 60 to 90, depending on the model. Whether you've got a small or large project, a New Holland skid steer might be the right fit for you.
Check out our full, in-depth analysis of the best skid steer brands as well as our spec guide for all suppliers.
Safety Hazards and Driving Tips for Skid Steer Operators
There are several different safety hazards associated with operating a skid steer. These include:
Struck-by hazards are a threat for those working around skid steers. As skid steers are often used in high-traffic areas, the speedy nature of skid steers makes fast reversing and turns dangerous if the driver does not take the time to survey their work area.
Checking blind spots and using a spotter can help keep those working around a skid steer safe. As an operator, it's your job to be attentive in order to prevent incidents like this.
Crushed-by hazards are another big safety hazard of skid steers. This can happen either by crushing another worker with the skid steer or by the skid steer operator themselves being crushed.
To avoid these risks, always be careful of the position of the lift arm and frame to avoid being trapped or crushed. To prevent tipping, be sure to never lift more than the ROC listed, which is usually 30 to 50% of the operating weight. It's also important that no one ever works under a raised skid steer bucket.
Pinch Point Dangers
Hazards due to pinch points are also common with skid steers. Always wear proper personal protection equipment (PPE) and take the time to follow safety procedures. Never put your hands or any part of your body near the hydraulics or pivot points of the machine so as to not get caught in them.
Skid steers are often used for lifting heavy loads. Loads can shift and move as it is being transported and could cause a skid steer to roll. It is also possible to roll sideways when moving over uneven ground or steep grades. To avoid these rollovers or tipping, never lift more than the recommended weight.
Practices for Safe Operation of a Skid Loader
Always follow manufacturing guidelines and weight restrictions
Only operate a skid steer after receiving proper training
Never work under a raised skid steer bucket or arms and always lower the bucket before exiting the machine
Organize work projects away from ground personnel and always be aware of people working around the machine
Always travel with the bucket or load low to the ground
Always wear a seat belt
Always stay seated when operating a skid steer
Never lift anyone with a skid steer attachment
The History of the Skidsteer
The very first skid steer was invented in 1957. It started off as a three-wheeled loader invented by Louis and Cyril Keller, two brothers from Rothsay, Minnesota. Louis and Cyril were approached by a local turkey farmer who asked the brothers to invent something to help him move around his farm. The three-wheeled machine was the outcome which they called the Keller Loader.
After this initial invention, word of the three-wheeled machines spread and the demand for the Keller Loader grew. Melroe Manufacturing, which came to become the Bobcat Company in 1995, bought the rights to the equipment in 1958 and the brothers worked in development for the company to mass-produce their invention.
Louis Keller is testing the machine himself in this photo. Image borrowed from the Bobcat Blog
The “bobcat” name apparently become associated with the machine in 1963 when the M444 Melroe Bobcat was first released. The “tough, quick, and agile” definition of a bobcat fit the equipment perfectly and a name was born. For this reason, skid steer loaders are synonymous with the brand Bobcat but their most common and recognizable name across the industry is simply the skid steer.