Exploring 26 Types of Construction Vehicles and How They Are Used
Whether it's accomplishing a small residential project or working on a large-scale mine, there are several construction vehicles involved in delivering any project. Each piece of equipment has been designed and engineered to help crews be faster and more efficient. There are several pieces of heavy machinery specialized for earthmoving, material handling, demolition, roadwork, elevated work, and more.
In this guide, we highlight the most used equipment and specialized equipment used on construction sites. This includes the types of equipment, what they're used for, how they work, the attachments they use, and more.
Earthmoving Construction Vehicles
As their name describes, earthmoving vehicles are used to move dirt, soil, and materials. Whether it's digging, grading, dredging, trenching, or more, this is the heavy equipment you need to move massive amounts of earth.
As one of the most identifiable pieces on any construction site, excavators are used on most medium and large-scale projects. They are extremely efficient at moving dirt and can lift heavy loads of all kinds of materials.
Excavators can have wheels but most come with tracks, which can be called crawler excavators. With a rotating cab, digging arm, and a wide range of attachments, excavators are versatile machines capable of trenching, digging, backfilling, grading, drilling, and demolition. They can even have customized booms to provide more reach for both distance and height which is vital for dredging and demolition.
How they're used can depend on the build and attachments. Common attachments for excavators include augers, breakers, buckets, grapples, rippers, and more.
There are several types of excavators and several prominent brands. Types of excavators include crawler excavators, wheeled excavators, long-reach excavators, heavy-duty excavators, and reduced tailswing excavators. Each excavator has its purpose.
Crawler Excavators: These are the standard excavators you'll see on the day-to-day. Standing on two tracks, crawler excavators are extremely stable and great for almost any project. They're most commonly used on medium and large-scale earthmoving sites.
Wheeled Excavators: Instead of the standard tracks, wheeled excavators have four wheels. This makes them better and faster for projects with finished ground like concrete and asphalt. Ideally, wheeled excavators are used on urban projects and road infrastructure.
Long-Reach Excavators: With extended arms, long-reach excavators are used for projects that require reaching hard-to-access areas. This could include dredging, underwater, and trenching projects.
Heavy-Duty Excavators: Also called demolition excavators, heavy-duty excavators are used primarily for demolition projects. They typically have enhanced safety features, cabs that can tilt and angle up to provide a better view, and a reinforced cab. They can also be used for scrap projects and landfills.
Reduced Tailswing Excavators: As excavator cabs swing, they often swing out over the tracks which can be less than ideal for smaller projects that require lots of power. As such, some models have a smaller cab swivel radius to overcome this issue.
2. Skid Steer Loaders
Another common piece of construction equipment, skid steer loaders are one of the most versatile machines. Capable of performing several different tasks because of all the attachments they can use, skid steer loaders can perform almost any job.
Known for their compact size and maneuverability, skid steers are used for indoor demolition, excavation, trenching, drilling, grading, snow clearing, roadwork, and more. When paired with a mini excavator or backhoe, they can accomplish any tasks on small and medium-sized projects. They are also popular options for farmers as they can be more versatile than tractors.
What makes these machines so versatile is the number of attachments they have. Attachments like root rakes, brush cutters, tillers, tree pullers, augers, trenches, buckets, blades, snow blades, breakers, shears, and more make skid steers great for several applications.
There are different sizes of skid steers: small-frame, medium-frame, and large-frame.
Small-Frame Skid Steers: Built to be lighter and narrower, small-frame skid steers are for small projects that require driving in tight spaces.
Medium-Frame Skid Steers: Medium-frame skid steers are compact enough to fit in tight spaces while having a higher horsepower.
Large-Frame Skid Steers: Large-frame skid steers are used for working with heavier materials and with enough room to maneuver. You will often see them on demolishing projects.
3. Compact Track Loaders
Similar to skid steers, compact track loaders are also known as tracked skid steers. The primary difference between the two machines is that they have two tracks, rather than four wheels. This makes them better for certain terrains like mud and sand, rather than flat, hardened surfaces.
Compact track loaders are similar to skid steers in versatility because they have the same range of attachments. They also have the same frame sizes.
4. Backhoe Loaders
Capable of both digging and earthmoving, backhoe loaders are a mix of excavators and wheel loaders. On the back, backhoes have a digging arm that gives them the ability to excavate. While they can't dig as deep as an excavator, they're capable of working at depths for utility lines, trenches, and other projects. They're also smaller than large excavators which makes them better for jobs in more confined spaces.
On the front, backhoes are equipped with a loader that can be exchanged with forks, buckets, and other attachments. This gives them the capability to move large amounts of dirt around a site as well. With both the front and back options, backhoes are a great all-in-one machine.
A great safety feature of backhoes is that come equipped with stabilizer legs to prevent any tipping and rollovers. They also come in a variety of sizes, power, bucket capacities, and digging depths. Common attachments for backhoes include augers, hammers, rippers, and snow handlers.
5. Wheel Loaders
Primarily used to move large amounts of material, wheel loaders are used on projects that require earthmoving, material handling, and snow clearing. These machines, in different sizes, are used in small residential projects and large mining sites worldwide.
What makes wheel loaders so great is their articulating bodies which make them great for maneuvering in tight areas. They are not as versatile as other machines but can be equipped with attachments like rakes, forks, augers, and more.
Bulldozers are very popular machines on construction sites for their ability to move and push dirt. With their massive blades, they can work on a variety of projects including demolition, land clearing, mining, quarries, roadwork, and more.
There are several different blade types and attachments that dozers can come with, each with its own benefit and use case. This includes the universal blade (U-blade), semi-universal blade (S-U-blade), angle blade, and more. They also can have a ripper on the back of the machine to help tear down big rocks or cut through the soil. Including heavy frost.
Dozers can come in both standard and low-ground-pressure (LGP) models. LGP models spread their weight over the ground more evenly and have less effect on the terrain. This is important in areas where environmental impact is an important consideration.
7. Mini Excavators
Similar to the excavators mentioned above, mini excavators are smaller-scale versions of the same machine. Equipped with the digging arm, they also have a blade on the front of the machine to create more balance and give them the ability to grade and level the ground.
Mini excavators are smaller than backhoes as well, making them great options for smaller projects in residential areas. Available in sizes ranging from 1 to 10 tons, they can work on a variety of projects ranging from backyard pools and ponds to commercial roadwork.
Mini excavators are available with zero tailswing, making them great for indoor projects or sites with tight, confined spaces. They can be equipped with a wide range of attachments including mulchers, rippers, rakes, grapples, breakers, augers, and buckets. This gives them versatility, especially when working with equipment like skid steers and compact track loaders.
When looking at your typical construction site, besides all of the equipment listed above you'll also see a variety of trucks. This includes articulated dump trucks, standard dump trucks, cement trucks, flatbed trucks, water trucks, and haul trucks.
8. Articulated Dump Trucks
Articulated dump trucks (ADTs), also called articulated haulers or rock trucks, are off-road trucks that can move large amounts of dirt and materials. Similar to wheel loaders, ADTs have a pivot point from the cab to the dump body that allows them to have a smaller turning radius. This gives them more mobility and maneuverability which is extremely useful.
Articulated dump trucks are typically all-wheel drive, allowing them to operate on all kinds of terrains. This gives them great traction for wet and slippery terrain, but also great shock absorption for rocky environments like mines and quarries as well.
The standard payload size of ADTs ranges from 25 to 60 tons making them great for large-scale land clearing and commercial projects.
9. Standard Dump Trucks
Dump trucks are similar to articulated dump trucks in the sense that they are used to move materials around a project or from site to site. The primary differences between the two trucks are that standard dump trucks can be driven on roads and highways and that standard dump trucks have no articulation point.
These dump trucks are used to remove debris, transport materials and aggregates, and dump materials where needed. Like ADTs, they have a wide range of sizes and hauling capacities.
10. Concrete Trucks
Concrete trucks are used to transport cement from the manufacturing site to the construction site. The benefit of the cement trucks is that they continue to mix the concrete while in transport. In the spinning drum, the cement continues to mix with water, sand, and gravel, keeping it ready for pouring. The concrete is then poured out of the truck through the chute.
As the name tells you, concrete mixer trucks are primarily used to mix concrete. A hydraulic motor spins a large drum where cement, water, and other aggregate materials like sand and gravel mix together. The concrete then exits the truck through a chute for use in a wide variety of commercial and industrial applications
11. Flatbed Trucks
Companies use flatbed trucks to transport materials and equipment from supplier to site. Flatbed trucks come in different sizes, from small trailers to large 18-wheelers, depending on the materials and equipment required.
Whether it's transporting heavy lumber, prefab buildings, cement walls, pipe, or heavy equipment, flatbed trucks are used to haul what dump trucks and ADTs cannot.
12. Water Trucks
Water trucks are one of the least celebrated construction vehicles but they do some of the most important work. Water trucks are common on projects that take place in extreme heat or areas with limited water access for their dust control.
This makes them popular in states like Arizona, Nevada, and California where heat can be a problem. They're also popular in the rest of North America during the summer months. As dust can be extremely dangerous, keeping as much dirt on the ground as possible can be a safety factor for your crews. It also is vital when working on soil compaction projects in areas with lots of heat.
Material Handling Vehicles
While most of the above machines technically can be used for material handling, that's not their primary use. Cranes, forklifts, and telehandlers are the most common machines to use when moving materials around a warehouse or project.
Tower cranes are probably the most standout equipment on any project. However, tower cranes aren't the only type of crane. Smaller cranes, like telescopic, truck-mounted, floating, and crawler cranes, are used for everyday projects.
All cranes are used for lifting and moving heavy materials. They can be used across a wide variety of projects including warehouse tasks, shipyards, offshore oil rigs, mining projects, and building skyscrapers. Most cranes are available as mobile cranes or fixed cranes. Mobile cranes are free to move around and have mobility while fixed cranes require on-site assembly, can lift more weight, and provide access to greater heights.
Telehandlers are similar to backhoes in their ability to be many machines in one. They have more lift capacity than skid steers, and telescopic reach comparable to some cranes and boom lifts. They are often considered to be the perfect mix of forklifts and cranes. Telehandlers are used for a wide variety of projects including framing, outdoor warehousing and lumber yards, snow removal, and more.
Available with a range of attachments including buckets, pallet forks, crane jibs, and work cages, telehandlers can be pretty versatile too. The movement of the arm allows them to move up, down, left, and right, allowing them to reach around and over obstacles if needed. And with four-wheel drive capabilities, as well as a few different steering options, they can move around most job sites with ease.
Similar to telehandlers, forklifts have vertical lift capabilities, as well as some left and right. However, they do not have horizontal reach. They are great for lifting heavy materials and pallets over short distances. Depending on the machine, they can be used for outdoor construction and lumberyards or indoor warehousing.
Forklifts vary in lift capacity, fork length, tire type, and more. This makes it easy to find equipment that is perfect for the application you need. For example, forklifts can either have cushion tires or pneumatic tires. Cushion tires are designed for indoor use while pneumatic tires are designed for outdoor environments.
There are many different types of forklifts, each with own use and application. They are:
Warehouse Forklifts: Warehouse forklifts are designed for loading and unloading purposes in a warehouse. Typically smaller to fit through warehouse aisles, they come equipped with cushion tires for smooth indoor surfaces. They can also be equipped with pneumatic tires if it's an outdoor warehouse like a lumberyard or garden center.
Side Loader Forklift: Side loader forklifts are precisely what they sound like with their ability to load things from the side. This gives them more maneuverability in areas or warehouses that are narrower as it decreases the need for turning.
Heavy-Duty Forklifts: These forklifts usually have extended forks and hydraulic levelers. This helps them lift more weight while staying on balance.
Walkie Stacker: Walkie stackers are electric, walk-behind forklifts that have limited lift capacity, typically up to 4,000 pounds. They are great for small, confined spaces as well.
Construction and Roadwork Machines
Most machines can be used for construction and roadwork, but the equipment and vehicles below are specifically designed for road projects. While they can also be used for a variety of projects, they are most common on roadwork sites.
Pavers lay asphalt for all types of paving and roadwork projects including parking lots, walkways, sidewalks, pathways, and interstates. Pavers are usually followed by road rollers and compactors to level out the asphalt. They come in a variety of sizes with varying levels of horsepower that allow for fewer passes and more efficient work.
16. Road Rollers
Road rollers are used to compact and flatten asphalt and pavement. Available in a variety of sizes, these road rollers can be used to compact sidewalks, walkways, pathways, roads, and highways of various widths. Road rollers come in two types: pneumatic rollers and tandem rollers.
Pneumatic Rollers: Equipped with a single drum on the front and pneumatic tires on the back, they are specialized for large-scale road compaction.
Tandem Rollers: Also called double-drum rollers, these road rollers have a drum on the front and the back of the machine. This allows them to compact the road quicker while leaving no tire marks on the freshly laid asphalt.
17. Soil Compactors
As the name suggests, soil compactors, or single-drum rollers, are used to ensure the ground is compact enough to support the structures built on them. Like road rollers, soil compactors have drums used to compact the ground. The main difference is that they only have a drum on the front, rather than front and back. There are two types of soil compactors: smooth drum rollers and padfoot rollers.
Smooth Rollers: Smooth rollers have one drum on the front that is completely flat, much like road rollers. They are best used for non-cohesive soils like sand, gravel, limestone, and more.
Padfoot Rollers: Padfoot rollers have a drum on the front that features metal knobs. They are better for terrains that are semi-cohesive like clay, silt, and mud. The added metal knobs create a more centralized compacting pressure. However, these are not effective on non-cohesive surfaces. They can also be called sheepsfoot rollers.
Trenchers do what they're made to do, trench. With their metal chain and steel teeth, they are able to cut into the earth and make trenches for utilities, cables, and more.
While other machines like excavators, mini excavators, and backhoes can make trenches, the buckets are normally too big for the average trench. This means that more backfilling is required when you use those machines. Trenchers allow you to dig smoother, cleaner trenches at a faster speed. There are a few types of trenchers including chain trenchers, wheel trenchers, and micro trenchers.
Chain Trenchers: These trenchers look like chainsaws and use chains or belts to dig into the ground. This allows for deep, clean trenches for utilities and other wiring.
Micro Trenchers: With smaller dimensions than the other trenchers, micro trenchers have a dig depth of about 2 feet and a width of 1 to 2 inches.
Wheel Trenchers: Used in areas with harder or loose soil, wheel trenchers have a jagged-toothed wheel on the front to allow for better digging.
19. Cold Planers
Cold planers are used to remove and grind previously laid asphalt and concrete. This process allows for the laying of new asphalt, so they are common in restoration and new infrastructure projects. When they break it up, it also makes it easier to recycle.
There are cold planer attachments that can be fitted on skid steers and other compact equipment. This is more common on smaller projects while renting or owning a large cold planer is ideal for larger projects.
20. Motor Graders
As a large construction vehicle with long blades, motor graders are used to grade and level large construction surfaces. They achieve this by mixing materials as well as making dirt more compatible by breaking it up. And with all-wheel drive, graders work well on soft and hard terrains, as well as on slopes. Because of their size, they are only used for large-scale projects like land clearing, site preparation, interstate projects, and mining.
Motor graders can be equipped with a wide range of attachments including front blades, fenders, hydraulic brooms, push blocks, and scarifiers. Front blades come in a variety of sizes and angles to increase efficiency for grading, leveling, and dozing. Hydraulic brooms can be attached to the front of a grader to help clear debris. And scarifiers can break up soil and asphalt to make the ground easier to grade and level.
Aerial Lifts and Mobile Elevating Work Platforms
While all the machines we've discussed are great, none of them are capable of lifting laborers to the heights they need to get some jobs done. That's where construction lifts like scissor lifts and boom lifts come in.
21. Vertical Man Lifts
Also known as single-man lifts, vertical man lifts are a type of mobile elevating work platform (MEWP). These construction lifts are used to lift a laborer, typically a welder, electrician, or painter, to the height they need to complete a task.
These lifts either run on batteries, gas, dual fuel, or electrical socket and are designed to be narrow. This allows them to work both outside and inside while fitting into areas larger lifts cannot access.
The single-man lifts are limited to heights around 20'. As an easy-to-use machine, they are commonly seen in warehouses, home renovations, photography, film, HVAC, and more.
22. Straight Boom Lifts
Straight boom lifts are a type of aerial lift that is used to lift workers, crews, and materials on construction sites. With a vertical reach of 210' and a horizontal reach of around 120', boom lifts are great at helping laborers access hard-to-reach areas. Because boom lifts can extend higher and further than other lifts, they are used in many outdoor projects. They can be commonly found on construction sites, scaffolding, painting, piping, and commercial projects.
23. Articulating Boom Lifts
Similar to straight boom lifts, articulating boom lifts are used to lift workers to different vertical or horizontal heights. The main difference is that articulating boom lifts have knuckles and pivot points that allow them to bend at specific points. This gives them the ability to maneuver around obstacles, especially in tight spaces.
Articulating boom lifts are used for similar jobs to straight boom lifts with the main difference being the environment in which they're used. They have less vertical reach than straight boom lifts with a maximum of 150'. This gives them less capabilities when reaching extremely high heights.
Towable boom lifts are a type of articulating boom lift with a maximum vertical reach of 50'. However, they can be towed easily behind SUVs and trucks without the need for a trailer.
24. Scissor Lifts
Unlike boom lifts, scissor lifts are only capable of lifting workers and materials vertically. However, they have more lifting power than boom lifts, allowing for multiple workers, sometimes up to six, on one scissor lift at a time. The max platform capacity of scissor lifts is 2,250 lbs and they can lift a maximum of 60'.
Scissor lifts come in a few model types including rough terrain, electric, and diesel. This gives them the flexibility to be used indoors and outdoors for a wide variety of projects including window installation, event setup, and more.
Electric Scissor Lifts: This kind of scissor lift is quieter and smaller with no emissions. This makes them better suited for indoor projects.
Rough Terrain Scissor Lifts: Designed and engineered specifically for outdoor use cases, rough terrain scissor lifts have 4-wheel drive, higher platform capacity, and thicker tires.
Specialized Construction Vehicles
In construction, there are also several specialized construction vehicles that are used when the above options won't work.
25. Pile Drivers
Pile drivers, also called pile boring machines, are heavy-duty tools used to drive piles into the ground. Often used to make bridges and piers, this equipment is primarily used when building structures that are supported by poles. Pile drivers have tracked and can make deep foundations with ease.
26. Tunnel Boring Machines
Tunnel boring machines (TBM) are specialized pieces of construction equipment used to create tunnels. Also called moles, they can cut through rock, sand, dirt, and more. As an alternative to drilling or blasting, TBMs limit ground disturbance and make smooth tunnels quickly. However, they are expensive to construct and very difficult to transport. They are mainly used for tunnels, subways, and sewer systems.
Choosing the Right Construction Vehicle
Now that you've got an insight into how the several different types of construction vehicles there are, it's time to pick the right one for the job. What you need will vary depending on the project's requirements. However, the guide listed above should put you on track to figuring out what kind of excavator, lift, earthmoving equipment, or roller you need.
If you still have any questions, you can search DOZR's marketplace for equipment rentals near you. We also recommend reaching out to our sales team if you have any specific questions about your project.