The Wheel Loader: Everything You Need To Know
Last updated February 20th, 2023
Wheel loaders are powerful and versatile heavy machinery that can be found on most construction sites. Fitted with a large bucket on the front, they can also be called front loaders, bucket loaders, or front wheel loaders. They are often used to lift materials and aggregates into rock trucks or articulating dump trucks to transport them around a job site. Wheel loaders can lift almost anything including rubble, gravel, soil, debris, and dirt, depending on the power and bucket capacity.
Wheel loaders are great on a variety of job sites because they come in a range of sizes including mini, compact, and large. They're also extremely maneuverable because of the wheels and articulating body which gives them a tight turning radius. This allows them to be driven over several types of terrain and won't damage finished areas like asphalt and concrete.
What Can a Loader Be Used For?
Loaders are often seen on construction sites that require land clearing, excavation, road building, or material transportation. Their large buckets are handy for scooping and moving dirt and rocks away from an excavation site and loading them into trucks. The articulated steering allows them to carry much more weight and maneuver on job sites. Loaders are also seen in agriculture and landscaping projects.
Small and compact articulated loaders are popular for landscaping companies and contractors. Choosing a wheel loader with a bucket size of 1 yard is great for these types of jobs, especially since the loader bucket can be replaced with forks, rakes, and stump grinders.
As they are powerful and available in a variety of sizes, they can be better options than other compact earthmoving equipment like compact track loaders, skid steers, and mini excavators, depending on the requirements of the project. These are commonly referred to as compact loaders.
Mid-sized loaders have bucket sizes from 3 to 5 cubic yards and are for moving more materials and heavier material types. Industries that leverage larger wheel loaders with a bucket with a capacity of 6 or yards more include mining, forestry, quarrying, heavy earthmoving, and other heavy-duty projects.
Choosing the Right Loader for The Job
It is always important to choose the right wheel loader for a project. This is typically determined by the requirements of the projects and the nature of the job. With several types of earthmoving equipment, there are some jobs that front loaders are more suited for than others. Choosing the best equipment for your job helps keep your project running efficiently.
For example, wheel loaders are a great equipment choice when a skid steer or compact track loader is too small and the digger on a backhoe is not needed. They're also great when you know the site has lots of open space and will require lots of aggregate moving.
This will allow you to get more use out of the machine and require fewer trips. Planning out where the job is and what the wheel loader needs to do can help direct what size of wheel loader should be rented and which attachments will be needed for the job.
Most wheel loaders are rented by bucket size as it will quickly determine how many yards of material the equipment can efficiently move. It is important to be realistic about what is needed and the size of the work site, but common jobs that these machines can do include clearing rubble and debris, loading dump trucks, and transporting raw materials.
Attachments for Wheel Loaders
The job of a loader can change if the bucket is swapped out for other attachments. There are a variety of other attachments available for a wheel loader. A few examples are:
- Lifting jibs
- Stump grinders
With these attachments, the list of things of capabilities for a wheel loader grows, which is why they're such a popular rental option. Equipped with the right accessory, these machines can clear forests and land, move other equipment and heavier materials, remove snow, dig holes, handle waste, and so much more.
Manufacturers and Models of Wheel Loaders
Whether you are looking to rent or buy a wheel loader there are a variety of manufacturers and models to consider. Most manufacturers have a wide range of wheel loaders including compact, medium, and large.
Some companies also make mining loaders that have massive buckets and incredibly powerful engines. Below are a few common manufacturers and models of wheel loaders. You can also read our in-depth comparison of the top wheel loader brands.
Cat offers a wide variety of compact wheel loaders, as well as medium and large-sized ones. These 20 models range in weight from under 10,000 lbs to almost 550,000 lbs. Most of their models are in that compact and medium range, including popular ones like the Cat 908, 914, and 930.
The heaviest Cat wheel loader is the Cat 995 with an operating weight of 540,000 lbs. With a 1,847 hp engine, this machine is used for the heaviest industrial tasks like quarrying and mining. The bucket capacity on this machine is 57 cubic yards.
Now one of the world’s leading suppliers and manufacturers of heavy equipment and the second largest producer of machines, Komatsu is anything but little. Komatsu loaders feature innovative hydraulic power with great drive train technology. Making a variety of loaders from mid-sized up to giant mining wheel loader beats.
They offer three models of mid-sized loaders ranging between 125 and 175 hp, the Komatsu WA200, WA270, and WA320. These are often used for smaller commercial projects. They also have larger models like the WA600 and WA900, common on large-scale, heavy-duty industrial projects.
Known for their large earthmoving equipment like excavators and wheel loaders, Volvo is a well-respected manufacturer with 16 front loader models available. These machines range from 64 hp to 532 and 0.9 cubic yard buckets to 16.6. They're a great brand choice for contractors looking for efficient, reliable, and powerful machines.
A leading global manufacturing company, Wacker Neuson Group is a parent company that develops, produces, and distributes compaction equipment. Since then the company has grown and now has over 50 affiliates and over 12,000 sales and service partners across the globe.
Wacker Neuson offers a variety of articulated wheel loaders and wheel loader attachment tools. Ranging from 47 to 100 hp, all Wacker Neuson wheel loaders offer all-wheel steering for excellent maneuverability, increased payloads, and unmatched machine stability.
Today John Deere is one of the most well-known and globally recognized brands in both agriculture and construction equipment. John Deere manufactures 16 compact, mid-size, and large wheel loaders in a variety of strengths and sizes. These wheel loaders have engines ranging from 61 to 536 hp and bucket capacities ranging from 0.9 to 10 cubic yards.
Potential Hazards & Safety Protocols for Wheel Loaders
The operation of any heavy equipment creates a level of hazard. Equipment operators must receive proper training about safe operation and safety protocols. As wheel loaders are used for lifting extremely heavy loads, there are a number of common safety incidents and hazards associated with them.
Lifting heavy loads into a truck adjusts the center of gravity of the loader. The higher the load is lifted the more unstable the machine can become and the danger of tipping increases.
Always transport loads low to the ground for extra stability. When carrying materials down a steep hill, travel in reverse to maintain the equipment’s center of gravity. Never go over the max weight set for a piece of equipment and never lift more than the equipment can handle.
For tipping load limits, you can read our wheel loader spec guide.
While loaders are capable of working on uneven terrain, there is an increase in instability when working on hills or more dangerous terrain like loose rocks or gravel. Be aware of the terrain that equipment is being operated on and consider moving only a half load if it feels unsafe. Any instability can be dangerous. Always take time to survey the worksite before beginning operation.
When operating a loader, be aware of those around the equipment and use all safety protocols to keep the equipment visible. If the backup signal isn’t functioning, get it fixed immediately. Look for people walking under or near the loader bucket or lifting arms before raising or lowering the attachment.
The History of the Wheel Loader
Like with many other equipment types, the history of the wheel loader is not a clear path of one man or company but a collection of discoveries and inventions by a number of people all over the world. In the 1920s, agriculture tractors were fitted with a scoop-shovel mechanism to help scoop and move materials. This is recognized as one of the first times that a machine resembling a wheel loader was used.
The invention of the wheel loader as it is recognized today is credited to Volvo Construction Equipment in 1954. It was originally called the H10 and was based on a tractor with rear-wheel drive. Since then, the wheel loader has been adapted and improved. By the 1960s, more companies started developing wheel loaders.
All adaptations and variations contributed to the end result of the modern wheel loader and new ideas, patents, and adjustments continue to be filed. Caterpillar, Komatsu, and Yanmar all went on to file separate patents for the wheeled loader between 1989 and 2014. The addition of safety devices to prevent slipping improved attachment maneuvering, updated wheel loader design, and engine covers have all been involved in these patents.
Wheel Loader – FAQ
What does “Wheel Loader” mean?
A wheel loader is a piece of heavy machinery. They have tractor-like cabs with four large tires and a bucket loader at the front. They are used mainly for scooping and moving materials in the construction, agriculture, or landscaping industries. Wheel loaders can be fitted with a number of other attachments to help diversify the use of the machine.
What size of loader do I need?
Like with any equipment, the wheel loader size you need depends on the nature of the project. All loaders are subject to maximum weight restrictions and cubic yard bucket sizes. The first step in choosing any kind of heavy equipment is to know what the equipment needs to do for the project and what the site of the project looks like.
It is also good to ask what kind and size of equipment makes a project the most productive and efficient. It can be more economical and efficient in the long run to rent two or three specialized pieces of equipment instead of renting a general equipment piece for the whole project.
If you need help finding what type of equipment is best for your job call DOZR at 1-844-997-0150 and speak to a team member about your project.
What are wheel loaders used for?
Wheel loaders can be used for a variety of projects and tasks. With so many kinds of attachments, wheel loaders are multi-purpose machines capable of almost anything. Wheel loaders can be used for living and moving material like soil, dirt, rocks, debris, snow, animal feet, sand, woodchips, and more.
A wheel loader could also be fitted with a variety of attachments like augers, brooms, rakes, shovels, pushers, stump grinders, and snow plows.
How long do wheel loader tires last?
A wheel loader's lifespan and tires depend on a few factors including the kind of jobs that the equipment is used for as well as the level of maintenance and upkeep.
For example, tires used for quarrying will not last as long as ones driven over grass. It is important to be realistic about the lifestyle your equipment will have and to consider these factors for the wear and tear that equipment will see.
The typical tire can last between 2,000 and 3,500 hours depending on the job type.