Skid Steer vs Mini Excavator

mini excavator vs skid steer

Deciding between a Skid Steer or Mini Excavator depends on many factors, from the layout of your worksite, the size of your job, the conditions you work in and, of course, what it is precisely that you are doing. 

Skid Steers and a Mini Excavators have many overlapping capabilities. However, each possesses some minor and significant advantages and disadvantages compared to the others.

Are you working on a residential or commercial job site? Are you free to tear up the landscape, or would you prefer to minimize damage to your surroundings? Money is always an object, but how close are you operating to the margins? 

Both literally and metaphorically, you need to figure out how much room you have to manoeuvre. 

Below, I will break down the pros and cons of these two machines so you can determine which best suits your needs.

Skid Steer Benefits

skid steer with dirt trencher

A Skid Steer is the ‘Jack of all Trades” machine. Versatile and powerful, the Skid Steer transforms via over 1000 different universal attachments into a piece of equipment that can be nearly anything you need it to be. Many call the Skid Steer the “Swiss Army Knife”.

The Skid Steer rests close to the ground, providing stability and pulling strength. 

Skid steer loaders have a low to ‘zero degrees turning radius, thanks to the ability of the left and right side wheels or tracks to move independently. This allows your Skid Steer to manoeuvre to where it’s needed, even in a small and cramped job site.

From the operator’s point of view, they benefit from easy access to the driver’s seat thanks to an open front entry cabin. Once in the seat, the operator has better visibility, making for safer and more efficient machine operation.

bobcat trencher

Of course, your equipment’s performance depends entirely on your ability to get it to and from the job site in the first place. A skid steer loader is smaller, weighs less, and is more compact, making it easier to transport. As the boom and bucket are positioned facing away from the operator, the Skid Steer’s total size can be reduced significantly.

Finally, cost. While the relative cost of a Skid Steer loader to a Mini Excavator (or other equipment whose function the Skid Steer’s attachments can replicate) will depend on the size and brand of the vehicle, in general, you’re looking at a smaller machine with a lower cost and a longer maintenance cycle. 

Skid Steer Drawbacks

skid steer backhoe attachments vs mini excavator

The second half of the phrase “jack of all trades” is “master of none”. If you need to dig, demolish, or move a large volume of material quickly and efficiently, the Skid Steer will do a good job but ultimately won’t provide the same performance as equipment tailor-made. A generalist machine’s principal drawback is that it is not a specialist. The Skid Steer may not be your most effective choice if you need more power and more work done of a particular type.

Mini Excavator Benefits

mini excavator with brush cutter

The Mini-Excavator may be the right choice when you need a master digging machine. The Mini-Excavator is the tool you can count on when quickly moving a large volume of material. On large-scale construction and demolition projects, the Mini-Excavator brings the size, reach, and power you’ll want to make short work of bush or structures. 

A Mini-Excavator sports a longer boom and arm, allowing you to reach across your workspace to move, pick up, or dump material far from your cabin position. For instance, if you find yourself digging a wide pit or trench, you can continue to work the adjacent side without repositioning your vehicle. 

The Mini-Excavator’s best feature, besides its raw power, is cabin rotation. The cabin and boom can rotate 360 degrees from a stationary position, providing the best possible utility out of whatever situation you are in. This means that though the Mini Excavator is less manoeuvrable for fitting into tight spaces than its Skid Steer counterpart, you often will need to move it much less, to begin with, to accomplish the same or more work from one spot.

Mini Excavator Drawbacks

mini excavator doing forestry work

With great power comes great responsibility. The Mini Excavator is larger, heavier, more powerful… and more expensive. Your maintenance cycle will be shorter than a Skid Steer, sometimes as little as half the time. While models vary, in general, you’re often looking at a higher upfront cost.

“Mini” is a relative term. A larger, heavy machine means a more significant challenge transporting it. Can your commercial truck or trailer transport the Mini Excavator to where it needs to be? Will you have to incur additional financial or logistical costs for this? What might it cost you in time? Consider this factor as part of a global look at whether you need a purpose-built Excavator when a Skid Steer attachment suffices.

When Is a Skid Steer the Right Choice?

cat skid steer with sweeper

Skid steers works best when undertaking a smaller, fine-grain work—landscaping a yard? Do you need to dig a trench without destroying the surrounding ground? You’ll have better luck moving this machine across a more sensitive worksite without causing excess damage. Consider, in particular, making use of track instead of wheels. 

Small job sites are becoming more common. The Skid Steer is your friend on busy, complex worksites with limited space to manoeuvre, such as in urban or suburban areas.

Is this your first, or will it be your only piece of equipment? If so, are you in business, or are you an individual? If you’re in business, are you renting this machine out for a recurring job, or do you need flexibility? The Skid Steer is an excellent all-purpose bet for residential and commercial small business landscaping and construction.

When are Mini Excavators The Right Choice?

concrete breaker on a mini excavator

If you have the luxury of operating on a larger site with ease of access, free to move on, off, and throughout your workspace, the large and bulky Mini Excavator won’t inconvenience your performance. 

The Mini Excavator is well suited to a large landscaping or land clearing task. Its boom and cabin swivel are just as handy in a wide open space as needed when you can’t manoeuvre. Position yourself in front of your objective and get started, then use your unimpeded range of motion to handle everything. A related benefit is a long boom; a heavy bucket will move and remove a significant volume of material before you must reposition, saving you time and money.

The Mini-Excavator is the tool you can count on when moving a large volume of material quickly. Is excavation your need or business? As the name suggests, this is the machine purpose-built for that job. 

For large and straightforward jobs, the Mini Excavator is the right choice.

excavator with rock grinder

Common Questions

Can you Excavate With Skid Steers?

You can excavate with a Skid Steer. They have many attachments available, putting buckets, backhoes, and booms at your disposal. A skid steer is excellent for essential earthmoving work such as digging, trenching and excavating, especially in a small space and challenging worksite.

Is a Mini Excavator Good For Clearing Land?

Yes, a mini-excavator is excellent for clearing land. In a large open space such as a major construction project or rural/agricultural setting, a mini excavator can make short work of earth, brush, and debris in rough conditions. However, be mindful of soil condition and the weight of each load, as the risk of tipping increases above 50% weight load, especially on wet or uneven ground.

Can you use skid steer attachments on a mini excavator?

Yes, you can use Skid Steer attachments with a mini-excavator, though your options are more limited. An adaptor may be required depending on the attachment and model of your excavator. The mini excavator can accommodate attachments on both the boom and frame, depending on the purpose. Check compatibility before buying or renting, particularly if the attachment is critical to your job.

Are any attachments that can be used with a skid steer and mini excavator?

Yes. Attachments like rakes, hammers and more are available, with quick attach/release adaptors. Check compatibility with both attachment and machine before buying or renting, especially for the mini-excavator.

Conclusion

What are the advantages of a Skid Steer compared to a Mini excavator? The nature of your tasks, materials, and access to other tools must answer that question for you.

These two machines have broadly similar capabilities, but projects rise and fall on the margins. If you lack experience, consider whether it would benefit you to rent to test one or the other for the needs of your company or individual tasks.

When deciding Skid Steer vs mini excavator, the choice most often comes down to versatility vs power. The Skid Steer has an advantage when working under challenging conditions like snow or with limited space to manoeuvre. When tackling huge jobs involving large volumes of material, be it rock, concrete, and earth, the Mini Excavator has the power and reach to get it done.

If you remain uncertain, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team, who can help you find the best option for your needs.

Ryan Genkin
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