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Excavator vs Backhoe: What’s the Difference?

Matt at Centex Excavation
Author: MattPublished: October 25, 2022 Updated: January 3, 2024 • Filed Under: Equipment and Machinery

Key Takeaways

  1. Excavators for Larger Projects: Excavators are heavy-duty, tracked vehicles with a large bucket and boom arm, ideal for larger excavation projects like digging trenches, holes, or foundations, and for demolition work.
  2. Backhoes for Smaller, More Maneuverable Tasks: Backhoes are smaller, typically wheeled vehicles with a front-mounted bucket and boom arm, offering better maneuverability for smaller excavation tasks, light demolition, and general construction.
  3. Choosing the Right Equipment: The choice between an excavator and a backhoe depends on the project size and the machine’s maneuverability requirements, with excavators being more suitable for larger projects and backhoes for smaller, more confined spaces.

If you’re in the business of excavation or construction, then you know that having the right equipment for the job is essential. But with all the different types of excavating machines on the market, keeping them straight can take a lot of work.

Don’t worry, that’s why we’ve broken it all down so you have a full understanding of the difference in the two machines.

FeatureExcavatorBackhoe
SizeLarger, heavy-duty machines, typically used for larger excavation projects.Smaller machines, typically used for smaller excavation projects.
MobilityTracked vehicles, suitable for stable movement in rough terrain.Wheeled vehicles, more maneuverable in smaller areas.
Bucket and Boom ArmLarge bucket attached to a boom arm, operated from a cab at the rear.Large bucket attached to a boom arm, with the operator’s cab located at the front.
Primary UseDigging trenches, holes, foundations, and demolition.Digging ditches, holes, light demolition, and general construction tasks.
Operator’s ViewOperator’s cab at the rear, may have limited view of the work area.Operator’s cab at the front, offering a better view of the work area.
VersatilityMore suited for heavy-duty tasks and larger projects.More versatile for a variety of smaller projects and tasks.

By the end, you should have a good understanding of which machine is best suited for your excavation needs.

Excavators are massive pieces of equipment.

Excavator Loading Dirt into a Dump Truck
This is an excavator loading dirt into a truck.

Excavators are heavy-duty machines that are typically used for larger excavation projects. They’re tracked vehicles, which means they have a large metal frame that rests on a pair of continuous tracks.

Here’s how an excavator really stands out—

  • Heavy-Duty Digging
  • 360° Rotation
  • High Power Capacity

They have a large bucket in front that is attached to a boom arm. The operator sits in a cab at the rear of the machine and uses Joysticks to control the movement of the bucket and boom arm.

Excavators are most often used for tasks such as digging trenches, holes, or foundations. They can also be used for demolition purposes.

Keep in mind that there are mini-excavators as well, but we’ll discuss those in another post. For now, we’re talking about the big boys.

Backhoes are the smaller sibling.

Backhoe using a Bucket to Push Dirt and Earth
This is a backhoe pushing earth into a pile.

Backhoes, on the other hand, are smaller machines typically used for smaller excavation projects. They’re typically wheeled vehicles rather than tracked, making them more maneuverable in smaller areas.

When compared to an excavator, these are the main differences—

  • Versatile Digging Tool
  • Limited Rotation
  • Moderate Power Capacity

Just like the excavator, they also have a large bucket in front that is attached to a boom arm. However, unlike excavators, backhoes have their operator’s cab located at the front of the machine. This gives the operator a better view of the work area.

Backhoes are most often used for tasks such as digging ditches or holes. However, they can also be used for light demolition and other general construction tasks.

Other equipment for digging.

In addition to excavators vs backhoes, there are also skid steer loaders and track loaders. Skid steer loaders are small, wheeled machines with a bucket in the front and a platform in the rear where the operator stands.

Track loaders are similar to skid steers, but they’re equipped with tracks instead of wheels. This gives them more traction and stability, which makes them better suited for working in soft or muddy conditions.

Skid steers and track loaders can be used for excavating, grading, and loading material tasks. These vehicles are a little different than excavators and backhoes, so it’s essential to understand the differences before making a purchase or rental for your next construction project.

What is suitable for your job? Excavator or Backhoe?

So, what’s the difference between an excavator vs a backhoe? Excavators are heavier-duty machines typically used for larger projects, while backhoes are smaller machines typically used for smaller projects.

Another significant difference is that excavators have their operator’s cab at the rear of the machine, while backhoes have their operator’s cab at the front of the machine. Knowing which machine best suits your needs is essential to any successful excavation project.

Always ensure you have the right equipment for the job by discussing your project with an excavating professional. Your excavation project will succeed with a suitable excavating machine and proper training.

About the Author

Matt Avatar

Matt

Excavation Expert

Matt is a highly experienced heavy equipment operator with over two decades of experience in the construction industry. His expertise covers a wide range of machinery and project types, and he is known for his focus on safety, efficiency, and problem-solving. Matt's commitment to delivering high-quality work within deadlines and budgets has made him highly respected at Centex Excavation and the excavation industry.

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