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Comparing Mini Excavator vs Skid Steer: Which is Better for Your Needs?

Matt at Centex Excavation
Author: MattUpdated: April 12, 2023

Do you ever ponder upon the contrast between a mini excavator vs. a skid steer? Selecting the appropriate equipment for your excavation project can be a daunting task.

This article compares two heavy machinery pieces, detailing their characteristics, benefits, drawbacks, and cost. Evaluate their hydraulic controls, digging depth, lifting capacity, and power to select the one that best fits your project needs.

Benefits of a skid steer.

Tracked Skid Steer dumping Rocks on Ground

Skid steers are powerful machines that offer a variety of benefits for a variety of tasks. They are relatively small and maneuverable, yet they can still perform heavy tasks in confined spaces. This makes them ideal for construction jobs, agricultural work, and landscaping projects.

Skid steers offer better visibility than other heavy equipment, making it easier to perform tasks without fear of damages. They are also lighter and easier to transport than track loaders and other similar machinery. With the ability to attach different attachments, skid steers can perform multiple tasks, making them a jack-of-all-trades machine.

Skid steers have a lower ground pressure and produce less noise than larger pieces of equipment. These features make skid steers an ideal choice for many job sites.

Versatility you need on the job site.

Skid steers are highly versatile machines that can perform various tasks and applications. Their compact size and maneuverability make them ideal for use in confined areas. In addition, skid steers can be fitted with a variety of attachments. This has earned them the nickname “Swiss Army Knife” due to their agility and versatility. These machines can be used for loading trucks, clearing construction sites, and even in agricultural settings.

Skid steers can be fitted with attachments for a number of purposes. These include the removal of stumps and trees, site cleaning, loading and unloading pallets of sod or block and power raking. They are also able to finish grade work if necessary. With the right attachments, skid steers can also perform smaller tasks such as lifting materials, blowing snow, or even small backhoe work.

The versatility of skid steers makes them a valuable asset on construction job sites and in landscaping projects.

Cost-effective.

Skid steers are a cost-effective option for those looking for a versatile and agile machine. They generally cost less than mini excavators and backhoe loaders and the same job can be done with two machines. Skid steers are more fuel efficient than larger machines, allowing for more fuel savings and lower operating costs.

With the ability to attach different attachments, skid steers are also capable of completing speedy work, which can be time consuming when using larger machines. With a lower cost and a longer maintenance cycle, skid steers are a great choice for those looking for a cost-effective machine.

Easy to operate machine.

Skid steers are known for their versatility, making them a popular choice for many construction projects. However, operating a skid steer requires some skill and practice, but it is not overly complicated. It is important to use the proper safety gear, inspect the equipment prior to use, and match the attachment to the machine.

Skid steers are fitted with rubber tracks, giving them better traction on uneven terrain and allowing them to negotiate slopes at the slowest speed possible. There are also wheeled skid steers, but to keep the comparison apples to apples, we’re not focusing on the wheeled skid steers.

Skid steers also have a unique design, with the booms and buckets facing away from the driver, allowing them to reach over the cab instead of around it. They can also turn zero-radius, making them ideal for tight spaces.

Overall, skid steers are relatively easy to operate and can be fitted with hundreds of attachments, making them a great choice for many construction projects.

Drawbacks of a skid steer.

Skid steers are a popular choice for many jobs, but they do have some drawbacks that should be considered. They are excellent pieces of heavy equipment for many tasks, but they are not suitable for every job. Skid steers excel at smaller jobs that require high maneuverability and have tight space constraints, but they are limited when it comes to reach, digging depth, and bucket size.

When comparing a skid steer to a mini excavator, it is important to understand the drawbacks of each machine in order to make an informed decision on which one is right for your needs. By understanding the drawbacks of a skid steer, you can make an informed decision on whether it is the right choice for your needs.

Limited reach.

Skid steers have several drawbacks, including limited reach. The reach of a skid steer loader is limited by its design, which features a single pivot point for lifting. This design limits the reach compared to wheel loaders or backhoe loaders, which have longer arms and contact points for reaching farther distances.

This can make it difficult to maneuver around obstacles and reach the desired digging depth. Additionally, skid steers are not ideal for certain public works tasks due to their limited reach around obstacles.

Limited digging depth.

Skid steers are popular pieces of equipment due to their versatility and cost-effectiveness, but they do have some limitations when it comes to digging. The digging depth of a skid steer varies depending on the attachment being used. With a backhoe attachment, the digging depth can range from 6.5 feet to 11 feet, which may limit its suitability for bigger jobs that require deeper digging.

For bigger jobs that require deeper digging, a mini excavator may be the better choice.

Limited bucket size.

Skid steers are versatile, cost-effective, and easy to operate, but they have one major drawback: limited bucket size. The bucket size of a skid steer varies depending on the model and manufacturer, but typically ranges from 45 inches to 102 inches in width.

This can limit the capacity of a skid steer and make it difficult to handle larger jobs. By comparison, mini excavators have larger buckets that can handle more material, making them a better choice for larger jobs.

Mini excavators and skid steers with rubber tracks can also offer some advantages when it comes to ground disturbance and final grade work on construction sites.

Benefits of a mini excavator.

Mini Excavator Loading Dirt into Truck

Mini excavators offer a number of advantages over skid steers, making them a great choice for certain types of jobs. The main advantage of a mini excavator over a skid steer is the extended reach, as mini excavators can reach places that skid steers cannot. Mini excavators are also more fuel efficient, making them more cost-effective for larger jobs. They also require less ground disturbance than skid steers, making them an ideal choice for residential construction sites.

We love our mini excavators as they can be used in tight spaces, allowing them to maneuver around obstacles more easily than both a skid steer and mini excavator.

The extended reach of mini excavators also makes them ideal for land clearing and large scale construction projects. Their reach allows them to move large amounts of material quickly and easily. This longer reach also helps when digging trenches and holes, as the mini excavator can reach further down than a skid steer. This can be especially beneficial when digging large holes, as it allows the machine to complete the task faster.

Overall, mini excavators offer a number of advantages that make them a great choice for larger and more straightforward jobs. They are more fuel efficient and powerful than skid steers. This allows them to complete tasks faster and with less ground disturbance. Mini excavators also have larger buckets, allowing them to move more material in a single pass. These features make mini excavators ideal for large scale construction and demolition projects, as well as land clearing.

Greater reach.

Mini excavators offer greater reach than skid steers, which can be beneficial for certain tasks. This greater reach is due to the long boom and arm, which allow the machine to reach across the construction site and pick up or dump material far from the cabin position. This can be especially helpful when working on large-scale construction and demolition projects, as it allows the machine to move more material in a single pass.

This extended reach also allows mini excavators to work in tight spaces, such as residential construction sites. The long boom and arm can reach areas that a skid steer cannot, allowing them to maneuver around obstacles and get into hard to reach places. We find this is especially useful when working in tight or confined spaces, as it allows the machine to be more efficient and increase productivity. After all, we love efficiency!

The long boom and arm also allow mini excavators to have a greater range of motion, which can be beneficial when working on large, open spaces such as major construction projects or rural/agricultural settings. This range of motion allows the machine to move more material quickly and efficiently, as it can reach across the entire area without having to maneuver the entire machine.

The greater reach of mini excavators can be a major advantage when handling larger projects or working in tight spaces. This extended reach allows them to move more material quickly and efficiently. They can work in tight spaces and maneuver around obstacles. This makes them ideal for large scale construction and demolition projects, as well as land clearing.

Deeper digging depths.

Mini excavators have the advantage of deeper digging depths compared to skid steers, which can be beneficial for larger projects. This increased digging depth is made possible by the long boom and arm, which allows the machine to reach further down into the ground. What we love about this is that the increased depth allows the mini excavator to dig larger holes and trenches faster and more efficiently.

For example, the Cat 301.7 CR mini excavator can dig deeper than 8′. You won’t get that kind of depth with a skid steer.

This increased digging depth is also beneficial when working in hard ground, as it allows the machine to break through the soil more quickly and easily. This can be especially useful when digging trenches for utility lines or concrete grease arrestors, as it allows the machine to complete the job quickly and with less effort.

The increased digging depth of mini excavators also makes them ideal for land clearing and large areas of landscaping. The increased digging depth allows the machine to dig deeper holes in less time, which can be beneficial when planting trees or installing parking lots. This can save time and money, as it allows the machine to complete the task faster and with less effort.

Overall, mini excavators offer greater reach and deeper digging depths, making them ideal for larger projects. This extended reach and increased digging depth allow the machine to work faster and more efficiently, as well as maneuver around obstacles and work in tight spaces. This makes them ideal for large scale construction and demolition projects, as well as land clearing.

Larger buckets for moving lots of earth.

The bucket size of a mini excavator is one of its most attractive features. Mini excavators are available in a variety of bucket sizes, ranging from 12 inches for the compact trenching bucket, to a 96-inch clean-up bucket for 800 Series excavators. Standard buckets or digging buckets are a popular option and are available in a variety of sizes. There are even skeleton buckets for sifting through dirt and rubble.

The larger buckets of mini excavators make them ideal for demolition and large areas of landscaping. The larger buckets allow the machine to move more material in a single pass, making it easier and faster to complete the task. This increased efficiency can save time and money, as it allows the machine to complete the task quickly and with less effort.

The large buckets of mini excavators also make them ideal for large-scale construction and demolition projects. The larger buckets allow the machine to move a large volume of material quickly, allowing them to finish the job faster and more efficiently. This increased efficiency can save time and money, as it allows the machine to complete the task quickly and with less effort.

Overall, the larger buckets of a mini excavator make it the ideal choice for bigger construction and demolition projects. The larger buckets allow the machine to move more material in a single pass, making it easier and faster to complete the task. This increased efficiency can save time and money, as it allows the machine to complete the task quickly and with less effort.

Drawbacks of a mini excavator.

Mini excavators have the advantage of larger buckets, but they also come with some drawbacks. Both a skid steer and mini excavator have their own pros and cons, so it’s important to understand the capabilities of each machine before making a purchase.

Mini excavators are generally more expensive than skid steers and may require additional parts and accessories for certain tasks, resulting in higher upfront costs. Additionally, the operating costs of mini excavators are typically higher than that of skid steers. Mini excavators are also heavier than skid steers, resulting in higher fuel costs.

Furthermore, they are more difficult to operate than skid steers, and the tail swing configuration can limit their access to certain areas. Lastly, mini excavators may not be suitable for smaller jobs, such as trench digging or light-duty demolition, where skid steers excel.

It is important to consider the specific needs of your project and the capabilities of the mini excavator before making a purchase.

Higher operating costs.

One of the drawbacks of a mini excavator is its higher operating costs. The cost of owning and operating a mini excavator is typically higher than that of a skid steer due to its weight and size. The larger size of the machine means that it will consume more fuel and require more maintenance, resulting in higher operating costs.

Additionally, mini excavators require more complex systems and components than skid steers, which can add to the cost of ownership. Furthermore, the purchase price of mini excavators is usually higher than that of skid steers, and they require more parts and accessories to be able to perform certain tasks than skid steers.

It is important to consider all of these factors when deciding which type of machine is best for your needs.

More difficult to operate.

Mini excavators are more difficult to operate than skid steers, but they offer more power and reach. Operating a mini excavator requires more skill and precision than operating a skid steer.

In addition, the tail swing configuration of mini excavators can limit their access to certain areas, such as confined spaces, where skid steers or wheel loaders are better suited.

Mini excavators may not be suitable for smaller jobs, such as trench digging, where skid steers excel.

They are also not ideal for heavy-duty demolition work or for digging deep foundations for large buildings. Overall, mini excavators are more difficult to operate than skid steers, but they can be a great choice for larger jobs.

Not suitable for small and quick jobs.

Mini excavators are not suitable for all jobs. Their size and power limit their use to certain applications, such as water, mud and steep-access sites.

Their limited size and power make them less suitable for larger construction projects. Mini excavators are not ideal for commercial work or for job site conditions that require heavy equipment.

Ultimately, it’s important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each machine to determine which is best for your needs.

When is a skid steer the right choice?

When it comes to heavy equipment, skid steers are a great option for those looking for a cost-effective and easy to operate solution for their job needs. As the name suggests, skid steers are machines that can be steered in any direction and require little effort to maneuver. They are also great for many attachments and can be used for a wide variety of jobs, from digging trenches to moving debris.

Skid steers excel in tight and challenging worksites because of their small size, maneuverability, and ability to move quickly. This makes them an ideal choice for small construction projects, residential and commercial small business landscaping, and other earth moving tasks. Skid steers can often also be a better choice than mini excavators. This is because they are usually more affordable and easier to use.

We think skid steers are a great choice for small and challenging worksites, residential and commercial small business landscaping and construction, and earthmoving work. Skid steers are versatile and easy to use, making them a great option for those who want to get the job done quickly and efficiently. They are also a great alternative to wheel loaders and mini excavators, as they are typically cheaper and easier to operate. No matter the job, skid steers are a great option for saving time and money.

When are mini excavators the right choice?

Mini excavators are a great choice for many jobs, but it is important to understand the benefits and drawbacks before making a decision. Mini excavators offer greater reach and deeper digging depths than skid steers, making them ideal for large-scale construction projects. They also have larger buckets, allowing for more efficient digging. While mini excavators are more expensive than skid steers, they can be cost-effective in the long run due to their increased efficiency. On the downside, they are more difficult to operate than a skid steer and not suitable for small jobs.

Overall, mini excavators are the right choice for jobs that require greater reach and deeper digging depths, such as large-scale construction projects. They are also suitable for tasks that require a larger bucket, such as digging trenches or landscaping. Although they are more expensive than skid steers and more difficult to operate, they can be cost-effective in the long run due to their increased efficiency.

By understanding the benefits and drawbacks of a mini excavator, you can make an informed decision about which type of machine is best for your needs.

FAQs for skid steer loaders and mini excavators.

Our excavation experts put together some of the most common questions about skid steer loaders and mini excavators. Hopefully, this will help you make a more informed decision.

What’s the main difference between a skid loader and a mini excavator?

The main difference between a skid loader and a mini excavator is the size, power and reach. Skid loaders are smaller, more maneuverable machines that are ideal for small construction projects, landscaping jobs and other earth-moving tasks. Mini excavators have larger buckets and deeper digging depths, making them suitable for larger construction projects.

Is a mini excavator and compact excavator the same thing?

Not exactly. While both are construction machines that can lift materials in small areas, the mini excavator is generally smaller than the compact excavator. We like to think that mini excavators are in between skid steers and compact excavators. They offer more power and reach than the skid loader but less than the compact excavator.

What type of jobs are best suited for a skid steer?

Skid steers are ideal for small jobs due to their maneuverability, cost-effectiveness, and ease of use. They are limited in certain areas, such as bucket size, digging depth, and reach, making them inappropriate for larger jobs or public works tasks. Common applications include landscaping work, snow removal, grading, and construction cleanup. We typically use our skid steers for grading and ground preparation.

What type of jobs are best suited for a mini excavator?

Mini excavators have larger buckets, deeper digging depths and greater reach than their skid steer counterparts, making them perfect for large scale construction and demolition projects. They are also suitable for tasks that require a larger bucket, such as excavating trenches or landscaping. We typically use mini excavators on major construction sites where they can be utilized to dig deep pits and installation of utility lines.

Can you add attachments to a mini excavator?

Yes, you can add attachments to both skid steers and mini excavators to increase their capabilities. Common attachments for mini excavators include buckets, grapples, augers, trenchers and post hole diggers. These attachments allow the mini excavator to tackle larger tasks such as digging trenches, auger drilling, rock picking, or clearing brush from a large area.

Is the skid steer loader or mini excavator right for you?

The construction industry is constantly evolving, and both skid steers and mini excavators offer advantages and disadvantages when looking for the right choice for the job. Skid steers are an ideal choice for small projects due to their maneuverability, cost-effectiveness, and ease of use. They are limited in certain areas such as bucket size, digging depth, and reach, making them inappropriate for larger jobs or public works tasks.

On the other hand, mini excavators have larger buckets, deeper digging depths and greater reach than their skid steer counterparts, making them perfect for large scale construction and demolition projects. Despite higher operating costs and more complex systems, mini excavators can be a very valuable asset on job sites that require increased power and efficiency.

In the end, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of each machine, evaluate the job requirements, and decide which type of machine is the most beneficial for you and what you’re trying to accomplish.

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