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Backhoe Loader vs. Mini Excavator: Which Should You Choose?

Backhoe Loader vs. Mini Excavator: Which Should You Choose?

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While it’s possible to buy or rent several pieces of equipment to complete a job, nothing beats the convenience of choosing a high-quality, multi-purpose machine. Whether working at home or on a construction site, you may need equipment for your project — but which machine is right for the job?

Both backhoe loaders and mini excavators can be extremely useful around the work site and help you save time and money. Choosing between them comes down to what you require from your machine, your budget and your work environment.

What Is a Backhoe Loader?

A backhoe loader is a versatile piece of equipment with three hydraulically powered components — a tractor, a loader and a backhoe — that work together as a powerful machine. Backhoe loaders are built with either a center mount or a side shift mechanism. Some prefer side shift machines because they are easily maneuverable, but both types are powerful and useful around the work site:

  • Center mount: Center mount — or center pivot — backhoes are machines where the backhoe attachment is connected at the rear center. There are two legs on either side of the mount to keep it stable.
  • Side shift: On side shift machines, the backhoe attachment is located on stabilized frame rails that extend out from the side and move vertically. This allows the operator to work from the side, rather than having to reposition.

Backhoe loaders range in size and horsepower rating. You can also choose an extended dipper stick for longer reach and digging depths. Smaller, lower-power machines are suitable for residential or small scale projects, while more powerful equipment is ideal for construction sites and large scale projects.

With additional attachments, such as an auger, hammer or grinder, you can use a backhoe for even more projects, like drilling or asphalt management. Because you can take a backhoe on the road, it is ideal for large or spread-out work sites that need multiple needs met.

What Is a Backhoe Loader?

What Is a Mini Excavator?

A mini excavator — also called a compact excavator — is a tracked piece of construction equipment. Compared to full-size excavators, mini excavators are lighter and more compact, making them ideal for reaching and navigating small spaces. Because of their size, they are easier to transport compared to full-size models. You can also rotate the cab of a mini excavator 360 degrees without repositioning attachments, which saves time around the work site.

What Is a Mini Excavator?

With additional attachments, you can use a mini excavator for tasks like landscaping and forestry projects. Due to their compact size, they are relatively fuel-efficient. They also have minimal swing movement and exert less pressure when moving across the ground. You cannot drive a mini excavator from site to site. Instead, you must haul it on an adequately sized truck and trailer.

5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Backhoe Loader vs. Mini Excavator

Before you shop around for equipment, make a list of your needs and wants, including the size and condition of your work site, the overall goal of your project, the various tasks involved and your budget. You should also factor in the time of year and any work site hazards when you choose between enclosed or open cab machinery. Depending on the type of model you choose, some backhoes and excavators come with additional features like air conditioning or a built-in radio for optimal comfort.

When deciding between a mini excavator and a backhoe loader, consider the following.

1. Project Tasks

What types of needs do you have at your work site? Both mini excavators and backhoe loaders are suitable for a variety of tasks, including digging, trenching, pushing, pulling and heavy lifting. For deep digging or heavy-duty projects, a backhoe loader typically has more power than a mini excavator. Backhoes are also a better fit for projects that require a lot of hauling or transportation across the work site.

Mini excavators are usually better suited for projects with repetitive tasks, because they can rotate while stationary without the need to drive around or reposition the attachment.

2. Work Site Conditions

Finished work sites or work sites with soft terrain will benefit from the lightweight tread of a mini excavator, while more rugged environments will benefit from the durability of a backhoe loader. If you have an indoor work site or outdoor site with noise regulations and small, hard-to-navigate areas, a mini excavator can reach them more easily than a backhoe with its controlled maneuverability and minimal swing motion.

Because some mini excavators have tracks instead of wheels, they are often the safer choice for hilly or slick work sites that require additional traction. This is especially important to note if you’re working outdoors in the winter or during heavy rain.

3. Travel Distance

Are you working in a single area, or are your project tasks spread across multiple locations? You can drive a backhoe loader 25 miles per hour across work sites and from job to job, but you must haul a mini excavator with a truck and trailer. Some work sites may not permit the additional weight of a truck, trailer and excavator, so consider that when choosing between the two machines. Assuming your utility truck or trailer is the correct size and there are no work site weight restrictions you must accommodate, hauling a mini excavator is usually very simple.

4. Storage and Transportation Logistics

If you expect your project to last longer than a day, consider the logistics of on-site transportation and storage. Mini excavators are typically easier to store because they are more compact and can fit inside buildings or storage facilities with ease. However, you must haul a mini excavator to and from the storage facility, so you need an appropriately sized truck and trailer on-hand. Loading and hauling a mini excavator ultimately adds time to your workday.

Backhoe loaders may be more challenging to store due to their size, but they are easier to move to and from the storage yard, which may save time compared to a mini excavator.

5. Current and Future Use

Take a look at the types of projects you plan to complete with your new machine. You should consider what attachments are available for a specific backhoe versus an excavator, so you can easily adapt your equipment to meet future needs. If any of your applications require a specialized attachment, make sure it is compatible with your chosen machine before purchasing.

What type of projects and work site conditions do you anticipate in the future? While one machine may be ideal for your current tasks, you should avoid investing in it unless you can continue to use it when you move on to another job.

Why Choose a Cat® Backhoe or Excavator?

When buying or renting a backhoe or excavator, purchasing from a high-quality dealer is essential for your machine’s longevity. When you purchase or lease new and used equipment from Caterpillar®, you are choosing a company that is:

Why Choose a Cat® Backhoe or Excavator?

  • Innovative: Caterpillar partners with institutions around the world to implement modern technology for more adaptable, convenient and safe equipment. This includes machine automation, job site connectivity and cost-reducing control systems. Thanks to innovative upgrades like these, some clients report a lower bottom line and 90% uptime.
  • Responsible: Caterpillar continues to strive for sustainable practices, and is continuously seeking new and better ways to balance powerful machinery with environmentally sound decisions. Compared to prior offerings, 27% of Caterpillar product and service sales offered improved sustainability in 2019. During the same year, Caterpillar reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and is proud to report that more than 35% of obtained electrical energy came from renewable or alternative sources.
  • Safe: To promote safer work sites and project conditions, Caterpillar offers safety consulting services and a variety of safety technology products, like ground worker detection and workforce fatigue management. Caterpillar also provides helpful safety resources for clients, such as checklists and instructional videos, to minimize confusion or error on the job.
  • Convenient: When you need parts or attachments for your equipment, the Cat Parts Store is here to help. By entering your machine’s serial number, you can easily find what you’re looking for and have it shipped directly to your work site. You can also choose to participate in the Cat Customer Value Agreement (CVA) program, which includes an Equipment Protection Plan (EPP), timely parts delivery and easy access to everything you need to know about your machine.
  • High-quality: The undercarriage of a machine accounts for half of the equipment’s cost. Caterpillar is the only original equipment manufacturer to produce our own undercarriage to ensure full control over machine quality. Cat offers ongoing operations support, including training courses, fleet management assistance and equipment training solutions.

No matter the industry or application, there is a Cat machine for your project.

Should I Buy or Rent?

Once you’ve decided which piece of equipment is best for you and your job, you need to determine whether you want to purchase or rent it. To make this decision, you need to consider:

  • How often you plan to use it: If you only plan to use your equipment for a couple of projects, you may be better off renting. If you are buying your machine as an addition to your work site fleet or as an integral part of your home and business operations, owning may be a better option.
  • Your ongoing budget: Your initial budget is important, but don’t forget the cost of ongoing maintenance, upkeep, fuel, transportation and attachments. While the compact nature of these machines makes them more fuel-efficient than others, it’s important to factor in how much fuel you will use to operate and transport your machine. For mini excavators, this includes the cost of a utility truck as well. To minimize the cost of ongoing maintenance and upkeep, be sure to buy or rent from a reliable equipment dealership with a reputation for quality products.
  • The type of work you do: Will your machine meet more than one need around the work site? For example, if you choose a piece of equipment that only satisfies one of your project’s needs, you might be better off renting and waiting to purchase until you find a machine you can use in multiple applications. If you anticipate your work conditions changing in the next several years, you may enjoy the flexibility of rental equipment rather than committing yourself to a single machine you may not be able to use again. If you choose to buy instead, there are several attachments and upgrades available that can help your machine tackle new projects.

Keep in mind that choosing to rent or buy does not limit you to a new or used machine. You can find newer model of equipment on the rental market, and you can purchase used machinery. This also includes backhoe and excavator attachments.

Find Equipment at Louisiana Cat

Should you choose a backhoe loader or a mini excavator? The answer depends on what you want out of your machine, including the size and condition of your work site. Some large-scale projects or work sites with multiple tasks happening simultaneously might benefit from having one of each on hand. Smaller, short-term projects — or those operating under a strict budget — can choose one machine to complete most or all of their project tasks.

While both machines are multi-purpose solutions, backhoe loaders are better for rugged environments with large-scale or heavy-duty work demands. They are also the best fit for large work sites or jobs that require a lot of traveling to and from different tasks. For small or indoor work sites, mini excavators are a space-conscious decision. They are ideal for maneuvering challenging areas and they operate quieter than a backhoe loader. For jobs with sensitive or finished terrain, a mini excavator will not have as large an impact on the ground while in operation.

As you choose your equipment, consider whether this is a long-term or short-term investment. Both renting and buying have their advantages, so make the best choice for your business and budget.

If you still have questions or want to learn more about when to choose a backhoe loader versus a mini excavator, contact Louisiana Cat online or give us a call at 866-843-7440. You can also find a location near you for a closer look at Cat equipment.

Find Equipment at Louisiana Cat