Excavator Size Guide: How to Choose the Right-Sized Excavator


Choosing the right-size excavator is crucial to the success of a project. These pieces of heavy machinery play a major role in completing jobs involving digging, but can also be used for several other tasks. Don’t invest in an excavator until you know how to choose the right excavator size and what each attachment and feature can offer.

Before you pick an excavator, take time to do your research and be fully informed about the different sizes of excavators as well as other critical factors that go into picking the best excavator for your needs.

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Any excavator size comparison needs to cover the three main sizes of the machinery: small, medium and large. Choosing the right-sized excavator starts with being aware of the differences between the primary types. Learn more about the primary sizes of excavators below:


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Small excavators, often referred to as compacts or minis, are excavators designed to be used in hard-to-reach areas and for jobs that don’t require too much power.

Due to their small size, they are one of the most versatile types of excavators. Companies use these models for subdivision sewer repairs, foundational repair, in-building work and water line installs.

Unlike other heavier excavators, they have the advantage of sometimes being able to be pulled behind Class 1 or Class 2 trucks without needing the driver to have a Commercial Drivers License, but you should still double-check with your local requirements at your DMV. They’re perfect for projects in which you don’t need a standard-sized excavator, but want machinery that’ll help you complete a job faster than if you did it by hand.


Mid-sized or midi excavators make up a large percentage of the excavators used in a variety of industries. Typically, they’re used in utilities, landscaping, road and bridge construction and building construction. There are a few different types of excavators available in this size that come in a standard tail design or in a minimum or zero radius construction.

These excavators provide many of the mobility advantages of the compact excavators while also providing power similar to that of the larger models.


Large excavators are considered standard in the industry. As such, they’re referred to as full-size or standard exclusive models.

In the lower weight excavators, you can find zero or close to zero swing radius machines. Most excavators, however, are full-featured and full-sized. These are the least mobile excavators, and the heavier they get, the harder it will be to navigate tough terrain with them. However, they make up for this lack of mobility with their top-tier power.


Before you buy or rent an excavator, you should be knowledgeable about the different options available to you in addition to the three main sizes. There are tons of other attachments and features that excavators offer. As such, it’s crucial you know more about some of the key specs and additions that can help you make a wise choice:

7 THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING THE RIGHT EXCAVATOR: Bucket capacity, Reach length, Transportation and access, Dig depth, Lifting capacity, Hydraulics, Cost

  1. Bucket capacity: When you pick out your excavator, one key stat that you need to pay attention to is bucket capacity. Bucket size relates directly to how much you can pick up or fit into your excavator’s bucket. Typically, it’s a good idea to have a variety of bucket sizes available at a worksite, so you can adjust to any situation a job throws at you.
  2. Reach length: An important factor you should consider when deciding on your excavator is how far it can reach. Some jobs will require a longer reach, so it’s important to consider the length of your excavators. If your worksite requires material or demolition handling, you may want to go with a long reach boom configuration, which provides extra reach that standard configurations couldn’t make.
  3. Transportation and access: While it can be tempting to purchase or rent the most powerful excavator with the highest capacity, it’s important to also consider how you’ll get the excavator to the job site and your ability to navigate the area. You should aim to find an excavator that matches your geographic needs and can be effectively transported to your worksite.
  4. Dig depth: Since excavators are designed for digging and are primarily used for this purpose, it’s crucial you know how far an excavator can dig before you rent or purchase one. Before you choose an excavator, review your required dig depths.
  5. Lifting capacity: Since excavators also double as material handlers, their lift capacity is crucial as well. Lift capacity simply refers to how much weight the excavator can handle. If you plan to handle heavy materials, lift handling will be especially useful.
  6. Hydraulics: The hydraulic systems in excavators are made to assist the many functions of an excavator. When you look for a machine, you’ll want to know what the hydraulic system allows the machine to do. The right hydraulic system will allow you to use the attachments you need, such as compactors, magnets, breakers, shears and grapples.
  7. Cost: Larger excavators are often going to be more expensive than their smaller counterparts. However, choosing a less powerful model to get a lower price can actually end up costing you more money in the long run. Not being able to complete jobs on time or not digging deep enough can end up leading to higher costs or lost profits.


As you decide between excavators, you might be surprised at how much a mini excavator can do. Their compact sizes make them ideal for tight spaces and in locations that require a softer touch. They also can be quite powerful, helping users quickly finish tasks that would normally require an entire crew. Some of the primary times when companies should use mini excavators include:

  • Crowded worksites: A large excavator can be a problem on a worksite where there’s lots of people and machines working. These excavators run the risk of hitting vehicles and workers, reducing worksite safety. Additionally, it can take extra time to get them safely through the worksite and navigate them. Compact excavators can be driven faster and will not clog up a crowded worksite like their larger counterparts would.
  • Appearance concerns: Those in landscaping regularly rely on mini excavators since they don’t produce as much top ground damage or leave as many track marks that larger and heavier excavators would. If a job requires you to work in someone’s yard or in an area where appearance matters, compact excavators are the ideal choice.
  • Multiple sites: If you need to use an excavator across multiple sites, a compact excavator is one of the best choices. Since a compact excavator is smaller and lighter, it’s much easier for them to be transported quickly between locations and will often not require whoever is transporting them to have a specialized license.


As you pick out an excavator, you should know about the main parts that make sure the machine runs smoothly. Those in the market for excavators should be aware of the following excavator parts:

EXCAVATOR PARTS AND FUNCTIONS: Boom, Cab, House, Undercarriage, Backfill blade

  • Undercarriage: The undercarriage is the part of an excavator that makes the machine move, gives enough traction on surfaces like mud and takes on the weight of the machine. There are a few different types of undercarriage options available for varying surfaces and tasks.
  • House: The engine, boom and cabin are all mounted on the house. This section of the machinery rests on a pivot, which then allows the house to rotate 360 degrees.
  • Cab: The cab is where the operator controls the excavator. Premium cabs will offer advanced tech, ergonomic controls, A/C systems and noise reduction designs.
  • Boom: The boom is a big arm that’s hydraulically-articulated. The arm is where attachments like buckets, clamps, augers and breakers are attached to help the operator complete a number of tasks.
  • Backfill blade: The boom is mounted on the front of the excavator, and the backfill blade is mounted on the rear. This type of blade is in the style of a bulldozer’s blade, helping with a number of tasks and giving the excavator greater versatility.


Excavator attachments allow excavators to perform several types of jobs. Below are some of the main attachments offered for excavators:

  • Buckets: If you want versatility, buckets are one of the best attachments. They’re used to dig deep into the ground, as well as carry material from one location to another. Additionally, they can engage in ditch cleaning and can be adjusted to meet the demands of a particular task.
  • Auger: Hard soil and ice are no match for an auger. This attachment breaks through tough surfaces to assist with pipeline support and trenching. They’re especially useful for jobs requiring users to drill deep holes and can range in size, depending on how far you want to dig.
  • Couplers: Couplers let users switch between attachments and tools automatically without the need for a crew. They’re great for times when you have different tasks on a job and don’t want to slow down. For example, you could have a bucket and an auger on the same excavator, with a coupler letting you switch between the two attachments.
  • Clamps: Sometimes, materials won’t fit in a bucket. When you can’t fit a large tree stump or a slab of concrete, turn to clamps. A clamp gives operators the ability to pick up oversized materials and is usually attached to a bucket or incorporated into a grapple.
  • Breaker: Similar to jackhammers in function, but much larger, breakers are used to break through strong surfaces, like concrete and stone.
  • Hammers: Knocking down buildings and destroying pavement requires major power and the right tools. Hammer attachments for excavators meet both of these requirements. They are great for demolition, making quick work of any structure they come in contact with. They’re especially effective for demolition when coupled with a bucket.


Choosing to rent or buy an excavator is a big decision, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Basically, it comes down to how much you plan to use the equipment, and if you have the capital to purchase and maintain the machinery.

Companies that buy excavators often do so because they plan to use the excavator in many jobs going forward. A rental is more suited for temporary jobs that you’ll rarely have to complete for clients. The higher initial costs of buying an excavator mean that it’ll take some time before the excavator pays itself off through use. Renting can be a safer choice since you don’t want to buy an excavator only to never use it again.

Besides determining how much you plan to use the excavator, you should determine whether or not you have the ability to house heavy machinery and transport it from place to place. By buying an excavator, you’re deciding to take responsibility for its storage, transportation and maintenance. Renting takes these expenses and responsibilities away from you, making it an attractive option for companies without the staff or initial capital to store heavy machinery.

While there are some costs associated with storing and transporting excavators that you own, you do get the benefit of having your equipment available to you 24/7. You don’t have to worry about scheduling with a rental company or not having a piece of equipment available when you need it. So, if accessibility is important to you, and you want to ensure that projects don’t have any downtime, buying an excavator may be the better option.


When you purchase a Cat® excavator, you have an industry leader at your back, providing you with the best equipment on the market. Cat excavators offer exceptional fuel economy, emissions ratings in line with U.S. EPA standards and power choices suited for a wide range of applications.

WHY CHOOSE A CAT® EXCAVATOR? Cat excavators offer exceptional fuel economy, emissions ratings in line with U.S. EPA standards and power choices suited for a wide range of applications.

Excavators that bear the Cat name are also easy to control. For example, the zero to near-zero tail-swing features of Cat mini excavators make them the most easy-to-navigate pieces of equipment around, taking tight turns with ease and avoiding obstacles.

You can also expect to receive all of the latest tech for heavy-duty machinery when you select a Cat excavator of any size. This tech can assist with making the cabin more comfortable, your operations more accurate and day-to-day tasks easier. With a new piece of Cat equipment, you’ll also receive the standard Cat warranty, as well as operator and technician training if desired.


At Louisiana Cat, we offer a huge selection of excavators that you can use to complete your projects effectively and with greater speed. For four continuous generations, we’ve been proud to represent Caterpillar, providing companies across Louisiana with the heavy-duty machinery they need. We know just how important excavators are to a project’s success, so we only offer the most durable, versatile and powerful machines around.

Ready to harness the power of a Cat excavator? Find one of our locations near you to pick out the perfect excavator for your needs. If you have any questions while browsing, feel free to contact us online or call us at (866) 843-7440 for more information.

CHOOSE LOUISIANA CAT FOR YOUR EXCAVATOR NEEDS. For four continuous generations, we’ve been proud to represent Caterpillar, providing companies across Louisiana with the heavy-duty machinery they need. Contact us

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