What to consider when choosing the right skid steer for your business

First built in 1957, skid steers today are known—and valued—for their agility, maneuverability and versatility. Contractors are increasingly adding them to businesses large and small with the goal of increased productivity.

“The biggest thing is your time on the job,” says Matt Hammersmith, production manager at Hammersmith Manufacturing, which builds the Vail Products X Series line of attachments for compact track loaders, skid steers and utility tractors and vehicles. “Everybody thinks of efficiency in terms of fuel consumption, but it’s more about finishing the job and getting to another job.” Skid steers can help you do that. With the array of features, sizes and options available, the following tips can help you choose equipment that works best for your business.

1. Usage
Consider how and where the machine will be used and on what kinds of terrain. Who will use the equipment, and how many hours a day will it run? These considerations will affect everything about your skid steer choice: its physical size, horsepower, operator comfort, hydraulics, lift, attachments and more.

2. Size
The equipment’s frame size relates to what it can be expected to do, and bigger is not necessarily better. For example, using a large machine on a small jobsite will reduce productivity, as will expecting a smaller machine to handle larger tasks, like loading into a dump truck with high sideboards. Consider where the machine will be operating: Will it need to fit into and maneuver around tight spaces like streets, or will it be in an open area, like a parking lot or ranch?

Also think about how you will haul the equipment—including any attachments—to job sites. “Transportation is a huge issue because most skid steers today can fit on about any size trailer, but at the same time, they’re heavy,” says Hammersmith “That can cause problems with DOT regulations on weight and how many pounds you can haul per axel.”

3. Horsepower
In addition to the skid steer’s size, you need to consider its power. Hammersmith says a skid steer’s horsepower is important in terms of the traction it provides. “You can push just as much with a 70 horsepower machine as you can with a 90 horsepower machine because the traction is about the same,” he says. “The horsepower is more about driving the attachments and running the hydraulic pumps and achieving what you want to on that side. It’s basically all about getting that horsepower to the ground and getting traction.”

4. Lift
The bucket of a skid steer is lifted one of two ways: radial or vertical, and each is better for a certain kind of work. If you are going to use the skid steer mostly for digging, or if most of the work will be done at eye level and below, a radial lift model is the best option. Vertical lifts work best if you are doing a lot of lifting and placing, such as pallets from a truck to another location. Vertical-lift-arm machines are better at eye level and above.

5. Attachments
From augers, land planers and brush cutters to grubbers, grapples and more, attachments maximize the use of a machine and result in greater productivity. Hammersmith says the No. 1 consideration when choosing attachments is durability. “So many attachments out there right now are what I call ‘disposable attachments.’ You use them once, they fail, and you throw them away and get another one,” he says. “People are really dissatisfied with that style of attachment. They want something that is going to last.”

6. Hydraulics
Hydraulics are important because they run the attachments. Hammersmith says one of the biggest mistakes people make when choosing a skid steer is not investing in a high-flow hydraulic system. “You underutilize horsepower by not using high flow,” he says. “Even if the attachments you normally run are not high flow, the high-flow system is such an upgrade that it runs low-flow attachments much easier. It doesn’t tax the hydraulic system as much.”

Before investing in any equipment, it helps to ask around. Talk to other contractors about what equipment they use and recommend. “Durability is probably the No. 1 factor when choosing equipment,” Hammersmith says. “Something never breaks at the end of a job. It always happens in the middle, when you are trying to get something done.”

Vail Products, the leading manufacturer of aftermarket construction equipment attachments, is proud to unveil the Vail X Series line of attachments for Compact Track Loaders, Skid Steers, Utility Tractors and Utility Vehicles. Visit our selection of products by visiting

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