Application Tips: The impact of the compact

If you’re looking for a less expensive way to perform a variety of applications in an environment that may be confined and needs a specialized tool, there’s a simple solution: the compact utility loader.

“Compact utility loaders are growing in popularity because contractors are looking for cost-effective ways to accomplish several jobs without having to invest in multiple pieces of equipment,” says Greg Lawrence, marketing product manager for Toro’s Dingo line. “More contractors are buying compact utility loaders to do jobs they once used dedicated machines to accomplish.”

Primary uses for these machines are landscaping, demolition, irrigation, farming and residential applications. Their smaller size enables them to fit in places that a skid steer can’t.

Some models come with operator platforms, or have a place to attach one for added safety.

The compact utility loader can be tracked or wheeled depending on the conditions at the site. The wheeled option is best for tight spaces because of increased maneuverability; it also allows for easy negotiation of mounds, curbs and rough terrain. A track option has improved flotation for sites that are sandy or muddy and can also be useful for jobs that require little disturbance. A limitation of the tracked version is that it is a rough ride on flat, hard surfaces such as concrete.

“A tracked machine may be the right choice for work on existing lawns,” Lawrence says. “Tracks are better at dispersing weight across a surface, thereby creating a light footprint that won’t harm turf.”

The first thing to think about if you rent or purchase this machine is what attachments are required. The machine has an extensive list of attachments available, but some of the more popular one are buckets, tillers, augers, vibratory plows and levelers.

“With residential areas going up every day, jobsites and work areas can be more confined and congested,” says Shaun Fritchey, compact solutions specialist for Vermeer. “You can take one machine with multiple attachments and do a wide variety of work. Instead of having one machine that is a dedicated plow or trencher, you have one machine where you can do four or five different applications.”

The number of attachments available for the loader means that you don’t have to dish out a lot of money for lots of equipment.

“With the compact utility loader, you can use one machine with a trencher attachment and a trencher filler attachment to accomplish that same job,” Lawrence says. “This approach saves the contractor the cost of an extra machine.”

The attachments are central to the function of the loader. “Without the attachments, there isn’t much use for this machine,” says Don Reed, manager for Ramrod Equipment.

It is important to look at what applications and attachments you will run on your compact utility loader to ensure the machine has the adequate hydraulic flow to handle the job. You can also choose between a diesel and a gas engine. A diesel engine will deliver more torque for increased pulling or digging forces when using attachments in very rocky conditions. In addition, a diesel model may be the best choice when working in high-altitude areas.

Gasoline engines may be the best choice if you are moving materials such as mulch, rock pallets or carrying supplies to a work site. Gasoline engines don’t require the torque efficiencies of a diesel engine. However, they do have reduced horsepower because of the lower combustion temperature and aren’t as efficient in higher altitudes.

The differences between gas-powered and diesel-powered compact utility loaders means that you have give serious thought to the type of work you will be performing.

“If a contractor currently operates all gas-powered or diesel-powered equipment, they may prefer to expand their fleet with the same fueled machine,” Lawrence says.

According to Lawrence, strictly shopping for price or going for a machine with the most horsepower are two of the most common mistakes contractors make during a purchase.

“This can lead to costly downtime or result in a machine that’s too big to accomplish what a contractor needs to do,” Lawrence says. The first step should be to make a list of the kinds of applications you will be performing and the kinds of attachments you will add to the machine. From there you should find a machine that best fits the bill.”

Proper care and maintenance are key to ensuring that you get long and productive use out of your compact utility loader. “With the proper maintenance, a gasoline engine can run 1,800 to 2,500 hours,” Reed says. “In our experience, a diesel engine can run 10,000 hours. These are both figures to use as a rule of thumb.”