Rent Smart: How to rent a compact excavator

Because they’re so handy from the beginning to the end of the job, especially considering the attachments they use, it’s not uncommon for compact excavators to rent a month at a time,” says Mike Lumbers, senior project manager, compact utility line, Ditch Witch.

Tasks assigned to these machines can include truck loading, setting pipe, precision excavating and trenching. They’re also specialty machines. For example, “contractors like to use our .89-metric-ton excavator with an integrated hammer to do interior demolition and construction,” says Mike Conley, product manager, compact hydraulic excavators, Komatsu America utility division.

Zero tail swing or not?
In a broad sense, compact excavators can be divided between those that have zero tail swing and those that don’t. And there’s also the in-the-middle-type, called minimal tail swing, where 10 percent or less of the tail goes outside the tracks. According to the 2005-2006 Equipment World Spec Guide, there are currently 46 models that have zero tail overhang.

Contractors typically use compact excavators because of work site space constraints such as narrow passageways, jobsite obstacles or the need to work close to a structure. “Zero tail swing is a logical choice when such constraints are present,” says J. J. Shields, marketing manager for compact excavators, Case Construction Equipment. “The challenges are greater when working in a confined space if you have to keep watching to make sure the excavator doesn’t clip a fence or foundation.”

But don’t become acclimated to zero tail swing rentals and fail to make adjustments when you operate a conventional machine, says Jon Kuyers, compact solutions manager, Vermeer Manufacturing. “Be aware of your surroundings and make sure you evaluate any jobsite constraints or obstacles,” he says.

These machines also come with two types of tracks: retractable or fixed. Non-fixed tracks can be retracted so the machine can travel through a 36-inch opening, then expand to 47 inches to stabilize the machine and give it more digging power. Although the vast majority of compact excavators come with rubber tracks, there are instances where a steel track might be a better choice, Lumbers says, including demolition sites with a lot of rebar or a project where you need additional tractive effort.

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A control issue
Make sure you or your operators are familiar with the controls on the particular brand rented. And since the controls on these machines can be changed between SAE and ISO patterns with a turn of a valve, check which pattern has been set. “Even the smallest compact excavators have great hydraulic power and must be operated responsibly,” says Reece Norwood, brand marketing manager, New Holland Construction.

And the general warning of always being aware of your surroundings particularly comes into play with these machines since they operate in tight spaces. “Because of their size, it’s easy to forget how tall these machines can sometimes get,” Lumbers comments, “so make sure you’re out of the way of limbs, electrical lines and building overhangs.”

Match the job
Contractors make their compact excavator requests based primarily on their job requirements for dig depth and lift capacity. There are additional things to consider:

  • Width/height clearances, of particular concern with jobs inside buildings.
  • Dump height – “Are you loading out the material you are excavating?,” Kuyers says. “Can the excavator meet the required dump height to load the truck?”
  • Attachment requirements – Confirm the machine hydraulics match what you need – single vs. bidirectional flow, for example – to operate the attachments you plan to use. Also ask your rental dealer about new products in its attachment inventory. The dealer may have just gotten something in that could work wonders on your job.
  • Transport requirements. “Trucks and trailers must have the proper rated capacity for the excavator being moved,” Norwood says. “Secure the load to prevent shifting or damage to the machine.”

And at the end of the job, be honest with your rental dealer. “I always want to know how the machine worked for them,” says Dave Harkins, supervisor at Harco Equipment Rental, a Buford, Georgia, firm that rents Takeuchi compact excavators.

Remember a significant variety of attachments fit on these machines. “A good many jobs will require a bucket for digging, a hammer for tearing out walkways and maybe a compaction attachment to prepare the ground,” Norwood says.

At the end of the day
Sure smaller machines cost less, both in rental rates and fuel consumption.

There are trade offs, however. “A less expensive machine may take twice as long to complete the job,” Kuyers comments. Buckets also figure into the size consideration, Harkins says. “Sometimes they’ll get an 18-inch bucket and they really need a 36-inch bucket,” he says. “If you get a proper sized bucket you can move three times as much.”

And don’t forget rental is an excellent way to determine the value of any new features promoted by manufactures. One such feature would be a power angle blade, according to Conley. “If you have an opportunity to rent a machine with a power angle blade, you will never rent a machine with a standard blade again,” he says. “You can save a tremendous amount of time backfilling a trench. With the power angle blade, there’s no need to continually reposition the machine.”