Rent Smart: Compact wheel loaders

When it comes to light earthmoving applications a skid-steer loader is still the rental machine of choice for many contractors, but compact wheel loaders have several advantages and can accomplish many of the same tasks. And while the demand for skid steers is keeping several rental companies from offering a high number of compact wheel loaders, a shift in compact wheel loader sales could be key to adding more of these units to rental fleets.

Where’s the rental demand?
United Rentals only has 40 of these loaders in its fleet, according to the company, primarily because of the minimal demand for compact wheel loaders as rental machines. This approach is echoed by NES Rentals, which carries approximately 20 compact wheel loaders.

“Skid-steer loaders are widely accepted in the contractor community,” says Mike Disser, vice president of marketing for NES Rentals. Disser says this is because skid steers perform jobs similar to that of compact wheel loaders – except on a smaller scale and for less money.

While rental of compact wheel loaders may be lagging, sales represent a different story. The European market has seen growth in sales of these machines for many years, but the North American market has only begun to steadily increase its numbers in the past three years. A total of 1,500 units were sold in the United States in 2004 compared with 2,400 units sold last year, according to Dave Wolf, brand marketing manager for Case Construction.

Wolf believes that, given time, compact wheel loaders could have the same or even more demand than skid steers.

“Compact wheel loaders are ideal for digging, loading and hauling jobsite materials in a variety of construction site work, nursery and landscape applications,” says Bill Parker, product manager for Terex Construction Americas. “They are mainly used in applications where there is more room to maneuver, a need for high flotation and a need to move materials quickly.”

Although skid steers can fit into tighter spaces, compact wheel loaders are better equipped to operate on larger worksites but still provide the pluses of compact machines. For instance, compact wheel loaders are easier to operate, have less vibration and better visibility because the operator sits up higher, according to Wolf. They also do little damage to the turf, whereas skid steers – which have a tight wheelbase – have a tendency to disrupt the ground more, unless equipped with over-the-tire or track systems.

“Compact wheel loaders offer the operator creature features, such as a big cab feel and comfort,” he says. “This is a definite advantage when you’re working out in the elements.”

Things to consider: power, control and versatile attachments
Prior to renting a compact wheel loader, figure out the size of the machine you’re going to need so you don’t end up overworking the equipment. Currently, compact wheel loaders ranging from 70 to 80 horsepower with 1- to 1.4-cubic-yard bucket capacities are the most popular.

It’s also a good idea to check out the lifting capacity to make sure the machine you’re thinking of renting will be able to handle the job. For instance, some machines have lifting capacities of up to 13,000 pounds, Wolf says. Consider the materials you will be transporting, such as gravel, sand, dirt or wood chips, as you may need a level lift to eliminate constant machine adjustments when loading the material onto a truck.

Renters looking for plenty of power will find compact wheel loaders’ variable speed controls allow operators to accomplish jobs quickly and provide efficient engine rpm when working in tight areas. “The hydrostatic drive also reduces tire slippage, which results in faster cycle times and less wear and tear on the tires,” Parker says.

Standard compact wheel loaders come equipped with general purpose buckets, but there are numerous attachments available that complement the machine’s ability to carry out a long list of tasks. Most loaders feature universal coupler systems that have compatibility with skid-steer attachments; these couplers allow easy, fast switches from a loader to a material handler, according to Parker.

Other attachments available include augers, brooms, snow plows, forks and carriers, multi-purpose buckets and crane jibs.

“There are so many industries where these loaders are becoming prevalent, such as landscaping, waste management, recycling and of course, construction,” Wolf says.

So, take time to review the pros and cons of both skid steers and compact wheel loaders. If power, increased visibility and comfort are high on your list, renting a compact wheel loader will prove beneficial.