Cover Story/Machine Matters: Value propositions

Value is back in style. Buying a backhoe with a dig depth of 15 feet or more is rarely an impulse buy and contractors are looking for backhoes with features that will do the job today and tomorrow and be valuable at resale several years down the road.

The promise of productivity
As Robert Tyler, product market manager at John Deere says, defining productivity is the key to choosing the right backhoe for your needs. “Being productive means many different things depending on the project,” Tyler says. The versatility of backhoes in the 15-foot and larger class is the source of their value. Horsepower, bucket breakout force and stick force partnered with the right attachments will allow the backhoe to dig trenches, load trucks, unload pallets, break concrete, compact a trench, dig a post hole and sweep a road. The ability to maximize each end of the machine increases its productivity.

“Contractors are realizing that production is more than which machine has the greater specs,” says Tyler. “For example, keeping the operator comfortable and in the seat two more hours a day can outweigh the benefits of a machine with higher specs.”

“The last thing that you want to do is base your purchase decisions for a backhoe strictly on cost,” says Jim Hughes, brand marketing manager for Case Construction Equipment, “Because you could end up with a machine that has fewer features than what you need to get the job done right.” Spec’ing a backhoe involves analyzing your current applications, budget and future jobs. “You’ll never hear of a contractor having buyer’s remorse for getting a machine with the features that allow him or her to complete their jobs in a productive and timely way,” Hughes says.

“The bottom line is how much dirt you move at the end of the day. Backhoes in this size class need power and you’ve got to have the horses to do it,” says Jeff Aubrey, product manager for Komatsu. The amount of power the engine produces directly affects how quickly it works, but you need to strike the right balance between power and weight.

Matching power to weight
There can be too much of a good thing, however. “Imagine you have a 15-foot-dig-depth backhoe with as much rear digging force as a 30-ton excavator,” Tyler says. “You will spend most of the day dragging the backhoe across the dirt towards the trench because the machine is too light for the rear end power, rather than efficiently filling the bucket with dirt. A balance is needed between machine weight and dig force.”

The front end has similar requirements, but when loading the front bucket, the balance is between the loader lift force and crowd power – or how well the powertrain can push the machine into the pile. “If the machine is too heavy and has more horsepower than necessary going to the wheels, then the tendency will be to ‘stick’ the loader bucket in the pile,” Tyler says. “In this situation you will not have enough lift power to smoothly raise the loader as you drive into the material and you will not be able to fill the bucket efficiently.”

On the other hand, if you do not have enough tractive effort going into the pile because either the powertrain is not powerful enough, or the machine is too light causing wheel-spin, “then the bucket cannot penetrate the pile and again you will not fill the bucket,” Tyler says. Balance horsepower and weight to fit the applications you do most of the time. Too much engine will eat into your fuel budget and be less efficient. Too little power will cost you additional time, retracing your steps to complete a job that could have been handled by a stronger machine in one or two passes.

Options that build efficiency
Backhoes are available with a wide choice of options to improve the machine’s power, control, comfort and efficiency. Adding attachments to your base machine increases its usefulness and takes some of the wear and tear away from your other equipment. When spec’ing a new backhoe, make sure the core machine supports the applications and attachments you use now and hope to use later.

Hughes recommends ride control for applications that involve a lot of roading because it eliminates the front-to-rear rocking motion backhoe loaders experience under load. “Ride control acts like a shock absorber by cushioning the loader arms from the jolts of rough terrain,” he says. “That means you can fill the bucket fuller and not lose material as your travel down the road.”

Case also suggests looking for anti-rebound swing controls that minimize the amount of movement in digging applications. “Anti-rebound swing controls cushion the boom to minimize overswing, vibration and spillage when stopping suddenly,” Hughes says. “This results in better control and faster cycle times.” Hughes says another popular feature used in roading applications is a powershift transmission, which provides smooth, on-the-go forward-reverse shifting at any engine speed.

Drive and steering options also affect productivity. Lowell Stout, senior product manager for Terex Construction Americas, says four wheel drive is a valuable feature because it provides access to work areas where a two-wheel-drive machine would have difficulty negotiating, like sloppy or rocky terrain. Four-wheel drive also improves the loader’s performance by providing additional loading effort as it goes into the pile. All-wheel steering is another feature Stout feels is worth considering. “A backhoe of this size can compare favorably to small wheel loaders when it comes to loader performance and the addition of all-wheel-steering provides greater maneuverability,” Stouts says.

Spec’ing a quick coupler option on your machine can save you time, add convenience and versatility. Jim Joy, senior marketing engineer, backhoe loaders, Cat, says, “In the past, changing rear buckets took about 20 minutes, requiring hand tools and re-greasing and could discouraged changing work tools altogether. With a quick coupler, changing work tools can be done in about a minute, without hand tools or added grease. Operators can do more tasks that use specialized tools like augers, hammers, compactors, cold planers, ditching buckets or ripper shanks because installation and removal are easy.”

Options that increase comfort and productivity include larger cabs with enhanced ventilation systems, hand- or foot-activated control switches, pilot proportional controls, hydraulic hand tool controls, sound dampening systems, and power assisted steering. A downstream benefit of pilot-operating controls is the elimination of traditional rear consoles, Joy says, giving the operator a ‘front row seat’ on the jobsite and greater legroom.

According to Paul Wade, brand marketing manager for New Holland Construction, a hydraulic coupler will make hooking up loader attachments such as sweeper brooms, forks, angle dozers and four-in-one buckets easier. Wade says a hand-tool circuit is another convenient way to deliver power to hydraulic hand-tools like posthole diggers, hand held breakers, compactors and chain saws. And because backhoes in this class are often used by septic tank contractors who need to set concrete tanks, the backhoe’s lifting ability is important.

Letting go
When money and projects are being squeezed, contractors may look at buying a machine with fewer features, but Hughes warns, “While this may seem like a good idea on the front end, from a resale perspective, it could cost you a lot of money. A well-equipped machine with four-wheel drive, a cab with heat and air conditioning and hydraulic controls will hold its resale value better on a percentage basis than a basic two-wheel drive, ROPS canopy, standard backhoe.”

Like most good investments, your return on your backhoe should be measured by how well it performs while you own it and how much it will yield when you sell it.

15-foot-dig-depth-plus backhoes
Deere’s J Series backhoes replace Deere’s G Series and have new controls located in the seat armrests so the operator can face any direction to work. Deere’s Total Machine Control (TMC) system on the 410J lets the operator run both the backhoe and loader at the same time, controlling the front and back simultaneously without having to let go of the main controls. All J Series models have standard powershift transmission. The 410J has three work modes for the rear hoe – normal, fast and precision. Auto-idle will drop the engine rpm from working range to idle if the operator hasn’t moved the controls for five seconds and will kick back up on demand. The 410J delivers 278 foot pounds of torque and a maximum speed of 23.2 mph and the 710J rides at 24.6 mph and offers 395 foot pounds of torque. For more information go to

The Case 590 Super M Series 2 backhoe is the largest model in the M Series line up. The 590 Super M Series 2 has a 98-horsepower, Tier 2 engine that delivers 289-foot pounds of torque. The 590 Super M Series 2 comes with a four-speed synchromesh transmission standard and has an optional powershift configuration. All Case loader backhoes feature the Pro Control System, which allows you to swing back to position accurately and an over-center backhoe design for smooth roading. Optional features such as infinitely adjustable pilot controls, an integrated hydraulic backhoe coupler and Comfort Steer maximize productivity. The 590 Super M has a top speed of 25 mph and a new 93-inch loader bucket. For more information go to

Terex has two models in the 15-foot dig depth class – the TX870B with front wheel steering and the TX970B with all-wheel-steering. Four-wheel-drive is standard on both machines. Terex features large 16.9 x 30 wheels and tires on the rear and 16/70 x 20 tires on the front of the TX870B. The TX970B has 16.9 x 24 tires on both front and rear wheels, and combined with all-wheel-drive, the TX970B offers a short turning circle of 22 feet. For more information go to

New Holland Construction gives the just-starting-out contractor a long-reach backhoe at a lower price. The New Holland Construction Model B95LR is built on the B95 base with the LB110 stick and uses less fuel than larger models. The New Holland Construction backhoes deliver up to 354 foot pounds of torque. New Holland’s 4-by-2 powershift transmission with automatic shifting is standard on the B115 and optional on the B110. Optional Glide Ride is available on all three models. For more information go to

The Komatsu WB156-5 and WB156PS-5 lift capacity is one of the highest in this backhoe class. The backhoe back end hydraulics are the same design as the Komatsu excavators. The WB156PS-5 is available with an optional power shift transmission for shifting-on-the-fly with a column-mounted lever. The WB156PS-5 offers dual tapered backhoe buckets equipped with extreme service adapters and teeth. A front roof cutout provides a better view of loader at full height. Both models have front wheel steering. For more information go to

In the 17-foot dig depth class, Caterpillar’s new 450E backhoe is the largest in their line, replacing the 446D. Combined-function auxiliary hydraulic lines on the backhoe enable the 450E to support all one-way and two-way hydraulic work tools, such as hammers, compactors, thumbs, augers and tilting couplers. The redesigned cab has standard pilot operated joystick controls. Auxiliary backhoe hydraulic functions such as extendible stick or hammer operation are controlled with thumb rollers, eliminating foot pedals on the floor. Cat’s E-Series include an upgraded air conditioning system and an in-cab control pattern changer. The 430E and 450E’s top travel speed is 25 mph while power-assisted brakes increase slope-holding capabilities. Cat also offers new factory-installed hydraulic and stiff-link thumbs. The AccuGrade machine control and guidance system is now available on Cat 430 backhoes. For more information go to

The JCB 3CX and 4CX Series 15-foot backhoes are the largest in the JCB lineup and come with the Extradig dipper as standard equipment. The 3CX backhoes have four-wheel drive with front steering and the 4CX models feature four-wheel drive with four-wheel-steering. An optional 6-by-4 autoshift high speed transmission is available on the 4CX models. JCB’s Smooth Ride System is manually controlled and available on both 3CX and 4CX machines. An optional tool carrier quick-attach system for front mounted attachments is available on the 3CX and 4CX machines. For more information go to