Rent Smart: Skid-steer loaders

Renting a skid-steer loader to fit your job and expectations seems easy enough. With so many options, however, distinguishing what you really need can sometimes become overwhelming. “Many times, renters don’t review the rental loader for the best fit and determine which one will give the best performance,” says Kelly Moore, product manager for Mustang. Take a look at the guidelines below prior to renting a skid steer and leave the rental yard feeling worry free.

  1. Identify the specific application(s) to be peformed.
    It’s not unusual for a skid-steer loader to be the first to arrive on a jobsite and the last to leave. Their versatility allows use in demolition, landclearing and site preparation jobs. But in every instance, go into your rental agency knowing the scope of the work to be completed and the type, weight and volume of the material to be moved, says John McVeigh, vice president of product management for RSC Equipment Rental.

    Figuring out what you want to accomplish up front will drive you to choose a loader with the right specs.

  2. Recognize any work area limitations.
    Before heading to the rental yard, check out your work area. Plodding through rough terrain and finishing aggressive applications requires the right tires. “The rental company will recommend a track or rubber-tire model depending on the physical site conditions,” says Fred Ransom, Northeast region vice president for United Rentals. If you have any special jobsite challenges, such as areas with prominent debris, you can request foam-filled tires to avoid flats.

    Also, look at your site access. It’s good to have a grasp of ground clearance requirements, since some sites may be narrow or wide. Smaller or larger work areas dictate the possible need for a smaller or larger skid steer, McVeigh says.

    “Be sure to check for any overhead restrictions,” Ransom adds. Skid steers are compact, but it’s safer to notice dimensions before assuming one can fit through a building’s doorway or a backyard’s gated entrance.

  3. Pick an accurate machine size to handle the job.
    “Skid steers come in a wide range of power, width, height and lift capacity ratings, so you’ll get a lot more productivity out of a machine that’s matched to your specific job,” Ransom says. It may seem like common sense to think about this, but renters routinely make the mistake of choosing a machine that is too big or too small for a job.

    Remember that a small job will call for a smaller skid steer, such as a 48- or 60-inch-wide loader, Moore says, while larger jobs will need a skid steer with more lift capacity and hydraulic power.

  4. Understand capabilities, such as horsepower, tipping capacity, linkage styles, lift capacity and lift height.
    When comparing skid steers, notice the engine horsepower and think about what your job requires. Hydraulic pressure, flow and the ability to run attachments effectively should be a major component of your choice, McVeigh says.

    “Renters also need to understand the differences in loader linkages and their advantages,” says Gregg Zupancic, skid steer and compact track loader product marketing manager for John Deere.

    Skid-steer loaders use lift arms with either radial lift or vertical lift designs. Radial lift arms connect to the machine with a single pin on each side, which allows the bucket to follow an arc as it rises. “On a radial lift, the bucket sits close to the machine when it is down to make the machine more stable and compact when moving loads around,” Zupancic says. As the bucket rises, it moves away from the machine and goes straight up. This gives the skid steer extra reach in the work zone, making it easier to dump a load or place a pallet into a deep shelf.

    “Radial lift skid steers work best when digging in hard soil and are more conducive to rough and abusive conditions,” Zupancic claims. In contrast, vertical lifts keep the load parallel when lifting, and are better for handling, loading and pallet work.

    Renters should pay special attention to the truck bed’s height in relation to the skid steer’s lift height, as well. A proper lift height ensures your machine will be able to hoist the material up high enough to be dumped into the truck’s bed.

    Similarly, if you plan on transporting materials, note the skid steer’s lift capacity. Gauging how much you can lift and haul will help in selecting a productive machine, rather than settling on one that has to make several trips to the unloading area.

  5. Choose several attachments to increase your skid steer’s versatility.
    If you want to move earth, dig holes and muscle heavy objects into position, skid steers get the job done, Zupancic says. With so many options, attachments give a single machine the ability to do it all. Some useful ones include various bucket types and capacities for grappling, grading or digging, posthole augers, hydraulic breakers, brooms, sweepers or pallet forks.

    Rental stores also stock seasonal attachments, such as snow plows and brush cutters. “For a contractor who needs these capabilities every now and then, renting is far more cost effective than owning,” Ransom says. But, Zupancic counters, for those who maintain a level of usage for an extended period, buying your attachments may be more logical.

  6. Look for simple controls and choose your options wisely.
    “Take a look at the loader controls and make sure you or your operators are comfortable with these,” Moore says. As one of the newer features of their mid- to large-sized loaders, Mustang’s skid steers offer joystick controls to reduce strain and fatigue on the operator.

    These days, the options on compact equipment resemble those found in automobiles. Some skid steers come equipped with suspension seating, interior lighting and 12-volt receptacles, as well as storage compartments. Others have 2-speed travel, power in-cab attachment coupling, hi-flow hydraulics and bucket self-leveling, according to Zupancic.

    To further ease operation, many manufacturers installed heating and/or air-conditioning units, defrost options and enclosed cabs on their skid steers to keep operators comfortable and in the cab longer, even in poor climate conditions.