RentSmart: Trenchers

Rental dealers have a full arsenal of trenchers available, including walk-behind (also called pedestrian) and ride-on units. Another option is renting a trencher attachment to put on a compact machine such as a skid steer or compact rubber-track loader.

Most non-attachment rental trenchers are machines in size categories up to 50 horsepower, although there is some rental activity in the higher horsepower machines, including wheel saws. The smaller machines tend to be rented by rental companies, while the larger trenchers are usually offered for rent by a manufacturer’s dealer. Up to 70 percent of these larger-machine rentals are converted into owned units via rental purchase options.

Walk-behind units dig trenches for jobs such as sprinkler line installation and electrical work. Popular sizes include 24-inch and 36-inch-dig-depth machines. Renters typically ask for 24-, 36- and 48-inch dig depths on ride-on trenchers. Contractors use them to install all types of utility lines, including telecommunications, water, sewer, gas, electricity, plus highway drainage and irrigation.

Since most rental trenchers are used for in-and-out activities, contractors typically rent them for one to three days. This rental period can increase to weekly and monthly rates, however, with larger machines.

Rental trencher fleets will typically be young, less than four years old. Even though there’s been great advances in the operator comfort, visibility and durability of trenchers, the machines are in high-wear applications.

Inspect the rental unit
In use, a trencher collects dirt and dust around the hoses and fittings, so the first thing to inspect when a rental dealer brings you a unit is its general cleanliness. While cleanliness is not a guarantee of a well-maintained unit, it is a good initial indicator since these units can be rented out as much as six different times a month. Also check the condition of the cutting teeth and digging chain.

Check the digging chain tension, knowing a good rule of thumb for walk-behind trenchers is two fingers between the boom and the chain with the boom placed horizontal to the ground. For ride-on units, you should be able to fit three fingers between the boom and chain with the boom in this position. Make sure it’s no looser or tighter.

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Other things to check include whether the guards are in place, the lube points are properly greased and all safety devices are working.

Check how easily the machine starts. Make sure there’s no play in the bearings. Signs of abuse include worn seats, extreme paint wear or scuffs and grease smeared over the machine.
Most rental companies will inspect each returned machine against a checklist to make sure everything is functioning properly before sending it out on another rental.

Match the trencher to the job
Unless you know exactly what you need, rental dealers will ask a series of questions to determine which of their units will fit your job.
· What are you putting in the ground?
· How much linear feet of production do you need to accomplish per day?
· How deep and how wide does your trench need to be?
· Do you have an experienced operator?
· What soil types will you be dealing with? There are a variety of trencher teeth designed to attack the exact soil types you have on the job. These include cup teeth for soft to normal digging, combination chains with both carbide and cup teeth for medium to hard soils, and rock teeth for severe digging conditions. Your rental dealer should know the soil conditions in his general area and be able to give you the right match. Also realize there are some jobs you just can’t trench and you may have to opt for another machine, such as a breaker-equipped excavator.
· Are there any job space limitations?

You should also ask some questions, especially concerning tooth wear on longer term rentals. Some rental dealers charge for tooth wear, so know what these costs may be beforehand.

Another rental option is a trencher attachment, which can come with side-shift capabilities.

Another answer: rent an attachment
Putting a trencher attachment on a compact machine may be a better rental solution for you, particularly if creating a trench is just a small portion of your job. For example, if you put a trencher attachment on a skid steer, you could easily swap out the trencher and replace it with the myriad other attachments available for these machines.

Medium-size trencher attachments, capable of digging between 2 and 4 feet, are popular rental items. These give you versatility without requiring the high-flow hydraulics of larger attachments. You can rent these attachments either with the carrier or separately.

Many trencher attachments come with side-shift capabilities, a feature that’s also an option on stand-alone trenchers. This allows you to slide the trencher boom to the left or right, and dig a trench close to a building or other structures.

Also be aware there are attachments available for ride-on trenchers, including vibratory plows and backhoes.

Safety checkpoints
Rental companies will gladly give you instructions on the safe operation of a specific unit, and most insist you sign a statement that you’ve received these instructions. In addition, a copy of the operator’s manual accompanies each rented unit and safety decals are prominently placed on the machines.

Know what’s underground: before you start work call your local One Call service to locate any existing lines. Also keep an eye out for what’s overhead, especially when renting a larger ride-on trencher.

Be aware of your surroundings and keep people at least 6 feet away from both the working trenching boom and the trench, which may have unstable sides.

All walk-behind or ride-on machines have devices to stop the machine when it detects an operator is no longer present, either through the use of a handlebar bale or a seat sensor. These devices should never be disabled.

If you’re transporting the machine, make sure it’s bound to the trailer correctly, and ask how to properly rebind it if you need the trencher on more than one jobsite. If the trencher is improperly bound it’s hard on the equipment and may be a hazard going down the road. Machines have decals illustrating the best binding procedure.

Trencher attachments have their own considerations. Make sure the shield in front of the operator’s cab is in place.

General cautions
Work with your rental dealer to ensure you’re renting a trencher that’s up to your job. Don’t expect a rented trencher to run at maximum capacity 10 hours a day and still get the productivity you require. Take the maximum depth and width you’ll need and then size your rental machine above it.

Reach deeper into your pocket to rent the higher horsepower unit that will easily do the job. You may actually be saving money because of the higher productivity of a right size machine.
Make sure your job is ready for the trencher so you don’t waste any rental time, a factor particularly important in day rentals.

Recognize the limitations of the trencher boom, whether it’s on a stand-alone unit or an attachment. Trenchers are made to trench in a straight line, so don’t try to turn with the trencher boom in the ground.