Rent Smart: Renting compact wheel loaders

Compact wheel loaders aren’t high on contractors’ rent lists … yet. “Rental is a small part of the compact wheel loader industry,” says Dan Bruch, sales support consultant, compact wheel loaders, Caterpillar, “with under 15 percent going into rental fleets.”

The reason? The skid steer still reigns in North America for many applications that can also be performed by compact wheel loaders. But these loaders now can run a variety of skid-steer attachments, a fact that may clear the way for an increase in compact wheel loader rentals.
“The U.S. market for renting compact wheel loaders is just beginning,” says Des Jarvis, product sales manager, Atlas Construction Machines.

To date, the most popular rental machines are in the-3/4-cubic-yard to 1-1/2-cubic-yard size range. “And while it depends on the job, we see most contractors renting these machines for one to three months,” says George Seyrlehner, global product marketing manager, Ingersoll-Rand.

Rental units are found doing general construction work, truck loading, material movement and landscaping.

“Compact loaders typically go out with compact excavators,” says Steve Nadelman, senior vice president, field operations, for the corporate real estate group of United Rentals. “They do a variety of tasks, including moving dirt, backfilling trenches, carrying fork lumber, setting small pipe, moving pallets and unloading trucks.” These machines also reach beyond construction into agricultural and industrial tasks.

Head to head
Those renting and selling compact wheel loaders know they’re going head to head with skid steers, so talk soon turns competitive. “They have a little better visibility, a smoother ride and do less turf damage than skid steers,” Bruch says. “And because you’re able to use a smaller engine on these units, they’re a bit quieter and offer better fuel consumption.”

“One of the advantages of a compact wheel loader is it doesn’t tear up the turf,” says Curt Unger, general sales manager, Yanmar Construction Equipment. “Plus the operator is positioned up high, which gets him out of the dust and debris of bucket and sweeper applications.” Unger also cites the loader’s smooth ride. “It doesn’t beat you up,” he says.

“Wherever you have more room to operate in,” comments Dave Wolf, brand marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment, “you’ll see the compact wheel loader take over what used to be typical skid steer applications, primarily because they have a more comfortable ride.”

Skid steers, however, still rule on jobs requiring tight maneuvering, plus they offer better visibility to an attachment, Bruch maintains.

Because so many skid-steer attachments can now fit compact wheel loaders, many caution you should double check the attachment’s capabilities. “Compact wheel loaders, for instance, have higher breakout forces than skid steers,” Wolf says, “so make sure a particular attachment can be used on a loader. You can’t use a skid-steer bucket designed for 6,000 pounds of breakout force on a loader with 13,000 pounds of breakout force.”

At the rental counter
You should expect to answer a number of questions at the rental counter, most of which boil down to application:

  • What type and weight of material are you moving?
  • How high do you need to lift this material?
  • What are you loading into – truck, hopper, etc.? “There’s no sense in getting a loader with a 9-foot-6-inch dump height when you’re dumping into a 10-foot hopper,” Jarvis says.
  • What kind of attachments do you need? Are you planning to use any attachments you already have on hand?
  • Is your operator experienced with this type of machine?

“We want to know the parameters of the area they are working in, or whether it needs to go through a narrow area such as a gate,” Nadelman says. “While a bucket is standard, typical attachment requests are for a jib or a set of forks.”

“Know your door and rafter heights to make sure you can get through any doors because these machines do vary quite a bit in height,” Bruch says.

Tell the rental company if you have a specific need for either an on-road or off-road tire, says Seyrlehner. “For instance, many landscape applications need an on-road tire since they have less aggressive treads than off-road tires,” he says.

If you’re removing snow with your rented loader, check out the high-speed travel options, Wolf says. “These allow the machine to go up to 20 mph, which is especially helpful when you’re traveling from parking lot to parking lot.”

Most people renting a compact wheel loader are already familiar with wheel loaders, and the same safety rules apply, Bruch says, such as being aware that lifting capacities on articulated units can change with the angle of articulation, and being careful on slopes. “It’s the same thing, just smaller,” he says.

Articulated vs. all-wheel steer
If lift capacity is a key specification for the job at hand, be aware that all-wheel-steer loaders have the same lift capacity in the straight position or the fully turned position, says Brian Rabe, product specialist, Gehl. “This is an advantage over articulated units, since they lose lift capacity when turning, which results in less machine traction and machine stability. In addition, all-wheel-steer units have a much tighter turning radius than comparable sized articulated units.”

On the other hand, says Unger, all-wheel-steer units can be harder on lawns. “And if you’re using an articulated unit with forks loading a truck,” he says, “you can move the forks just by moving the steering wheel without moving the entire machine. It can almost operate like a side-shift forklift.”

Rent smart
“Don’t make the mistake of renting too small of a machine,” Jarvis says. If your operators aren’t familiar with wheel loaders – the compact machines operate essentially the same as their larger cousins – make sure they not only know how to run the controls, but how they can make the most of them. “For instance,” Jarvis says, “if they know the high speeds these machines are capable of, it would save them a lot of money on the jobsite.” Knowing how to use the inching pedal will also give your operators more ability in tight situations.

Undersizing the rental loader also creates problems when you need to move a significant amount of dirt a long distance, Nadelman comments.

Don’t underestimate the time you’ll need a compact wheel loader, Seyrlehner says. “After three months of rent a customer should really consider applying the rental equity to a rental purchase option.” But the most common mistake contractors make with compact wheel loaders, Unger says, is not giving them a try. “They’re more pricey to rent than a skid steer, so there’s a temptation to choose the machine that rents for less instead of the best machine for the job,” he says.