Touted for their versatility and maneuverability, skid-steer loaders remain a popular choice on jobsites across the country. But the smaller versions of this compact machine previously lacked the horsepower and torque needed to perform tougher applications. Taking note of this, several manufacturers have upped the performance standards on many 1,500-pounds-or-less rated operating capacity skid steers.
“Skid steers have become more powerful with more options,” says Robert Beesley, product manager for Komatsu America’s Utility Division. “Every job has a place for a skid-steer loader.”
While skid steers’ compact size has always been a key feature, power was often neglected. This is no longer the case. Caterpillar’s C-Series skid-steer loaders feature increased breakout forces, as well as pushing power, allowing the machines to move more material faster, according to Kent Pellegrini, skid-steer loader/multi-terrain loader industry manager for Caterpillar.
“The industry is trending toward larger size classes because customers are demanding machines that will complete the work quickly,” Pellegrini says. When space constraints may be an issue, however, smaller size classes will be a fall back for demanding work, he says.
Bobcat’s S100 skid-steer loader, previously called the 553, provides an example of how amplified power capabilities – including a 34-percent horsepower increase, a 28-percent torque increase and improved cycle times for lifting – can turn a smaller machine into a workhorse. Aaron Kleingartner, product specialist for Bobcat, says these adjustments enable the S100 to take part in certain heavy-duty applications, such as demolition and debris removal.
In Komatsu’s lineup, every skid steer in this class has a turbocharged engine for higher horsepower and increased pushing power. “Also, each machine has a two-speed transmission for faster work cycles and pilot operated joystick controls for easy operation,” Beesley says.
For increases in power to be noticed, however, manufacturers say users should pair a skid steer with an attachment. “Like their larger brothers, small skid-steer loaders are versatile tool carriers, capable of performing a huge range of jobs with the proper attachment,” Daniels notes. “The difference is they can (perform) in places normally accessible only to people with walk-behind or hand-held equipment.”
Landscaping, grading, sidewalk and driveway work, installing fences or deck posts and site clean up can all be accomplished with a compact skid steer and the correct attachment. Most skid steers come equipped with a universal attachment coupler, and skid-steer attachments exist for almost every job – including buckets, forks, augers, rakes, trenchers, hammer breakers, hydraulic mowers and more. At first, contractors may choose to own one base unit with a few attachments for common jobs, and rent other attachments as they see fit.
“When choosing attachments, pay special attention to flow requirements and how the attachment may affect the tipping load through additional weight or movement of the load center away from the operator,” Beesley says. The machine’s rated operating capacity as well as its auxiliary oil flow are critical specs in selecting attachments. The rated operating capacity alerts users to how much weight the machine can handle, while continuous oil flow to the auxiliary unit allows an attachment to run efficiently. Exceeding hydraulic oil flow requirements will cause the skid steer to overheat.
Typically, small skid-steer loaders excel in landscaping applications, but attaching a breaker or grapple outfits the machine for demolition jobs, such as removing debris from inside a building.
“Small skid steers prevail in high traffic areas,” Pellegrini notes. Unlike larger-sized compact equipment, these multi-tool carriers can glide in through doorways and backyard entrances, easily transporting materials.
They are also prime candidates for excavation jobs. Small skid steers, for example, handle residential swimming pool installations well because they can access the area and dig a hole, in addition to transporting material. Pairing it with a compact excavator is another option.
Besides power increases and a wide range of applications, small skid-steer loaders have also graduated to higher levels of comfort. Air-conditioned and/or heated cabs, easier-to-read instruments and pilot-operated joystick controls all contribute to this comfort level.
“It’s important to focus on comfort, because the machine is the contractor’s office,” Kleingartner says. “A lot of times they’re in there eight to 10 hours a day.”
Skid steers also possess options for use in hazardous conditions to ensure operator security. Bobcat has introduced its loader radio remote control system for skid steers and other compact equipment, which offers full machine function, including machine travel, lift arm and attachment control, from a hand-held transmitter. External components include a receiver that mounts to the top of the cab and a control mode selector/emergency stop box that mounts to the tailgate. Cables come with the system to connect the receiver and the selector box to the loader.
“This connection is made via the diagnostic port on the machine and is a simple plug and play type of arrangement,” Kleingartner says.
Through the selector box, the user can choose either remote mode to control the machine from a distance or direct machine mode to operate from the cab.
“Basically, the user must be able to see the machine to operate the unit up to 1,500 feet away,” Kleingartner says. “If the machine travels out of range of the transmitter, it will shutdown and the operator must get within range of the machine to restart it.”
Visibility is always a concern on skid steers, which have their blind spots. One manufacturer who’s addressed this is New Holland, which has increased its glass area and added light fixtures on its L150 model to ensure safer operation during nighttime and early morning hours and inside buildings, says David Daniels, brand marketing manager for New Holland Construction.
Bobcat has addressed small skid-steer visibility by using the same cab structure of its largest skid-steer loader, the S330, on its S100 model.
Manufacturers urge skid-steer operators to remember common safety practices, such as wearing a seatbelt and treading carefully through rocky or slick areas.
Caterpillar, for example, offers retractable seat belts, armbar restraints, quick-release front window and quick-release rear windows. In addition, a safety bar that locks the loader arms in raised position and a latch that puts the rear door in a fixed position offer safety while servicing.
Doc McGee, supervisor, manager of ready-mix operation, footing division and flatwork division for McGee Brothers, says skid steers require quite a few steps for preventive maintenance, so it’s crucial to go over the owner’s manual. Different brands often have key differences, so don’t assume reading one manual for skid steers will work for all.
Follow manual recommendations, such as checking engine and hydraulic oil levels every 10 service hours or at the end of each day. “Make sure cooling fins are flushed out on radiators, especially if your skid steer’s running in dry and dusty conditions,” McGee adds. “It’s also good to do this with hydraulic fins.”
If you have a climate-controlled cab, the filters should be cleaned periodically. Determining when to clean these really depends on the machine and conditions that you’re running it in, McGee says. Some skid steers need this daily, while others may only need to be cleaned every 30 days.
“The better care you take of your equipment, the longer it will last and provide a return on your investment,” McGee says.
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers gives the following skid-steer safety tips:
- Know the capacity and operating characteristics of your loader.
- When you get on or leave the loader, always maintain three-point contact.
- Fasten your seat belt/operator restraint before you begin working.
- Check the back-up alarm. Always look around before you reverse the machine or operate an attachment.
- Know the rules of traffic at your jobsite.
- Inspect the surface over which you will travel. Look for holes, drop-offs and obstacles. Also look for rough or weak spots, and slippery surfaces. Watch for anything that could cause a loss of control or a rollover.
- Avoid steep slopes. If you must drive on a slope, keep the load low.
- Drive forward whenever possible.
- Don’t overload the bucket or attachment, or carry a load that can fall from the bucket or attachment.
- Check coupler pins or wedges to ensure engagement. The coupler must be engaged both mechanically and hydraulically before operating.
- Use caution backfilling. Don’t get too close to trench walls. The combined weight of your equipment and the load could cause the wall to give way.
- Whenever you leave your loader, always lower the lift arms and put the bucket or attachment flat on the ground, or secure lift arms with the approved support devices.
Tips for maintaining your skid steer
- Check for broken, missing, loose or damaged parts.
- Check the tires for cuts, missing lugs, bulges and correct tire pressure. Replace badly worn or damaged tires.
- Check condition and operation of attachment quick coupling device. Perform daily cleaning and maintenance following the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Check the hydraulic system. Have any leaks repaired.
- Check cooling system. If air cooled, check for unobstructed airflow. If liquid cooled, check coolant level (at overflow tank, if provided).
Source: Association of Equipment Manufacturers