July 26

What is the Best Skid Steer?

Last Updated on August 11, 2022

If you’re running a business and looking for one of these machines, you’re likely asking, what is the best skid steer?

Before we answer that, let’s start with the basics. Skid steer loaders (or skid steers) are small, versatile, wheeled machines that get used in farming, landscaping, construction, demolition, scrap, industrial, and other markets. They are often called the Swiss Army knives of the construction industry for their ability to perform so many different tasks. These tasks include:

skid steer loader applications infographic
  • Truck loading
  • Lift and carry
  • Pulverising rock
  • Mowing
  • Feeding animals
  • Turf are
  • Mixing concrete
  • And more…

The reason skid steers perform so many different tasks is because they can be equipped with so many different attachments. John Deere, one of the top skid steer manufacturers, produces more than 100 different attachments for skid steers. 

And, the attachments are really easy to remove. The operator doesn’t even need to leave the cab to do it. They can release one attachment with a button and drive up to the next attachment, line up the skid steer with the attachment, and lift it up to a certain angle. Then it automatically locks into place. 

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The smallest skid steers

On the small end, there’s a category of skid steers called mini skid steers. Companies such as Ditch Witch, Ramrod, Toro, and Vermeer produce these machines. These machines have no cab, roof, walls, or windows. The operator either walks behind the machine or stands on a platform at the rear of the machine. These skid steers are about 36 inches in width, have maximum capacities of 400-600 pounds, and maximum lift heights of six or seven feet. 

The smallest cabbed skid steer is the Bobcat S70. It’s only 36 inches wide, but can lift a few inches higher, and has greater maximum weight capacities (760 pounds). Cabbed machines have a much higher tipping load compared to minis due to the engine being shifted from the center of the machine to its rear. The machine’s weight balances with the load in the bucket (or other attachment) at the front of the machine.

The largest skid steer loader is the Gehl 420. It can lift nearly 12 feet and has a maximum lift capacity of 4,200 pounds

Big sales, many competitors 

Skid steers have become so popular, it’s safe to say every construction company and most commercial farmers have at least one or rent them from time to time. 

Year after year, sales of skid steers outperform all other construction equipment categories. In fact, there have been more unit sales of skid steers than any other machine for decades. As such, the market has attracted a lot of players, which makes the market very competitive.

Here’s a list of the top 20 manufacturers of skid steers serving the North American market:

ASVLiugong
BobcatManitou
CaseMustang
CaterpillarNew Holland
DoosanSany
GehlTakeuchi
JCBVolvo Construction Equipment
John DeereWacker Neuson
KomatsuXCMG
KubotaYanmar

The manufacturers with the greatest skid steer sales are Bobcat, Caterpillar, and John Deere. Together, these three companies constitute two-thirds of all skid steer sales in North America and Bobcat alone constitutes nearly half of those sales. In 2014, Bobcat Company celebrated the sale of their 1,000,000th loader. 

A few leaders, many followers

A lot of the skid steer manufacturers offer no innovation and only middle-to-bottom-of-the-pack performance qualities. Only a select few are capable of producing the best skid steer.  

Here are the companies that continually show innovation and superior performance characteristics:

Bobcat

Not only does Bobcat sell more skid steer loaders than any other manufacturer—since 2008, the company has built one loader every 12 minutes. The company (originally called Melroe Manufacturing Company) created the first skid steer in 1962. They were the only ones to offer skid steers for such a long time and had such a large lead in the market that the name of the company’s Bobcat skid steer became synonymous with the machine itself, and the company eventually renamed itself “Bobcat”. 

In 1972, Bobcat invented a lever-actuated attachment mounting device called the Bob-Tach. When the patent for the Bob-Tach expired 25 years later, it became the world ISO standard and was adopted by all skid steer manufacturers. 

Bobcat produces 11 skid steer models ranging from the S70 (mentioned above) to the S850, which range from 24-100 hp.

Caterpillar

Caterpillar makes great and even market-leading products in nearly every segment where they compete. The company has high standards for machine quality and performance. 

When Caterpillar releases a new product line, they invest a lot of time researching the market and combine that knowledge with their manufacturing and technological expertise from across a myriad of product divisions. The end result is a product that performs at or near the top of the pack. 

Technological options for Caterpillar skid steers include grade control and smart creep. Grade control allows the operator to perform GPS-accurate grading without the use of grade stakes. Smart creep senses the load on the attachment and automatically adjusts the drive command to keep the powered attachment running at the most productive speed.

Caterpillar produces eight skid steer models ranging from the 226D3 to the 272D3 XE (67 hp – 110 hp).

JCB

JCB has developed a single-arm skid steer, which is pretty unique among the industry. Of all the manufacturers listed above, only Volvo Construction Equipment has a single-arm skid steer, which is just a JCB skid steer rebranded as a Volvo machine through a cooperative agreement between the two companies. 

The brilliance of this design is it allows the skid steer operator to enter through the side of the machine. The dual arm design of most skid steers eliminates side-entry possibility, because the loader’s arms rest at the side of the machine across where a door could fit. That is why these skid steers must be entered via the front, which means the operator has to walk on the attachment to enter the cab. This is also why buckets and other attachments designed for skid steers have a grated metal step or two on the attachment. With it operators can more safely enter the machine. This minimizes risk of falling when entering and exiting the vehicle. A side entry allows operators to enter and exit the skid steer similar to how one enters and exits a car. 

JCB offers three skid steer models: 215, 270, 300—all are rated at 74 hp.

John Deere 

best skid steers - John Deere infographic

With John Deere skid steers, you can shorten cycle times / increase production by using the optional electrohydraulic (EH) boom performance package in repetitive boom applications, and a two-speed drivetrain delivers travel speeds up to 12 mph for reduced travel times.

This line of skid steers has a boom design that keeps the load close to the machine for improved stability. Combined with the machine’s low center of gravity, optional ride control, and optional self-leveling features, this greatly reduces spillage. 

These machines are also built for power, such as pushing power and high bucket breakout forces, as well as the necessary hydraulic flow to power high-powered attachments. Examples are mowers, snowblowers, and demolition attachments.

John Deere offers seven skid steer models ranging from the 316GR to the 332 G (46 hp -77 hp).

The best skid steer

So, which skid steer is the best? 

Well, the most honest answer—which might feel like a cop out is…. it depends on the application. 

If you’re in a lift and carry application, a high dump height doesn’t matter. If you’re in a truck loading application, high breakout force may not help you. If you’re in an excavation operation, high hydraulic flow isn’t necessary. If you’re in a demolition operation, fuel efficiency isn’t a priority.  

There are a few criteria to determine which skid steer is the best for your application. 

Attachment(s)

Some attachments, such as demolition attachments, mowers, and snow blowers require a lot of hydraulic power to operate. For those applications, you will need a skid steer with a high-flow system (30-45 gpm). If you only use a bucket, pallet forks, or any other non-powered or low-powered attachment, you can use a skid steer with a low-flow system (18-25 gpm).

Lift capacity

This includes maximum lift height and maximum lift weight (which is usually referred to as rated operating capacity (ROC) in product specification information. Determine what is the maximum amount of weight you need to lift and how high you need to reach. When you purchase a machine, find one that slightly exceeds those amounts, because it’s better to not operate at its maximum capacity.  

Lift path 

The first skid steers were radial lift, which means as the loader arms raised from ground height to full height, the arms reached out and the lift path was an arc shape. 

Vertical lift creates a straight lift path and was created to solve the problem of skid steer operators either bumping the side of a truck during the lift or the operator needing to move closer to the truck at the top of the lift. This is because due to the arc shape of the lift, the bucket no longer reached the truck.

Technology options

Options, such as fleet management, remote diagnostics, grade control, and a rearview camera are available for most skid steers either direct from the manufacturer or as an aftermarket option.

So, the best skid steer is the one that meets or slightly exceeds all of your needs and wants. 
Now, you know a bit more about skid steers. If you’re looking to snag one for your own construction company or some related heavy equipment instead, then take a look at Municibid’s vast catalog of municipal items. There’s something sure to be worthwhile, affordable, and great for your business!


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