Backhoe Loader Introduction
The backhoe loader is one of the most common pieces of heavy equipment on any size job site. The fact that it features two useful tools in one machine makes the backhoe loader a must-have for all kinds of construction and repair projects.
The standard backhoe consists of a diesel-powered, four-wheeled vehicle with the operator's cab in the middle and a tool on each end. On the front, it has a loader: a wide bucket on dual arms that is used to either pick up loose piles of material or to push dirt back into a hole when a job is finished. The rear end has the backhoe, a hydraulic-powered digging scoop on a three-jointed arm, designed to dig through hard earth. The operator needs only to turn around in his seat to switch from digging a hole to filling it back up.
Digging and refilling holes and trenches is commonly required for all kinds of construction, utility work, and landscaping. The ability to exchange the backhoe or loader bucket for a different attachment gives you even more flexibility: crushers, retractable-bottom buckets, grinders, and other tools can handle a variety of other tasks. The combination of power, relatively small size, two common tools, and flexibility makes backhoe loaders extremely useful for contractors and construction firms of many types.
This BuyerZone Backhoe Loaders Buyer's Guide will explain:
- What you should look for when choosing a backhoe loader
- What features to expect
- How much you can expect to pay
Then, when you're ready, we can put you in touch with several qualified backhoe sellers in your area - for free!
To get started, the first thing you'll have to consider is your job. How much space do you have to move around in? How quickly does the job need to be completed? These considerations and others mentioned below will impact the model you select. Start your search here.
Backhoe Loader Considerations
Part of backhoe loaders' popularity is based on the fact that they fall in the middle of a range of digging and loading equipment, bringing more power than compact machines without the expense of full-sized excavators. You should consider whether a backhoe loader is the right choice for the bulk of your digging and earthmoving needs.
For smaller jobs and increased flexibility, the combination of a skid steer loader with a standard bucket and a mini excavator can sometimes work faster than a backhoe loader. It can be cheaper to buy the two smaller machines than one backhoe loader, but you'll need an operator for each one and you'll have more transportation and maintenance hassles. These mini machines are most valuable in very crowded conditions, and recent trends have many contractors replacing at least one backhoe with a mini excavator.
For high-end digging power, full sized excavators are the best choice. These massive tracked machines are only worthwhile if your application calls for ongoing digging: building foundations, for example. However, their size makes them less useful on cramped construction sites.
Backhoe loaders fill a very important middle ground, where having an excavator and loading bucket on one relatively compact machine is essential. They're also much better at moving around large job sites or between sites — you can drive a backhoe on the road if need be, while excavators and skid steers have to be moved on trailers.
Choosing a backhoe loader
The first consideration when choosing a backhoe loader is how deep you'll need it to dig. Full-sized backhoes can usually reach down 14 to 16 feet; compact backhoes can typically dig around eight to 10 feet deep. For full size machines, 14' depths are by far the most common. Compact backhoe loaders are great if most of your work is less than 10' deep; they're less expensive, easier to maneuver, and easier to transport than full-sized backhoes.
On the other end, reach can be important: if you need to load dump trucks of a certain size, make sure the loader has an appropriate lift height to do the job. Lift capacity is similarly important: you'll need to know how much weight your machine can handle. Keep in mind that capacity varies for the two tools — loaders typically have much greater capacities than backhoes.
One spec that you shouldn't put too much emphasis on is horsepower. Engine horsepower doesn't directly impact the capabilities of the attachments: digging and lifting are powered by the backhoe's hydraulic systems, not the engine. You should be aware of horsepower ratings when comparing different models, but don't let them drive your decision.
After you've settled on the general size and capability of the machine itself, it's time to select from available options. Review the next section carefully, as these are the features that provide efficiency as well as safety.
Backhoes have two stabilizer legs located right behind the rear wheels. These legs support most of the weight when digging, reducing stress on the wheels and providing a steady digging platform. The stabilizer on the backhoe loader you choose should have both grouser shoes that provide a firm grip on dirt, and rubber-padded shoes for use on asphalt.
Many contractors prefer four-wheel drive backhoes, which are best for traction on muddy or loose ground. Since many backhoe loaders spend most of their working lives on muddy, loose ground, the extra cost of four-wheel drive can be a good investment. Four-wheel drive is harder on the transmission, so try to use it only when necessary.
On crowded job sites, four-wheel steering offers greatly improved maneuverability: turning the front and rear wheels in opposite directions greatly reduces turning radius. In the tightest spots, "crab steering" lets you turn the front and rear wheels in the same direction, allowing the loader to scoot sideways. Four-wheel steering is a fairly uncommon feature but rapidly gaining popularity. A 4 x 4 x 4 backhoe has four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, and four equal-sized wheels.
Older backhoe loaders use mechanical hand and foot levers to control their various functions. Newer backhoes feature much easier-to-use "pilot controls:" dual joysticks that provide full control with less stress on the operator.
When digging long trenches or working next to obstacles, sideshift can be a huge time saver. Sideshift allows the operator to slide the digging arm all the way to one side of the vehicle and operate it in that position. From there, the machine can dig a trench parallel to the direction the tires are facing. This makes it much easier to dig along a foundation or wall with less risk of damage. It also eliminates the need for constant repositioning of the backhoe -- it can simply inch forward as necessary.
Cabs are becoming more like automobile interiors as manufacturers start paying more attention to ergonomics: they're larger, provide better sight lines, and can include extras like suspension seats, climate control, and 12-volt outlets for cell phones or other accessories. These aren't just frills -- keeping the operator comfortable increases productivity.
Operator cabs also need to be designed with safety in mind: OSHA requires all backhoe loaders to have ROPS(roll over protective structures). The regulations detail exactly how much protection the ROPS should provide in a rollover. Fully enclosed cabs are called EROPS (enclosed roll over protective structures).
Many new backhoes offer automatic transmissions. These are particularly worthwhile if you'll be doing a lot of driving around large work sites or to and from jobs. However, they are more expensive, so if you'll be transporting the loader mainly with a trailer, you may want to go for a less expensive manual transmission.
One of the greatest benefits of a backhoe is the versatility of attachments it accepts. Easily swapped out on just about any job site, your next step is to figure out which attachments will be most effective for your job.
Backhoe Loader Attachments
While the digging scoop and the loader bucket are by far the most common tools used on backhoe loaders, there's been a trend in recent years towards using additional attachments to increase the machines' flexibility. For example, switching from a bucket to forks lets you easily transport pallets without the expense and hassle of bringing forklifts to the job site.
There are many different types of attachments that can be used on a backhoe loader. The front of a backhoe loader can be outfitted with forks, grapples (hooks or claws), snow blowers, and powered brooms. The back can use hammers, thumbs (or crushers), and grinders. Either end can be fitted with multi-purpose buckets of varying widths for lifting, carrying, and dumping different types of materials. "4-in-1 buckets," which have a hinged bottom that can be opened and closed hydraulically, are also a popular choice.
ITCs (a.k.a. quick couplers)
If you want to be able to use multiple attachments, look for a backhoe that includes a quick coupler, or integrated tool carrier (ITC). These are industry-standard connections for various types of construction equipment, and include hookups to the loader's hydraulic system for powered attachments.
Purchase as needed or rent
Don't feel compelled to purchase all the attachments you might need immediately. Start with the essentials. You can always add more as the need develops. You can even rent attachments that you'll only use occasionally. In some cases, tool carrier-equipped backhoes can even use skid steer attachments.
Before you speak with backhoe sellers, make sure the sellers you're considering pair up with your needs. Depending on your application, and whether or not you have in-house mechanics with appropriate knowledge, choosing the right seller can have a huge impact on the overall value and longevity of your backhoe.
Choosing a Backhoe Seller
Buying a backhoe loader involves more than just choosing a model: you'll have to evaluate several backhoe sellers to find one you can work with for the long term. Like any piece of heavy-duty construction equipment, your backhoe loader will wear and eventually break, making your relationship with the seller important for preventative maintenance and repairs.
Some sellers only carry one line of backhoe loaders, while others carry several manufacturers' models. Working with a backhoe seller who carries multiple lines gives the advantage of being able to choose the right brand for your needs, while sellers dedicated to one brand may have more in-depth expertise with those models. Either option is fine, as long as you take the time to compare several brands.
Post-sale service agreements
Ask potential sellers about their service policies. Find out how they'll handle breakdowns: do they offer on-site service? If your loader needs to go into the shop for more extensive work, will they pick it up and return it, or do you need to transport it yourself? Can they provide a loaner vehicle while yours is being repaired? Check on their parts inventory, too. You won't want to wait for parts to be delivered.
Because of the inevitable service needs, you'll want to choose a backhoe seller that is reasonably close to you. Don't feel like you have to choose the absolute closest seller, but try to find one no further than 100 or 150 miles, keeping a round trip to around half a day.
Talking to other businesses in your area can be a great source of insight into a backhoe seller's strengths and weaknesses. You should also ask the seller for customer references, preferably from clients in industries similar to yours.
When checking references, you can ask questions like:
- How long have you been a customer of theirs? How many loaders have you purchased?
- Did you get the right backhoe loader for your application?
- Has the seller done a good job with maintenance and repairs?
- Would you buy from this seller again?
- What could the seller improve about their operation?
Don't underestimate personal reactions, as well. Choose a seller you feel is honest with you and who is easy to work with: those impressions are often accurate. Saving a thousand dollars on your initial purchase is insignificant compared to the ongoing costs you'll incur over the years. Focus on the seller relationship instead of the price tag.
New & Used Backhoe Loader Pricing
Major pieces of construction equipment like backhoe loaders don't come cheap: they're built for reliability and toughness. Before you develop a case of sticker shock, consider that you'll be using your new backhoe loader for 10 years or more, and the upfront cost won't seem quite as high.
Typical prices for a base-model 14' digging depth backhoe, the industry standard, with an average 80 or 90 horsepower (hp), range from $55,000 to $75,000. 15' to 16' models go for $75,000 to $90,000, and those over 16' can average around $110,000. Compact backhoes in the popular 9' to 10' range are most often in the $25,000 to $35,000 range.
Options like four-wheel drive, automatic transmission, and sideshift can quickly raise your total costs — but if those options are important to your planned use of the machine, they'll pay for themselves in improved efficiency. Also count on paying an extra $1,000 to $2,000 for each specialized attachment you purchase like a 4 in 1 bucket or crusher.
Backhoe loader sellers often offer subsidized financing from the equipment manufacturers, helping you get a good deal on purchase financing. Leasing is a good option when interest rates are high, but while interest rates are relatively low, you're better off purchasing outright.
Backhoe loaders can also be rented by the day, week, or month. Daily rates range from $150 to $500; weekly rentals are typically $600 to $1,500; and monthly rentals average around $2,000 to $3,000.
Buying used backhoe loaders
Due to these steep prices, you may want to investigate used backhoe loaders. Take into account your schedule flexibility when deciding whether or not to buy used. If you lose the use of the backhoe for a week due to repairs, will that throw off your schedule completely, or can you take it in stride? You should also ensure that you're buying from a reputable seller, as you're more likely to need their help for repairs.
Prices drop considerably once the machines have a few thousand hours of use on them. For example, used backhoe loaders with 14' backhoes and 2,000 hours of use can be found for around $30,000. Choose a machine with even more hours and you can drive the price down even further.
However, you'll need to be careful about maintenance costs. A few dings and some peeling paint might not matter to you, but a failing transmission certainly will. Make sure you take the loader for a test drive and do some loading and digging with it to gauge its performance.
Backhoe Loader Buying Tips
Fuel efficiency and emission control. Tier-II engines provide more torque and horsepower with better fuel economy than older diesel engines. However, they're mandated on all new backhoes, so don't be too impressed by sellers who pitch them as a feature. If you're shopping for used backhoes, though, you should be aware of the difference.
Tires. In environments that are particularly tough on air-filled tires - such as demolition sites and recycling operations - foam-filled rubber tires are a good option. They're more expensive, but will save you the expense and downtime of blowouts.
Ask around. Be sure to talk to other companies in your industry to ask what types of equipment they're using and where they got it. Hands-on experience with the vehicle you're considering is by far the most valuable information you can use in your purchasing decision.
Adequate training. OSHA rules require specific training and safety procedures for all heavy machinery operators. Make sure your seller can either provide the necessary training or recommend a third-party source.