Backhoe loaders are extremely versatile agricultural, industrial and residential workplace machines that can accomplish a lot on their own, but you still have to know how to choose the right backhoe loader if you want to get very far out on the field. From cost-efficiency considerations to must-have attachments and other special features, this buyer’s guide will give you all of the insider’s information you need to make sure you’re purchasing the very best kind of backhoe loader
for your given industry.
Table of Contents
- What is a Backhoe?
- What Backhoe specs to consider?
- How much does a Backhoe cost?
- What Backhoe attachments are available?
- Choosing the right model
- Backhoe tires, steering and stabilizers
- What Backhoe brand is the best?
- Inspecting a used Backhoe Loader
What is a Backhoe?
A backhoe loader, more commonly referred to as a backhoe, is essentially a tractor with a large frontal loader bucket that can carry up to 8,760 pounds on average and push, level, or scoop up lightweight materials as needed. At the same time, a second digging bucket on the rear can dig an average depth of 15 feet and usually has a maximum reach of just under 26 feet. This valuable two-for-one design allows backhoe loaders to fulfill a wide variety of roles that can be further broken down into three main categories:
agriculture, construction, and landscaping.
What is a Backhoe good for?
Backhoe loaders excel at medium-sized jobs and, unlike larger equipment, they are safe to drive on the road and don’t need to be transported, which cuts down on both project costs and delays.
- Agriculture – Whether you are laying irrigation pipes, burying livestock, or installing posts for your next barn site, there’s plenty of reasons for farm workers to quickly dig a hole and fill it back up using a backhoe loader.
- Construction – Residential or industrial, a backhoe loader lets you easily perform minor demolition work and then haul the materials off somewhere else. In addition, you can simply push the plow across an even level to grade (smooth out) materials, making it perfect for pavement during roadway construction projects.
- Landscaping – The largest of backhoes can remove tree stumps as well as entire trees, and when it comes to constructing artificial ponds, a backhoe can do much of the excavation work while also performing other tasks such as lining the spillway with rocks. A backhoe can even precisely stack heavy rocks on top of each other to create beautiful stone walls and other similar projects.
Additionally, backhoe loaders can be equipped with a variety of attachments to achieve other tasks such as mining and snow removal, but we will get more into that a bit later.
What is a Backhoe not good for?
Although backhoe loaders are good for transporting equipment, even the largest backhoe loader is still on the small side as far as heavy equipment is concerned, which doesn’t make them very efficient when it comes to towing. As a general rule, backhoe loaders should also not be used for large jobs, or for smaller jobs whenever cheaper equipment like a mini-excavator or a skid steer can do the same thing (for obvious cost reasons). However, when it comes to medium-sized jobs, and especially for cramped job sites that give larger vehicles a harder time, the backhoe loader is definitely the right choice.
What Backhoe specs to consider?
Most people would logically assume that horsepower equals everything. This might be true for other heavy equipment, but it’s simply not so in the world of backhoe loaders. Since a backhoe’s power comes from the hydraulic system and not the engine, horsepower doesn’t mean nearly as much as the following specifications:
- Maximum Digging Depth – Small backhoe loaders typically dig between 7-10 feet, while the average full-size backhoe can usually dig at least 14 feet deep. The largest backhoe loaders can dig up to 60 feet deep.
- Rear Bucket Width – Deciding how wide to make your rear bucket will have a major impact on your overall productivity. Smaller 12-inch-wide buckets have 2.5 cubic feet of space and can carry 250 pounds of material on average, while larger 60-inch-wide buckets can carry 20 cubic feet of material and support up to 670 pounds on average.
- Front (Loader) Bucket Width – A basic front bucket has no sharp corners (for a smoother push) and a width that’s between 89 to 96 inches. It can carry between 1-1.75 cubic yards of materials weighing anywhere from 1,590 to 2,100 pounds.
- Front loaders can be outfitted with a multipurpose bucket for heavy-duty construction, demolition, and landscaping applications such as tree removals. They usually have large clamping “jaws” that measure between 89 and 95 inches wide, and can hold between 1.3 and 1.5 cubic yards of materials weighing anywhere from 1,590 to 2,100 pounds.
- Side Dump – This final variation is used for everything from loading and dumping to backfill operations. The bucket can be emptied straight forward or to the left, making it perfect for cramped conditions. This attachment can haul between 1 to 1.25 cubic yards of materials that weigh anywhere from 1,890 to 2,060 pounds.
- Operating Weight – Choose a lighter operating weight when you want to have a minimal impact on the environment (like golf courses and backyards, for example). If you aren’t worried about leaving tracks behind (as is the case with agricultural jobs), then you can choose a backhoe with a heavier operating weight rating.
- Horsepower – A backhoe loader that’s 14 to 15 feet long should have between 68 to 107 horsepower, and larger models should have at least 127 horsepower.
How much does a Backhoe cost?
The average backhoe has a digging depth of 14 feet and between 80-90 horsepower. If you’re buying a one new, they can range anywhere from $55,000 to $75,000. With this in mind, you can choose to go up or down in price accordingly.
- Mini or Small – Backhoes that can dig between 9 and 10 feet typically cost $25,000 to $35,000.
- Large – Backhoes that can dig between 15 and 16 feet typically fetch $75,000 to $110,000.
- Larger – Anything over 16 feet tends to cost well over $100,000.
The above prices are estimates for new backhoes; the used market gets much cheaper. A 14-foot used Case backhoe for sale, for example, could cost anywhere from $25,000 to $44,000 (roughly the same price as a new compact backhoe), and 16-foot machines are only $50,000 to $70,000 on average. Since you can get well over 10 years out of a well-maintained backhoe, going with a used one is not always such a bad idea.
If you are renting a backhoe, you can pay daily, weekly, or monthly rates. The average cost for renting a backhoe is between $150 and $500 per day. Otherwise, renting a backhoe typically costs between $600 to $1,500 per week, and anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 per month. As you can see, renting a backhoe for just 6 days can cost the same as a month when you are paying daily rates – and you can probably see why buying one is much cheaper for long-term use!
What Backhoe attachments are available?
And how much do attachments cost?
If you are going to be switching backhoe attachments frequently, then you might want to invest in a backhoe with a quick attach system (known also as “quick couplers
”). Aside from being a standard industry connection that will work with most attachments, it also includes additional components that will allow you to hook directly into the hydraulic system for hydraulic-powered attachments such as snow blades. A quick attach system will work with both rear and frontal attachments.
As for the attachments themselves, take a look at the most popular ones:
- Fork Pallets – Keep your loads stable and transport pallets without the need of a forklift.
- Costs between $650 and $830.
- Snow Blades – Powered by hydraulics and capable of withstanding the harshest winter conditions, this attachment comes in many variations to clear pathways through snow.
- Costs between $1,600 and $2,900.
- Hammers – These devices attach to the rear so you can break down concrete, asphalt, and frozen soil (they can also use a silencer to dampen noise).
- Costs between $2,900 and $4,000.
- Multipurpose Buckets – As the name implies, these buckets can handle extra-large objects and especially heavy materials. They are available in 4x1 and 6x1 sizes.
- Costs between $1,400 and $1,800.
- High Tip Bucket – This bucket’s extra reach allows you to access areas with high-clearance.
- Costs between $2,700 and $4,500.
- Side Tip Bucket – Unloads from the side (for tight spaces such as corridors and tunnels), and also good for small-scale trenching jobs.
- Costs between $1,500 and $4,500.
- Fixed Ditching Bucket – Cleans out ditches, backfills, and grades.
- Costs between $600 and $1,200.
- Non-Fixed Ditching Bucket – Though more expensive than a fixed ditching bucket, this bucket can tilt in either direction to clean out ditches, backfill, and grade much more quickly.
- Costs between $1,100 and $2,800.
- Bale Spike – Farmers can fix this attachment to the front and transport large bales of hay.
- Costs between $220 and $280.
- Log Grapple – Specifically designed to rip down and haul full-grown trees anywhere from 1,300 pounds to over 26,000 pounds, and 30 to 122 inches wide, depending on the exact model.
- Cost ranges from $1,800 to over $5,000.
- Fork and Grapple – Similar to the log grapple, this attachment can stabilize and transport materials that cannot properly fit on a pallet.
- Costs between $800 and $4,600.
- Grinders – Allows you to grind down stumps to a level surface. A double heel rack can even grind below surface to dig out the remaining root system if needed.
- Crushers – Can be used to crush everything from concrete and rocks to ore for mining applications.
Designs - Choosing the right model
Backhoe loaders can be split into two types: center-mount and side-shift. Here’s the inside scoop on each:
- Center Mount – Also known as a “center pivot” backhoe, this style mounts the backhoe in the center of the rear so that it can’t move. The stabilizers come down in a wider stance than side-shift backhoe loaders, and this provides additional height along with a stronger center of gravity, giving these backhoes the advantage when working with heavy loads and steep terrain.
- Side-shift – Instead of being fixed in the center, the side-shift backhoe can move from side to side and even extend vertically. Stabilizers extend straight down from the sides, which allows for tight maneuvering in confined spaces, even when other structures are close.
Choosing between a center mount or side-shift backhoe depends on the type of work you need to do. In general, a center mount backhoe is used for farming and wide-open construction jobs, but not so much in landscaping or roadways. Conversely, side-shift backhoe loaders are primarily used for roadway and landscaping jobs.
There are some other pros and cons for each design as well. Center mount backhoes are more prominent in the United States due to a historical preference and because they tend to cost a little less, starting as low as $42,000 for newer models (whereas prices for side-shift backhoe loaders begin at $55,000). Side-shift models, on the other hand, are generally more precise, which allows you to get the job done more quickly (and therefore save on fuel).
Aside from these two designs, however, backhoes have been further split up into two unofficial divisions because manufacturers place such emphasis on digging depth and overall size.
- 14-to-15-foot backhoes – Manufacturers created this category for those who need a backhoe that will get medium-sized jobs done without providing a deep footprint. Typically, backhoe loaders in this range have between 68 and 107 horsepower, with a hydraulic system that puts out 28 to 35 gallons per minute. Typically used for landscaping, public utilities, small-scale construction and agricultural purposes. JCB, Case, and John Deere all have backhoes designed for this category.
- Over 15 feet – With 127 horsepower and a hydraulic system that can put out upwards of 43 gallons per minute on average (for an incredibly powerful lift), these models are designed for heavier industrial jobs such as demolition and mining (with the right attachments).
Backhoe tires, steering and stabilizers
No matter what you are doing with your backhoe, tires matter. The back tires are always bigger than the front tires to provide extra stability, but this isn’t enough. A John Deere backhoe with air-filled tires, for example, is more likely to pop than a John Deere backhoe that has tires filled with foam. Also, radial tires usually have better traction (which is good if you are on loose or muddy ground), but they generally cost more than bias tires.
- R1 Tires (Agricultural) – These tires are as tough as it gets, capable of withstanding extreme mud and other unfavorable conditions that you’d expect to find while hard at work on the farm.
- R3 Tires (Turf) – The landscaper’s tire. Unlike R1 tires, they are designed with an even weight distribution system that won’t leave imprints, even while on grass. However, this very same system makes them perform poorly under wet conditions. Perfect for gold courses and yards.
- R4 Tires (Construction) – Specifically designed to accommodate heavy loads while on pavement. Use these backhoe loaders for residential and industrial construction projects.
Four-wheel drive (4WD) backhoe loaders are common in newer models and have the best traction for driving on muddy or loose earth. 4WD puts more wear-and-tear on the transmission, but most backhoe loaders include it out of necessity. Four-wheel steering, on the other hand, is less common and more expensive. It provides additional maneuverability by moving all of the wheels together at once. The JCB 3CX Compact backhoe is said to have some of the best maneuvering capabilities on the market.
Backhoe loaders come with two stabilizer legs that swing down from the side and dig into the ground to prevent rollovers and tire blowouts while lifting. There are two different types of “shoes” on the bottom of the stabilizers, and you need to make sure that you match the right one with the right surface.
- Rubber – Provides stability on asphalt while sparing the surface.
- Grouser – Provides stability on dirt (will ruin asphalt and many other surfaces).
What Backhoe brand is the best?
Choosing between a Case
, John Deere
, New Holland
, and all of the other brands can be tough, especially when everyone’s website is making themselves sound like the best brand in the world. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the major manufacturers and where they fit in the industry.
- JCB Backhoe – There's debate over when and who first came up with the concept of the backhoe loader but one of those claims goes to Joseph Cyril Bamford (JCB), who lived in the UK, and created his version of the backhoe loader in 1953. As you might have guessed, he was the founder of JCB. Since then, JCB has been a leader in the backhoe market ever since with the 3C and 3CX lines. Today, 6 different models make up the 3CX line from compact to very large and almost half of all backhoe loaders are made by JCB.
- Case Backhoe – When it comes to backhoes, Case is one of the brand names that always comes up. Most likely due to the fact that they’ve been building a backhoe loader product line for 60 years, since 1957, and they continue to improve their versatility and performance despite encroachments by skid steers and mini excavators.
- John Deere Backhoe – The John Deere backhoe is oftentimes a mix of power and cost-effective design. Many times a John Deere backhoe will have a modest engine with an upgraded belt-drive fan to increase the horsepower without having to charge extra. If you want a reliable design with no thrills, then a John Deere backhoe is a good choice – especially for larger models.
- Caterpillar Backhoe – A Cat backhoe is very popular because many newer models have a load-sensing hydraulic system for more precise controls. Some of the entry level models even have pilot-operated joystick controls instead of wobble sticks for more legroom.
- New Holland Backhoe – For whatever reason, a New Holland backhoe is probably more popular in the international market than in the United States, but that does not make them inferior. This brand has been making construction equipment for nearly 20 years, and many say that that a compact New Holland backhoe is the best of the smaller models.
No matter which manufacturer you like best, you still have to do your research when buying a new or used model. Consumer reviews, company awards, and the terms of your maintenance agreement are all essential considerations. You should also research which companies have the fastest support centers with the shortest downtimes. That way, should anything happen to your backhoe, you will be able to resume operations as quickly as possible.
Inspecting a used Backhoe Loader
Even if it is the latest John Deere backhoe and it’s only been used for a day, you should still closely examine any used backhoe loader for signs of wear-and-tear. Start with the loader bucket and make sure the teeth aren’t loose, missing, or worn, and that all the bolts are still in place. The cutting edge should not be scalloping, and it may need to be flipped if one side looks too worn down.
Move on to the loader arms from there. They should be free from any cracks or obvious re-welding jobs; these are signs that the backhoe has either been overused or else rolled over in an accident. Be sure to do the same thing with the backhoe boom and stick, and check the backhoe bucket for the same things that you checked the front bucket for.
The hydraulics should be checked for breaks and scratches within the hoses, and the couplings should not be worn or loose. Likewise, cylinders should not be leaking or otherwise damaged, and this includes dings and scratches because they can easily turn into leaks one day, or else let dirt and other foreign substances get into the hydraulic fluid. When operating an attachment, you should not experience any difficulties steering and your pressure should remain stable.
The engine should not have any leaks, loose belts or dirty filters. The air filter may or may not have a service date on it. If it does, then this information can be valuable in determining how responsible the previous owner was. The stabilizers should not be leaking (make sure to turn the backhoe on first before checking), cracked, or dented, and the shoes must be flat.
When you’re inside the cab, make sure the seat, joysticks and foot pedals are all in working order. Check the hour meter and try to compare it with the current condition of the cab. If the backhoe loader looks much older than the hour meter says, then this could be a sign of tampering, which is just plain bad salesmanship.
For years, people have claimed the backhoe was going to the way side and mini-excavators and skid steers were the way to go. However, the backhoe is still very much viable today due to its versatility. With a backhoe, you can dig, move, load, carry, backfill, plow, and so much more. So what are you waiting for? Take a look at our wide range of new and used backhoes for sale
and select the right backhoe for the job.