How to Operate a Skid Steer in 10 Steps

Learn how to operate a skid steer for construction, warehousing and landscaping projects.

Caterpillar 262D Skid Steer Loader Moving Rock
Knowing how to drive a skid steer loader will automatically make you a valuable addition to any construction, landscaping or warehousing team. That’s because, when you are operating a skid steer, not only can you haul materials, but with the right attachments, you can also lift pallets, dig, grade and do lots more. So get ready – because you are about to learn how to operate a skid steer in roughly five minutes or less.

How to Drive a Skid Steer: Basic Controls

Operating a skid steer means getting used to two separate arm controls. Take a look at the following picture of skid steer controls/joysticks and then apply the following steps.

New Holland L228 Skid Steer Loader Cab and Controls
  • Arm Controls (Left & Right)– Used for steering the tracks or tires of a skid steer.
    • The left arm control moves the left set of tires or tracks.
    • The right arm control moves the right set of tires or tracks.
    • Push the left arm control away from you to turn left.
    • Push the right arm control away from you to move right.
    • Push both arm controls away from you to go forward.
    • Pull both arm controls towards you to go in reverse.
Some skid steers, however, use only one arm control to handle all of the steering.
  • Here’s how to drive a skid steer that uses one arm control for steering:
    • Push the single arm control away from you to go forward.
    • Pull the single arm control towards you to go backwards.
    • Move the single arm control left or right to turn the skid steer left or right.

How to Start a Skid Steer

  1. Go up the steps while holding the grab handles with both hands.
  2. Step into the cab and turn around as you enter.
  3. Adjust the seat and other amenities to your liking.
  4. Reach overhead and pull down the roll cage using both hands
    • Newer models will not start until the roll cage is securely down.
  5. Fasten your seat belt.
    • Some models will not start until the seat belt is fastened.
  6. Give the ignition key a quarter turn and wait for the beep.
  7. Disengage the parking break by pressing the overhead button.
  8. Fully turn the ignition key to start the engine.
  9. Press the green “ready” button to override a safety mechanism that locks the gears in place.
  10. Push your arm controls forward to set the skid steer in motion.

Monitoring Your Skid Steer

Your skid steer, at a minimum, should have the following features and gauges:
  • Temperature Gauge – Measures the heat coming from your engine.
  • Fuel Gauge – Tells how much fuel you have left.
  • Hour Gauge – Displays the number of hours that the machine has been in use.
  • Auxiliary Pressure Release – Hold this button if you have an attachment with hydraulic hoses that needs to release pressure (commonly used when swapping attachments).
  • Variable Flow – A hydraulic power option that lets you vary the flow of pressure when using attachments.
    • This option changes the rate of speed that you can close the bucket on backhoe attachments, for example.
  • High Flow – Another hydraulic power option required by certain attachments.
  • Max Flow – This is how to operate a skid steer using the maximum amount of hydraulic power (for heavy duty attachments and high performance rates).
  • Bob-Tach – Bobcat skid steers usually have an overhead button to add or release attachments without physically getting out of the machine. This button simply controls two levers on either side of the attachment to make it either clamp down or release an attachment as needed.
    • Other companies may have similar setups.
Certain attachments can work on multiple flow settings. Always consult the manufacturer’s manual to learn how many gallons per minute (GPM) your attachments need to perform at optimal levels.

How to Operate a Skid Steer When Lifting and Dumping

The following picture illustrates the cab interior, foot pedals, and joystick controls. Take note of the foot pedals as they are the key tools for manipulating a bucket or other skid steer attachments.

Caterpillar Skid Steer Loader Joystick and Controls
Again, there are two main ways to learn how to drive a skid steer:
  • Foot Pedals (Left & Right) – Step on the left foot pedal to control the boom, and step on the right foot pedal to control the bucket.
    • Left Pedal: Use your heel to make the boom arm raise, and your toe to make the boom arm lower.
    • Right Pedal: Use your heel to make the bucket “curl” (dig), and your toe to make the bucket dump.
  • If you are operating a skid steer that uses only one arm control for steering, then the second arm control is used to operate the bucket and the boom . . .
    • Move the arm control left to curl the bucket.
    • Move the arm control to the right to dump the bucket.

Safety Facts

Injuries and death can be prevented. You probably already know that when operating any piece of heavy equipment, comes great responsibility, as injuries and fatality incidents can occur when operating improperly. So whether you want to start applying what you've learned and operate a skid steer yourself or are working near them, first read over the official Skid Steer Loader Safety Guide by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which provides some of the following facts and guidelines.
  • Crushing and rollover accidents are the leading causes of skid steer deaths and injuries.
  • No one should be riding in the bucket of a skid steer.
  • No one should be riding in the cab of a skid steer with the operator, especially children.
  • Know your surroundings and keep bystanders at a safe distance.
  • You should check the stability of the grab handles every day.
  • If the bucket is carrying a load, avoid driving downhill.
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About Kyler Richman
Kyler is a reporter and staff writer at My Little Salesman.
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