Finding the right new or used mini excavator can add agility, versatility, and raw digging power to any landscaping, construction, or forestry job. A mini excavator’s many attachments allow it to handle a wide variety small-to-medium-sized construction or landscaping tasks. The right new or used mini excavator will likely end up being an integral tool for your crew’s various needs. In this mini excavator buying guide, we’re going to show you exactly how to choose the very best machine for your needs.
What exactly is a mini excavator?
A mini excavator is a piece of construction equipment that refines the standard excavator’s boom arm and bucket design into a smaller, more maneuverable machine.
How much does a mini excavator weigh?
A mini excavator is usually categorized as an excavator with an operating weight of under 10,000 pounds (4,536 kgs) or around five tons.
What is the best use of a mini excavator?
Mini excavators can accomplish many of the same tasks as a larger excavator—just on a smaller scale. The average mini excavator has a digging depth of about 10 feet (a little over 3 meters)—enough to handle most forms of residential construction as well as almost double the depth required for most utility work. The smaller bucket of a mini excavator is also useful for precision digging around utility lines and other sensitive areas of a site. This extreme maneuverability makes mini excavators a go-to tool for everything from grave digging to installing pools and beyond.
Mini excavators are especially well-suited for tight spaces and smaller job sites.
What are the advantages of using a mini excavator?
Using a mini excavator for small and medium-sized jobs allows crews to conserve fuel and cut down on transportation costs due to their fewer load specifications—typically only needing a small trailer pulled by a utility truck for proper hauling. Their lighter weight gives them a small footprint that’s especially important for work in landscaping, forestry, and certain types of roadwork.
How maneuverable are mini excavators in comparison to full-sized excavators?
Mini excavators can frequently fit through tight entranceways and navigate around cramped job sites—even crowded indoor workplaces such as warehouses. Lightweight mini excavators are quite popular for urban construction sites. They become less effective for larger jobs, however, when required frequent trips may make them less fuel efficient than larger excavators.
What equipment specifications should I consider when looking at mini excavators for sale?
When browsing mini excavators for sale, it pays to be slightly conservative. If you hope to save on fuel, transportation, and maintenance costs, select an excavator that does not exceed your needs. Keep in mind that mini excavators are best suited for smaller jobs. Consider what your job requires and compare it to the following specifications.
Dig depth is how far or deep a mini excavator arm can extend out or down. Hard soil and denser materials may impact an excavator’s dig depth. Certain soils will require special attachments. Digging in mud may require a larger bucket.
A mini excavator’s dump height denotes how high the boom and bucket can safely clear while dumping. Mini excavators typically have a maximum dump height of 13 feet (4 meters).
The bucket capacity is the maximum amount of soil or material that can be held in the excavator’s bucket at any given time.
Most mini excavators tend to weigh between 5,000 pounds (2.5 tons) up to 15,000 pounds (7.5 tons). It is usually best to seek the smallest excavator that will still meet your output needs. It is important to consider that the lightest mini excavators for sale may not be the best choice for larger jobs. Misuse may lead to fuel inefficiency, premature wear, or damage.
The operating weight or any excavator is the size of a counterweight within the mini excavator. The weight will determine how much weight the boom arm can safely handle without leading to a weight imbalance that may result in tipping.
Most new or used mini excavators for sale will have between 95 to 120 horsepower. This being said, the number of cylinders and the torque are important in determining the mini excavator’s overall operating weight and capabilities.
How much do mini excavators for sale cost?
Pricing is a major advantage of buying or renting a new or used mini excavator. While the largest excavators on the market can easily cost over half a million dollars, a new mini excavator for sale only costs between $20,000 and $150,000. A used mini excavator for sale with 2,000 hours generally goes for 25% less than the original price. For context, most mini excavators can operate between 8,000 to 10,000 hours before needing major repairs or replacements.
How much does it cost to rent a mini excavator?
Mini excavator rental rates can run as low as $2,000 per month depending on the size and model. Unless you plan to use a mini excavator frequently over a long period, it may make more financial sense to rent your equipment. Most mini excavator rental rates are low enough for you to complete a long-term project for less money than by buying a new or used excavator for sale.
What mini excavator attachments are available?
The variety of attachments available for mini excavators allow them to operate as a kind of Swiss army knife of a worksite—saving you money in purchasing separate machines as well as the hassle of managing various pieces of equipment.
Before we hop into the types of attachments, you will need a coupler in order to attach them to your mini excavator.
What is a quick coupler system for a mini excavator?
Choosing a mini excavator model with a quick coupler is recommended for those who need to quickly and easily switch attachments. Quick couplers allow operators to switch attachments without the use of specialized tools—if any tools at all.
What are the main types of quick couplers available for mini excavators?
There are two styles of quick couplers for mini excavators—semi-automatic quick couplers and automatic quick couplers.
Semi-automatic couplers require an operator to manually install different attachments—albeit without many (if any) tools, but still by hand.
Automatic quick couplers allow mini excavator operators to detach and attach new attachments remotely from the cab.
What are the most common mini excavator attachments and how much do they cost?
Augers increase the precision of holes anywhere from 6 inches to 48 inches. Auger attachments tend to cost between $1,700 and $3,000.
Breaker attachments allow mini excavators to break through concrete and other pavements with minimal noise and vibration. Depending on the model, mini excavator breaker attachments can strike with anywhere from 60 pounds (27 kgs) to 1,000 pounds (454 kgs) of force. Breaker attachments can run anywhere from $2,700 to $35,000.
Trencher attachments allow mini excavators to carve holes in rocky terrain two to five feet (0.6-1.5 meters) deep and anywhere from four to 12 inches (10-30 cm) wide. Some trencher attachment models feature “side-shift” capabilities—allowing them to dig close to buildings and other structures. Trenchers are frequently a faster trench-digging option than simply utilizing the standard excavator attachments. Trencher attachments can cost between $2,500 to $9,000.
Aside from a standard excavator bucket, there are also buckets made for grading and trenching. There are also tilt grading buckets capable of grading at an angle. Standard excavation and grading buckets can cost anywhere from $650 up to $1,600. Tilt grading buckets, however, can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $14,000.
Clamp attachments for excavators—sometimes called a “hydraulic thumb”—allow operators to tightly clamp looser loads (such as loose rubble or branches) to reduce spillage. Clamp attachments can cost anywhere from $750 to $1,000.
Flail Mower Attachments
A flail mower is a landscaping mower attachment used to cut and mulch grass. These attachments can power over brush obstructions up to 12 inches (30.5 cm) wide. Flail mowers with rotor braking systems allow the mower to shut off quickly for safety. Flail mower attachments cost between $8,500 and $20,000.
Grading Blade Attachments
Grading blade attachments for mini excavators are best for smoothing over various terrains and work surfaces. Their costs can range from $3,400 to $14,200.
Grapple attachments for mini excavators operate somewhat like a clamp but with a stronger construction that makes them optimal for transporting trees, piping, and other long, round objects. These attachments can cost between $4,700 and $17,000.
Packer Wheel Attachments
Packer wheel attachments for mini excavators are designed to tightly pack trenches with soil. The strongest packer wheels can pack trenches up to 11 inches (28 cm) wide. These attachments cost around $1,500.
Plate Compactor Attachments
Trenches between 12 to 34 inches (30.5-86.4 cm) wide are going to require plate compactor attachments—which operate much like packer wheels. Plate impactors can pack a trench with 3,700 to 24,700 pounds (1,680 to 11,204 kgs) of force. These attachments usually cost around $2,300.
PowerTilt Swing Attachments
PowerTilt swing attachments allow the bucket to be angled left or right without having to move the body of the excavator. They are designed to dig around hard-to-reach areas that require precision such as foundations and tree roots. PowerTilt Swing attachments for mini excavators cost about $2,300.
As the name implies, ripper attachments are useful in ripping through dense, frozen, or otherwise difficult terrain. Such ripping conditions include underground obstacles such as tree roots and reinforced steel. Ripper attachments for mini excavators run anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000.
What are long-reach mini excavators?
Long reach mini excavators have a longer stick and boom configuration. They are especially useful for safely cleaning out any mud, weeds, and other debris from ponds and other water passages. A Kubota mini excavator, for example, tends to come with a longer reach than most other standard brands—such as Caterpillar and John Deere mini excavators.
What track and wheel configurations exist for mini excavators?
Mini excavators operate either on tracks or on wheels—each with specific advantages.
Tracked Mini Excavators
Also known as “crawler” excavators, tracked mini excavators have two different types of tracks— rubber tracks and steel tracks. Rubber tracks are best for paved surfaces and lawns to limit damage to roads or grass. Steel tracks are better for climbing over rough and uneven terrain, though they tend to damage roads and landscaped surfaces. For the best of both worlds, some manufacturers sell rubber track shoes that fit over steel tracks to decrease damage to lawns and roads.
Wheeled Mini Excavators
Wheeled excavators are outfitted with four wheels with rubber tires. Wheeled excavators are much more common in Europe than in the United States. Because of the forgiving rubber, decreased contact with the ground, and less weight distribution, many wheeled mini excavators use stabilizer arms that come down on each side of the wheels to prevent side-to-side movement, tipping, or rollovers.
Which is better—a tracked or wheeled mini excavator?
Choosing the best mini excavator—wheeled or tracked—depends on the task at hand. Let's weigh the pros and cons of each!
What are the advantages of using tracked mini excavators?
Due to their lower center of gravity and greater weight distribution, tracked mini excavators tend to have greater digging abilities than their wheeled counterparts. Tracked mini excavators for sale also tend to cost less than wheeled mini excavators.
What are the disadvantages of using tracked mini excavators?
When it comes to accessing remote sections of a job site, tracked mini excavators are more dependent on trailers due to damage their tracks can cause to paved roads or grasslands.
What are the advantages of using wheeled mini excavators?
Wheeled excavators are faster than tracked excavators as well as more capable of accessing certain sites without a trailer. Mini excavators with wheels also have a much lighter footprint and are therefore optimal for landscaping and forestry needs.
What are the disadvantages of using wheeled mini excavators?
Wheeled mini excavators tend to cost more than tracked mini excavators. They also usually have reduced digging abilities when compared to their tracked counterparts due to their higher center of gravity, which impacts their stability.
What are the best brands of mini excavators and why?Mini excavators are popular for small and average-sized jobs, but depending on the details of your project, some brands might be better suited than others. The following is a list of features unique to each major brand of mini excavator.
Caterpillar Mini Excavators
Also known as a “Cat” — when it comes to adding attachments, Caterpillar mini excavators have easy-access features for changing between one-way and two-way flows. Many other designs make adjusting flows a more involved procedure.
Hitachi Mini Excavators
With patented TOPS (tip-over protective structure) and FOPS (falling object protective structure) designs, the Hitachi mini excavator is well suited for narrow urban operations.
Komatsu Mini Excavators
A Komatsu mini excavator usually comes with the KOMTRAX monitoring system—which tracks your GPS location, fuel consumption, digging hours, and much more.
Bobcat Mini Excavators
A Bobcat mini excavator with an X-frame provides enhanced performance in soft and loose soils. Their recessed motor is less likely to get damaged during operations.
Kobelco Mini Excavators
A Kobelco mini excavator is likely to have rubber-padded steel tracks—a unique best-of-both-worlds that allows for use on most surfaces.
Case Mini Excavators
The recent C-Series of Case mini excavators has a maximum bucket digging force of 9,550 pounds (4,332 kgs), yet is light enough to be towed with a pickup truck—with an exception of the two largest models.
John Deere Mini Excavators
A John Deere excavator often has a display by the fuel tank that will beep when you are close to fully refueling.
Yanmar Mini Excavators
As the innovator of the world’s first mini-excavator in 1971, even newer models of the Yanmar mini excavator are instantly considered a reliable classic.
JCB Mini Excavator
JCB mini excavators typically have adjustable wear pads on the tracks to extend the track’s life as well as provide a quieter ride.
What are my mini excavator feature options?
There are many exceptional mini excavator models for sale on the market. Choosing one that will best serve your needs for many years to come likely depends on selecting the mini excavator options that you need the most. Let’s look at what’s available!
There are two different types of cab designs for mini excavators—open cab and closed cab.
Open cab mini excavators have an open driver compartment primarily consisting of little more than the seat, roll-over bar, and the main operating components.
Closed cab mini excavators will likely cost more, but offer enhanced driver protection from debris as well as the elements—which is preferred for jobs undertaken in poor weather conditions.
The boom on a mini excavator is the initial arm-like structure that extends from the machine and supports the rest of the machine’s arm. There are three main boom configuration styles.
Fixed boom mini excavators require the operator to dig straight ahead—in the same direction of the pivot direction of the cab. This means the operator must reposition the body before digging at a different angle.
An articulated boom can move alongside the main body of the mini excavator, allowing the operator to more easily dig in tighter conditions.
A swing boom allows the operator to pivot the boom from side to side—allowing for enhanced visibility while digging in tight or sensitive areas.
As the name denotes, the “tail” of a mini excavator consists of the rear overhanging components that rotate along with cab and carriage above the tracks or wheels. For crews working in tight spaces, tail configurations can impact the ability to move and work in tighter spaces. There are three different tail configurations for mini excavators.
Conventional tail configuration denotes that a mini excavator’s tail extends above the tracks or wheelbase and the cab extending beyond the width of the tracks during a 360-degree rotation. A conventional tail configuration mini excavator operates well in open spaces but may experience limited pivoting capabilities in very close quarters.
Minimal tail swing mini excavators usually have a small section of the cab overlapping the width of the tracks, minimizing the likelihood of striking an obstacle while rotating within close quarters.
Zero tail swing mini excavators can rotate a full 360 degrees without the cab or tail components extending beyond the width of tracks or wheels. These models are ideal for working in very tight spaces.
The undercarriage portion of a mini excavator includes the chassis, roller parts, and drive sprockets. Undercarriage styles vary but most fall into two main categories.
Fixed undercarriage mini excavators tend to be wide and “fixed”—incapable of changing their width to accommodate particular work site demands.
Retractable undercarriage mini excavators can retract and expand their undercarriage widths using hydraulics to better accommodate the machine to the width demands of the worksite. For this advanced functionality, they tend to be more expensive than fixed undercarriage designs.
Other Mini Excavator Features
Remote monitoring allows for added excavator surveillance from locations beyond the machine itself. Fuel levels, GPS coordinates, and work hours can all be remotely monitored.
Angled backfill blades allow the operator to push the maximum amount of debris and materials during a run. These blades also allow excavators to more easily refill and level excavated sections with soil or other material.
The control scheme style is important for operators to understand on any equipment. Most American mini excavators for sale utilize the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) control scheme—though some utilize the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)’s control scheme. The controls for the dipper and the boom are different for SAE and ISO models, making attention to these details important when selecting a mini excavator for sale.
Which is better—a new or used mini excavator for sale?
When shopping for a mini excavator for sale, there are definite pros and cons of choosing new or used models. So, should you buy a used mini excavator or a used model, and why?
Though buying a used mini excavator may seem like an easy decision, there are a few factors to consider before doing so.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has strict requirements on newer diesel engines, and older models may be subject to expensive fines. Most new mini excavators, however, are compatible with EPA tier 4 requirements.
Older diesel engines usually burn more fuel than newer models, which may become costly over time.
Even if you’ve decided to find a used mini excavator for sale, you’re likely better off looking at a late-model machine if you value features such as adjustable seats, improved operator visibility, and enhanced cab climate control. Such features can greatly improve working conditions and operator morale.
With all of these pros of buying a new mini excavator in mind, there are plenty of used mini excavators for sale with enhanced cab features, EPA tier 4 requirements, and good fuel efficiency. Take your time and ask plenty of questions if any specifications are not clear.
How do I inspect used mini excavators for sale?
Shopping for new or used mini excavators for sale can be challenging. The following is somewhat of a checklist of questions to ask and red flags to consider when looking at used mini excavators for sale.
Who owned this machine in the past?
One owner is ideal. Machines with a documented history of owners as well as maintenance records are preferred. Mini excavators that were once rental machines should be avoided—or at the very least, should be very carefully inspected and subjected to intense price negotiations.
What does the exterior look like?
Check the exterior of the machine for any dents, dings, cracks or bends. The more damage you find, the more skeptical you should become. The boom and the stick should not be bent.
How does the slew ring look and perform?
The slew ring allows the cab and upper components to rotate above the undercarriage. When rotating, the cab should be tight and rotate smoothly. It should not leak grease or make any grinding, popping, or clicking noises.
Does the machine have any loose connections?
Loose connections in the stick and boom may denote that the bucket will be less efficient when digging and dumping.
How do the hydraulics look and perform?
The hydraulic compartment and components should not be leaking and none of the cylinders, hoses, and lines should appear damaged. Minor leaks, however, may be acceptable.
Do the attachments appear worn or damaged?
The excavator’s bucket should not be missing teeth. The existing teeth should not appear worn down—otherwise known as “scalloping.”
How do the tires look?
A set of mini excavator tires are good for around 5,000 hours of use and the tires should last at least half as long. A Hitachi excavator with Michelin tires can get about 2,000 extra hours before needing replacements.
Is the swivel joint leaking fluid?
An excavator swivel joint should not leak. Leaks may denote damage or wear that will require repairs.
Do the pedals seem worn?
Because hour meters can be tampered with, check the operator pedals for signs of wear disproportionate to the number of hours on the meter.
How much are you allowed to inspect the mini excavator?
An ideal inspection scenario would be through a trusted heavy equipment mechanic. If this is not possible due to time or proximity to the seller, pay very close attention to the images displayed by sellers. If a particular photo seems staged or stock, consider performing a reverse image search to see if the seller is using images pulled from another source. Make sure to ask plenty of questions and be wary of vague answers.
Need help shopping for mini excavators for sale?To make your mini excavator shopping experience as simple as possible, your friends at My Little Salesman are thrilled to connect you with hundreds of quality mini excavators for sale from reputable dealers and sellers all over North America and beyond.
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