Your Skid Steer Loader Buying Guide [Video, Audio, or Article]

Use this video, podcast episode, or article to help you determine the perfect skid steer loader model for your needs—whether buying or renting.



Prefer to listen to this guide?


"What should I look for when buying a skid steer?"

Most heavy equipment dealerships have plenty of new and used skid steers for sale because of their versatile and cost-effective design. Also known as "Bobcats," "skid steers," "skidster," or "skid loaders," skid steer loaders  have powerful lifting arms that can be outfitted to assist in everything from landscaping jobs to demolition work. Knowing precisely what to look for and what to avoid can be tricky. A simple understanding, however, can save you time and money while shopping for your next machine.

"What is a skid steer loader?"
A skid steer loader is a smaller piece of heavy equipment. It utilizes four wheels or two side tracks, whose independent throttle controls are used to steer it—hence the name "skid steer." Skid steer loaders are also equipped with hydraulic-power booms which can be outfitted with a wide variety of attachments to perform everything from hauling and lifting materials to excavation and hammering.


Table of Contents

  1. What is a skid steer Loader used for?
  2. Crucial Skid Steer Loader Specifications
  3. Choosing a Lift Path (Radial vs Vertical)
  4. How much does a new skid steer cost?
  5. How much does a used skid steer cost?
  6. What skid steer attachments are available?
  7. Choosing a Hydraulics System
  8. What skid steer sizes are available?
  9. Understanding Skid Steer Loader Tires
  10. Features
  11. How to Inspect Used Skid Steers for sale
  12. Shop for Skid Steers

"What is a skid steer loader used for?"

Whether you decide on a Case, Bobcat, John Deere, or Caterpillar skid steer—or something else entirely—the average skid steer loader can reliably perform a wide variety of jobs.

Landscaping

A skid steer loader can move pallets and load truck beds with landscaping materials such as mulch and topsoil. They can also assist in prepping soil, planting trees, removing snow, and other similar operations.

Hauling

Skid steer loaders can be outfitted with forks, grapples, and brooms so that they can haul debris and stack pallets in recycling yards, factories, and various demolition projects.

Cement work

Concrete can be mixed, transported, and even pumped directly into the job site using a skid steer loader. Set concrete can be broken up using special hammer attachments.

"When is a skid steer not the right equipment for the job?"
Though immensely versatile in their capabilities and applications, there are certain jobs not as well suited to the size or function of a skid steer loader.

Loose Terrain
A skid steer uses tires to move around a job site or work area. Even though these tires are very robust, they may not lend themselves as well to loose terrain—such as mud or very loose sand or gravel. In these situations, a compact track loader may be better suited. Compact track loaders utilize tracks instead of tires, making them much more stable and less likely to get stuck on such terrain. Compact track loaders should not be used on more delicate terrain—such as on yards or pavement—to preserve such styles of terrain from damage. 

With that being said, some manufacturers or third-party fabricators provide over-the-tire tracks that fit on specialized skid steer loaders—offering the best benefits of both styles of equipment in a single machine.

Larger or Deeper Jobs
Though skid steers can be outfitted with a variety of attachments, they may be too small to handle jobs that require deeper digging or a very large loading capacity. In these situations, backhoe loaders or excavators may be better suited.  

Important Skid Steer Loader Specifications

Dump Height
Dump height refers to how high a skid steer loader's arms can lift a given load. This specification is especially important to note if you will be using a bucket attachment to load into higher overhead spaces. For safety reasons, it is important to factor in two extra feet of dump height higher than your intended loading platform.

Similarly, the “height to hinge pin” specification will tell you how many feet the bucket pivots from the lifting arms—typically anywhere between 8 to 12 feet. Knowing this information will prevent the bucket from swinging out too far and causing damage.

Lifting Capacity
Also known as the “operating capacity” and the “operating load”, lifting capacity refers to the total amount of weight that the skid steer can lift. On average, a skid steer with a 45 horsepower engine can lift an average of 1,300 pounds (589.67 kilograms) and a skid steer with an 84 horsepower engine can lift an average of 2,500 pounds (1,134.983 kilograms).

Although the size of the engine does determine the overall amount of weight that your steer loader can carry, horsepower should not be the sole deciding factor when choosing which model to buy. Torque—how hard the engine turns the crank—is far more important than horsepower when it comes to getting your attachments to operate properly. You can achieve high torque performance levels from the slower engines that are commonly found in smaller models. With this in mind, most popular skid steers typically have between 50 and 70 horsepower.

CAT 232D Skid Steer Lifting Hay

Choosing a Lift Path (Radial vs Vertical)

Even though a Bobcat skid steer can load, level, and clear debris just as well as a Case skid steer, not all skid steers lift in the same way. Once you lift a load higher than three feet, you are either using a radial or vertical lift path. It is important to know the difference before you can choose what skid steer to buy.

Radial Lift
Radial lift refers to arms swinging outwards before it reaches its maximum height—providing more forward reach for over 80% of the total lifting motion. Radial-lifting skid steers are better for:
  • Working in the dirt
  • Digging underground and into pavement
  • Smoothing over (grading) surfaces
Vertical Lift
A vertical lift refers to the straight up or down movement in the loader's arms. Vertically-lifting skid steer loaders have much less forward reach than their radial-lifting counterparts. That is, until they approach full height, at which point they develop a much greater forward reach. This forward reach and higher operating capability make vertical lift machines better equipped for:
  • Unloading pallets and materials from trucks
  • Heavy loading such as dirt into a dump truck
Vertical lifts keep the load closer to the machine itself. This closeness means a more stabilized center of gravity—enabling the vertical lift skid steer loaders to lift heavier loads with greater stability than radial-lift skid steers. Also, some companies, such as Bobcat, have special designs to make loading easier. A Bobcat skid steer loader has extra pin support for less side-to-side movement when lifting.

Bobcat S650 Skid Steer Loader

How much does a new skid steer cost?

Since a Bobcat skid steer loader is arguably the most commonly used brand (even to the point of "Bobcat" being synonymous with the skid steer design in some regions—much the same way a tissue may be called a "Kleenex"), let's use the Bobcat skid steer loader as the standard price model for the new skid steer market.
  • A new small Bobcat skid steer can cost as low as $12,000, while the heaviest class can cost $60,000 or more.
  • A Bobcat skid steer with a 1,500-pound capacity (considered average) costs between $15,000-$20,000.
  • A Bobcat skid steer with a 2,000-pound capacity (still considered average) could be as high as $30,000.
  • A heavy Bobcat skid steer with a 3,000-pound capacity or higher is going to cost at least $40,000.

How much does a used skid steer cost?

When it comes to used skid steers for sale, the market is substantially cheaper—with the average price for most used skid steers for sale being about $16,000. Regardless of company make, you can almost always find used skid steers for sale at roughly half the normal price.
  • A used Bobcat skid steer can be as low as $8,000 for smaller models with over 2,000 hours, or between $25,000-$30,000 for larger models with under 1,000 hours.
  • A used Cat skid steer could be as little as $13,000 and as much as $40,000—depending on the size, hours used, and attachments included.
  • A used John Deere skid steer can be between $10,000-$15,000 for a 10-year-old model with under 1,000 hours, and up to $25,000 for larger models around the same age and usage.


"What skid steer attachments are available?"


Know Your Hydraulics — Standard or High-Flow Compatible 
The diverse array of skid steer attachments has made these machines some of the most versatile on a job site.  These attachments, however, primarily rely on the hydraulic system for arm control—making the consideration of the auxiliary hydraulic flow requirements and the minimum operating capacity requirements an important part of your buying decision. Your particular need for a skid steer will determine your machine specifications—including your hydraulic flow requirements and attachment styles. We'll discuss this more in the hydraulics section of this guide.

Quick Couplers for Skid Steer Attachments
If you plan on switching attachments often, you’ll want to use “quick attach” (or “quick coupler”) accessories whenever possible. These attachments are equipped with a unique design that allow for a quicker attachment switching process. Some skid steers, however, may have weight or power requirements that exceed quick coupler specifications—making consulting the manufacturer's instructions very important to avoid problems. Any such requirements or limitations should be carefully considered during your research process.

The most popular skid steer loader attachments are:


3-Point Adapters
3-point adapters for skid steers let you use your heavy-duty attachments to their fullest effect by maximizing the flow and pressure of your hydraulic system. 3-point adapters can cost anywhere from $800-$2,395.

Angle Brooms
Angle brooms are cylindrical sweepers that can remove dirt, gravel, leaves, and snow across dry and slick surfaces. Angle brooms can cost between $2,000-$6,600.

Augers
Augers are heavy industrial drills used for making holes in difficult terrain. Auger drives can cost between $1,700-$4,200 with auger bits costing $900-$3,400 per bit.

Backhoe Attachments
A backhoe attachment is a large and maneuverable digger that is perfect for light and medium agricultural, landscaping, and construction tasks. Backhoe attachments can cost $2,200-$3,000.

Concrete Dispensers
Concrete dispensers convert your skid steer into a precise concrete pourer. Concrete dispensers can cost between $2,360-$7,000

Grader Rakes
Aside from raking materials, grader rake attachments for skid steer loaders also grade and level surfaces.

Grapple Buckets
Grapple bucket attachments use jaw-like blades to scoop up loose materials—making them well-suited for landscaping jobs, farm sites, recycling yards, and factories. They usually cost between $3,200-$9,200.

Mowers
Mower landscaping attachments let you cut along ditches and uneven terrain, making them perfect for evening out acres of golf courses, fields, and other rural locales. They can cost from $2,700 to $20,000.

Multi-purpose (“4-in-1”) Buckets
Multi purpose buckets are perfect for transporting loose debris and large rocks during earthmoving projects. They can cost between $3,300 and $4,800

Pallet Forks
Pallet forks allow you to convert your skid steer into a fully functional forklift. They tend to cost between $700 to $900.

Snow Gear
Snow gear for skid steers such as blower and plow attachments are great for removing snow in both tight quarters and wide-open spaces. Blower attachments can cost between $7,000-$13,000 with snow plow attachments for skid steers running about $5,700.

Trenchers
Trenchers are skid steer digging attachments designed for the many farming and construction jobs requiring the construction of ditches and trenches. Trench attachments for skid steers cost between $4,700-$5,400.


John Deere 328E Hammer Attachment

Understanding Skid Steer Hydraulics

You already know that torque is generally more important than horsepower, but choosing the right hydraulics system is equally as important as torque. That’s because the hydraulics system is largely responsible for powering attachments, and they have been split into two categories:

Standard-Flow vs High-Flow Hydraulics

Standard (or "standard-flow") hydraulics refer to the hydraulic systems included on any skid steer equipment at the time of manufacturing. This rating refers to the hydraulics also used to operate the boom and operate attachments on the same "standard" pressure—typically around 17-24 gallons per minute (gpm). While a standard hydraulics system can accommodate an assortment of attachments, many manufacturers will include a “high-flow” option that greatly increases the gallons per minute (gpm) capacity upwards of 30-38 gallons per minute (gpm). A skid steer with standard hydraulics alone will not be able to operate high-flow attachments. If the attachments you intend to use require high-flow hydraulics, you will need a high-flow hydraulic option skid steer model.

Auxiliary Hydraulics

Once an advanced option, most skid steers on the market today come with auxiliary hydraulics. Auxiliary hydraulics refers to a secondary hydraulic system specifically for running attachments at full power and can also use certain high-powered attachments. 

"What skid steer sizes are available?"

Consider Your Environment
When you’re looking at new and used skid steers for sale, you always want to consider the measurements of the work environment. The average skid steer is between 6-7 feet (1.829-2.134 meters) tall and 3-6 feet (0.914-1.829 meters) wide, so be sure to compare this to the dimensions of any doorways, hallways, gateways, garages, and any other potential obstacle in your work area – and don’t forget to factor in the height and width of your attachments as well. 

Maneuverability vs Lifting Ability
The smaller your skid steer is, the more maneuverable it will be. Smaller skid steer loaders are well suited for cramped corners and narrow places—such as street-ways and underground tunnels. Still, what smaller skid steers give in maneuverability, they may lack in lifting ability. Larger skid steers can usually lift higher than smaller ones. Vertically-lifting skid steers in particular have an easier time loading and unloading from greater heights.


The skid steer market is unofficially divided into three categories:

Small Skid Steer Loaders

Smaller skid steers loaders are those with:

  • 1,750 pounds (793.787 kilograms) and under 50 horsepower.
  • This size class is the most maneuverable and leaves the lightest footprint.
  • It's most commonly used for landscaping jobs as well as underground construction.
Medium Skid Steer Loaders

Medium skid steer loaders are those with:

  • 1,750-2,200 pounds (793.787-997.903 kilograms) and 50-70 horsepower.
  • This is the most popular weight class.
  • Machines in this weight class are best suited for jobs that demand extra power and a bigger bucket size while working in an enclosed area.
Large Skid Steer Loaders

Large skid steer loaders are those with:

  • More than 2,200 pounds (997.903 kilograms) and over 70 horsepower.
  • These models are best suited for moving heavy pallets (such as bricks) or for dumping dirt loads onto trucks.
  • The extra power will usually make your attachments perform better, and some attachments won’t even work with the smaller weight classes.
Bonus: Big vs Small Skid Steer Trade-offs

Using a large skid steer for smaller jobs lets you operate the engine at a lower speed—saving on fuel costs and component wear. However, small skid steers are easier to transport due to decreased size and potential damage to terrain.


Understanding Skid Steer Loader Tires

Early skid steers only had three simple wheels until 1960, but now they have many different varieties of tires to choose from. The wheels don’t have an actual steering mechanism but instead rely on an imbalance of power from side to side to push the vehicle in a chosen direction. The independent throttle provides the tight maneuverability that the skid steer is so famous for. There are three main types of tires, each meant for a different surface:

Air-Filled Tires

Air-filled tires are the most basic and cost-efficient tire option skid steers. They have large treads that handle well on rough and unleveled terrain, but they are also the most likely to puncture or deflate. For these reasons, it is not recommended to use air-filled skid steer tires on surfaces with nails, shards of metal, and anything else that could puncture the average car tire.

Solid Rubber Tires

Just like the name says, solid rubber skid steer tires are simply thick rubber treads attached to the wheels. While there is no fear of puncture, the lack of cushion makes for a much harder ride.

Foam-filled Pneumatic Tires

Foam-filled pneumatic tires are the heaviest and most expensive skid steer tires—up to $5,000 for a new set. Still, the foam-filled design provides a smoother ride with no fear of puncture. These heavyweight tires are extra durable, but because of their weight, they have been known to eventually wear out the transmission on most skid steers.

Skid Steer Features

As technology continues to improve and define the skid steer loader industry, the need to stay current is more important than ever before. When you are choosing your skid steer loader, try and think about which of these following features you are going to need, and buy accordingly:

Handheld Remote Controls

Handheld remote controls allow you to use a radio remote control to perform tasks while outside of the skid steer loader. This functionality allows you to act as your own spotter to free up additional personnel for other tasks. Caterpillar and Bobcat skid steers have this feature.

Remote Access

Digital programs are becoming the ultimate way for operators to keep up with their growing fleets. Remote access and GPS monitoring let operators monitor every machine’s movements in real-time as well as provide friendly reminders to keep operators and managers up-to-date with routine maintenance schedules and other critical tasks.

How to Inspect Used Skid Steers For Sale  

Understanding Seller Descriptions
Due to their multifunctional capabilities, skid steers often experience extensive wear and tear—making careful inspection crucial before purchase. All machines need to be examined thoroughly. However, before you even take a physical look at any used skid steers for sale, you must first know how to inspect the seller’s description.
  • "Low hours” or “part-time use” should mean that the skid steer was used about 12 hours per week.
  • "Full time" should denote a machine used 5-6 hours a day.
What are considered low operating hours for a used skid steer loader? 
 A skid steer with low operating hours (“part-time use” or less) that is less than five years old is generally a solid buy. Divide the hours by how many years old the skid steer loader has been in use. A skid steer that averages about 400 hours a year is likely a decent buy. Be prepared to replace the tires on any skid steer with more than 500 hours of use unless the description says that the tires are new.

In-Person Skid Steer Inspections
Once you’ve narrowed down the used skid steers for sale and found one that you like, take the following precautions before making a final decision:
  1. Look for any scratches, dents, and signs of rust. If you can still see damage under a fresh coat of paint, this may be a red flag.
  2. Inspect the belly pan and boom for any cracks or re-welds.
  3. Check for any hydraulic fluid or oil leaks.
  4. Look at the tires closely for signs of age—especially in the side walls.
  5. Test the switches and look at the gauges to make sure they are in working order.
  6. If the machine has less than 500 hours of use but the tires need to be replaced, this could indicate heavy use.
Default to a Trusted Mechanic
If you've found a skid steer you'd like to purchase in your area, it's likely worth the money to have it looked at by a trusted mechanic with experience with skid steer models. Even if such a specialized inspection costs a few hundred dollars, it will be money well spent. Such a mechanic will be able to spot problem areas that can make you reconsider your purchase or negotiate a lower price. 

Shop for Skid Steers Through My Little Salesman

Skid Steers are undoubtedly one of the most versatile pieces of heavy equipment due to their compact size, mobility, and assortment of attachments. To help you find your next machine, search through the hundreds of used skid steer loaders for sale on My Little Salesman's interactive marketplace. Use the specialized filters to find your next skid steer in seconds and get to work faster!
By on
About Ken Lane
Ken’s affinity for the heavy equipment industry was fostered as a curious youngster—becoming happily lost on his grandfather’s tractor sales and service lot (his favorite color is still Allis-Chalmers Orange). Since then, he’s perfected the art of turning black coffee into helpful buyer resources and marketing materials for My Little Salesman.
More in Buying Guides