Skid Steer Buying Guide - Buy or Rent the Right Skid Steer Loader

The official buyer’s guide to new and used skid steers for sale. Buy, rent, and own with confidence.

Skid Steer Loader Buying Guide
As you’ve probably come to find, virtually every heavy equipment dealership has plenty of new and used skid steers for sale because of their popular design, which is both versatile and cost-effective. Otherwise known as a "skid steer loader" or "skid loader", these compact vehicles have powerful lifting arms that can be outfitted to perform everything from landscaping jobs to demolition work. At My Little Salesman, we know that the market is heavily saturated with an abundance of new and used skid steers for sale – and that’s why we’re going to show you exactly how to pick the right skid steer loader for your next project.

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 are new and used Skid Steers for sale?
  5. What Skid Steer attachments are available?
  6. Choosing a Hydraulics System
  7. What Skid Steer sizes are available?
  8. Understanding Skid Steer Loader Tires
  9. Features
  10. How to inspect used Skid Steers for sale?
  11. 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), know that the average skid steer loader can reliably perform all of these 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 a forks, grapple buckets 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 only a skid steer, and set concrete can be broken up using special attachments.
With that said, there are still times where you’ll want to choose a cheaper piece of equipment instead of buying a new or used skid steer. A compact track loader, for example, might be better for landscaping small yards, or for working in muddy fields and softer soils. Also, while a skid steer loader is very strong, it still doesn’t have the same kind of dozing power that a compact track loader has.



Crucial Skid Steer Loader Specifications

Dump Height – This refers to how high the arms can lift. You’re going to want to especially pay attention to this specification if you will be using a bucket attachment to load spaces that are high overhead. For safety reasons, you’re always going to want to be able to lift the bucket at least 2 feet higher than whatever platform you’re loading onto.
  • Similarly, the “height to hinge pin” specification will tell you how many feet the bucket pivots from the lifting arms (anywhere between 8 to 12 feet). Knowing this information will prevent the bucket from swinging out too far and causing damage.
Lifting Capacity – Otherwise known as the “operating capacity” and the “operating load”, this is the total amount of weight that the skid steer can lift.
  • On average, a skid steer can lift between 1,300 pounds (with a 45 horsepower engine) to 2,500 pounds (with and 84 horsepower engine).
Although the size of the engine does determine the overall amount of weight that your steer loader can carry, don’t make the rookie mistake of choosing a skid steer loader based on horsepower alone. Torque (which is how hard the engine turns the crank) is far more important than horsepower when it comes to getting your attachments to operate properly, and 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 3 feet, you are either using a radial or vertical lift path, and you’ll need to know the difference before you can choose what skid steer to buy.

Radial lift means that the arm swings 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.
A vertical lift, on the other hand, is where the loader’s arm moves straight up and down. Vertically-lifting machines have much less forward reach than radial-lifting ones. That is, until they approach full height, at which point they develop a much greater forward reach that makes them better-equipped for:
  • Unloading pallets and materials from trucks.
  • Heavy loading such as dirt into a dump truck.
    • Skid steers with vertical lifts tend to have a higher operating capacity than those with radial lifts (since they have to lift heavier items to elevated areas).
Here’s an important tidbit when choosing among new and used skid steers for sale: vertical lifts keep the load closer to the machine itself at all times. This means that if two skid steers are both the same size, the one with vertical lift will always be able to lift more than the one with radial lift. Also, some companies (like the Bobcat skid steer loader) will 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 are new and used Skid Steers for sale?

Since a Bobcat skid steer loader is arguably the most commonly used brand (to the point where some regions of the country mistakenly refer to all skid steers as “Bobcats”), we’ll be using the Bobcat skid steer loader as the standard price model for the new skid steer market.
  • A 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 (which is 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.
When it comes to used skid steers for sale, however, the market is substantially cheaper (the average price for most used skid steers for sale is only about $16,000). Thus, no matter if you are interested in a Case skid steer, a Bobcat skid steer loader, a John Deere skid steer loader, or a Caterpillar skid steer for sale, 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 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?

And how much do attachments cost?

Choosing the right attachments lets you accomplish multiple tasks using just one skid steer. Skid steer attachments primarily rely on the hydraulic system for getting the job done, so when you are looking at skid steer attachments, be sure to pay special attention to the auxiliary hydraulic flow requirements and the minimal operating capacity requirements. This will help you determine how big of a skid steer you’ll need to buy in order operate your attachments as well as what kind of hydraulics system to choose (which we’ll get to in the next section).

If you are plan on switching attachments often, you’ll want to get “quick attach” (or “quick coupler”) accessories as much as you can. These attachments have a special design that lets you switch them out easily while on-the-go. It’s possible to get a skid steer that’s too powerful for “quick attach” couplers (though this can usually be worked around by reading the manufacturer’s guide), so take that into consideration when browsing.

The most popular skid steer loader attachments are:
  • 3-Point Adapters – This device lets you use your heavy duty attachments to their fullest effect by maximizing the flow and pressure of your hydraulic system.
    • $800-$2,395
  • Angle Broom – This cylindrical sweeper can remove dirt, gravel, leaves, and snow across dry and slick surfaces.
    • $2,000-$6,600
  • Auger – A heavy industrial drill used for making holes in difficult terrain.
    • $1,700-$4,200 for the drive
    • $900-$3,400 for each bit
  • Backhoe – A large and maneuverable digger that is perfect for light and medium agricultural, landscaping and construction tasks.
    • $2,200-$3,000
  • Concrete Dispenser – This helpful attachment converts your skid steer into a precise concrete pourer.
    • $2,360-$7,000
  • Grader Rake – Aside from raking materials, this attachment also grades and smooths (levels) surfaces.
  • Grapple Bucket – This jaw-like attachment can scoop up loose materials and is meant to be used in landscaping jobs, farm sites, recycling yards, and factories.
    • $3,200-$9,200
  • Mowers – These landscaping attachments let you to cut along ditches and uneven terrain, making them perfect for evening out acres of golf courses, fields, and other rural locales.
    • $2,700 to $20,000
  • Multi-purpose (“4-in-1”) Bucket – This bucket is perfect for transporting loose debris and large rocks during earthmoving projects.
    • $3,300 to $4,800
  • Pallet Forks – You can save time and money by converting your skid steer into a fully-functional forklift.
    • $700 to $900
  • Snow Gear – These blowers and plows are good for removing snow in both tight quarters and wide open spaces.
    • $7,000-$13,000 for the blowers
    • $5,700 for the plows
  • Trenchers – This digging attachment is designed for the many farming and construction jobs that require ditches and trenches to be constructed.
    • $4,700-$5,400

John Deere 328E Hammer Attachment

Choosing a Hydraulics System

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 Hydraulics – While a standard hydraulics system can accommodate most attachments, a lot of manufacturers will include a “high-flow” option that lets them run at maximum capacity. A skid steer with standard hydraulics will never be able to operate attachments at this advanced level.

  • Auxiliary Hydraulics – Skid steers with this setup will be able to run their attachments at full power and can also use certain high-powered attachments (like a planer for cutting wood into precise measurements, for example) that are not possible with standard hydraulics.
You can save money by buying a skid steer with standard hydraulics, but you’ll lose out on productivity (which can eventually cancel out the initial savings in the long run). As a general rule, if you are going to be using the skid steer frequently, you should invest in an auxiliary hydraulic system. Otherwise, it might not be worth the added expense.



What Skid Steer sizes are available?

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 tall and 3-6 feet 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, too!

Before you buy or rent any used skid steer, know that the smaller your skid steer is, the more maneuverability you will enjoy while working. You should get a small skid steer if you have cramped corners, or if need to work in narrow places such as street-ways and underground tunnels. At the same time, larger skid steers can usually lift higher than smaller ones, and vertically-lifting skid steers have an easier time loading and unloading from great heights.

As an added bonus, using a large skid steer for a smaller job lets you operate the engine at a lower speed, which saves on fuel costs (while sacrificing mobility). Also, don’t forget that you will probably have to tow a skid steer at some point, so you’ll need an appropriate trailer and towing vehicle. When it comes to transportation, choosing a smaller skid steer allows you to transport other equipment on the same trailer, which can cut down on project costs considerably.

The skid steer market is unofficially divided into three categories:
  • Small – 1,750 pounds 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 – 1,750-2,200 pounds and 50-70 horsepower.
    • This is the most popular weight class. You should use a medium-sized skid steer loader whenever you need a little extra power and a bigger bucket size while working in an enclosed area, or if you just don’t need the power of a larger skid steer.

  • Large – More than 2,200 pounds and over 70 horsepower.
    • You should use large skid steers when you need to move 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.

CASE SR270 Skid Steer

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 relies on the weight of the vehicle itself to steer, which is what 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 – The most basic and cost-efficient type of tire. They have large treads that handle well on rough and unleveled terrain, but they are also the most likely to get a hole and go flat. Don’t use them on surfaces with nails, shards of metal, and basically anything else that could poke a flat in the average car tire.

  • Solid Rubber – Just like the name says, these thin tires are filled with rubber instead of air. You never have to worry about getting a flat tire with these, but the lack of air suspension makes for an uncomfortable ride if you aren’t on a road (or any other smooth indoor surface).

  • Foam-filled Pneumatic – The heaviest type of tire comes at an expensive cost (up to $5,000 for a new set), but you will never have to worry about getting a flat tire while using them. These heavyweight tires are extra durable, but they have been known to eventually wear out the transmission on most skid steers.



Features

As technology continues to improve and define the skid steer loader industry, the need to stay current becomes 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 the most in the near future, and buy accordingly:
  • Handheld Remote Control – You can use a radio remote control to perform tasks while outside of the skid steer loader. This way, you can act as your own spotter and 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. GPS monitoring lets you keep track of every machine’s movements in real time, and friendly reminders keep you up-to-date with routine maintenance schedules and other critical tasks.


How to inspect used Skid Steers for sale?

Since they are so versatile, skid steers often experience extensive “wear-and-tear” and 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:
  • If you see “low hours” or “part-time use”, this should mean that the skid steer was used about 12 hours per week. Anything that’s between 5 and 6 hours a day is “full-time use”.
  • A skid steer with low operating hours (“part-time use” or less) that is less than 5 years old is generally a “good 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).
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, be extremely cautious of renting or buying.
  2. The belly pan and boom must be looked at for any cracks or re-welds.
  3. Check for any hydraulic leaks (and oil leaks, too).
  4. Look at the tires closely for signs of age (skid steer tires closely resemble those of an automobile and can be examined as such).
  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, then this could indicate heavy use.
  7. Have a professional perform diagnostic tests for oil, hydraulic compression, and other working components.


Shop for Skid Steers

Skid Steers are undoubtedly one of the most versatile pieces of heavy equipment due to their compact size, mobility, and assortment of attachments. Many believe that a skid steer coupled with mini-excavator, make a better combination than a backhoe loader (buying guide). If you are committed on purchasing a skid steer, take a look at the wide range of new and used skid steers available in our marketplace and find the perfect one for your needs.
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About Kyler Richman
Kyler is a reporter and staff writer at My Little Salesman.
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