How To Choose The Right Compact Excavator

Compact excavators are more powerful, productive and durable than ever before, enhancing their usefulness on construction jobs from site development to roadwork.

Bobcat Excavator Product Specialist Tom Connor has some recommendations on how to choose the perfect compact excavator and get the most out of this hard-working machine.

Fleet managers and construction business owners alike are determining that an investment in a compact excavator provides a versatile and mobile solution – and a viable alternative to tractor loader backhoes – for a wide variety of jobsite tasks including augering, grading, hardscaping, trenching, land clearing, lifting and much more.

“Due to their compact size and their potential for a high rate of return, this class of excavators is an appealing acquisition for construction equipment fleets,” says Connor. “Their fuel consumption, as much as 40 percent less [than a larger piece of equipment] in an eight-hour workday, further minimizes your cost of ownership.”

Another factor to take into consideration before purchase is the jobsite. “One of the most important worksite dimensions to evaluate is size, which can often dictate the accessibility and maneuverability requirements of construction equipment,” says Connor. “For this reason, construction contractors gravitate to compact excavator models when larger machines like tractor loader backhoes are too cumbersome.”

Although a compact excavator may be ideal for an operation, manufacturers know owners can’t afford to trade size for performance, which is why some companies are engineering their models with advanced hydraulic systems for improved production and efficiency.

Configured for construction

Since compact excavators first entered the North American construction market in the mid-1980s, tail swing design has grown from conventional to include minimal and zero swing. “These three configurations provide operators with a [swing design] choice that best suits their needs,” says Connor. Each option presents pros and cons, and taking those into consideration before purchase is key to choosing an excavator best suited to the job.

Machine rotation and boom swing are also critical factors when considering a compact excavator. “Machine rotation becomes important when comparing a compact excavator’s ability to provide up to 180 degrees of movement, compared to the 90 degrees of rotation that is common with backhoes,” says Connor. “An excavator’s independent boom swing allows operators to reposition the machine less frequently than a tractor loader backhoe, plus it delivers greater visibility to the working end of the machine.”

Versatility through attachments

Enhancing the usefulness of a compact excavator through attachments is not only a cost-saving solution, but it can open up new job opportunities for owners. “An excavator that can be equipped with construction-oriented attachments – such as trenching buckets, grading buckets, plate compactors, hydraulic breakers, grapplers, rippers, clamps and augers – can open up job possibilities on new or existing jobsites,” says Connor.

He also notes that many manufacturers offer their own type of attachment mounting system feature to help operators quickly and easily switch between attachments. “Faster attachment changes can be achieved with optional hydraulic actuated systems, which let operators activate the mechanism by pressing a switch inside the cab.”

The proper selection of a compact excavator can increase work potential and profits. However, thorough research on models and brands is only part of the solution. “You can’t truly know how an excavator model will perform until you operate it under load. Ask your dealer to schedule a demonstration that places the machine in real-life working conditions where you can lift, grade and trench,” says Connor. “Only then can you accurately gauge a machine’s balance between its hydraulic system and engine horsepower.”

Bobcat, (866) 823-7898,

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