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Skid Steer Loaders: A Quick Guide

Skid Steer Loaders

A skid steer, also known as a skid loader, or skid-steer loader, is an engine-powered machine originally developed in the 1950s that is often used in the initial phases of a construction project. Its lift arms are used to attach a wide variety of labor-saving tools or attachments. Although sometimes equipped with tracks, skid-steer loaders usually have four wheels, which are mechanically locked in synchronization on each side. The left-side drive wheels can be driven independently of the right-side drive wheels. With the attachment of a bucket, large items such as boulders can be moved. Skid steers are quite effective on dry land, as they cause little subsequent soil erosion.


Usually the wheels don’t have separate steering mechanism and hold a fixed straight alignment on the body of the machine. By turning the left and right wheel pairs at different speeds, the machine turns by skidding or dragging its fixed-orientation wheels across the ground—much like a tank. But skid steers can turn quickly at their center, making them more agile than a tank or typical track vehicle.

Skid steers are unlike conventional front loaders, in that their lift arms are alongside the operator, with the pivot points behind the operator's shoulders. Due to the driver’s proximity to moving booms, early skid loaders weren’t as safe as conventional front loaders, particularly during entry and exit of the operator. However, modern skid loaders have fully enclosed cabs and other features that offer an element of safety. Like other front loaders, they can push material from one location to another, carry material in its buckets, or load material into a truck or trailer.

Skid-steer loaders can perform many functions in addition to construction-related tasks, including:

  • Digging post holes for fencing
  • Feeding livestock and horses
  • Cleaning barns
  • Hauling brush or feed
  • Planting trees
  • Removing snow
  • Digging trenches
  • Mowing large areas
  • Building small projects, such as tree houses for kids
  • Prepping garden-plot soil…and more


Important Considerations

There are two main types of skid steers—multi-terrain landscape skid steer loaders and normal skid steer loaders. Companies searching for a skid steer loader should weigh the benefits of buying or leasing the equipment. Price, quality, and durability are several factors to take into consideration so you can acquire the right product at the right price.


  • Determine your needs to assess whether buying or leasing is better. Also, think about considerations such as  maintenance and functionality, including whether or not you or  the dealer will be doing the maintenance or whether it will be attended to by a qualified technician.
  • Before buying a new or used skid steer, test out the actual skid steer you may buy, or at least test a demo. Knowing the machine’s capabilities, how it functions, and so on, will prove very important.
  • Inquire about the maintenance that needs to be done on the machine. Talk to the dealer about maintenance plans and options at the time of purchase.


Things to Know about Skid Steers


  • Skid steer loaders can at times be used instead of a large excavator.
  • The conventional bucket of a large number of skid loaders can be replaced with a number of specialized buckets or attachments, oftentimes run by the loader’s hydraulic system.
  • The arms of a skid steer loader are replaceable by a variety of other parts such as:

o   Backhoes

o   Hydraulic breakers

o   Pallet forks

o   Angle brooms

o   Sweepers

o   Augers

o   Movers

o   Snowblowers, and more


With a skid steer loader, operators can complete zero-radius, “pirouette” turning, meaning the vehicles are very maneuverable when a compact, agile loader is needed.

In the event you plan on selling the vehicle, keep the resale value in mind when you first purchase the item. Some brands/makes are more apt to hold their value, and proper maintenance will likely play a role here, too.


Features to Look For

There are multiple options for either purchasing or renting a skid steer loader, including numerous online sites, retail establishments, and auctions. But whether you buy new or used, there are features that you should look for when selecting a skid steer that suits your needs. These include:


Strong hydraulics: There should be a balance of horsepower and hydraulics with an engine and pump package that are properly matched. Your operator will be able to work harder and faster when your skid steer has the right combination of horsepower, size, operating capacity, weight, and balance.

Proper weight balance: In order to make sharp turns, increase tire life, and maximize engine power, there should be unequal loading between the front and rear axles. Without any load in the bucket, about 70% of the loader’s weight rests on the rear axle, which allows the skid steer to turn easily on its rear wheels. With a rated load in the bucket, the front axles should be the pivot point, with approximately 30% of the machine weight on the rear axle, and 70% on the front. This enables easy skids and turns with a rated load and reduces the need for a larger engine.

Quick cycle times and fast travel speeds: A skid steer should have an efficient control valve, cylinder size, and pump for fast cycle times, and plenty of power to run auxiliary attachments.

High torque: High torque at a relatively low rpm will give you better digging performance, which reduces the chances of stalling and provides you with enough fuel for an entire day.

Good breakout and bucket force: High-efficiency, torque-limiting piston pumps will provide more usable power as they respond to loads and give you better breakout and bucket force.

Loader control: A no stall-limiting system will give you more power and help you stay in command of your skid loader’s drive, engine torque, and tractive efforts.

Hydraulic bucket positioning: This feature will level the bucket as the lift arms complete the lift cycle, and is also useful for loading objects with pallet forks.

In addition, you might find that the following features add to safety, versatility, comfort, and performance:


  • 2-speed transmission
  • A tilting cab
  • An LCD panel
  • An accelerator pedal
  • Safety sensors
  • Negative-action brakes



You can also reduce your operating costs and improve your bottom line through preventive maintenance that gets completed quickly. As such, having easy access to components is another feature to look for when buying or renting a skid steer. A swing-open tailgate and transversely mounted engine will put maintenance within easy reach, as you’ll be able to check the engine fluids and filters, examine the air cleaner, and inspect the battery on a daily basis.

Also, a skid steer with a belt drive system will provide an advantage over a direct drive system as it will offer:


  • Quieter operation
  • Longer service life
  • Minimal maintenance, and
  • One-side serviceability of routine maintenance points


Maintaining the tires: An enormous amount of strain is placed on the track and tires of a skid loader as a result of the movement and steering. Turning a skid loader involves stopping the tires or tracks on one side of the vehicle while the other side moves freely. This constant friction wears down rubber tires quickly, and even steel tracks are not immune to these destructive forces. Even though it’s inevitable that you’ll need to eventually replace the tires, there are things you can do to extend their life:


—        Avoid sharp objects on the job site: This is easy to do if the typical job site is soil, grass, or sand. But if the site is filled with sharp rocks and debris, consider upgrading the skid-steer loader tires.


—        Use non-standard tires: Gel-filled, foam filled, or even solid rubber tire can last longer than standard tires, but they cost more. However, if you do decide to use standard tires there are two steps than can be taken to extend tire longevity: (1) Monitor the tire pressure of all four tires, as. improper air pressure will make the loader operate unevenly; and (2) in the event of a tire failure, repair the tire promptly. When the tire is being repaired, inspect the rim for damage or excessive wear. Replacing a worn out rim at the same time that the tire is being replaced is insurance against any additional downtime.


There’s a direct connection between skid steer maintenance and downtime. An improperly maintained loader can cost thousands of dollars in repair and downtime. These expenses can easily be reduced or eliminated by following a regular maintenance schedule that includes daily grease and fluid checks and a periodic inspection of the drive chain.


The regular maintenance schedule needs to be adjusted if the skid steer is used in severe applications where dirt and dust can jam filters and attachments can wear out faster. Temperature extremes, below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and above 100 degrees Fahrenheit can also negatively affect skid-steer loader performance.


A skid steer is a major investment for your business, so you’ll want to comparison shop, talk to those who’ve already purchased skid steers in order to get their input, and perform your due diligence before rushing into a final decision.


Find Skid Steer vendors in your area by searching our Local Vendor Directory.


Take a look at pallet jacks from one of our many qualified vendors.


If you’re interested in a skid steer loader for your business, you may also want to consider purchasing transportation equipment.

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