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Skid Steers: What You Need To Know

February 15, 2023

What is a skid steer? What is it used for? What are the different types? Get answers to these and other questions you might have.

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What is a Skid Steer?

A skid steer is a compact, rigid-framed machine with four wheels or tracks, and a vertical lifting arm that can be fitted with a variety of attachments. The operator controls e movement of the skid steer using two joysticks.

One of the key features of a skid steer is its ability to "skid" or turn on the spot, using its wheels or tracks. This makes it highly maneuverable and allows it to work in tight spaces where larger machines would struggle.  In this article we discuss:

  • Anatomy and components
  • What a skid steer is used for
  • Skid steer types, sizes, and applications
  • Attachments
  • Advantages
  • Limitations

Anatomy and components

The main components of a skid steer include:

  • Chassis: A sturdy, rigid frame that supports the engine, hydraulic system, and other components.
  • Engine: Provides the necessary power to drive the machine and operate its various hydraulic systems.
  • Hydraulic system: Equipped with hydraulic systems that power the machine's lifting arm and attachments.
  • Lifting arm: A vertical arm attached to the chassis used to lift and move heavy materials and equipment and can be raised and lowered hydraulically.
  • Attachments: Connected to the lifting arm and powered by the hydraulic system, attachments include buckets, forks, augers, grapples, and hydraulic hammers.
  • Operator cab: A small, enclosed space located on top of the chassis housing the operator's seat, controls, and instruments, including the steering wheel, pedals, and joysticks for operating the machine.
  • Wheels or tracks: Equipped with either four wheels or tracks, these provide the necessary traction and stability for the machine to operate on rough terrain and in tight spaces.

This compact machine has a simple yet effective design and its components are designed to work together to provide power and versatililty.

What a skid steer is used for

Skid steers can be used for a wide range of tasks. Some common uses are:

  • Excavation: With an excavator attachment, it can be used for digging and excavation tasks, such as digging foundations, trenches, and holes.
  • Material handling: Equipped with forks or a bucket, it can be used for moving and lifting heavy materials such as pallets, logs, and construction materials.
  • Demolition: Fitted with a hydraulic hammer or demolition attachment, it can be used for breaking up concrete, asphalt, and other materials.
  • Grading: With grading attachments, such as a grader blade or box scraper, it can be used for leveling and grading surfaces, such as roads, parking lots, and building sites.
  • Landscaping: Can be used for planting, mulching, and grading, as well as for removing trees, stumps, and other obstacles.
  • Snow removal: With a snowplow or snow blower, it can be used for clearing snow and ice from roads, parking lots, and sidewalks.

Skid steer types, sizes, and applications

Skid steers come in different types, sizes, and configurations, each designed for specific applications. Here are some of the most common skid steer types, sizes, and applications:

  • Wheeled: Equipped with four wheels and are best suited for flat surfaces and smooth terrain. Ideal for landscaping, material handling, and light construction.
  • Tracked: Equipped with rubber or steel tracks which provide better traction and stability on rough or uneven terrain, referred to as compact track loaders. Best suited for excavation, demolition, and site preparation.
  • Mini: Smaller and more compact than a standard skid steer, making it ideal for working in tight spaces and confined areas. Commonly used in landscaping, trenching, and irrigation projects.
  • Standard: The most common size and are used in a wide range of applications, including construction, landscaping, and agriculture. They typically have a rated operating capacity (ROC) of between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds.
  • Large: Designed for heavy-duty applications, such as excavation, demolition, and forestry. ROC is typically between 2,000 and 3,500 pounds.
  • Compact: Smaller and more agile than a standard skid steer, ideal for working in confined areas and tight spaces. ROC is typically between 500 and 1,000 pounds.

Selecting an appropriately sized skid steer can improve productivity, efficiency, and safety on the job site.

2021 Caterpillar Compact Track Loader


Although there are many attachments available for a skid steer, some of the most common are:

  • Bucket: For moving and lifting materials, such as dirt, gravel, and sand.
  • Forks: For lifting and moving pallets, crates, and other heavy objects.
  • Auger: For drilling holes in the ground for fence posts, footings, and other structures.
  • Grapple: For grabbing and lifting large, bulky items, such as logs and rocks.
  • Trencher: For digging trenches for utilities, irrigation, and other applications.
  • Hydraulic hammer: For breaking up concrete, asphalt, and other materials during demolition projects.
  • Sweeper: For cleaning up debris, dirt, and other materials from the job site.
  • Snowplow: For clearing snow and ice from roads, parking lots, and sidewalks.
  • Brush cutter: For clearing brush, undergrowth, and other vegetation.
  • Soil conditioner: For preparing soil for planting, grading, and leveling.

Five advantages of a skid steer

Skid steers offer several advantages over other types of construction equipment. Here are some of the key advantages:

  1. Versatility: Can be fitted with a wide range of attachments, making them suitable for a number of different tasks.
  2. Maneuverability: With its small turning radius it is able to operate in tight spaces and confined areas, as well on rough or uneven terrain. Ideal for outdoor work.
  3. Productivity: Designed for high productivity, with quick attachment changes and fast travel speeds. They are able to complete tasks quickly and efficiently, saving time and reducing labor costs.
  4. Operator comfort and safety: The enclosed cab provides protection from the elements, and the controls are easy to operate. In addition, the low center of gravity provides stability during operation, reducing the risk of accidents.
  5. Cost-effectiveness: Relatively inexpensive compared to other types of construction equipment, and because they can be used for multiple tasks, there is a reduced need for multiple pieces of equipment.

Five limitations of a skid steer

While skid steers offer many advantages, they also have some limitations which include:

  1. Limited capacity: Skid steers have a limited load capacity, typically between 500 and 3,500 pounds depending on the size of the machine. This makes them unsuitable for heavy-duty tasks, such as lifting large equipment or materials.
  2. Stability: They have a narrow wheelbase, which can make them less stable than other types of equipment. This can make them more prone to tipping over if they are operated on uneven or sloping terrain.
  3. Limited reach: Their limited reach can make it difficult to access certain areas or perform tasks that require extended reach, such as loading materials onto high trucks or reaching over barriers.
  4. Noise and emissions: Typically powered by diesel engines, they can be noisy and produce emissions. This can make them unsuitable for use in certain environments, such as indoor spaces or areas with strict emissions regulations.
  5. Operator skill: Skid steers require a skilled operator who is familiar with the machine's controls and safety features. Improper operation can result in accidents or equipment damage.

By selecting the right machine for the task and ensuring proper training and safety measures are in place, these limitations can be minimized and the benefits of the skid steer can be maximized.

Buy a Used Skid Steer with Black Star

View the skid steers we have available for sale now. If you don’t see one here, there might be one listed in an upcoming auction that could meet your needs. Check back often with us, skid steers sell quickly!

But, if you don’t find the equipment you’re looking for we may know someone who is selling. With our extended network of contacts, it won’t be difficult for us to find any type of equipment for you.

Please email/text/call us with any specific questions regarding skid steers.
Phone: 309-361-5101.

This article is our representation of useful information and is not intended to be a complete guide for making the right decision for your company. Ask our experts - or your own - for specific advice based on your unique circumstances.

Skid Steers: What You Need To Know
Jim LeMaster

Jim is a customer experience guy! He's out there - boots on the ground - developing new business relationships, signing up, and inspecting equipment for both auction and private sale.

When you decide to sell your equipment,
we will personalize a way forward that benefits you.
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