Buyer’s Guide for Excavators

As a variation on the steam shovel, a hydraulic excavator uses cables and other mechanical systems to manipulate a digging bucket on a boom. During the late 19th century, an English manufacturer substituted a hydraulic cylinder for a cable and used water as the lubricating fluid. Before the end of the century, steam began powering hydraulics. In the mid-20th century, manufacturers of excavators switched to oil to transmit hydraulic pressure.

The early models were primitive, of course. A 1950s excavator, for example, featured operators sitting on benches and lifting the front window of the cab for ventilation, making ergonomics and comfort a nightmare. Caterpillar didn’t introduce its first excavator until the 1970s. The hydraulic excavator today is an electronically sophisticated, powerful piece of equipment used in a wide variety of industries.

Models and specifications of excavators

Our Excavator specialized and Charts section contains specifications and charts for a variety of Excavators

The North American market is served by more than a dozen manufacturers of mid-size and full-size hydraulic excavators. The primary consideration should be matching the machine to your needs. Consider these criteria:

Digging, demolishing, or destroying?

How will the machine be used? The majority of buyers will need an excavator to, yes, excavate. Others will use it to load aggregate, tear down a brick building, or cut away roadside brush and limbs. Additionally, excavators are often needed to move materials. Are any of these functions likely to occur on your job sites? Choosing a model with enough horsepower and hydraulic flow for the most demanding task without being way oversized for other tasks is a smart idea.

 What features and configurations will be most useful to you?

Excavators are not all created equal. Some companies sell extra-long booms or sticks, while others offer telescoping booms. Is the operator’s cab elevated? They are available. Does a crawler excavator need to be hauled on a flatbed from job to job? Various options are available. On paved surfaces, rubber-tired excavators are also used. Contractors choose hydraulic excavators for their versatility and the variety of types they offer on the market.

The brands and dealerships that are worth considering.

The reputation of hydraulic excavators from well-known manufacturers is well-deserved. Buying a novel brand – or a new entrant in a market might require additional due diligence on the buyer’s part. There are also dealers. Before becoming a customer yourself, learn how satisfied current customers are. A solid dealer support system is necessary for every machine.

There is a difference in size.

Mini and compact excavators are not considered when shopping for midi or large excavators. However, some attention should be paid to dimensions. If your worksite is confined, a short-tail swing model may be appropriate. When access to a working site is restricted by height restrictions, a lower profile (telescopic boom) excavator is recommended. There are times when wheeled excavators are narrower than crawler equivalents, and this could mean the difference between getting on-site or not.

Would you be able to transport it?

Even though a large hydraulic excavator seems like the perfect choice, is your flatbed truck big enough to transport it to a job site? For heavy equipment transport, permits are required, escorts are provided, routing is appropriate, and the machine is properly secured on the trailer. Regulations of this type can vary from one jurisdiction to another. The bigger the excavator, the more difficult it is to transport, so keep that in mind before purchasing one.

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