Mini Excavator or Skid Steer - What Works for You?

28 April, 2024
By Waddah Taweel
Mini Excavator or Skid Steer - What Works for You?

Choosing between a mini excavator and a skid steer loader? Each machine offers distinct advantages for work in tight spaces where larger equipment won't fit. Mini excavators are equipped for digging and moving materials with precision, thanks to their tracks or wheels. Skid steers, with their four-wheel design, are built for lifting and transporting heavy objects efficiently. Your project's success depends on selecting the right equipment. This article compares the features, characteristics, and applications of mini excavators and skid steer loaders to help you make an informed decision.

The Size and Weight of Mini Excavators vs Skid Steers

Mini excavators and skid steers differ significantly in size and weight, impacting their suitability for various projects. Mini excavators, while smaller than their full-size counterparts, are generally larger and designed primarily for digging tasks such as trenches. They offer a broader range of motion, enabling the movement of materials over greater distances without manual effort. This capability makes them particularly effective in jobs requiring significant excavation and material displacement.

On the other hand, mini skid steers present a more compact option. They stand out in environments requiring maneuverability and ease of operation by a single individual. Despite their smaller size, they are versatile enough to perform a wide array of tasks, from leveling ground for concrete work to digging drainage ditches. Their design caters to the needs of smaller projects or those in constrained spaces where a mini excavator’s larger footprint could be a disadvantage.

Power and Efficiency between Mini Excavators and Skid Steers

When considering power and efficiency, both mini excavators and skid steers have their distinct advantages tailored to specific tasks. Mini excavators excel in heavy-duty digging, loading, and transporting materials, even within confined spaces. Their design focuses on maximizing the power needed for excavation tasks, ensuring they can handle demanding work like trench digging and large material movement efficiently.

The Kobelco SK35SR mini excavator design focuses on maximizing the power needed for excavation tasks
The Kobelco SK35SR mini excavator design focuses on maximizing the power needed for excavation tasks

Mini skid steers, although smaller, are adapted to be highly effective on construction sites where space is restricted or obstacles like buildings and trees limit the use of larger equipment. Their compact size does not compromise their ability to perform construction-related tasks, including minor digging, material handling, and site preparation. The adaptation of these machines for constrained environments means they deliver power where larger machines cannot operate, emphasizing efficiency in tasks suited to their capabilities.

Breakdown of the Operating Costs of Mini Excavators and Skid Steers

Understanding the operating costs of mini excavators and skid steers is crucial for managing your project budget effectively. These costs include fuel consumption, maintenance, repairs, and insurance, each varying based on the machine's size, weight, and usage.


The fuel cost depends significantly on the equipment's efficiency and the distance it covers daily. Opting for a smaller, more fuel-efficient machine could reduce fuel expenses, especially for projects requiring minimal movement.

Maintenance and Repair

Regular maintenance is key to preventing costly repairs and extending the equipment's lifespan. Early detection of issues during routine checks can save on future repair costs. Ensure a maintenance schedule is in place to keep machines in optimal condition.


Insurance is an often overlooked but essential aspect of operating costs. It protects against liability claims and accidental damages involving third parties. If you haven't yet insured your equipment, including this in your operating cost calculations is imperative.

By carefully considering these factors, operators can make informed decisions on the most cost-effective equipment for their projects, balancing initial investment against long-term operating expenses.

Attachments that Enhance Mini Excavators and Skid Steers

Attachments and accessories significantly expand the capabilities of mini excavators and skid steers, tailoring them to a wide range of tasks. The key to maximizing these machines lies in understanding their distinct applications and the tools that enhance their functionality.

Mini Excavator Attachments

Known for their precision in landscaping and construction, mini excavators can be fitted with various attachments. Augers, for instance, transform these machines into efficient drilling rigs for foundation work or utility installations. Landscaping jobs benefit from forestry attachments like mulchers, brush cutters, and tree shears, which address different vegetation management needs. For site cleanup and preparation, rake buckets and land-clearance rakes offer efficient sweeping and clearing capabilities. The extended reach of mini excavators also allows for the use of diverse buckets and rippers, enhancing their versatility in excavation and material handling tasks.

Attachments enable skid steers to undertake various tasks beyond their basic capabilities
Attachments enable skid steers to undertake various tasks beyond their basic capabilities

Skid Steer Attachments

The adaptability of skid steers comes from a broad array of interchangeable attachments, making them invaluable multipurpose tools. From buckets and forks to grapples and trenchers, these attachments enable skid steers to undertake various tasks beyond their basic capabilities. This versatility is particularly advantageous in construction, agriculture, and landscaping, where the ability to switch between tasks quickly and efficiently is crucial.

Safety Features between Mini Excavators and Skid Steers

Safety is a paramount consideration when operating heavy machinery. Both mini excavators and skid steers are equipped with specialized features designed to protect the operator and ensure the safe operation of the equipment.

Skid Steers

These machines incorporate an anti-tip wheel system, crucial for maintaining stability on challenging terrains such as slopes or slippery surfaces. Additionally, skid steers are designed with a protective safety bar that encircles the operator. This feature is particularly important given the skid steer's almost open cabin design, providing sturdy protection against impacts and ensuring the operator remains within the safety zone of the cabin during operation.

Mini Excavators

Most tracked mini excavators come with a rollover protection system (ROPS) to safeguard the operator in the event of a tip-over accident. This feature is essential for preventing injuries from rollovers on steep or uneven terrain, where the risk of the machine tipping on its side or back is increased. ROPS serves as a critical safety net, offering added protection against moving parts during operations close to obstacles where space is restricted. Mini excavators also feature seatbelts, an essential safety measure for keeping operators securely in place, especially when navigating rough terrain or in the event of an unexpected collision.

Comparing Maintenance in Skid Steers and Mini Excavators

Understanding the differences in maintenance can significantly influence the decision between opting for a mini excavator or a skid steer. Let's delve into the specifics of oil changes, lubrication requirements, and parts replacement for these machines.

Oil Changes

A key difference in maintenance routines is the frequency of oil changes. Skid steers require oil changes approximately every 500 hours of operation, reflecting their intensive work patterns and design. In contrast, mini excavators have a longer interval between oil changes, recommended every 1000 hours. This difference underscores the varying engine and hydraulic system requirements, with mini excavators generally having larger oil capacities that allow for longer operation periods before needing a change.


When it comes to lubrication, mini excavators demand more attention than skid steers. Mini excavators have more grease points, including swing drives, which require regular greasing to maintain smooth operation and reduce wear. Skid steers, with fewer lubrication points, mainly around the bucket and boom pins and bushings, require less frequent greasing. This distinction highlights the more complex joint and pivot mechanisms in mini excavators, necessitating more frequent lubrication to prevent breakdowns and extend the lifespan of moving parts.

Pros and cons of owning a skid steer loader vs a mini excavator
Pros and cons of owning a skid steer loader vs a mini excavator

Parts Replacement

The availability and cost of replacement parts also differ between these machines. Mini excavators benefit from a wider availability of parts, including more options from third-party or commercial parts manufacturers. This availability often results in lower costs and easier procurement of replacement parts. Skid steer parts, while readily available, may not enjoy the same level of third-party support, potentially leading to higher costs and longer downtimes for repairs.

The Kobelco SK35 Mini Excavator vs the Bobcat S510 Skid Steer Loader

Let’s look at some of the key specifications between two popular models of mini excavators and skid steers, specifically the Bobcat S510 skid steer loader, and the Kobelco SK35SR-6 mini excavator.


Bobcat S510 Skid Steer Loader

Kobelco SK35SR-6 Mini Excavator

Operating Weight

2,686 kg

3,850 kg

Engine Make, Model

Kubota V2403-MDI-E3B

Yanmar 3TNV82A-B

Engine Power

50 hp

22 hp

Fuel Capacity

93 l

42 l

Bucket Capacity

1.0 m3

0.11 m3

Rated Operating Capacity

851 kg

N/A (Digging force 27.8 kN)

Tipping Load

1,615 kg


Dump Clearance

2.2 m

4.8 m

Working Width

1.73 m

1.70 m


Bobcat S510 Skid Steer Loader
Bobcat S510 Skid Steer Loader
Kobelco SK17 Mini Excavator
Kobelco SK17 Mini Excavator

Choosing between a mini excavator and a skid steer depends on several key considerations tailored to your project's needs and constraints. Both machines offer versatility and functionality across a range of tasks, making them valuable assets in compact construction, landscaping, and similar applications. Ultimately, the decision should align with your operational needs, financial capacity, and the specific demands of your projects. Whether you opt for a mini excavator or a skid steer, choosing the right equipment is a step towards enhancing efficiency, productivity, and safety on the job site.

Q: How do I choose between a mini excavator and a skid steer loader?

A:The decision between a mini excavator and a mini skid steer hinges on the specific tasks you need to accomplish. A mini excavator excels in digging and trenching operations thanks to its design and functionality, making it ideal for projects requiring deep hole digging or precise trenching. Its ability to handle these tasks quickly and efficiently outmatches what you'd typically achieve with a skid steer. On the other hand, if your primary requirement is to move materials, such as dirt, across the job site, a mini skid steer is likely a better choice. Designed for material handling, it offers speed and efficiency in transporting loads, outperforming larger machines in this aspect. Assessing the core requirements of your project will guide you in selecting the machine that best fits your needs, ensuring productivity and effectiveness on the job site.

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