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Tips to help pick the right mini excavator

November 24, 2021 -  By
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Staying loyal to one brand helps standardize maintenance and part replacement. (Photo: LM Staff)

Staying loyal to one brand helps standardize maintenance and part replacement. (Photo: LM Staff)

Mini excavators can add versatility to landscape design/build operations, giving companies the opportunity to tackle projects that need more digging or carrying power than a skid-steer can offer. Getting the most out of that iron requires careful decision-making at purchase time, users say.

Speaking from the cab of his Bobcat E35 compact excavator while clearing brush to create fire breaks in forest-fire prone central Washington, Cory McGuire says he rented excavators for years before investing in his own.

“I paid attention to what the rental companies used,” McGuire says. “If you go to the rental yards around us, 90 percent of their equipment is Bobcat, so that says something.”

McGuire’s Landscaping & Winter Services is a small design/build company in South Cle Elum, Wash., a town on the eastern edge of the Cascade mountain range. About 90 percent of his summer business is residential, while 90 percent of his winter business is commercial snow removal.

McGuire says rental users typically have little training on equipment and push machines harder than they should because they don’t have to worry about maintenance. So, he reasons, anything that can stand up to that kind of abuse must be pretty durable.

In Plano, Texas, Firefighters Landscape & Design’s Chad Self says his company primarily uses its excavators for trees. Self is the operations director for the residential design/build company that generates about $6 million a year in revenue.

“Digging holes for trees, moving materials, carrying trees — especially the bigger, heavier ones — we needed excavators for that,” Self says.

Brand loyal

New equipment pricing is the No. 1 concern for Firefighters Landscape, and Self says he’s been happy with Takeuchi mini excavators. He adds, however, that experience with a brand is a close second to price in purchasing decisions.

“You may have a run of bad luck with a brand, so you make a change,” Self says. “Someone else might have a bad experience with your brand. Talk to people and listen to what they say, but everyone’s going to have their own experience with equipment. We were using one brand, and every time we had to take it in for maintenance, it was something — some little thing that needed to be repaired or replaced. The costs started really adding up.”

A few years ago, his company standardized on one brand for its equipment — four skid-steers with a fifth on order and two mini excavators. Sticking with one brand eases maintenance and the company can buy oil filter, belts and air filters in bulk. Self adds that standardizing has its own challenges, but it works well for Firefighters.

Buying advice

The more dealers for a brand in your area, the more access you’ll have to parts and technicians trained on your machines.

Customize equipment

⦁ Excavator manufacturers and aftermarket companies offer massive numbers of buckets, cutters, trenchers and other attachments that could suit your needs.

Talk to an accountant/financial adviser

⦁ Whether to lease, buy or finance will depend greatly on each company’s cash flow and tax situation; there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to paying.

Work your network

⦁ Someone you know probably has gone through this purchase decision and can share what worked for them.

Understand your needs

⦁ When choosing power levels and sizes, make sure the excavator can lift what you need lifted, carry as much weight as you expect to face and offer attachments for the tasks you need completed.

Robert Schoenberger

About the Author:

Robert Schoenberger is Landscape Management's senior editor. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from University of Houston. He has worked in magazines and newspapers since the late 1990s. Robert can be reached at rschoenberger@northcoastmedia.net.

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