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Which Is The Right Machine For You To Buy?

On any construction site you’ll likely see both skid steers and a wheel loaders. The machines are very different in appearance, but basically do the same job - dig, lift, and move dirt. What advantages do they have over each other? Here is a quick look.

Skid steers maneuver well on job sites and are one of the more popular machines out there. Compact wheel loaders are speedy quick machines that can get from one end of a job site to another.

Equipment World had a little fun by having a contest between two machines, a CAT 262B skid steer and a CAT 904B wheel loader. More Here>

Equipment World graded the two machines on 10 key categories; bucket capacity, purchase price, operating costs, speed, horsepower, maneuverability, loading, visibility, comfort, and attachments.

Bucket capacity

As a general rule the compact wheel loader will have 25 percent more bucket capacity and tipping load. That varies depending on the model. In this case we’re comparing a big skid steer with a small compact loader.

Purchase price

You’ll pay about 25 percent more for a compact wheel loader. But with dozens manufacturers of skid steer loaders, expect a wide range of prices.

Operating costs

Fuel and tires are the two biggest operating costs for a skid steer. Compact wheel loaders, with their smaller engines, use less fuel and their articulated front-end steering is easier on tires.


The compact wheel loader is a fast machine. The Equipment World Spec Guide shows most small loaders offer a travel speed of around 10 to 14 mph. Skid steers average about 7 to 10 mph. Compact loaders also articulate quickly and load faster than a skid steer.


The Cat 262 has 50 percent more horsepower than the 904B. One reason is the skid steer needs the extra horsepower to push itself around, counter-rotate and perform other maneuvers. The compact loader transfers power to the ground more efficiently so it can use more power to carry loads, but the skid steer can load its bucket and raise it to the dump height with the engine at low throttle, and power high-demand hydraulic accessories.


Nothing can match the skid steer for maneuverability. It can counter-rotate in its tracks and the low cab height allows it to navigate under structures with low clearances.


Vertical lift path skid steers have a hinge pin that’s higher off the ground than comparable compact wheel loaders, so you can dump a bit higher. But compact wheel loaders sit a bit higher, which improves visibility when dumping and when using forks to load materials through second-story openings or over walls.


It depends on what you’re looking at. The skid steer gives you good visibility to the bucket cutting edge. A compact wheel loader gives you better visibility behind and to the side of the machine.

Operator comfort

Because of it’s side-entry door, getting in and out of a compact wheel loader is easier than crawling over the bucket to get into a skid steer. Older skid steers have confining cabs but newer ones are a little better.


A skid steer is often portrayed as a multi-function animal and there are a wide variety of attachments that make it so. Compact wheel loaders tend to be viewed as bucket machines, although with auxiliary hydraulics they too can power a number of attachments.

The Verdict

Both machines are great at what they do. Your decision to buy a skid steer or a compact wheel loader depends on what type of work you need done. If you don’t need to move the machine around a lot to position it in tight spaces, and don’t need a lot of attachments, the compact wheel loader will probably be your best bet. You’ll likely pay more but the extra bones will be worth it in the end because of better fuel and tire costs.

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