Backhoe vs. Excavator: Which Is Right for the Job?

Backhoe loaders and excavators are two of the most widely used pieces of equipment at job sites such as construction, forestry, mining and many others. While backhoe loaders and excavators are similar in appearance and perform many of the same earthmoving functions, they do have some fundamental differences. In this post, we'll compare these powerful and versatile excavating machines to help you choose the right one for your applications.

backhoes vs excavators

What Is a Backhoe Loader?

A backhoe loader features a tractor-like base with a bucket and a two-part articulated arm attached to one end, and a digging tool called a backhoe on the other. It's possible to replace the backhoe with a variety of work tool attachments such as rippers, hammers, brooms and snowplows, enabling the machine to perform several functions. Two small wheels in the front and two larger ones in the back allow the backhoe loader to move effortlessly around the work site.

What Is an Excavator?

Excavators, sometimes referred to as steam shovels or power shovels, are primarily digging machines. They feature a boom, bucket and stick setup attached to a chassis that can rotate up to 360 degrees. Typical applications include trenching and digging holes, landscaping, lifting and placing large objects, and demolition projects. While most excavators have tracks that provide excellent traction on soft ground, wheeled versions are available as well. They can also accommodate attachments such as rakes, hammers, grapples and compactors.

Backhoe vs. Excavator Comparison

Factors to consider when choosing between a backhoe loader and an excavator include:

  • Size/power: Except for the mini version, excavators tend to be much larger and more powerful than backhoes. They're better suited for more demanding jobs that require a little extra digging muscle, such as mining operations or major industrial or commercial projects.
  • Maneuverability: A significant difference between a backhoe and an excavator is that the former's smaller size makes it considerably more agile. You can operate a backhoe in confined areas or at smaller job sites.
  • Versatility: While both machines can accommodate attachments, backhoes can typically handle more types of work tools, enabling them to perform a wider range of work site functions.
  • Rotation: Excavators and backhoes are able to rotate on their undercarriages. But while a backhoe can only turn up to 200 degrees, an excavator can make a complete circle, providing a greater range of motion.

Are Backhoes or Excavators Right for My Industry?

Whether a backhoe or excavator is right for your operation depends on your industry's unique demands. Both backhoes and excavators are integral to the following sectors:

  • Landscaping: Backhoes are usually the best pieces of equipment for the landscaping industry due to their smaller size and ability to create foundations, gardens and pools in an efficient amount of time. While an excavator can do a similar job, backhoes succeed in being more versatile since their front loader enables them to move landscaping materials such as trees, rocks and plants. Backhoes are even powerful enough to plant trees. 
  • Mining: When working on a mining site, it's frequently more efficient to use a large-scale excavator than a backhoe due to their digging proficiency. However, hydraulic excavators and backhoes are frequently used in conjunction with each other to perform a wider range of tasks such as material handling and path construction.
  • Farming: The farming sector uses backhoes more frequently than excavators depending on the process. Backhoes are versatile enough to transform into augers, brooms, hammers, sweepers and rippers with attachments. 

Regardless of the field, projects that require heavy-duty digging should opt for an excavator instead of a backhoe. Excavators are built exclusively for this purpose and can remove more earth in one stroke. Conversely, the versatility of a backhoe gives it an edge when the work site's demands may change from day to day.

The Cat® Rental Store Can Help You Make the Right Choice

The experienced equipment rental specialists at any of the 1,300+ worldwide locations of The Cat® Rental Store can help you select the right machine for your applications. We offer a wide assortment of excavators and backhoes for rent from Caterpillar at competitive daily, weekly and monthly rates. You'll also receive exceptional customer service every step of the way.

For more information on the difference between backhoes and excavators, call us at 1-800-RENT-CAT today. Our associates are available 24/7 to assist you. You can also contact us online to request a quick quote.

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