The Many Uses and Benefits of Compact Utility Loaders

In the mid-1990s, the compact utility loader emerged in the American market. It has gained popularity ever since as landscapers and construction companies have discovered just how useful it can be. You may hear this piece of equipment compared to a Swiss army knife because of its small size and the way it can use various attachments to tackle a variety of jobs. A compact utility loader may be exactly what you need for your next project.

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What Is a Compact Utility Loader?

A compact utility loader (CUL) is a small machine that is designed to power a variety of hydraulic work tool attachments for landscaping and construction tasks. CULs come in different configurations, including both wheeled and tracked options and ride-on and walk-behind designs. The ride-on models may be referred to as "stand-on skid steers."

Compact utility loaders are often called mini skid steers because they share some similarities with skid steers but are more compact. While there certainly is some crossover between CULs and skid steers, these machines are by no means interchangeable. One of the main things that distinguishes a CUL from a skid steer is the size. The average skid steer is nearly twice as wide as a typical compact utility loader.

These machines also tend to be used for different applications. Skid steers are most prized for their earthmoving abilities, with buckets being the most common attachment. On a CUL, a bucket attachment isn't necessarily the default. Instead, operators use a variety of hydraulic-powered attachments to complete tasks as diverse as mowing and mixing cement. Even if you own a skid steer, there will likely be occasions where renting a mini skid steer is the best option for a particular job. 

The Benefits of Compact Utility Loaders Over Hand Labor

Compact utility loaders offer some unique benefits compared to the alternatives of either hand labor or full-size skid steers. Compared to completing jobs by hand with inferior tools, CULs offer the following advantages:

1. Improved Crew Efficiency

With a CUL and the right attachment, you can save on the cost of manual skilled labor and unskilled labor. The implications of improved crew efficiency aren't just financial. Many companies in the construction and landscaping industries are dealing with labor shortages that make skilled labor hard to come by. With a CUL, you can get more done with fewer people, which makes it possible to keep your crew smaller.

For example, if you have to bring in gravel, deposit it in an area and level it out, you could do that by hand. However, you would need a crew of workers with manual tools like wheelbarrows, shovels and rakes to get the job done. With a CUL, just one person could operate the machine to carry in gravel, deposit it and grade it in the same time it would take several workers to complete the task manually.

2. Faster Work

A CUL enables more than just tightening up your crew. It also allows you to work faster. Mini skid steers are capable of tackling a long list of jobs, and each of these jobs can be done faster at the same or better level of precision as you would achieve doing the job manually.

Consider how long it would take you to manually shovel off a parking lot, for instance. You could use a snow blade or blower attachment on a CUL to do the same job in a fraction of the time. If you're using a CUL to help you in your business operations, you can be better equipped to adhere to tight timelines and keep your customers happy while maximizing your productivity.

3. Expanded Capabilities

With a CUL, you can also take on jobs you otherwise wouldn't have sought out or considered. A mini skid steer rental is just what you need to accept a job you previously weren't equipped to do, even if you had the necessary knowledge. There's no real replacement for having the right equipment.

For example, as more elaborate outdoor living spaces and hardscaping features become more common, a CUL makes it possible to handle some of these jobs where hand tools would fall short. You can carry in large amounts of materials like stone, brick and pavers without having to use a wheelbarrow and can use other attachments for earthmoving purposes. When you're equipped with a mini skid steer, it opens up a whole new range of possibilities.

The Benefits of Compact Utility Loaders Over Full-Size Skid Steers

It's easy to see how a compact utility loader can help you get more jobs done with fewer workers and in less time compared to no heavy machinery at all. But you may be interested in how the CUL stacks up next to its most closely related piece of heavy equipment — the skid steer. There are some jobs where a full-size skid steer is a better choice. However, when you need a versatile work machine accompanied by the following benefits, you'll get them with a CUL. A CUL is:

1. Gentle on Delicate Surfaces

When you're working on a finished site, mini skid steers offer a crucial advantage over their full-size counterparts in that they are far more lightweight. This means they can navigate finished sites and soft turf without causing any damage.

This is one of the reasons CULs are prized for landscaping and hardscaping. If a homeowner or business owner wants a company to plant some trees and shrubs, create a decorative pathway and install a garden pond with a water feature, chances are they won't want that company to tear up their lawn in the process. Most heavy equipment will leave its mark on soft surfaces like turf, but CULs will be quite gentle on these surfaces, helping you achieve an attractive finished product.

2. Small Enough for Tight Spaces

Compact utility loaders are called compact for a reason. They're exceptionally small compared to skid steers and other types of heavy equipment. With such a small footprint, CULs are ideal for maneuvering in tight areas, such as residential properties. You can easily traverse around obstacles and work with precision. 

While the exact dimensions of CULs can differ from model to model, they are generally small enough to pass through openings where larger pieces of equipment wouldn't fit. Some models are as narrow as 29 1/2 inches across, which allows them to pass through doorways. What matters in most situations is being able to enter a client's fenced-in backyard. Even larger CULs are still narrow enough to pass through many residential gates.

3. Easier to Transport and Store

A smaller, lighter piece of equipment is also an easier piece of equipment to store and transport. For storage, you could keep a CUL in a shed as you would a lawnmower and there's no need for a large storage area. Of course, if you choose to rent your CUL, storage is likely to be a nonissue altogether.

As for transportation, many CULs are technically small and light enough that you could transport them in the flatbed of a pickup truck. However, the most practical way to transport a CUL is on a flatbed trailer, using a stable ramp onto the flatbed where you can secure the CUL. Compared to larger equipment, you can opt for a smaller, single-axle trailer, even if your CUL is accompanied by up to six attachments. It should also be easy to stay below the weight cutoff for needing a commercial driver's license.

4. Powerful for Its Size

One thing that sets the CUL apart when comparing it to a skid steer is its impressive weight-to-power ratio. In other words, the CUL offers an exceptional level of power for its size. This is great news if you were worried about sacrificing power if you opt for a mini skid steer instead of a standard one. While these compact machines are less powerful, the margin may be smaller than you assumed. 

One study looked at leading models of a CUL, skid steer and compact track loader to demonstrate the difference in weight-to-power ratios from one machine to the next. The results showed that the CUL's tip capacity was 110% of its weight, while the tip capacities of the other two machines were much lower than the machines' weight. A CUL is a great choice when you want a compact machine that will pack a serious punch.

Mini Skid Steer Applications

Mini skid steers are useful for a long list of tasks involved in landscaping, hardscaping, light-duty construction projects, agriculture and utility work. With a CUL and the right attachment, you can take on a variety of tasks, even on the same job site, and complete them efficiently. The jobs you can do with your CUL depend on the attachments you have. With the necessary attachment, some of the tasks you can use a mini skid steer to help with include:

  • Bringing in, moving or removing landscape materials
  • Filling trenches
  • Plowing and blowing snow
  • Spreading and grading landscape materials
  • Mixing cement
  • Planting trees and shrubs
  • Tilling and cultivating soil
  • Mowing brush
  • Installing sod
  • Moving logs, brush and debris
  • Installing irrigation systems
  • Building retention walls
  • Microtrenching for cable installation
  • Breaking up concrete, asphalt or stone
  • Cleaning a site

Wheeled vs. Track Models

In the compact utility vehicle sector, you'll find some models on wheels and some on tracks. Each of these options offers its own possible advantages. 

Wheeled CULs tend to work best when you don't need to traverse challenging terrain. So if you plan to use your CUL to transport and deposit mulch on a landscaped island in a parking lot, a wheeled CUL would be a good choice. A wheeled CUL will allow you to move across the even, paved surface more quickly than you could with a track model.

However, in most scenarios involving a compact utility loader, track models are more practical. These models are better equipped to traverse a variety of terrain types, including uneven terrain and muddy, sandy or snow-covered surfaces. Because of CULs' light weight, they can also move over grass and other types of soft terrain without causing substantial damage.

This is why landscapers love CULs on tracks. They can move through a yard, even in wet conditions that are common in the spring and fall, without leaving behind noticeable track marks or ripping up the ground.


Attachments for Compact Utility Loaders

The compact utility loader is all about helping with diverse tasks, and the available attachments reflect that versatility. Choosing the right attachments for a job is critical if you want to get the most out of your CUL. Fortunately, you can rent work tool attachments, so you can always pinpoint what you need on a particular job without having to purchase a variety of attachments. 

Keep in mind that each manufacturer offers its own selection of attachments, and the mounting systems across these brands are not standardized. You can find aftermarket adapter plates, but it's best to look for attachments that are designed for your CUL model. Look for the following attachments to turn your CUL into the ideal machine for your next project:

  • Buckets: Buckets are one of the most basic and useful attachments on a variety of equipment types, including on CULs. You'll find a variety of bucket styles. Basic or all-purpose buckets are a good option for moving materials. Some buckets are made to combine other tools, such as a grapple and box scraper, into the bucket design. Other buckets may be designed for carrying certain types of loads or different levels of weight.
  • Backhoe: A backhoe is a type of bucket, but rather than mounting right to the front of the loader, this bucket is attached to the end of a two-part articulated arm. You're probably used to seeing a backhoe on a much larger piece of machinery, but a small backhoe attachment for a CUL can be useful in smaller-scale digging applications.
  • Trenchers: With a trencher attachment, you can use your CUL to dig trenches for tasks like pipelaying, creating irrigation systems, laying fiberoptic cable lines or installing utilities for outdoor lighting. You can find high-speed and high-torque options on the market. You can also opt for a microtrencher if you need to create narrower, more precise trenches. Microtrenchers are especially popular in urban environments.
  • Augers: Augers allow you to dig straight down into the earth. The spiral blade bores down into hard, dense surfaces to make holes in the size you need, whether that's a matter of inches or a few feet across. An auger attachment is a must-have when you're installing fence posts, flag poles, basketball hoops or other features you want permanently fixed in the ground. They're also ideal for planting trees.
  • Grapple attachments: Grapple attachments are made to collect and hold on to items so you can move them from one place to another. While you can move materials with a bucket, a grapple is a better choice to reduce manual labor in some instances. You can find specialized grapple attachments designed for gripping and transporting certain things like brush, trees and shrubs, logs or hardscape materials. 
  • Pallet fork and bale spikes: Other attachments for holding on to items and moving them include the pallet fork and bale spike. The applications for these attachments aren't limited to moving pallets and bales of hay or other materials, though those are extremely useful applications. You can also place other large items on a pallet fork, such as bags of mulch, and haul them that way.
  • Blades: Blades are used to push materials for purposes like clearing, leveling and grading and back-filling trenches. Some blades are specially designed for snow removal. When you want to move materials at ground level without scooping them up and depositing them, a blade is the way to go. 
  • Snow blower: A great testament to the versatility of a CUL is that, with the right attachment, you can quickly turn it into a powerful snow blower. This is an excellent way to remove large amounts of snow without the manual labor involved in shoveling. Note that snow blowers don't actually blow snow. This attachment looks like a horizontal auger with a chute for depositing the snow out of the way. 
  • Tillers and soil cultivators: Whether you need to break up ground for a landscaping project or you're a farmer who needs a helping hand to prepare your soil, there are multiple attachments you can use for those purposes. A tiller will help you break up the ground, and a rock bucket can sift through the soil and collect bits of debris. A soil cultivator can blend in compost and fertilizer, bury stones and ultimately transform rough terrain into a planting bed. 
  • Cement bowl: A cement bowl attachment automates the process of mixing cement and helps you haul that wet cement around a job site. You can also find cement bowl designs that make it easy to pour cement into a post hole with the post already in place. If you use cement on the job, this attachment is a worthwhile investment.
  • Mowers: When you need to clear an area covered in low, dense brush, a regular mower may not be the best choice. A mower or mulcher attachment can turn your mini skid steer into the perfect tool to effortlessly shred up whatever brush stands in the way. Pay attention to the maximum height a mower attachment can cut to ensure it's right for your job.
  • Brooms and sweepers: You can also find broom and sweeper attachments for your CUL to turn it into a clearing and cleanup device. This is an incredibly handy tool at the end of a job when you need that finishing touch to make everything look perfect. Why break out brooms and clean manually when you're already tired when you can use an attachment to quickly and easily clean up?


Mini Skid Steer Rental From The Cat® Rental Store

At The Cat® Rental Store, we know that bigger isn't always better. Sometimes you need a compact piece of equipment to navigate a small space or get the job done with a lighter, more precise touch. That's why our dealers carry a variety of high-performance compact equipment for rent, along with the work tool attachments you need for your application. 

Technicians inspect all equipment before your dealer sends it to you, so you can depend on the quality of whatever machinery you rent. Our dealers' product inventory extends beyond Cat equipment to include other reputable brands, as well, which you'll see in their selection of compact utility equipment

With more than 1,300 stores worldwide, The Cat Rental Store is always here for your equipment rental needs. If you're interested in renting other types and sizes of equipment, browse the full rental inventory online today.

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