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Which machine do you need? Backhoe vs Excavator

10 February | 505 views

Construction sites, industrial worksites, and other large-scale tasks require the right heavy equipment to deliver quality and on-time results. To get this done, you’ll need the right earthmoving and handling tools for its proper purposes to perform efficiently on-site. 

For instance, the function of a backhoe and an excavator can overlap at some points. However, depending on the size of the project, mobility needs, and the site’s limited space, one may be the better option than the other. This article compares backhoe vs. excavator equipment and how you should choose between the two. 

What Is a Backhoe?

Backhoes are generally smaller equipment that offers more versatility and range. A backhoe has two arms in the front and back of the tractor: the first is a boom, stick, and bucket in the back (similar to the singular arm an excavator has), and the front has a loader. They’re also known as backhoe loaders because of these two parts.

Backhoes dig and collect debris. The back arm supports the front loader, and its bucket can be switched out with rakes, drills, compactors, and other attachments to perform different jobs. 

A backhoe cab doesn’t have a full rotational range and can only go up to 200 degrees. They also can dig up to 14 feet, which makes them ideal for smaller projects. They also feature stabilizers to ensure they don’t tip over uneven surfaces. Backhoe loaders make up for what they lack in power with more versatile functions that can take on multiple tasks around your worksite. 

What Is an Excavator?

Excavators are much larger and more powerful heavy-duty machines used mainly for digging and other functions like breaking and dredging, demolition, mining, and pile driving. They are also known as 360s because they can fully rotate 360 degrees from their base. 

Excavator models can range depending on their weight capacity, affecting their size, mobility and horsepower. These include:

  • Mini: Less than 13,000 pounds (lbs)
  • Midi: 13,000 to 22,000 lbs
  • Standard: 22,000 to 90,000 lbs
  • Large: Over 90,000 lbs

An excavator’s front attachment consists of a boom, a stick and a bucket. The boom is the load-bearing arm of the excavator. Attached to it is the stick, which controls the angle and position of the bucket. Finally, the bucket is the attachment used to scoop dirt and other debris. Buckets can be detached and replaced with attachments like grapples, rakes, drills, and breakers. 

What Is the Difference Between a Backhoe and an Excavator?

The differences between a backhoe and an excavator can affect your efficiency on any project. Using the less practical option between the two can cause issues in your task later on or result in inefficient performance. Here are some of the significant differences between the two. 

  • Size: Considering the standard size of an excavator and a backhoe, excavators are generally larger than backhoes. This means that an excavator typically has more horsepower and reach than a backhoe, which makes excavators ideal for tasks like demolition, mining, and significant construction projects. However, keep in mind that there are mini excavators and larger backhoe models.
  • Power: Excavators have more control and horsepower, which allows them to perform better in demanding conditions. Excavators are better for industrial and large-scale tasks so they can be a bit overkill for minor construction tasks. On the other hand, backhoes generally have less power and can be impractical heavy-duty equipment for major construction tasks. The driver may also need to use its stabilizer during operation to keep themselves safe in uneven terrain.
  • Digging Depth: Both backhoes and excavators can be used to dig holes. However, heavy-duty backhoes can dig as far as 14 feet, which is ideal for landscaping, swimming pool installation, and farming. In comparison, excavators can go up to 48 feet down, which can be used for basements, foundations, and trenches.
  • Range of Motion: Excavators enjoy 360-degree motion, making it easy for the operator to collect debris and transport it behind their equipment. Backhoe tractors have less range of motion and usually have a limited 200 degrees of movement.
  • Mobility: Excavators have less mobility because of their size, so even with their 360-degree motion, they may be unable to perform well in limited spaces. You may need to get a mini excavator, but this means reducing its weight capacity. Backhoes, on the other hand, are more maneuverable because of their size. They have wheels and can drive up to 25 miles per hour on public roads.
  • Versatility: Both excavators and backhoes have buckets that can be switched with other attachments. However, backhoes have more attachment options and a front loader to support their function.
  • Multiple Worksites: Excavators are generally limited to one worksite because of their size and mobility. Backhoes, on the other hand, can be driven on roads and work on multiple worksites near each other. 

Three excavators, a backhoe, two trucks and a paving flattening machine

Which One Should I Choose for My Job?

When comparing a standard-sized excavator with a regular backhoe loader, a backhoe offers versatility and smaller equipment for better motion in smaller and limited spaces. Excavators, on the other hand, provide more power. It’s impossible to say that one is objectively better than the other because it ultimately depends on factors determined by your project. 

Some factors you should consider include the following:

  • The Purpose of Your Heavy Equipment: Choosing between a backhoe vs. excavator can depend on what you intend to use it for. An excavator offers a larger size and more power for demolition and deep digging. Smaller jobs like loading, breaking, and landscaping can be done with a backhoe.
  • Your Budget: Whether you invest in heavy equipment rental, the backhoe price and excavator price are significantly different. An excavator’s price increases depending on its size, while a standard backhoe’s price is considerably less than a standard-sized excavator.
  • Bucket Sizes: Both excavators and backhoes have a bucket attachment, so consider the weight you expect them to carry. A standard backhoe can lift up to 8,200 pounds, while heavy-duty excavators can carry up to 48,000. For industrial projects, a backhoe may be an impractical option.
  • The Job Site’s Space: The size of your space can affect the mobility and range of your equipment. Excavators are ideal for expansive job sites and industrial construction projects. Still, you may be unable to maximize their power and performance in smaller worksites unless you work with a mini excavator. Backhoes, however, are ideal for smaller-scale projects with less space to move.
  • The Scale of Your Job: Excavators offer more power and heavy-duty performance, especially for digging and demolition. It could be worth having an excavator on-site if you have a significant project that requires power and performance over versatility. Backhoes, however, are for more medium-sized jobs where versatility is more important than extreme power.
  • One or More Worksites: If you’re working on one specific worksite, both may apply to your heavy-equipment tasks. However, backhoes can travel on roads, making transport to different locations for multi-site projects easier. 

In short, here’s a summary of what you can expect working with a backhoe vs. excavator: 

Backhoe Excavator
What Is It? A backhoe has an arm with a detachable bucket in the back and a loader in the front. An excavator has an arm with a detachable bucket in the front.
Best For  Small to medium-sized projects that need more mobility and versatility Large and industrial-sized projects that require more power for better and faster performance
Range of Motion Up to 200 degrees  360-degree motion
Mobility  Its smaller size makes it easier to move even in limited spaces.

It can be used on roads at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. 

Requires stabilizers for uneven terrain

It needs to be used in places with large spaces to maximize its features.

Cannot be used on roads

Can be used on uneven terrain and other demanding worksite conditions

Versatility Can replace its detachable bucket with other attachments to support the front loader. Has more attachment options than an excavator’s bucket Can detach the bucket to replace with its more limited attachment options
Which One Is Better For:
Demolition Small demolition tasks only
Pile Driving
Snow and Dirt Removal
Uprooting Trees

Still Not Sure Which Machine You Need? Get in Touch with National Dispatching 

Backhoes and excavators can overlap at some points, so deciding which equipment is the better option for specific projects or day-to-day tasks in your industry can be challenging. If you’re unsure about which one to rent, contact our professionals to discuss your projects’ needs.

At National Dispatching, we are the one-stop shop for equipment rental solutions. We’ve worked with various industries and the heavy equipment they require, and we can provide you with the best options. We’ve helped thousands of projects in the last 12 years and are happy to provide your team with the necessary equipment to deliver reliable excavators, backhoes, and more. 

Browse our heavy equipment rentals to view our selection of backhoes, excavators, and other tools that meet your specific requirements

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