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Categories of Excavators

There are different excavator segments that manufacturers use.  There are several major types of excavators that you need to be aware of.

Most people will be using a standard sized excavator as they do a wide variety of jobs. The high-end models are out of the price range for most people. If you need powerful digging power but you don’t have a lot to spend, a mini excavator is a great option. These have lower operating costs so they can fit your budget.

What are the Main Components of an Excavator?

There are several main parts to the excavator. This includes the engine, cab, treads, attachment, and boom arm. Here’s a breakdown of the parts and what you need to know.

Excavator Cabs

The cab is where the person operating the excavator is going to sit on top of the tracks, this cab can pivot 360 degrees. A cab can also be considered EROPS which stands for Enclosed Rollover Protective Structure So it also protects the excavator operator.

Excavator Engines

The excavator has a diesel engine which gives it the power for the hydraulic systems and the tracks. this runs the attachments and the arm of the excavator. Any new machines coming into production have to meet Tier 3 emission standards as outlined by the EPA. Those that have older machines are exempt from the requirements.

Excavator Treads

The excavator will also have an undercarriage which includes steel tracks that help to move the machine. You will also find rollers and sprockets that propel and guide the tracks along.

Excavator Booms

The boom extends from the excavator body. This will be connected via elbow and stick which holds the attachment to the excavator

Excavator Attachments

An excavator isn’t much good without an attachment that actually does some work. Most excavators will come with a bucket as standard. This will be a scoop that is toothed so it can dig into gravel or dirt. It can also support the different types of attachments besides the basic scoop.

Optional Excavator Features

There are other features for your excavator that are optional. Here are a few of the things you might want to consider for your excavator.

A Monitoring System

You can get computer systems that help you monitor your excavator so you can get more out of it. For example, you might program one to get the optimal hydraulic flow out of the excavator when you use different attachments. This will help you reduce your fuel cost and the performance of the machine will be improved. You might have a system that will track operating costs, fuel usage, or machine maintenance. The system can look for problems and fix them before these become a problem with the machine.

Modes that Boost Power

Manufacturers have power boost systems. This helps you balance the power that the boom and the bucket has. It will track the best match for the various jobs that you are doing. some will detect the type of job that you’re doing automatically and give you the right amount of power. Others require you to pick a work mode for the job task you’re currently doing.

Backfill Blade

If you have a smaller excavator this may have a bulldozer blade or a backfill blade that will attach below your boom. This will make it easy to level and refill once you have finished your digging without the need to change your attachment.

Cab Climate

Another extra might be control of the cab’s climate. If you’re working in a hot environment you’re going to want a cab that is kept cool. In this case, you might want an air conditioning system. If you’re working in the winter months, you might want a cab with more heat.

Vandalism Controls

Some excavators come with vandalism controls. This means that you will be able to lock the controls so no one can use the machine or damage the work you’ve done on the job site with the excavator.

Things to Consider When Choosing an Excavator

You will have a few things to consider before you buy your excavator.  One thing you will have to keep in mind is the size of the excavator in regard to the job you want to do.

How Deep Will You Need to Dig and How Far?

An excavator will have a dig depth that is rated. This is the limit and how far the excavator is going to be able to dig. This is usually around 18 to 26 feet. The machine will also have a reach which is the horizontal distance that your bucket will be able to work. These are important factors to consider before you purchase your excavator.

Machine Weight

A large excavator is going to weigh around 10 to 50 tons or even more. A mini excavator way around 2 to 6 tons. If you don’t want to damage your landscaping or the Landscaping is important to you, you might want to get a lighter machine. With a smaller excavator, you can tow this behind a regular pickup truck and you don’t need a commercial driver’s license to operate it.

Dump Height

You need to know how high the bucket is going to have to go to dump out its contents. This isn’t as critical as the dig depth but it might be important. Typical dump height is around 15 to about 20 feet.

Try to look at all of your options and pick the best excavator that is going to meet your needs. It doesn’t make much sense to buy one that is going to be too big for your project because this will just end up costing you too much money. Larger machines might be able to do more work but they will still cost more if they are doing the same work that is a smaller machine can do.


You might also consider the physical size of your excavator. There might be in narrow areas at your job site that you have to drive the excavator through. You want a machine that’s going to fit comfortably within the job site. Make sure you measure areas of the site so you know the size of excavator that’s going to be the best fit for the project.

There are a few other things that you need to look at once you know the size requirements and have narrowed down a few excavator models to choose from.

The Controls

Many new excavators have what are called pilot hydraulic controls. These joysticks are ergonomic and they are a great improvement over older style levers. They allow you to operate the excavator for a long time and they can help keep you comfortable. Most machines will have two different control styles and you’ll be able to switch between the two of them. You want an excavator that has the control panel that you are the most comfortable with.


You want an excavator that is going to be comfortable for you. There will be times when you are putting in longer shifts. You want a seat that is going to be adjustable. The controls should be easy for you to reach. You want to ensure that getting in and out of the cab is going to be easy. you also want a machine that provides good visibility for the surroundings around you when you are into the cab.

Ease of Operation

You should find an excavator that is easy to operate. Ask the sales

representative if you can take the excavator for a test to dig. You should try out various models to find one that is the most comfortable for you. You want one that has good visibility, responsiveness, and offers you the comfort that you need.

Maintaining Your Excavator

you want the machine to be easy to maintain. It should be easy to access your hydraulic and engine systems. Make sure you ask how routine maintenance is done on the machine forgetting a demonstration of this. You want to know how lubrication is done, how you top off the fluids, and how you change things such as filters to keep the machine in proper operation.

Don’t Forget the Cost of Maintenance!

When you buy from a seller you will probably get an extended warranty or a maintenance contract that you can choose from. The problem with this is they are really not worth the cost. Much of the preventative maintenance of your excavator can be done yourself. Your regular manufacturer’s warranty is going to cover the mechanical breakdowns that happened with the machine.

If you buy an older machine, you might want a maintenance contract. This can be a better value for you since the machine is older and more prone to problems. By having a trained technician lubricate and inspect your excavator a couple of times per year they can find small defects and stop these defects from turning into larger more costly problems.

What are the Main Bucket Options?

There are various buckets and attachments that you can use for your excavator. They are suitable for different types of digging.

  • Rock – A heavy duty or a bucket for severe duty
  • General Work – This uses a general-purpose bucket
  • Specialized – This is an attachment that is specialized for you removing things such as pavement
  • Tilt – This bucket is used when you are digging a slope or for grading because you have the ability to control the side angles of your bucket
  • Sorting – A sorting bucket will allow you to take loose material and large rocks and separate them.

Excavator Attachment Options

Other attachments might include an auger when you need to make holes. For gripping or pinching you might use thumbs, rakes, hydraulic hammers, mulchers, or rippers. You have the flexibility to do different assignments with your excavator although most excavators will be used for one or two dedicated to tasks so you don’t have to keep switching out your attachment. Some excavators feature what is called a quick attach coupler. This makes it easy for you to change your attachment.

If you are frequently changing the attachment you might want to use one of these. This can save you time when you’re on a job site and time is of the essence.

What do New Excavators Cost?

You will have to factor in the cost of your excavator. A new machine is going to cost you a lot of money. A full-size new machine can run between $100,000 to around $500,000 or even more. You might consider buying a used machine but even these can be quite expensive.

A common size which is around 15 to 20 metric tons or 33,000 to 44,000 lbs will range around $120,000 to around a $200,000 brand new. A machine that is around 10 to 15 tons will cost you around $90,000 to $150,000. A machine that is 30 to 40 tons will be around $250,000 to around $350,000. You should weigh all of these costs and pick the best machine suited to your project.

When you purchase your machine, you will usually get one bucket of that comes with it. You want to ensure that this bucket is going to be something that you’re going to use for the project. A new bucket and its different sizes will vary in price and the range is around $700 to $5,000. This will all depend upon the intended use of the bucket and the actual size of it. If you want an attachment that is powered such as a hydraulic hammer or a thumb, this will be around $5,000 to $10,000.

What do Used Excavators Cost?

It can still cost you a lot of money for a used model even if it is 2-3 years old and has around 1000 hours of work on it. These machines will cost you about 25% less than a model that is brand new. With this type of discount, a 20-ton excavator is still going to cost you around $187,500 assuming the new model was $250,000 so you still have quite a bit of an expense.

Make note of excavators that seem to be heavily discounted. An older model may have a discount may have as much as 50% off the new price but the lifespan in the reliability of older models starts to suffer. You might be able to get an excavator for only $30,000 and while this has some short-term savings you won’t get the performance you need over the long run if you expect to use this excavator several times.

What does it Cost to Rent an Excavator?

Renting an excavator is a good way to evaluate the machine before you make a purchase. This can also save you money if you only need to use the excavator for a small job. For an excavator that is around 20,000 to 40,000 lbs, the rental per month will be 3,000 to $5,000. A large machine that ranges between 40000 to 70000 lb will be around five thousand to $8,000 per month. Renting a machine could save you significant amounts of money if you’re just doing a small project that is not going to take a lot of time.

Checking the Machine Before Committing

You should get a demonstration of an older model when you’re looking at a used machine. You should get a good impression of the feel of the machine. You want the tracks to run freely. You want the boom and your stick to be responsive when you use the controls. You want the travel to be smooth and the rotation to be consistent. if you notice significant problems with the operation of the unit, you should look elsewhere.

A used excavator may be made up to look new. It might have a fresh coat of paint. This might mean that the seller has cleaned up the excavator but it doesn’t mean that the machine is going to give you the performance that you want. You should examine the excavator for signs of repair or to see if it has any fresh welds on it. You should also ask the seller if there’s been any repair work done to the excavator recently.

Take a look under the undercarriage of the excavator. Examine the bushings for rust, where, or repairs that look like they’ve been done poorly. You should look at all of the hydraulic seals to see if there are problems such as leaks. You should look at the engine for things such as a worn belt, or a cracked hose, all of this are signs of neglect and this is not a machine you want to buy.

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