Equipment matters: Selecting a skid steer loader

Updated Dec 4, 2019

Focus on hydraulics when choosing a new model.

Hydraulic horsepower is the key number that reveals a skid steer’s capacity for getting things done: “It is a function of both flow and pressure,” says Todd Lynnes with Caterpillar. Comparing the hydraulic horsepower numbers between machines can provide a relative measure of productive capability.” To calculate hydraulic horsepower, multiply the flow (in gallons per minute) times the pressure (in pounds per square inch) and divide by 1,714. So hp = (gpm x psi) / 1714.

Hydraulic flow

Sweepers, brush cutters, snow blowers and stump grinders are among the attachments requiring high flow. A large reservoir mounted away from the engine will help the hydraulic system run cooler in high-flow applications. Not all attachments require high flow; grapple buckets are examples of low-flow attachments.

Load-sensing pumps

“A load-sensing pump automatically manages the output of the hydrostatic pump,” Lynnes explains. “It helps maintain maximum productivity during operation and helps prevent stalling the engine under a heavy load. Pilot and electrohydraulically controlled hystat pumps are most often, but not always, load-sensing. Load-sensing pumps also allow the machine to operate at reduced throttle, which reduces fuel consumption and noise.”


The two common choices in controls are hand-and-foot or joystick. Regardless of placement, controls should be ergonomic and intuitive. One key consideration is the feedback an operator gets from the controls. Does the loader feel like an extension of the operator’s thoughts and actions, or does it seem remote and detached? Feedback comes from sensory input and can only be evaluated during a test drive. Pilot valves and, especially, electrohydraulic controls can mute this feedback.


Our one non-hydraulic consideration: If the machine is undersized in lifting capacity, it will lead to poor performance and reduced productivity, but don’t buy more than you need. If you need a 2,200-pound capacity skid steer, don’t buy a 3,000-pound machine. Instead, spend the extra money on options and attachments that will make your machine easier to use and more productive.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Richard Ries. 

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