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

Dec 14, 2020

While backhoe loaders and excavators are both built to dig, they have some primary differences between them. If you're in the market for a backhoe or excavator, you may want to learn more about how they differ so you can choose the option with the efficiency and power for your projects. As you consider investing in an excavator or backhoe, learn more about what these machines are and the differences between them.

What Is an Excavator?

An excavator is a type of machine used for digging. It's built with a chassis, digging bucket, boom and dipper, and it typically moves with wheels. Excavators that use tracks are most commonly referred to as "trackhoes." An excavator has a digging arm designed to dig up and lift heavy materials.

The cab on an excavator can rotate 360 degrees, making it easy for an operator to get the machine's digging arm into position. Many excavators also include a dozer blade installed on top of the digging arm. You can find many attachments compatible with excavators, allowing the machine to complete tasks other than digging, like demolition and forestry projects.

What Are Excavators Used For?

Operators in the landscaping industry use excavators to dig trenches and other holes. They're also utilized for demolishing structures, lifting large objects and placing materials in the appropriate location. If you need to do some heavy digging, an excavator may be the machine for you.

What Is a Backhoe?

A backhoe is a type of excavation machine with a base resembling a tractor. On one end of the backhoe, it has a jointed two-part arm with a digging bucket attached. On the other end, the backhoe usually has a front loader attachment. Since the front and back of the backhoe can be used for different tasks, the cab features a seat that can turn 360 degrees, giving the operator the ability to see whichever side they're using. 

The portion of the backhoe arm directly attached to the body is the boom, while the part of the arm holding the digger bucket is referred to as the dipper. If you don't need to dig, the backhoe arm can usually use other attachments like rakes, hammers, drills and rippers. The front loader section of the backhoe can be swapped out for forklifts, brooms and plows.

What Are Backhoes Used For?

Farms often employ backhoes to accomplish a variety of tasks. Their digging capabilities are built for light- and medium-duty applications. They can also use their front loader to move heavy materials or equipment. 

What’s the Difference Between an Excavator and a Backhoe?

There are a few key differences between the two machines that make them well-suited for varying tasks. Knowing the differences between the two machines can help a company determine which is right for their needs. Differences in the equipment's size, rotation ability and versatility can all impact the type of work a business can accomplish.


Learn more about the primary differences between backhoes and excavators below:

  • Rotation ability: Operators will quickly find that excavators and backhoes have different rotational ranges. A backhoe's arm usually only has a rotational range of 200 degrees, which can limit the operator. In contrast, an excavator can rotate in a complete circle, moving the arm and chassis simultaneously without restriction.
  • Versatility: Both the backhoe loader and excavator can feature different attachments that make the machines useful for other tasks. While both are compatible with attachments, backhoe loaders tend to have a broader selection available. This selection can make backhoe loaders the more versatile of the two options for some users. Since backhoe loaders can be driven on roads, these machines can move between different work sites with ease, unlike excavators.
  • Size: Backhoes tend to be smaller and lighter than excavators, which are known to be large and heavy. Since excavators can come in huge sizes and have more power, they're often used for more heavy-duty operations like mining, demolition projects, larger industrial projects and driving piles. The smaller size of backhoes makes them better suited for less intense jobs, such as snow removal, medium-scale excavation and construction applications, farming operations and loading jobs.

Backhoe Vs Excavator - Which Should You Choose

As you choose between excavators and backhoe loaders, you'll likely want to consider how the machines will fit into your projects. It's a great idea to consider what you need from a machine and choose the option best fitting your requirements. 

To begin, you can evaluate your projects' typical scale. As you might expect from the size differences between the two machines, excavators may be better suited for large-scale projects where you need a great deal of power to dig up tough materials and move them at an efficient pace. For projects of a smaller to medium scale, a backhoe loader can likely deliver the power and performance you need.

Mini excavators can also be used for smaller-scale projects. When you choose a backhoe loader vs. a mini excavator for a smaller work site, consider the terrain you'll drive the machinery over. Mini excavators typically come with tracks instead of wheels, making it easy for them to travel across uneven terrain. 

You may want to choose a backhoe loader if you need your machinery to move from job site to job site quickly. One of the biggest advantages of backhoe loaders is that operators can drive them on roads, taking them to various work sites faster. Excavators can't drive on roads, so you'll have to wait for them to be loaded up and transported, which can take more time.

You can also ask yourself about the types of tasks you're going to need the machines to do. Though excavators and backhoes can both dig, they have different attachments available. If you have a wide variety of tasks you need to accomplish with a machine, the backhoe loader may be the better option. However, it's important to research the compatible attachments for either option and choose based on that information.

Find Your Next Excavator or Backhoe Loader at Mustang Cat

At Mustang Cat, we're proud of the high-quality equipment and service we provide our clients across various industries. Our Mustang Promise means you get 48-hour service, a huge inventory of parts, complimentary protection and exceptional rental reliability. We have a wide selection of Cat® equipment available for you to purchase. If you're in the market for backhoe loaders or excavators, we carry plenty of choices to help you find the perfect piece of equipment fitting your needs.

Whether you have questions about purchasing a new excavator or you're looking for tips for using an excavator or backhoe, contact us today for more information.