Choosing the Right Excavator - Thompson Tractor

Choosing the Right Excavator

How to Choose the Right Excavator for Your Job


Narrowing down which excavator is best for your operations is a tricky business. While each excavator delivers a range of power and superior versatility to fit any jobsite, it’s challenging to select a single machine when so many models exist.

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Thompson Tractor specialists are here to support you through the decision-making process. Our guide to excavators will help you understand the various excavator sizes and their ideal jobs, as well as considerations before buying a new addition to your fleet.

Different Excavator Types and Sizes


Excavators can perform grading, lifting, demolishing, and a multitude of other jobs — delivering precision to your logistics. Unlike a backhoe, an excavator has an independent boom to distribute more power and provide more visibility. It also makes for a stable base and helps operators manage the machine better.

In 2016, the international excavator market reached $37.29 billion. A continuous upsurge in demand comes from the growing construction, mining, and oil industries. Within the 2016 global market, mini and compact excavators accounted for $7.76 billion.

The first question that comes to mind is the size of the machine you need. Knowing the dimension of the equipment can help you hone in on your options. However, it’s better to have an idea of the exact specifications you require because the equipment ranges in size and application.

The best excavator for your money will provide the necessary power and productivity with the lowest operating costs. Prices of excavators vary by size, weight, type, and bucket dimension. When you determine the exact specifications of each element, you will have a clear idea of which excavator will support your projects and standards.

Available excavator types and sizes include mini and compact, midi, standard and large.

1. Mini and Compact Excavators

The difference between a mini and compact excavator is that a mini is smaller and lighter than a compact piece of equipment that can handle a bit more weight. Both can weigh up to 13,000 lbs. and are ideal for operating in tight, confined spaces. Compact and mini equipment are the most mobile and fuel-efficient excavators, making them perfect for small jobs.

They can move with ease around landscaping, buildings, sidewalks, and other obstructions like wires and trees. As a versatile addition to your fleet, a compact excavator gives you the advantage of not ripping up yards, sidewalks, roads, and other surfaces. Their excellent transportability makes them a top priority for owners who operate at many locations. You can transport mini or compact excavators using a Class 1 or 2 size truck that doesn’t require a commercial driver’s license — CDL.

The only downfall of the smaller machines is their shorter reach, smaller lift capacity and limited digging depth compared to larger models.

2. Midi Excavators

Also known as mid-sized equipment, midi excavators can weigh between 15,400 lbs. to 22,000 lbs. The units can provide increased reach, dig depth, and power in small areas compared to compact versions. Midis have high levels of maneuverability for construction work, with some coming equipped with zero tail swing.

3. Standard Excavators

Standard excavators are also referred to as crawlers and full-size equipment. They make up the largest market of excavators, weighing between 22,000 lbs. and 99,200 lbs. Standard sizes are most common in commercial construction settings because of their maneuverability and versatile functions.

Full-size units are a step up from the smaller versions in capacity and power levels. They also have hydraulic features to handle work tool attachments. Investing in a crawler will give you the freedom to accommodate almost any project. Several downfalls with bigger equipment are the obligation of a larger trailer for transportation, the right amount of space to move and an increased PSI when working with more weight.

4. Large Excavators


The biggest size excavator delivers the most power with a weight exceeding 99,200 lbs. Large excavators are perfect for demolition, construction, truck loading, and other substantial tasks. These workhorses can perform heavy-duty jobs with ease.

If you invest in a large piece of equipment, you will need an oversized trailer and truck for transportation. You will also want to consistently utilize the equipment to achieve high ROI. You don’t often see them in urban environments because they take up excessive space. Large excavators also tear up the ground easier than lightweight units.

Within each excavator segment, further configurations exist with different features and capabilities. Many modern excavator designs allow mini and standard versions to have retractable undercarriages to move through narrow spaces and expand afterward to perform work. Knowing what category your operations fall under can aid you in choosing the right excavator that matches your applications.


Excavators by Job

Determining which excavator is ideal for your project relates to knowing your job requirements to a T. Do your projects require powerful lifting capacities, extensive digging features, or zero tail swing? Consider the bucket capacity, counterweight, digging depth, engine power, ergonomics, lift capacity, size, and weight of the prospective excavator. All the elements combine to make an ideal solution for your site.

A helpful tip is to imagine each phase of your project, taking yourself through the process step by step. What do you require at the beginning, middle, and end of the construction process? What kind of worksite do you operate on, and what various jobs do your workers perform? You can reference your past projects to observe the average depth and load capacities. What model will support your lifting, digging, carrying, and reaching stipulations?

Consider the following elements to help narrow down your excavator investment.

  • Bucket capacity: Buckets are one of the most popular excavator attachments that can boost the machine’s versatility. What are the maximum volumes and weights of materials you plan to move? Think about what type of buckets the excavator engine supports and its maximum capacity. The addition of couplers can also change the capacity of an excavator’s bucket attachment.
  • Counterweight: Every machine demands the correct amount of counterweight to anchor itself when lifting full loads. Does the machine come with traditional counterweights, or are other options available? Will a counterweight act as a stability option for your job’s lifting requirements?
  • Digging depth: The smartest thing you can do is invest in an excavator that falls into your common depth category, and if necessary, rent other equipment case-by-case for larger depths. Determine what your future projects mandate and how deep you want to dig. What reach do you require, and can you apply boom attachments with different lengths?
  • Engine power: Your excavator needs the right amount of power to perform a variety of jobs. Check the bore and pin stroke specifications to make machine comparisons. You can also look at the hydraulics system when scoping out the power of an engine. Strong hydraulics improve productivity and efficiency.
  • Ergonomics: It’s essential to keep your workers comfortable when operating heavy machinery to help improve safety and morale. Inspect the different entry accesses to the excavators and pay attention to other features like visibility, supportive seats, smooth controls, and the climate function in closed cabs.
  • Lift capacity:What materials will you move with an excavator, and what are the highest densities and weights of the supplies? If you plan on using the excavator for material handling, how much lift capacity do you need for different tasks like earthmoving and material lifting?
  • Size: The dimensions of an excavator matter when you operate on different jobsites. Make sure the equipment can fit alongside other heavy machinery and can move around obstacles.
  • Weight: What’s the maximum operating weight of the excavator compared to what your company requires? A unit that’s too heavy can damage a site, and one that’s too light can increase safety risks and poor performance.


Formulating what type and size excavator is ideal for particular jobs is case sensitive. While our guide to buying an excavator helps you make an informed and sound investment, there is no one machine better than another, whether you’re in the landscaping, plumbing or construction business — however, we can provide the most common excavators for each.

1. Best Excavators for Landscaping

One of the most popular excavators for landscaping is a midi unit. Mid-sized equipment supports digging, moving, and carrying projects. Landscapers have a multitude of tasks that range from hardscape jobs to install steps, walkways and patios to planting trees, turf, shrubs, and flowers. Some professionals work to maintain landscapes, while others install irrigation systems that require trenching and digging.

With the support of a midi excavator, you receive boosted dig depth, reach, and power in confined areas compared to mini versions. Midis are maneuverable, and some have zero tail swing to operate around houses and other buildings.

2. Best Excavators for Plumbing

Installing plumbing fixtures and pipes often requires the work of a mini or compact excavator. As plumbers work at various sites such as homes, factories, offices, and other buildings, tight spaces necessitate the right equipment. You may even find a use for mini and compact excavators indoors.

Selecting the most mobile excavator size will give you the right amount of power for confined spaces. They’re fuel-efficient and ideal for moving around obstructions and buildings. Compact and mini excavators are also light-weight to keep sidewalks and yards intact when digging or moving material for pipes.

3. Best Excavators for Agriculture


An agriculture excavator can perform more tasks than digging with the aid of work tool attachments that increase versatility. Adding other accessories to a compact or midi machine can mow, mulch, and empty materials into a hopper. Even when you’re stacking bales, a compact excavator can efficiently operate in a shed and other small spaces.

A compact or midi excavator used in the agriculture industry can also perform jobs like site clearing, ditch cleaning, fencing, and feed delivery.

4. Best Excavators for Quarry and Aggregate

The common pieces of equipment for quarry and aggregate work are standard and large excavators. Whether you’re removing sand, rock, gravel, minerals, clay, slate, or other materials, larger excavators will provide exceptional power demolishing mountains of different substances. They are also ideal for loading, scraping, digging, and moving aggregate.

Advances in equipment technology enable increased quarry productivity. When you’re working with massive amounts of material, your business needs a machine that can withstand excessive bucket and lift weights. A bigger engine from a standard or large excavator will give you the best run for your money.

5. Best Excavators for General Construction

Compact and midi excavators are great for general construction, while standard and large excavators are prevalent on commercial sites. The earthmoving units are excellent for digging holes, grading, demolition, brush removal, and more. Compact and midi excavators are more mobile and help avoid damage to the ground. They are also better at dodging cables, pipes, gas lines, wires, and other hazards on your construction site. Standard and large excavators call for open space and can handle most commercial construction sites by delivering full power.

Considerations for Selecting the Right Excavator


Besides looking into the specifications of excavator components, you also want to consider things like budget, materials, and environment. Requirements outside the abilities of heavy machinery are key factors in the decision-making process.

  • Budget: Concentrating on the utmost amount you can finance for a new excavator can help you save money and time in the long run. How much utilization will you need to achieve to receive a high ROI? Consider the operating cost per hour of operations across different projects. How much do storage and maintenance cost? Is taking out a loan an option?
  • Buying new or used vs. renting: Buying a new or used piece of machinery gives you unlimited access. But renting may be a better solution that delivers flexible rental agreements. Renting an excavator gives you access to modern and high-quality engines that are ideal for specific or one-time jobs. Most rentals are maintained and serviced by professionals at a dealership that also provides mechanical support and access to parts.
  • Materials: What materials do you work with? Whether you handle sand, clay, dirt, concrete, stone, or other substances can determine which type and size excavator will provide exceptional productivity and efficiency.
  • Maintenance: If you rent an excavator, most dealers provide maintenance and service. Buying equipment requires you and your workers to conduct regular maintenance, along with a walk-around inspection before and after each use to help avoid severe damages later on.
  • Technology: Technology can increase your projects’ output without you having to upsize. Do you need tech features that support the efficiency of sloping, loading, or grading jobs? Other advancements can support rider comfort and data analysis.
  • Transportation: Having a trailer and truck that can carry excessive loads is vital for transportation from site to site. The larger the machine, the larger the truck and trailer. Make sure your workers have appropriate licenses to conduct safe and legal transportation.
  • Worksite conditions: The environment of your construction site can be a turning point in concluding what excavator you demand. Do you typically work on flat landscapes or rough terrain? Do you drive on roads? Various models perform better in different situations with wheeled vs. tracked undercarriages. How much space is available, and what kind of access is open to multiple sites?

Is renting equipment a viable solution for the budget, maintenance, and worksite conditions you have? You may have a confined site where you need compact-radius engines or equipment with reduced-tail-swing. Do you have the right storage facilities in harsh weather conditions?

With an understanding of how other elements come into play when picking the right excavator, you’re one step closer to finalizing a deal.

Before Choosing an Excavator


The top criterion on how you choose an excavator is finding a machine that gets the job done within your parameters. As simple as it may sound, it’s the overarching goal. One of the top ways you can get a feel for how the machine operates is by taking it for a test drive. It’s a well-needed, hands-on experience that will help you see the difference in each unit. As you’re testing it out, conduct an inspection and ask the following questions.

  • Are any leaks present?
  • Are the oil and other liquids in good condition?
  • Does the engine start right away?
  • How do different features operate?
  • How do the engine and wiring look?

Checking the excavator for fluid leaks and ensuring the engine starts right away are critical aspects of investigating. Make sure fresh oil and other liquids are topped off and test out the machine by lifting, moving, and swiveling in every direction. Are there any signs of wear?

After your test run, you’ll have a feel for the performance levels of the equipment and will know whether to make a deal or walk away.

Additional Tools and Attachments


If you’re like any savvy business owner, you’ll want to get the most out of your excavator. Adding work tool attachments to heavy equipment can boost efficiency rates and versatility. They can transform a digging excavator into a multi-purpose machine that can handle any job. When you have projects that expand beyond excavating features, you can magnify the machine’s range of support by adding attachments such as buckets, compaction plates and wheels, couplers, hammers, and rippers.

  • Buckets: Buckets are one of the most adaptable work tools. They are available in various styles to parallel your workload and a variety of materials.
  • Compaction plates and wheels: Vibratory plates and compaction wheels support pipeline contractors.
  • Couplers: Coupler attachments eliminate the need to attach and remove numerous accessories. The tools allow an excavator operator to switch tools without getting out of the cab — allowing them to move from one task to the next seamlessly.
  • Hammers: Hammers are an extension that supports demolition jobs, making quick work of an otherwise laborious task.
  • Rippers: Rippers break up material like hard soil and ice. These attachments are ideal for pipelines and trenching when you need to reach different depths.

Tool accessories can enhance the workflow, no matter if you run a construction, landscaping, agriculture, or quarry business. Matching your attachments with the brand of your excavator can ensure they function correctly and also help with warranties. Think about the kind of hydraulic flow attachments required and how much power is needed to ensure optimal work tool performance. Renting work tools is also an option.

How to Choose the Right Excavator From the Right Dealer

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Partnering with someone you trust to deliver top-tier machines, as well as maintenance and repairs, is a critical step. Thompson Tractor is your go-to, full-service provider for new, used and rental excavators, along with parts and services. As an industry leader with a local presence, we’ve been building relationships for 60 years. Our specialists provide reliable knowledge to help you choose the best excavator.

Browse our inventory of excavators or talk to one of our experts for additional support as you’re determining the ideal excavator investment for your company. You can also request a quote online.

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