When examining a utility contractor’s fleet, a wheel loader reigns supreme as a sturdy, earthmoving workhorse. With the ability to switch out attachments, move large loads and keep operators comfy in their spacious cabs, wheel loaders can deliver big power and productivity in a variety of different sized units.
“One of the main advantages of wheel loaders is that they’re compact enough to easily maneuver smaller jobsites, yet big enough to load, move and haul large amounts of material,” says Chris Cline, product marketing manager for utility loaders at John Deere. “With a coupler and the right attachment, they’re versatile enough to perform a variety of tasks on any particular jobsite.”
Thanks to offerings from manufacturers such as John Deere and Caterpillar to Hyundai and Doosan, there are plenty of options on the market. Taking a good look at standard features, options and price-points, a buyer can feel confident in purchasing a durable wheel loader from a trusted brand.
“Contractors may have a variety of purchase considerations, which typically include initial price, financing terms and projected cost of ownership over the life of the machine,” says Corey Rogers, marketing manager for Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas. “So it’s important to choose a brand that is known for reliability, longevity and overall value, and to buy from an authorized dealer who can arrange the best available financing and who will be there to support you throughout your ownership experience.”
When looking to add a wheel loader to a fleet, the first step is to know its applications. This means looking at your whole scope of work, from the largest project that the loader is expected to tackle to its everyday jobs.
“Always start with the main task to be accomplished,” says Lucas Sardenberg, wheel loader application specialist for Caterpillar. “Even if the unit is to be used on secondary functions, it is always good for customers to ensure a good fit to avoid having to rent or get different equipment when the wheel loader could have been adequate.”
Sizing up wheel loaders typically starts with its bucket capacity. The sweet spot for utility contractors tends to land in the 3- to 5-cu yd range. Manufacturers recommend selecting a machine and bucket that will be adequate for the heaviest expected load. It’s also important to be upfront with a dealer about fitting on certain jobsites and the maximum dump clearance that’s needed.
“When selecting a bucket, a buyer should size it for the heaviest material he or she will be moving and ensure that the machine has the standard rated operating capacity for it,” explains Cline. “A buyer should also know their machine’s height and width restrictions. Some customers may encounter unique situations where an operator is working between walls or maybe going inside a building. If they don’t tell their salesperson about this, they could possibly get a machine that’s not going to fit. Unfortunately, we’ve seen that happen over the years.”
Contractors live by safety first on the job, so it’s vital to select a machine with excellent visibility and features that promote safe use. For example, Rogers points out that features such as large access steps, convenient grab handles and programmable speed-limit settings all help operators work safer.
Fuel economy is always important when selecting any piece of equipment, particularly wheel loaders. Mike Stark, wheel loader product specialist for Doosan, points out that features such as auto shutdown and auto idle are popular among various brands and great for helping operators better manage fuel usage.
Wheel loaders can go beyond the bucket as well. When selecting a machine, manufacturers urge customers to check out attachment options that may expand a wheel loader’s versatility.
“On utility sites, it’s best to consider what attachments are needed,” says Sardenberg. “Buckets always are considered, but a coupler and set of forks or hook to pick up multiple materials and loads is a close second. Another overlooked feature is parallel lift. On underground utility jobs, is the wheel loader a good match for the excavator doing trench work? A poor match can slow down the process which turns into real cost.”
For those looking to personalize their machines, manufacturers offer a variety of optional features. One of the most popular is a rear-view camera, which allows operators to have better visibility around the jobsite. Cline and Sardenberg agree that LED lighting packages are great additions, especially for customers who perform night work.
Wheel loaders are certainly making a name for themselves on the job as hard-working, versatile machines. By asking the right questions and identifying an operator’s needs, a buyer can find the ideal wheel loader for his or her to-do list.
Pam Kleineke is managing editor of Utility Contractor.