What Contractors Should Look for When Renting a Compact Excavator

Few pieces of construction equipment are as vital to the utility contractor’s operation as the compact excavator. Its adaptability, transportability and versatility make it the workhorse of the operation.


Few pieces of construction equipment are as vital to the utility contractor’s operation as the compact excavator. Its adaptability, transportability and versatility make it the workhorse of the operation. But with countless compact excavator models on the market, it can be difficult for a contractor to decide which machine is best suited for their jobsite. Renting is a great way for a contractor to test a variety of compact excavators before committing to a purchase, should they decide to go that route. By examining the most important considerations of renting a compact excavator, contractors will feel empowered to match the right machine to the task at hand.

Attachment Versatility

When paired with the right attachment, the versatility of a compact excavator can be pushed to new heights — or more accurately, depths. The attachment can make the machine, and contractors should look to a local dealer or rental house that not only stocks a wide variety of attachments, but also stocks compact excavators that will interface well with a variety of attachments.

A bucket isn’t just a bucket — there are a wide range of sizes and styles, each suited to a particular task or application. They range from narrow, 6-in. styles used in light irrigation work, all the way up to 60-in. buckets for fine grading and finish work. Groundbreaking attachments, like hammers and breakers, are typically a significant investment. Depending on the size, they can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000, so it often makes financial sense to rent a hammer as needed. A contractor should examine the offerings to determine how available attachments might help bring new opportunities for projects. But it’s also essential to rent a machine that’s capable of handling those attachments, such as breakers, from a weight and hydraulic flow/pressure standpoint.

Many manufacturers have begun to standardize interfaces between attachments and equipment, so contractors have a bigger variety of attachment options for their compact excavators, regardless of make. Choosing a compact excavator that comes equipped with a pin grabber-style quick-coupler ensures a nearly universal and very secure connection between the attachment bracket and a variety of tools. Contractors can then easily switch out attachments, which is especially useful on jobs that require an excavator to perform multiple types of tasks.

Renting a Compact ExcavatorHydraulics to Match

Compatibility between machine and attachment isn’t all in the interface, however. A compact excavator must have adequate hydraulics to power the attachments. If the operator intends to use multiple attachments, he or she should look for an excavator that has, at minimum, single-acting and double-acting hydraulics to ensure most attachments are compatible. Depending on the application, it may be advantageous to choose an excavator with a third auxiliary circuit installed for specialty attachments such as a rotating grapple.

Additionally, the customer must consult with an attachments expert at the dealer or rental business to determine the hydraulic flow requirements for attachments and ensure the excavator is adequately equipped to power those attachments.

Compare the Specs

When deciding between seemingly similar models of compact excavators, customers should evaluate some key specs and features in an apples-to-apples comparison between all the machines. Factors such as maximum lifting capacity and reach, breakout force, torque and horsepower all affect productivity and should weigh into the decision.

Contractors should also evaluate how much the machine will cost to operate, with a particular focus on fuel efficiency. Beyond simply looking at the model-rated fuel consumption levels, the contractor should evaluate additional fuel-saving features of the machine such as auto-idle or engine shutdown functions that can save significant costs on long-term rentals.

Consider It Used

Uptime is crucial to any utility contractor’s operation, and before committing to a long-term compact excavator rental, the contractor should approach the machine in question just like they would if they were to purchase a used piece of equipment. Contractors should conduct a visual inspection of all the major wear parts and ask the rental house about the previous jobs the excavator was used on. A renter should ensure all routine maintenance is up to date and hoses are properly connected and free of leaks.

Get in the Seat

The saying, “it’s like riding a bike,” doesn’t necessarily apply to excavator operation — comfort with the operating environment is essential to productivity. Contractors should take time to fully inspect the interior of the cab, become familiar with the controls and determine if the panel positioning, seat and mirrors are accommodating to their work style. If unsure of the size of excavator needed, the dealer or rental house will encourage a short demo of the compact excavator, letting the contractor operate it under real-world conditions. This is critical for determining if the machine is a good match for a project, but also if an operator can comfortably work inside the cab for hours at a time.

Telematics Support

While the long-term benefits of telematics don’t necessarily translate to a short-term rental, contractors can still benefit from renting a machine with telematics. A compact excavator with a robust telematics system can give insight into how the machine has been used up to that point — if maintenance checks were regularly handled and any previous operator behaviors that might have been detrimental to the excavator’s overall health, for example. Contractors should ask their rental dealer for the previous reports from the machine, and ask to be walked through what the information represents.

An intelligent telematics system also alerts the rental house to any service checks or warnings that need to be taken into consideration. For a long-term rental, these updates are especially crucial for maintaining uptime.

Bottom Line

Making a rental decision doesn’t have the lasting impact of a purchase decision, which is why renters often don’t evaluate a rental machine with a critical eye. However, an excavator — rental or otherwise — is an essential part of the utility contractor’s operation. Proper evaluation of the machine’s capabilities, ability to interface with necessary attachments, the general well-being and usability of the machine and the level of support offered by the dealer or rental house via telematics all play into maximizing uptime and productivity, while minimizing cost of operation. Making sure all these factors are working in harmony is what makes the compact excavator the “mighty mini.”

John Comrie is a Utility Product Manager for Volvo Construction Equipment.

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