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What is a Backhoe Loader?

A Backhoe Loader is a vehicle or tractor typically fitted with a bucket or shovel in the front and a bucket fitted to a boom at the back end. The boom is normally attached to the vehicle through a pivot or king-post. The pivot allows the boom to swing left and right, usually through a radius of 180–200 degrees.

A backhoe loader is sometimes referred to as a loader backhoe, digger, JCB, or just backhoe in the industry. JCB (Joseph Cyril Bamford) introduced the first backhoe loader with the loader and backhoe permanently attached to the chassis back in 1957. 

In addition, when the backhoe is a permanent fixture to the tractor or vehicle, it will normally be fitted with a swivel seat. The operator uses the swivel seat to face the backhoe controls located at the rear.

According to Wikipedia: “The true development of the backhoe began in 1947 by the inventors that started the Wain-Roy Corporation of Hubbardston, Massachusetts. In 1947 Wain-Roy Corporation developed and tested the first actual backhoes. In April 1948 Wain-Roy Corporation sold the very first all hydraulic backhoes, mounted to a Ford Model 8N tractor, to the Connecticut Light and Power Company for the sum of $705.”

Uses and versatility  

A backhoe is very useful around smaller building sites due to its versatility and small size. Backhoes are a common sight around construction sites and road works, being an asset around tight areas unsuitable for larger diggers and other machinery. Backhoes also come in four-wheel drive models which allow them to be used in virtually any terrain. Another feature in some of the backhoe models is the slightly curved back arm which allows for more versatility. Furthermore, the backhoe can be used as a mini crane in certain circumstances.

How Backhoe Loaders work

Backhoes work opposite to a loader or bulldozer. Instead of moving material with a forward motion they drag the material backwards toward the vehicle. However, on some backhoes, the bucket may be fixed in a forward-facing position making them work like a hoe, although this is not as efficient as the standard position. Also, when the bucket is facing forwards, it may be useful when loading from a large stockpile, or for picking up material next to walls. This repositioning of the bucket can also be useful when working around obstacles such as pipes. The backhoe is so named because it digs by drawing the earth backwards not because of its position on the vehicle.  

Here is a list of some uses for the Backhoe loader:

  • Breaking up road paving’s such as asphalt
  • Excavation and digging holes
  • Small demolition work
  • Landscaping projects

I should point out, when the bucket is taken off, power attachments can be fitted such as:

  • Concrete breaker
  • Clamshell bucket
  • Stump grinder
  • Tilt Rotator
  • Auger bits
  • Grapple
  • Mower

Safety features

Modern skid loaders fully protect the operator with their enclosed cabs and other safety features. In addition, most backhoes come equipped with vertical stabilisers or hydraulic outriggers at the rear. This is a must have safety feature as when mounted on rubber tyres the vehicle is likely to tip over when the boom is swung around, especially under load.

Types of Backhoe Loaders

Skid steer backhoe loaders

Skid steer backhoe loaders are distinguished by their manoeuvrable steering systems. The machine is controlled by varying the direction and the speed of the two sets of wheels on each side individually. The skid steer feature is very useful when operating in tight spaces. Furthermore, the skid steer zero turning radius is a huge advantage guaranteeing high manoeuvrability.

The disadvantage of the skid steer feature is the high ground friction which can rip up soft or fragile road and ground surfaces.

The vehicle or machine turns by skidding. The skid steer system is where the left-side wheels lock in synchronisation independently to the right-side wheels thus enabling the skidding effect causing better manoeuvrability.

Tracked backhoe loader

The process of having to lift or retract the stabilisers when moving the vehicle slows down the operation, and therefore there is an alternative.  A tracked vehicle may be used to speed up the process as there is no need for stabilisers in many cases. However, the sacrifice here is the tracked vehicle is unable to be driven on sealed roads between sites. In the previously mentioned skid steer backhoe loader, the tracks can tear up soft or fragile road and ground coatings.

Size

Backhoe Loaders come in all sizes but are very compact. They are designed to work in tight spaces where larger diggers and dozers are unable to work because of the limited space.

Types

A farm tractor can be mounted with a bucket in the front and a backhoe on the back but is unsuitable for heavy work. In fact, this design is slower as the operator needs to switch seats to operate the controls on the backhoe.

A purpose-built Backhoe Loader is quicker and much stronger as it is designed to carry out heavy work. Many of these backhoes are fitted with a quick coupler which makes switching attachments such as a breaker, grapple, auger, etc. a breeze. Being able to change attachments simply and quickly makes the Backhoe Loader a very handy tool on construction sites and areas of development.

Pricing

It is beyond the scope of this article to pinpoint accurate prices for Backhoe Loaders as they vary considerably, but the following are some examples of what you can expect to pay in Australia.

Backhoe prices can range from around $10,000-second hand to a top end new Backhoe Loader at around $120,000 -$185,000.

A second-hand backhoe example: 4WD hydrostatic loader backhoe which is mounted on a tractor for about $12,000.

A brand-new Loader Backhoe example is a 2016 JCB 3CX:

Description; New JCB 3CX Backhoe Loader, 92HP, four-speed power shift transmission, side shift, 4in1 bucket + bolt on edge, extenda hoe, 600mm dig bucket, manual quick hitch, air conditioned cabin, Bluetooth radio, $121,000 inc GST.