Key Factors When Choosing a Compact Excavator

Compact (Mini) Excavator Buyer’s Guide: Part 3 of 6 

From tail swing and transportability to cost considerations, these are key factors to keep in mind when buying a compact excavator.  

What to Look for When Buying a Compact (Mini) Excavator  

Selecting the right compact (mini) excavator is a critical decision for anyone taking on a construction or landscaping project. Consider key factors including tail swing, attachment couplers, transportability and cost to help you decide which excavator is best for your specific application.

Sizes and Weight  

Size and weight are essential factors when selecting a compact excavator, as they directly impact the machine's transportability, maneuverability and ground pressure. Smaller, lighter excavators are easier to transport and maneuver in tight spaces but may have lower lifting capacities and digging depths than larger, heavier machines. Understanding the capabilities of each tonnage size will help you choose the right compact excavator for your needs.  

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Compact Excavator Specifications  

When choosing a compact excavator, you’ll need to consider whether the specifications of the machine are suitable for the specific tasks and environments you’ll encounter on the job. Factors such as horsepower, operating capacity, dig depth, reach and swing radius all play a pivotal role in a compact excavator’s performance and capabilities.

For more information on important specs for compact excavators, see the specs section in Exploring Compact Excavator Sizes and Specifications. 

Compact Excavator Arms  

Bobcat compact excavators are available with various arm configurations to suit specific applications and job-site requirements. For example, an extendable arm option allows you to use the power and lifting performance of a standard-length arm, but it also provides additional reach on demand for specific tasks.  

Choose from three types of compact excavator arms:   

  • Standard arm   
  • Long arm   
  • Extendable arm   

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Compact Excavator Engines & Horsepower  

Higher horsepower engines provide more power to optimize lift capacity, attachment production levels and more, allowing the machine to perform tasks more quickly and efficiently.  

Bobcat® engines are designed to provide reliable performance, high fuel efficiency and reduced emissions in compact excavators.  

  • Forgiving fuel system: A forgiving fuel system makes low fuel levels less of a challenge.  
  • Larger fuel filter: A large fuel filter delivers extended system protection and ease of maintenance.   
  • Self-priming fuel pump: A self-priming system eliminates the need for a primer bulb.  
  • Quieter operation: Low noise levels make operation more comfortable.  
  • Longer oil service interval: An increased engine oil service interval of 750 hours increases operator uptime.  

Horsepower is more than just a number on a spec sheet. Each component - including the engine, hydraulic pumps and overall hydraulic system – has the potential to affect the amount of usable power available to complete a task, whether it’s digging a hole or working with an attachment. Some excavators have torque-limiting piston pumps in the hydraulic system that allow the machine to match force with demand and continuously respond to loads.  

Learn More: Bobcat Engine  

Fuel Type: Electric or Diesel  

If you do a lot of indoor projects or work in areas where noise restrictions restrict your working hours, an electric compact excavator could be a great addition to your fleet. Battery-powered excavators have zero emissions and low noise levels, which can help you work around certain pollution or noise regulations. Electric compact excavators may allow you to do tasks that bring extra opportunity for investment.   

Diesel-powered compact excavators generally come with a lower price tag, and they offer job-proven power and performance that is hard to beat – especially when engine noise and exhaust are not a concern. Because diesel-powered compact excavators can use the same attachments as other diesel-powered Bobcat equipment, it can help you maximize efficiency and utilization across your equipment fleet.   

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Tail Swing Types  

Compact excavators come in various designs regarding tail swing, which refers to the amount of overhang or movement an e excavator's counterweight (rear end) occupies while rotating beyond the width of its tracks.  

The three primary types of tail swing configurations are zero tail swing, minimal tail swing and conventional tail swing. Each configuration has its unique advantages and challenges depending on the working environment and project requirements.   

Zero Tail Swing (ZTS)  

On a zero tail swing excavator, the rear counterweight does not extend beyond the width of the tracks at any point during rotation. This design allows for greater mobility in tight spaces, as there is no risk of the counterweight hitting nearby objects or obstacles when the machine is turning. ZTS excavators are ideal for urban construction, confined spaces, and projects with limited access.   

Zero tail swing excavators in the Bobcat equipment lineup include: E10, E10e, E20, E35, E38  

Minimal Tail Swing  

Minimal tail swing excavators have a slight overhang (usually less than 10% of the machine width) beyond the width of the tracks during rotation. This design offers a balance between the tight working space advantages of zero tail swing and the stability and lifting capacity of conventional tail swing. Minimal tail swing machines are suitable for projects with some space restrictions, where maneuverability and stability are both important considerations.   

Minimal tail swing excavators in the Bobcat equipment lineup include: E26, E40, E55 

The E145, one of the large excavators from Bobcat, has a reduced tail swing of 9.1 inches. This is slightly longer than the minimal tail swing, which is usually less than 6 inches. Explore E145 

Conventional (Traditional) Tail Swing  

Conventional tail swing excavators have a more significant overhang, with the counterweight extending beyond the width of the tracks during rotation. This design provides better stability and lifting capacity compared to ZTS and minimal tail swing excavators. However, they require more working space and caution when operating near obstacles or in confined areas.   

Conventional tail swing excavators in the Bobcat equipment lineup include: E19e, E32, E48, E60, E88, E165

Attachment Couplers 

Attachment couplers, also known as quick couplers, are essential components that allow compact excavators to switch between various attachments quickly and efficiently. There are several types of attachment couplers designed for compact excavators.

For more information on important specs for compact excavators, refer to the specifications section in Exploring Compact Excavator Sizes and Specifications and Compact Excavator Features and Options.


When choosing a compact excavator, consider its size and weight to ensure it aligns with your transportation needs. These dimensions directly impact ease of transportation, determining the type of trailer or truck required to move the excavator between job sites and whether any additional permits are needed.  

How to Trailer & Transport Compact Excavator

Machine Size  

While larger excavators require a bigger trailer or truck for transportation, smaller compact excavators offer greater maneuverability throughout transport, which allows them to work in tight spaces and navigate around obstacles more easily.  

Machine Weight  

The weight of the compact excavator affects the type of vehicle needed to tow it, the trailer’s load capacity and the overall cost of transportation. Heavier machines may require a more robust towing vehicle, specialized trailers and additional permits depending on local regulations. A lighter excavator will be easier to transport, reducing costs and logistical challenges. Most small excavators can be transported on a 10,000-pound trailer, though you should always check the transport vehicle’s load rating, which can be found on its identification plan or in the equipment owner’s manual. Load ratings vary in each state, so always check federal, state and local laws and regulations. Special approvals or permits may be required for oversize loads.  

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Cost and Budget Considerations  

Compact excavators are versatile, powerful and efficient machines that can help increase productivity in various industries. However, there are several cost and budget considerations when purchasing a compact excavator.  

By evaluating new versus used machines, initial costs, operating costs, maintenance and repair costs, and financing options, you can make an informed decision that best suits your needs and budget. With the right compact excavator, you can increase your job-site productivity and efficiency, saving time and money in the long run.  

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Dealer Support and Brand Reputation  

When investing in a compact excavator, it’s important to consider the dealer support and brand reputation associated with the machine so you can maximize the value of your compact excavator.   

Dealer Support  

A reputable dealer can make a significant difference in your ownership experience and the long-term value of your purchase. Look for dealerships that have a solid track record of excellent customer service, timely maintenance support and readily available parts.   

A dealer with a dedicated service department and knowledgeable staff ensures that your compact excavator receives regular maintenance, repairs and any necessary warranty work promptly and efficiently.   

Brand Reputation  

Additionally, choosing a brand with a strong reputation in the industry provides confidence in the machine's quality, durability and performance. Established brands often have a wide network of dealerships, making it easier to find support and access genuine parts.   

Take the time to research and choose a dealer and brand with a reputation for reliable products and exceptional customer care to maximize the value and longevity of your compact excavator investment.  

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Choosing a compact excavator with a solid warranty helps protect your investment and ensures that you can rely on the manufacturer's support should any issues arise. Look for a brand that offers comprehensive warranty coverage for both the machine and its components.   

These are some key areas to review within a warranty:  

  • Pay attention to the duration of the warranty and what it specifically covers, including engine, hydraulic system, electrical components and structural integrity. Some warranties may also include coverage for parts and labor.   
  • Consider the warranty's transferability if you plan to sell the excavator in the future. A longer warranty period indicates the manufacturer's confidence in the quality and reliability of their product.   
  • Review the warranty terms and conditions to understand any limitations or requirements, such as regular maintenance and using authorized service centers.  

 Learn More: Warranty Plans  

Making an Informed Buying Decision  

There are many important factors that will help you choose the right compact excavator, from size, weight and specifications to attachments, operator comfort and safety, transportability, cost and dealer support, in addition to brand reputation and warranties.

When you make an informed decision about your purchase of a compact excavator, you’ll choose a machine that’s tailored to your project needs, budget and preferences.

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Your next machine might be closer to your jobsite than you think. Build & Quote helps you configure an excavator exactly the way you want it. Select your machine, customize with options and submit to your local dealer for a price quote.
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