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Most profitable combo of excavators, and hauling CTL/mini ex together

MG84

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Jan 6, 2023
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684
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Virginia
I'm back to looking at excavators for my agricultural construction and excavating business. I've narrowed it down to buying one machine new or gently used, in the 3.5-6 ton class and possibly later a second larger machine in the 8-16 ton class. For right now I'm concentrating on the mini, but also looking at the big picture of how it will fit in with a larger unit down the road. Currently own a little Kubota B series backhoe and a Case 480E, will be keeping these but 90% of the work moving forward will be with the excavator(s). Current trucks to haul equipment are F-250 with 15K trailer (legally hauls 11K) and F-700 with 22K trailer (legal to 17K). If I get a larger excavator in the future I will pay to get it hauled, but still want it to be towable behind a tandem.

So here's my dilemma, I know the general consensus is to get the biggest excavator you can afford and haul, which for me is a 6-ton. However, if I went with a 3.5-4 ton it would add a lot of versatility by being easier to haul. I could safely tow it with my pickup or tow it on the same trailer as my CTL (Kubota SVL65-2, weighs 8K) behind the dump truck. Being able to haul both machines at once seems like it's be a big time and labor savings especially since I often work by myself. Or is that a luxury I should just do without and get the 6-ton. I don't think I've ever seen anyone in our area hauling a CTL/mini on the same trailer.

Of course cost is always a concern, new a 3.5-4 ton is $20-30K cheaper than a 6-ton, and that money could be put towards a 120-160. OTOH, a 6 ton would give me a lot more capability and would push the need for a mid-size a little further down the road. I like to move in, hit a job hard and move out, every job I do is by the bid so time is money. I also do a wide range of work, honestly I could make anything from a 1.7T to a 20T profitable in this business, but can't buy them all, so two will have to suffice. This dilema has been going on in my head for months now, so lets hear everyone's thoughts.
 
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Acoals

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I started with a 6 ton mini. Once you get a 20 ton machine you will wonder what you were doing all that time with the mini. When it comes to the get in, get done and get out thing, you need a big machine for that. I am basically a solo operation, the only way I really make any money without running myself ragged is with the big machine.

As for hauling, if you are wanting to get a full size excavator down the road, work towards that, and work towards hauling it. Relying on other people to haul your machine around is a real pain. A dump truck with a 20 ton tag is far superior to pickups and such when hauling two of the smaller machines, and gives you a lot more flexibility with working your jobs.
 

KSSS

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Feb 27, 2005
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4,346
Location
Idaho
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excavation
The 3.5 mini ex is and has always been the best selling weight class of mini excavators. I am personally convinced its not because its the most needed size, but rather due to DOT laws allows most HD pickups to easily haul it. A common mistake in my view is allowing DOT to be the driving factor in determining the size of mini ex you need. I am not saying it shouldn't be a consideration, but rather not the deciding factor. I have owned a 3.5 and have had a 6 ton since 2003. The amount of work you can do with the 6 ton is exponentially more than with the 3.5. That said if a 3.5 serves your purpose from a business standpoint, and it is easier to move thats a win/win. However, if a 6 ton is what you need but you opt for a 3.5 so you can tow it with a 2500 I think is foolish. Your stepping over a dollar to save a dime. How many jobs are missed, take too long, go over budget, because you didn't want the hassle of running a heavier excavator? I think that cost is way more than dealing with moving a 6 ton individually.

My suggestion is to determine exactly how big of a mini ex you really need to do what you want. Then put to the logistics together to move it around. My primary compact equipment is a Taki TB257 which weighs exactly 13,700 pounds. My CASE 450B weighs 11K. My primary compact mover is a 2020 Chev 3500 DRW. I have a Diamond C 35' 24K gooseneck. Both machines are perfectly sized for what I do. I wouldn't change a thing. I have in a pinch moved them together, but not very often as I am clearly overweight. This results in two trips sometimes. I can put them both behind a triaxle tag trailer behind the dump truck if needed. While it sucks to sometimes make two trips, it would suck worse to have to small of an excavator, just so I can piggy back them on the gooseneck trailer.

One other point, if you go six ton, you can go a little larger on your potential larger excavator. Since the 6 ton is capable of so much more than a 3.5 t. The gap between compact and full size is less. I have a 160 and while both the 6 ton and 160 may not always be a perfect match, that split works really well. I have not often rented a smaller ex. and when I need a larger ex, I rent a 300 size which I could never justify owning for rare times I need that much asss.

Looking at what you use to move equipment, you will likely need to make an investment in a pickup and trailer. I hate working jobs out of just a dump truck. Never have the tools, fuel and so forth. We have done it, I just prefer not to.
 
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cuttin edge

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Depends what you are doing as well. I work for a company with different sized machines. The minis and 14 ton machines are the busiest as far as residential work. The bigger stuff can move a lot of material in a short time, but are a pain to move, and like their fuel. We did have a 4.5 ton machine and traded for a new 6 ton. If the 6 ton works out, the 5.5 will be swapped out for a new 6 as well when the time comes.
 

MG84

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Jan 6, 2023
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684
Location
Virginia
Thanks for the replies.

As for hauling, I have a class A CDL, and I could step up to a larger truck/trailer at some point. The F700 does have air brakes so in the nearer future I could get a 20t air brake trailer with the idea I could put more truck in front of it later on. I don’t particularly need or want a tandem dump truck as the guys around here haul so cheap its basically a race to the bottom. The only time I ever haul dirt or gravel is if its a site the big trucks are unwilling or unable to access. That being said, I have been kicking around the idea of something like a tandem with a 16-20’ flatbed dump, with plenty of underbody tool boxes. For my line of work being able to haul tool/materials on the truck and tow 20t would be handy. I will also add the area we are in is mountainous and steep so hauling anything anywhere is a PITA, so ease of hauling is an issue.

So transportation aside, my dilemma boils down this. The two machines that I find myself renting constantly are a Kubota kx040-4 and Tak TB260, both IMO are near the top of their class as far as performance goes. Most of the work I do falls somewhere in between the capabilities of those two machines, but there are things certain jobs that require the size or strength of one over another. For instance I do a lot of trenching, often in and around farm buildings and being able to fit through a 6’ gate is important. OTOH I sometimes need to set a 4000lb concrete water trough or dig a big oak stump so the 6 ton is needed.

So I’m genreally leaning towards a 6 ton, but then the thought crosses my mind maybe a 3.5 ton + 8 ton combo would be the most versatile. Or may a 1.8t + 6t + 120-160 class, but then again I’m not made of money, and so the thought process goes, round and round.
 

Acoals

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the guys around here haul so cheap its basically a race to the bottom.

There is no money in dump trucking, as far as I can see it. I don't haul much with mine, mostly I us it to move my machines around. It is real nice to have for certain things though.
 

KSSS

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Idaho
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excavation
There is no money in dump trucking, as far as I can see it. I don't haul much with mine, mostly I us it to move my machines around. It is real nice to have for certain things though.

Amen! I have one 4 axle demo body Mack dump truck. I will typically GIPO trucks as I need them. Having one is helpful at times but I have a phone full of trucks I can call as need them and then get exactly the truck I need for the project without having to own them.

You may want to look at the Taki 257. Its 6'.5 wide but can turn within inches of zero swing and zero tail. Its really the reason I don't often need to rent anything smaller very often. As long as I have 6'7" of clearance to drive it in, I can work it. I say this even though Taki is not at the top of my friend list right now, its not because there is anything wrong with the machines. It will lift up to 5K at the front, I can set concrete drains and manholes with it. I would look at it, I like it way better than the 260.

Unless you really need a tandem truck with you all the time, I would consider a 3500-5500 pickup truck. I have mountain passes on two side of me. I have taken my mini and CTL on the same trailer down mnt passes that go from 9k feet to 5K and the engine braking in these newer diesels make it an easy day, even running super heavy, but whatever works for you. I would never have considered doing that with the pre exhaust braking pickups of years past.
 

AzIron

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ok so I have never jumped into the 6 ton mini game I have a deere 35 and a deere 17 both are perfect for what we do with them. I never got a bigger mini because I have 7 backhoes I almost bought a 60 this last year but the 2 projects that were paying for it never came to fruition and at this point I would have to have money to burn or some really special work to consider it again

If your plan is to step up consider if your going to ditch the 3.5 or 6 ton after purchasing the 160 size machine my guess is not and if you bought a zero swing 130 size you could do away with the 6 ton.

If your really torn on needing 2 machines buy a decent backhoe and learn to operate it the only thing as backhoe wont do is shrink just about everything else it can do and do well it just needs a little creativity.

if your convinced you dont need a dump truck you can buy a reasonably cheap single axle or twin screw truck and find a good 25 ton straight neck lowboy. If you look hard enough this can be achieved under 40 grand you just cant be in a hurry then you can haul anything up to about a 160 size excavator

in my owner operator days my backhoe lived on my lowboy it never stayed on jobs being a one man band you might consider another medium duty and 20 ton tag and instead of a dump poor boy a flatbed with boxes then you can carry everything in it and any job you roll up to weather its three days or 3 hours your set medium duty is deal breaker on moving anything more than about 20k lbs tho but keep in mind unless you plan on being on 2 week long jobs hiring an excavator moved is very expensive and not flexible at all

I did 4 minimums with my cat 314 in one day because I could move it and holy crap did I make some money on that
 

MG84

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Virginia
So the other part of the equation is that I do still have and plan to keep the little Kubota B3200 backhoe and the 4wd Case 480E. The Kubota B3200 is just a compact utility tractor with an integrated backhoe, it does the job but the hoe moves at the speed of a Chameleon. If I got a mini ex the B3200 would probably mostly stay around the house/farm for personal use.

The 480e is in good shape with only 3000 original hours and will still go out on jobs where applicable. Despite being at the smaller end of the fullsize TLB range it still has more reach and uses much larger buckets than any 6 ton mini ex. I could possibly see myself upgrading to a larger more modern backhoe for bigger jobs. So maybe a good combo would be a 4 ton mini ex + Case 590 Super N?
 

AzIron

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580s are typically cheaper and much more abundant when the only real difference from a 580 and 590 is 2 feet of reach
 

fastline

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There is no mention of the type of work so that makes it real hard to guess. I know recently burned several hours in a 12K zero swing machine only last week and though I I can certainly jam with that machine, I would NOT want any less and use to running one nearly 5x that size so it left me frustrated.

For me, a lot was actually the reach, which changes the game in what I can do in a certain position.

So do enlighten on what you are doing. It helps!
 

KSSS

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580s are typically cheaper and much more abundant when the only real difference from a 580 and 590 is 2 feet of reach

Well that depends. There is not much difference between a wide track 580 and a 590, but quite a bit between a regular 580 and a 590N. About 25 hp and 5K pounds heavier, bigger front bucket, more lift capacity. I had never been a big backhoe guy until I bought a 590 SN. Best BH I have ever run, much less owned. Pushes much better than a 580, the lift capacity is impressive and as stated more reach on the extenda hoe. Pretty outstanding hoe.
 

MG84

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Virginia
The bulk of the work for a mini would include trenching 2-3’ deep for water and electric, digging footers, installing culverts, developing springs, light clearing and any other small, unique digging operations in tight or difficult areas. The larger machine, whether it be a large backhoe or mid sized excavator would be used for heavier clearing, digging stumps, large culverts (60”+ dia), setting concrete water boxes (4k lbs), cleaning out silted in creeks and working slopes requiring reach.

I’ll also add that I have several thousand hours of stick time on various sized mini excavators and backhoes, so I’m pretty well versed in what their capabilities are. That also seems to make my indecisiveness worse since I’ve run a lot of models that would have worked well for my type of work. I do have much less time on 120 and large excavators. The main reason for this thread was to get a feel for what combination of excavators or excavator/backhoe everyone else is running and what is the most profitable. I realize thats a pretty broad question as it is highly job dependent. Thanks for everyones input, keep it coming.
 

fastline

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Sounds like more precision work than bulking. You would have to make your decision. I usually want the biggest hoe that is feasible for a job. That being said, I have to turn down a LOT of jobs because I have a big steel track machine.

Things like fighting with stumps, brush, trees, can sometimes take more power and balls than first thought.

My general thoughts on the 305 I was in was there probably weren't too many tasks I could not handle with it and it was mostly stable on the side at full extension with an oversized bucket load. that is something a smaller machine doesn't seem to do well.

I mentioned on here though that I simply did not like the feel of that 305. Not as smooth as the bigger toys. One thing I could see as a possible frustration is trying to dig flat and level. I was having to apply bucket pressure to dig, then would hit a softer spot and bucket would sink in. My bigger machine just doesn't care.

I say all that because it sounds like manipulating loads is part of the game. I would rather fight to fit a bigger machine than fight with an entire job with a tiny one. I've run one of those tiny hoes. Painful....

As for moving one, I am just confused. A 12K machine can easily go on a basic equipment trailer, not a deckover. Or are you trying to double stack?
 

MG84

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Sounds like more precision work than bulking. You would have to make your decision. I usually want the biggest hoe that is feasible for a job. That being said, I have to turn down a LOT of jobs because I have a big steel track machine.

Things like fighting with stumps, brush, trees, can sometimes take more power and balls than first thought.

My general thoughts on the 305 I was in was there probably weren't too many tasks I could not handle with it and it was mostly stable on the side at full extension with an oversized bucket load. that is something a smaller machine doesn't seem to do well.

I mentioned on here though that I simply did not like the feel of that 305. Not as smooth as the bigger toys. One thing I could see as a possible frustration is trying to dig flat and level. I was having to apply bucket pressure to dig, then would hit a softer spot and bucket would sink in. My bigger machine just doesn't care.

I say all that because it sounds like manipulating loads is part of the game. I would rather fight to fit a bigger machine than fight with an entire job with a tiny one. I've run one of those tiny hoes. Painful....

As for moving one, I am just confused. A 12K machine can easily go on a basic equipment trailer, not a deckover. Or are you trying to double stack?

For hauling I have a 15K GVWR bumper pull, fender equipment trailer with a load capacity of 11,700lbs and a 22K GWVR pintle hitch deckover rated to 17,000lb load capacity. In an Ideal world I'd like to be able to double stack on the larger trailer, carry both the SVL65 (8000lbs) + a mini excavator. This is my limiting factor on weight as 9000lbs is as heavy as I could go on a mini.

Most of my work for a mini is fairly precision, specialized type work. I keep coming back to the Kubota KX121's/KX040's, which I have spent a lot of time on. They weigh right at 9000lbs and being conventional tail swing they spec out very close to many 5-ton class zero tail swing machines.
 

MG84

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I believe I'm just suffering from a case of analysis paralysis. Honestly any 3.5-4 ton mini would work fine for the small stuff and I can figure out the larger excavator later. I have a lot of work to do, I think I just need to buy something and get to work....
 

MG84

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Well, the decision has been made on the small unit, picked up a nice used 2020 Kubota U35-4 yesterday. Should do everything the b3200 tlb was doing, at far greater speed, and probably a lot of the lighter work I was using the 480e for. Came with a 24” quick attach bucket, will add a trenching bucket, clean out bucket and thumb. Took it straight from the dealers lot to a job site to dig footers, already making me money, big bump in productivity...
 

cuttin edge

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Quick attach bucket is a great addition to a machine. All our machines have quick attach buckets except the 470 Hitachi. The 14 tons and down always have 2 buckets with them. The 4.2 Bobcat they just traded had the slickest in cab quick attach I have ever seen. Just flip the switch. Not hard to line up either. Everything else we have is wedge style, and the 308 Cat has what I assume is a Cat style setup based on the Cat wrench you have to use
 

skyking1

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I'd love having pin grabbers but the wedges is what I have. More buckets is better. Look around for a cleanup bucket soon. The 24 is fine for trenching unless you must go narrow, because most pipe layers don't like working in a skinny trench too much. If you are just rolling some poly in it a skinny is fine, must of my stuff is glued and on grade at 1 or 2%
The other bummer about trying to trench really skinny is getting the clay to release out of it. At some point you are no longer saving time and work going skinny like a 12. I'd rather use a ditchwitch at some point there. :)
I am swinging a 42" on my 35 JD. I can tell how much faster it is than the typical 36" on clean up and bulk operations. Gotta really work over the down blade to maximize it, but worth it IMO.
Congrats on the new machine! I recently rented that model for picking some rocks and it was totally functional for me.
 

MG84

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This machine has the Kubota style manual quick attach. It's not as handy or versatile as a hyd pin grabber, but the benefit is you don't loose any breakout force with it. Some brands/models in this size range you loose as much as 2400lbs of breakout force with a pin grabber vs pin on bucket, that's substantial on a small machine. I've been changing pin on backhoe buckets for years so anything is better than the old routine with the snap ring pliers, paper towels, drift punch and grease gun.

I'm thinking going with either a 16" or 18" for my trenching bucket, I have no use for 12" with the clay and rocks here. Generally I'm the one working down in the trench, I can work in a 16" trench fine, especially if it's only 2-3' deep. I'm often running 1" poly water line but sometime 2"-6" sch 40. I'll keep the 42" clean out bucket in mind when I go shopping, the thumb and narrow bucket are the first priority.
 
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