Skid steers, sometimes called tracked loaders, are small, compact machines commonly found on construction sites, farms and in road work applications. Built with a rigid frame and no separate steering mechanism, skid steers generally operate by having the left and right wheels rotate at different speeds, allowing the machine to rotate on a zero-radius.

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While most skid steers have 4 wheels, there are some models which utilise tracks instead. These models are generally better at handling tough, uneven terrain, and excel in poor conditions--like mud, sand and gravel.

The majority of modern skid steers operate using powered-triad loader arms. Compared to the original design, powered-triad arms use multiple hinges and lifting bars to pivot the arms during operation, extending the reach of the machine and reducing the chance of spillage onto the cab.

Aside from their compact build, skid steers are also a great choice for many projects or land owners thanks to their versatility and compatibility with a huge range of parts. Some of the most common skid steer attachments include backhoes, hydraulic breakers, augers, trenchers, rippers, tillers and pallet forks.

While the original skid steers were often regarded as unsafe due to the proximity of the arms to the operator, modern skid steers feature fully-enclosed cabs instead. These drastically improve operator safety and reduce noise during use as well.

One thing to consider when buying or hiring a skid steer is potential damage to grass or soft road surfaces during use. Because skid steers turn by using different wheel speeds, they have a tendency to create high amounts of friction which leads to damage. This can be offset with speciality tyres that are available for some models, but it is something to consider if you're looking to use one, especially if you're a contractor working in someone's backyard.

Another niche benefit to skid steers is their ability to replace an excavator in some situations. By digging a ramp to the excavation site and utilising it to remove the dirt as you dig, you can effectively replace an excavator. This is great for work sites where a large excavator won't fit, or when the budget won't allow one.

When buying or hiring a skid steer, pay attention to the operating weight, as well as the maximum lifting height and weight. Making sure you get the right machine for the job is vital for achieving project success.