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The 7 Best Mini Excavators for Contractors 

This article looks at what mini excavators are on the market. We’ll explore what specs to look out for, what features to consider, and how to decide which machine suits your business.

Selah Moore

Staff Contributor

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There’s no question about it—an excavator is one of the handiest pieces of heavy equipment on a job site. A mini excavator offers a more compact and affordable option for everyday projects. These machines are smaller, more fuel efficient, easier to transport, and can operate in tight spaces.  

Mini excavators are becoming increasingly popular, and the market for them is growing. With so many models available and specs to consider, finding the right one can be overwhelming. 

This article looks at what mini excavators are on the market, the best options, and how to choose the right model. We’ll explore what specs to look out for, what features to consider, and how to decide which machine suits your business.  

Why It Matters to Select the Best Mini Excavator 

We all know that a compact excavator can complete just about any project between the boom swing and backfill blade. They are ready to assist in trenching, excavating, grading, leveling, and utility work.  

However, mini excavators are a big investment. And there can be significant differences between each model and brand. Differentiating between all of the different specs can be challenging.  

So, it’s critical to evaluate your options thoroughly so you can ensure that you’re purchasing the right excavator for your business’s needs.  

Here are a few of the functions of a mini excavator to consider: 

Light Demolition 

These machines can be used for minor demolition projects. They can help tear down smaller structures and clear out any debris.  

Slightly larger mini excavators may be more suited to this. They have a bit more force and can carry the weight of debris with reduced risk.  

Landscaping  

A mini excavator is an excellent tool for landscaping. They are particularly beneficial for tighter corners and smaller lots. 

A mini excavator can remove trees, old stumps, rocks, and brush. With the right size machine, they can help dig out space for inground water features or reshape the slope of the land.  

Trenching 

Mini excavators are the best tool for trenching or digging out a ditch. Their buckets are small and perfect for trenching in tight quarters.  

This is useful for excavating sewage and power lines and drilling holes for utility poles. 

Construction 

A mini excavator is handy for leveling ground, digging foundations, and moving materials on any construction site.  

They’re particularly helpful for projects in cities and residential areas, where heavy lifting is needed, but a large machine won’t fit.  

Mini excavator next to dirt pile

Essential Features to Seek in Best Mini Excavators 

These machines vary from brand to brand. While the basics are similar on each model, there are some key features to look out for. This will help you narrow down which excavator will best suit the needs of your business. 

Depending on the brand and model, the versatility of these machines can be even greater. Many models offer attachments and more digging capabilities. Some components are worth spending extra money on. 

Here are some features to look out for when comparing models: 

Portability and Size 

Mini excavators weigh between 2,000 and 18,000 lbs., a wide range. Their compact size makes them ideal for smaller-scale construction or landscape projects. They’re small but mighty.  

These machines range from small to medium to large. The smaller machines are around 2,000-10,000 lbs. The medium machines can be between 10,000-18,000 lbs. The large machines include any that are over 18,000 lbs. However, most mini excavators are under 10,000 lbs.  

A smaller excavator will be more fuel-efficient, while a larger excavator will have more power. The smaller and more compact the machine, the easier it is to transport. 

Tail Swing 

The tail swing is how far the machine extends beyond the tracks when rotating. Mini excavators have zero, reduced, or conventional tail swings. 

Zero tail swing means that the machine does not go beyond the tracks. This is easier for more compact and narrow workspaces. However, they may pitch more with heavier attachments. 

A reduced tail swing only extends a few centimeters or inches beyond the undercarriage. They will have a slightly better lifting capacity and more room for the operator. 

A conventional tail swing extends out beyond the undercarriage. The counterweight effect gives the machine greater leverage. This also gives operators more space and comfort. 

Tracks 

Excavators have two track options: rubber or steel. Most mini excavators have rubber tracks, while heavier-duty machines tend to have steel tracks.  

Rubber tracks are less expensive, less heavy, and less risky than steel tracks. On average, they last about 1-2 years. Rubber tracks have less impact on the surface they’re operating on. These can be driven on roads and driveways without risking tearing them up. Rubber also has less vibration than steel. 

Steel tracks are generally used on less solid ground, such as mud or sand. They can be installed at various widths to give your machine more bearing. Steel tracks are also significantly more durable than rubber tracks

Attachment Capability 

Attachments enhance the compact excavator’s capabilities. With the right attachments, one machine can do multiple jobs. Different brands, models, and price points offer various attachment options.  

Angled blades versus straight blades are a common attachment and variation between machines. An angled blade enables the operator to arrange the blade as needed, while a straight blade adds stability on uneven surfaces.  

Other attachments include hydraulic grapples, excavator buckets, backhoe buckets, concrete breakers, piling drivers, and winches. These tools are helpful for various construction, renovation, and landscaping projects.  

Only some machines are compatible or powerful enough for each tool. Consider what attachments you might need.  

Engine Power 

The more powerful the machine, the more advanced job you can get done. On average, mini excavators range from about 10-40 horsepower. Smaller engines and smaller machines are lighter and more compact. They’re also more fuel efficient.  

A large machine with more power can do more but is less fuel efficient. Depending on what the machine will be used for, smaller machines tend to be more popular for efficiency purposes.  

Dump Height and Dig Depth 

The dump height of an excavator refers to how high the bucket can reach. This range depends on the size of the machine. The digging depth is essentially the opposite of how deep the bucket can dig into the ground.  

Smaller mini excavators, the ones under 10,000 lbs., have a dig depth of about 5 to 10 feet and 6 to 11 feet of dump height.  The mid-size mini excavators have dig depths of up to 15 ft 9 inches and dump heights of up to 21 ft, on average.  

Related Article: How To Price Jobs As A General Contractor  

Excavator illustration

The 7 Best Mini Excavators Recommended 

The market is filled with mini excavators. Theoretically, they do the same job, so how do you decide?  

We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the best mini excavators on the market. We’ve considered price point, attachment capability, portability, and engine power. Each model has its benefits and drawbacks.  

Here are some of the most durable and high-performance mini excavators: 

The Kubota KX040-4 

Kubota is a well-respected heavy equipment brand. The KX040-4 is a top-performing and versatile compact excavator. With a horsepower of 40.4 and an operating weight of 9,900 lbs., this machine is a powerhouse.  

Pros: The KX040-4 is highly versatile. It boasts rubber or steel tracks in various widths, multiple high-end attachment options, and a comfortable cab for the operator.  

Cons: This excavator will have a higher price tag than others. It runs at about $74,500 starting, without any additional attachments. It also has a larger engine, which means fuel and operating costs will be higher.  

Find this model here.  

The Bobcat E35 

This model offers a choice in engine power: either 25 horsepower or 33 horsepower. This gives contractors the option for more power without skimping on quality. The Bobcat E35 sits at about 7,600 – 7,900 lbs., depending on engine and arm preference.  

Pros: The E35 has a zero tail-swing, which makes it an excellent tool for tight spaces and projects. It has options for arm extension, an angle blade attachment, and a dig depth of about 10 ft.  

Cons: The machine’s limited size will restrict job capabilities from heavier-duty projects. The E35 also only comes with the option for rubber tracks, which would prevent work in less ideal conditions. Unfortunately, this machine has a hefty price tag. A brand-new model will cost about $80,000

Find this model here.  

The Takeuchi TB240 

The Takeuchi TB240 is a powerful machine with a compact body. Its operating weight is 8,990 lbs. and its horsepower is 35.8, making it capable of handling some tough jobs. It has a dig depth of 11 ft 4 in and a dump height of 12 ft 6 in.  

Pros: This model has zero tail swing for a powerful excavator, making it highly efficient in compact environments. It is versatile, small, and durable. It has a larger and more comfortable operator environment with built-in safety features. It also costs about $64,000 new, which is more affordable than other models. 

Cons: This machine has a larger engine and will require more complex maintenance. Despite the automatic idle feature, the larger engine and maintenance will increase the operating costs.  

Find this model here.  

The Caterpillar 308CR 

The Caterpillar 308CR is a larger mini excavator that is a great choice for heavy-duty projects. This machine weighs 20,077 lbs. and has a horsepower of 69.5. Technically, it is still a mini excavator, but this model can handle tougher jobs.  

Pros: The 308CR has a high fuel capacity, durability, and cab comfort. Its powerful diesel engine makes this machine capable of handling more extensive projects. This would be a great machine for digging foundations and assisting on large-scale construction sites. 

Cons: This machine is on the larger side for a mini excavator. That means it is less compact and won’t be able to access tight spaces. Its larger engine also makes the machine less fuel efficient. And the 308CR may cost your business upwards of $100,000. 

Find this model here

The John Deere 35 P-Tier 

John Deere is a household name for a reason. This company makes some reputable machinery. The 35 P-Tier is no different. With multiple attachment options, this machine is a great middle-of-the-road option for contractors. Its operating weight is 8135 lbs., with a 23.3 horsepower engine. It has a dig depth of 10 ft and a dump height of 10 ft 10 in.  

Pros: Despite its power, this machine is economical. It has auto idle and economy mode to increase fuel efficiency. It also has an access door for easy maintenance and oil and coolant refills. This machine is slightly more affordable, starting at around $54,000.  

Cons: This machine has a 2-foot tail swing radius, even with a compact engine. That makes it a bit riskier to use on compact work sites. It also only comes with rubber track options.  

Find this model here

The Volvo ECR40 

Volvo has designed this excavator to be as operator-friendly as possible. The cab is designed for comfort and ease. With precise and powerful capabilities, this machine is great for beginners and seasoned operators alike. It has an operating weight of 8,785 lbs. and a 24.6 horsepower engine.  

Pros: Operators can select pre-defined attachment settings or adjust them to their preferences. This makes it easy for beginners to learn to operate and is an excellent option for contractors new to heavy equipment. In addition to this, the machine also has a 50-hour greasing interval, which helps to reduce maintenance needs.  

Cons: It also costs around $55,000-$62,000, which is similar to the cost of more powerful machines. Volvo’s advanced technology pushes the price tag up beyond other brands.  

Find this model here.  

The Hitachi ZX17U-5N  

A smaller option than our other contenders, the Hitachi ZX17U-5N packs a lot of punch for its size. Perfect for work in tight places, this machine can get a lot done. It has an operating weight of 3,790 lbs. and a 14.5 horsepower engine. Even with its compact body, the ZX17U-5N has a dig depth of 7 ft 2 in and a dump height of 8 ft 3 in.  

Pros: This compact machine is ideal for tight spaces and smaller jobs. The machine has zero tail-swing and is lightweight for delicate surfaces and easy transport.  

Cons: With a more petite body and engine, this machine isn’t meant for bigger jobs. When on a job, operators will have to look out for debris. The ZX17U-5N has a canopy rather than a cab, which leaves the operator open to the elements.  

Find this model here.  

Quick Tips for Choosing the Best Mini Excavator 

Before you make your decision about which machine to buy, you want to consider what might be the best tool for your business. Mini excavators may be cheaper than a full-size model, but they’re still an investment. If you consider how, when, and where you’ll use it, you can make a more thought-out purchase. 

Here’s what you can do right now to pick an excavator:  

Evaluate Your Budget 

Mini excavators are a great investment and can help your business generate more revenue. However, the return on investment often takes time. Being realistic about your budget will help you choose a model within your price range.  

This will help narrow down your search and keep your purchase reasonable.  

Consider the Scope of Your Projects 

What are you buying this machine for? Do you have a specific type of project in mind? Will it have one job or many? 

Knowing the scope of your projects will help you compare machines. This can help you choose a weight class and size. Once you know what your specific needs are, it will be easier to compare models.  

If you need a machine for general purposes, find something that has a more generic weight and attachment capability that may suit you well.  

Brand Support and Services 

What does the excavator brand offer its customers? Excavators are heavily used and often take a beating on the work site. Reviewing each brand’s warranty options can help you be prepared to own heavy equipment.  

Do some research for repair and service departments near you. Taking equipment in can be expensive. And that’s without factoring in transport. Consider what these costs are and what services are offered in your area.  

Pick a Machine That You or Your Team Can Operate 

Not every machine is as easily operated as others. This is important to consider depending on the scale of your business. If you have a team assisting on project sites, they’ll need to be able to operate the equipment.  

Various training courses are available, but you should consider how user-friendly your machine is before you purchase it.  

Selah is a freelance journalist. Her professional passions include psychology, sociology, and regenerative education. When she's not writing, you can find Selah traveling the world, cooking without a recipe, or catching an early morning surf.

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