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Buying Heavy Equipment

Buyers Zone

September 25,2008

When buying heavy equipmentexcavators, backhoe loaders, motor graders, and even equipment like loaders, dozers or haul trucks– it's easy to get buried in an avalanche of specs. Engine HP, hydraulic HP, dump heights, ground clearance, dig or dump depths – they can get to be overwhelming. It's important to keep in mind that the performance of your heavy equipment depends quite a bit on the operator.

Heavy equipment controls and ergonomics
One of the most important considerations when buying heavy equipment is visibility. It's a safety concern, as well as important to efficient operation: the operator can't avoid what he can't see. During your test drive, pay attention to any areas of low visibility – particularly when using scoops or digging arms.

The control system is another central point to evaluate. Most new heavy equipment uses twin joystick controls, one that controls the overall movement of the vehicle and one that operates the hydraulics for the arm, scoop, or blade. These electronic or electrohydraulic controls require much less force to operate than mechanical controls of old – but if they're too sensitive, smooth operation can be a real challenge.

That's why heavy equipment manufacturers have introduced adjustable controls. These allow each operator to adjust the sensitivity and control pattern to match their own preferences. As part of the test drive, try different settings to gauge how effective the adjustments are.

Visibility and controls are two components of the overall ergonomics of the operator cab. Ergonomics refers to everything that goes into ease of operation and comfort for the operator. Even small extras like adjustable seats and good lumbar support can make your operators more efficient in the long run. 

Operator comfort is also greatly increased with enclosed cabs. Standard on some vehicles and an option on others, enclosed cabs let your operators concentrate on getting the job done – not the weather. For working in the chilly Northeastern winter or the sweltering Southern summer, an enclosed cab with heat and air conditioning is a huge boost to efficiency and operator efficiency.

One last tip on judging these operator-focused features: make sure you have an operator on hand to do the evaluation! While the CFO or equipment manager makes the purchasing decision, they're not the ones who'll actually be in the machine. Have one of your equipment operators come along to do the test drive – and get the real feedback from them afterwards.

Specs do count
Lastly, don't think for a minute that those performance specs are completely irrelevant. If the excavator doesn't dig deep enough, or if the wheel loader doesn't reach high enough to fill your dump trucks, they're simply not going to get the job done. Making sure the vehicle meets the basics specs required to handle your applications is always part of the heavy equipment buying process.

Chances are, you already know the importance of putting together a list of performance requirements before you purchase construction equipment. Don't forget the external dimensions, too. If your equipment needs to fit on a trailer or in a garage, the overall width and height are important considerations. Gross weight of heavy equipment can also be a concern on trailers or small bridges.