Backhoe vs. Mini Excavator

Backhoe vs. Mini Excavator (2024 Comparison)

Whether you’re a construction contractor or a tech-forward farmer, you need to get an excavator or a backhoe that suits your work. But given the wide range of tasks both of these machines can perform, it isn’t always clear which one is better.

A mini-excavator is better than a backhoe because it is more precise and available in a wider range of sizes. In contrast, a backhoe is better if you want a higher-powered excavating device that is inherently versatile.

In this article, you will find out which machine digs deeper, weighs more, and has a better engine. You will also learn which one fares better in different situations.

By the end of this post, you’ll be a lot more certain about the type of excavating vehicle you should get. So, let’s get started.

Backhoe: Use Cases And Overview

Backhoe Use Cases And Overview

A backhoe is a landscaping vehicle with a front and back arm. It has a boom and bucket mechanism for carrying materials. It digs at a decent depth of over 13 feet and can even be used for doing the work of multiple mini excavators.

Pros of a backhoe (compared to a mini excavator):

  • Saves time for deeper digging projects – Because a backhoe can dig at depth and has two arms, it can get more work done in a shorter period.
     
  • Has a more powerful engine – A backhoe’s engine output is higher than an excavator’s. This allows the backhoe to participate in heavier loading and movement tasks.
     
  • Can do two tasks simultaneously – While it is hard, a backhoe can be used to do two tasks at the same time. Such work is even harder with a mini-excavator.

Cons of a backhoe:

  • It is harder to transport – A backhoe weighs 15000 lbs, which is three times the weight of the smallest mini excavator. Transporting such a vehicle is difficult. But if you want the backhoe on a single site, this isn’t as much of a disadvantage.
     
  • It costs more – Since backhoes cost more, you shouldn’t get them for a job that a mini excavator can do. It is redundant and unnecessarily expensive.
     
  • It can cut wires and pipes when digging – The greatest drawback of a backhoe is that it isn’t fit for shallow-ground digging, especially if you have plumbing underneath the ground.

With the pros and cons of a backhoe in mind, one can deduce that it is best for the following use cases:

  • Transporting material on-site – With the backhoe’s front loader, you can move construction materials like sand and dry cement with ease. It can also be useful for moving scrap and junk as well as for digging.
     
  • Landscaping – The backhoe’s versatility is the best fit for landscaping projects. A mini excavator can also do this job, but a backhoe isn’t any less suited for it.
     
  • Low-impact construction – A backhoe is better than most mini excavators for minor construction projects. But excavators that do construction-related demolishing and digging work do exist.

Mini Excavator: Use Cases And Overview

Mini Excavator Use Cases And Overview

A mini excavator is just a smaller version of a standard excavator. Usually, a mini excavator is less than 12,000 lbs in weight.

It has a front bucket where several attachments can be added for different purposes. Most often, an excavator is used for digging and surface-level demolishing.

The attachments that can be added to an excavator include the following:

  • Hydraulic Tilt Bucket
     
  • Buckets with Teeth
     
  • Concrete Slab Grab Buckets
     
  • Brush Cutters

While mini excavators aren’t inherently as versatile as a backhoe, they have a lot of potential for various use cases. But before getting into that, consider the advantages and disadvantages of these machines.

Mini excavator pros:

  • They are easier to transport – Mini excavators weigh less than backhoes and can therefore be moved from site to site relatively easily.
     
  • They are relatively cheaper to acquire – Mini excavators cost less and aren’t as expensive to maintain. That’s why, when they can do a job, a backhoe isn’t needed.
     
  • They can dig more precisely – A smaller mini excavator can be used for shallow-depth digging. But a backhoe cannot even engage in shallow digging without endangering underlying plumbing and wires.

Mini excavator cons:

  • They can be inefficient – For projects that require deeper digging, a small mini excavator might have to make too many passes. This can lead to extra time and energy usage when a backhoe could have done the job with less energy and time.
     
  • They can tip over – Mini excavators can tip over, especially if they attempt to carry too much weight. This problem isn’t as likely in backhoes.

With the pros and cons of mini excavators covered, it is clear that the vehicle is best used for smaller digging tasks. The use cases ideal for a mini excavator include:

  • Digging holes and ditches – Whether you want to build a pool or dig a hole to plant a tree, a mini excavator can do the job.
     
  • Plowing on farms – There are attachments that can even facilitate sowing with a mini-excavator, turning it into a makeshift tractor.
     
  • Removing snow – The plowing capabilities of a mini excavator can definitely be used for removing snow from your yard or the ground.
     
  • Repairing sewer lines – You can remove enough ground material to expose sewer lines if you have a mini excavator.
     
  • Demolishing sheds and small construction – Though a backhoe can do this too, a mini-excavator is better for demolishing small structures without affecting the surroundings adversely.
AspectBackhoeMini Excavator
Weight15,000 lbs5,000 – 12,000 lbs
Engine 70 – 80 HP20 HP – 55 HP
Rotation200 Degrees360 Degrees
Digging Depth13 – 15 feet7 – 15 feet
Arm PlacementBack and FrontFront only

Weight

Weight

The backhoe has a higher weight than a mini excavator. Where mini excavators can be up to 12,000 lbs in weight, a backhoe has an average weight of 15,000 lbs.

Add to that the fact that mini excavators can sometimes weigh as little as 5,000 lbs, and you can see why Backhoes can be better for heavier digging tasks.

The weight difference also affects the ease with which these machines can move. And in that dimension, mini excavators are so much better than backhoes that they are replacing backhoes in the construction industry.

It is much easier to transport three mini excavators to a job site than it is to bring a 15,000 lb backhoe across the same distance.

Engine

Engine

Backhoes have stronger engines than mini excavators. The low-end backhoe has a 70 HP engine, while the higher-performance backhoe has a 90 HP engine.

Even the lowest-output backhoe has a stronger engine than the highest-output mini excavator. Mini excavators have 20 to 55 HP engines that correlate with their sizes.

On the surface, this might seem like a feather in the backhoe’s hat. However, mini excavators can be an efficient choice for projects that don’t require a high-output engine.

Mini excavators are often seen as fuel-efficient equipment for farms.

Rotation

Rotation

The Mini excavator is at a clear advantage as it can rotate 360 degrees. A backhoe can rotate from 190 degrees to 200 degrees. But the extent of this advantage is limited.

Any experienced operator can position the backhoe to scoop and drop dirt at as big a range as a mini excavator.

Neither device needs to rotate more than 180 degrees to get its respective job done.

Digging Depth

Digging Depth

A Backhoe can dig 13 feet deep on the shallow end and 15 feet on the deeper end. A small mini excavator can dig at a 7-foot depth while a larger one can dig 15 feet deep.

It might seem like the mini excavator is at an advantage because it has a dig depth range of 7 to 15 feet.

But that’s not the range of a single excavator’s capacity. If you buy the excavator that digs 7 feet deep, you will be too limited to dig 15 feet deep in a single pass.

And if you buy a backhoe that digs at a 15-foot depth, you’ll cut off any wires that are buried less than 16 feet deep on the first pass.

This isn’t an inherent advantage or disadvantage but is a strong point of difference that makes these machines suited for different types of projects.

Arm Placement

Arm Placement

The mini excavator has only the front bucket, but can make use of 6 demolishing, digging, and cutting attachments. A backhoe has a front and a back arm, making it inherently more versatile than a mini excavator.

But with adapters and attachments, the mini excavator can provide even better value.

Which One Should You Use?

Which One Should You Use

Whether you use a backhoe or a mini excavator depends on your context. Given that the range of sizes of excavators is much greater than that of backhoes, it is safe to say that a mini excavator can be used to do anything a backhoe does, but a backhoe can’t be used to do everything an excavator does.

But a backhoe can be more effective in a higher workload situation.

You should get a mini excavator for personal or semi-commercial use. But for consistent construction contract work, you might save time and energy with a backhoe.

Final Thoughts: Backhoe vs. Mini Excavator

Final Thoughts

Backhoes are on a decline because of the increasing range of excavators being supplied to the market. But whenever a job requires two mini excavators, a single backhoe can give a comparable output.

However, most people don’t need two mini excavators. For them, a backhoe might be an expensive purchase with diminishing returns and even drawbacks.

FAQ

Is a backhoe or mini excavator better?

The choice between a backhoe and a mini excavator depends on the specific job requirements. Backhoes are versatile machines with a front loader bucket and a rear-mounted digging component, suitable for tasks that involve both digging and lifting, such as trenching and excavation in confined spaces. Mini excavators, on the other hand, excel at precision digging and are ideal for smaller-scale excavation projects where space is limited. The better option depends on the nature of the work and the need for versatility or precision.

Is a mini excavator the same as a backhoe?

No, a mini excavator is not the same as a backhoe. While both machines are used for digging, they have distinct designs and capabilities. A mini excavator is a compact, tracked or wheeled machine with a rotating cab and a hydraulic arm for precise digging and earthmoving. In contrast, a backhoe typically consists of a tractor with a front loader bucket and a rear-mounted backhoe attachment. They serve different purposes and are better suited to different types of tasks.

Which is better backhoe or excavator?

The choice between a backhoe and an excavator depends on the specific job requirements. Backhoes are versatile machines capable of both digging and lifting, making them suitable for tasks like trenching and excavation in confined spaces. Excavators, including mini excavators, excel at precision digging and are ideal for larger-scale excavation, grading, and earthmoving projects where depth and reach are crucial. The “better” option depends on the scope of work and the need for versatility or precision.

What is the difference between a mini excavator and an excavator?

The primary difference between a mini excavator and a standard excavator lies in their size and capabilities. Mini excavators are smaller, more compact machines designed for tasks that require precision in tight or confined spaces. They have a reduced operating weight, making them suitable for smaller projects. Standard excavators, on the other hand, are larger and more powerful, capable of handling heavy excavation and earthmoving tasks on a larger scale. They are equipped with a variety of attachments and are ideal for a wide range of construction applications.