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Wheel Loader comparison

Compacts clashAlthough the skid steer loader is one of the most popular and versatile construction machines of all time, some contractors also find the compact wheel loader a compelling challenger.

We pitted the two machines head-to-head in 10 key categories and see how they compare. To generate some accurate numbers and better represent the average age fleet out there, we’ll match specs between some a couple of older machines: a Cat 262B skid steer loader and a Cat 904B compact wheel loader. If you’d like to do a similar comparison yourself between machines you own or are considering, be sure to check out the most recent specs from manufacturers.

Bucket capacity

As a general rule the compact wheel loader will have 25 percent more bucket capacity and tipping load. That varies depending on the model. In this case we’re comparing a big skid steer with a small compact loader.

Advantage: compact wheel loader.

Purchase price

You’ll pay about 25 percent more for a compact wheel loader. But with dozens manufacturers of skid steer loaders, expect a wide range of prices.

Advantage: skid steer loader

Cat 904B compact wheel loaderOperating costs

Here is where it gets interesting. Fuel and tires are the two biggest operating costs for kid steer loaders. Compact wheel loaders, with their smaller engines use less fuel and their articulated front-end steering is easier on tires too.

Advantage: compact wheel loader


The compact wheel loader is a fast machine. The Equipment World Spec Guide shows most small loaders offer a travel speed of around 10 to 14 mph. Skid steers average about 7 to 10 mph. Compact loaders also articulate quickly and load faster than a skid steer.


Skid steers win this one hands down. The Cat 262 has 50 percent more horsepower than the 904B. The more ponies, the more hydraulic horsepower as well. But keep in mind the two machines use their power differently. The skid steer needs the extra horsepower to push itself around, counter-rotate and such. The compact loader transfers power to the ground more efficiently so it can use more power to carry loads, but the skid steer can load its bucket and raise it to the dump height with the engine at low throttle, and power high-demand hydraulic accessories.

Advantage: skid steer


Nothing can match the skid steer for maneuverability. It can counter-rotate in its tracks and the low cab height allows it under structures with low clearances.


Vertical lift path skid steers have a hinge pin that’s higher off the ground than comparable compact wheel loaders, so you can dump a bit higher. But compact wheel loaders sit a bit higher, which improves visibility when dumping and when using forks to load materials through second-story openings or over walls.

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