Backhoe or Excavator - Which One Best Suits Your Job?

08 June 2021

 As two of the most commonly used items of construction equipment with a somewhat similar appearance, backhoes and excavators are often confused with one another. However, there are several key differences that not only make them immediately identifiable but also make each machine ideally suited for different jobs. Understanding the key differences between the two items of construction equipment is essential when choosing machinery for a project. 

While excavators and backhoes are both highly versatile items of construction equipment, choosing the right machines for specific tasks delivers better results, enables your crew to get more work done in less time and increases worksite safety. This not only lowers project costs by working more productively on site but also safeguards your business’ reputation among both your customer base and your employees — an important consideration. 

Backhoes vs. Excavators: Key Differences 

Although these essential items of earthmoving equipment share much in common, there are three key differences to consider when deciding whether to utilise an excavator or a backhoe on your next construction project — size, versatility and rotation. 


With the exception of the mini excavator, including the extensive line of Cat® mini excavators, excavators are the larger and heavier of the two. While both can prove indispensable on construction projects, excavators are often better suited to large projects while backhoe loaders may prove a better choice for smaller projects, especially projects in which on-site productivity is aligned with maneuverability and site access is an issue. 


A greater attachment selection is available for backhoes than excavators which makes them capable of carrying out a wider range of tasks on construction projects. What’s more, as wheel-fitted backhoes can travel on roads and don’t need to be transported from site to site, they’re often better suited to projects in which worksites are spread out. 


While the backhoe’s rear arm pivots across a 200o range, the excavator’s chassis and arm can rotate in a complete 360o circle, providing a greater range of motion. When loading a truck or tipper at an angle, the extra range of motion enables operators to get more work done in less time, increasing project productivity and cost-effectiveness. 

When determining whether to utilise either or both items of equipment on a construction project, these three key differences are important considerations that can’t be overlooked. 

Backhoes - Multi-Purpose Digging and Loading Machines

Comprising a tractor-style base (chassis) with a front loader attachment (dipper) that also supports a digging bucket at the end of a jointed two-part arm to the rear of the machine (boom), backhoe loaders are highly versatile items of construction equipment. While the rear arm pivots to a maximum of 200o, the operator’s seat swivels 360o inside the backhoe cabin, enabling the operator to interchangeably utilise both front and rear attachments. 

A wide range of attachments, including breakers, drills, hammers and rippers, can be fitted to the dipper, while boom attachments for backhoes include buckets, brooms, forklifts and ploughs. Backhoe applications for construction projects include: 

  • Breaking asphalt 

  • Excavation 

  • Digging (ditches, holes and trenches) 

  • Demolition 

  • Landscaping

  • Paving

The wide variety of applications that backhoes can perform, including moving and loading materials, also makes these versatile machines a popular choice as demolition equipment. If your business regularly carries out construction and demolition projects, adding a Cat backhoe to your heavy machinery fleet can add real value to your business operations. 

Excavators - Versatile Machines Delivering 360o Functionality

Similar to backhoes, excavators consist of a chassis, dipper and boom, however, excavators are either wheel or track-mounted and the cabin can rotate 360o — an important difference. Like backhoes, excavator booms and dippers can be fitted with a wide range of attachments that expand its capabilities, including borers, breakers and grab buckets. Size is often cited as a key difference between excavators and backhoes, however, utilising mini excavators on site can help to overcome any potential obstacles relating to maneuverability and weight. Common excavator applications include: 

  • Excavation 
  • Digging (ditches, holes, trenches and foundations) 
  • Demolition 
  • Landscaping 

While size and weight are important considerations when choosing between a backhoe and excavator, construction businesses can overcome size and weight constraints by opting for a mini excavator. Cat mini excavators range from 935kg (Cat 300.9) to 9.6 tonnes (Cat 310), providing a significant range of machine sizes, weights and application capabilities.

For large-scale construction projects where heavier, larger and more powerful earthmoving equipment is required, there’s a Cat excavator that’s perfect for all projects. With the larger models, like the 52-tonne Cat 352 excavator which delivers a massive 322kW (437.8hp) in power, construction businesses can move tonnes of material every hour, all day long with market-leading speed, precision, and efficiency.

Get Expert Advice on Cat® Backhoes and Excavators

Whatever the requirements of your next construction project, there’s a Cat backhoe loader, excavator or mini excavator that empowers your team to get the job done faster, more efficiently and safely. Whether you’re looking to hire or buy new or used Cat construction equipment, contact your local Hastings Deering branch for expert advice and the best deals on Cat machinery in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

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