Wheeled Excavator vs Backhoe Loader for Trenching

Wheeled Excavators vs. Backhoes: 4 Factors to Consider

Let’s talk about wheeled excavators versus backhoes. Many backhoe customers opt for that machine because of its mobility and how it serves as two machines in one (an excavator and a loader) and because the type of work they typically do doesn’t justify getting a wheeled excavator. In many of those cases, they would benefit from a compact wheeled excavator.

One reason is wheeled excavators stack up well against backhoes when it comes to features and specs. Another is I’ve found that most fleets primarily use the excavator end of the backhoe, and seldom use it as a loader.

Specifically, I’m seeing more interest in the EW60E wheeled excavator, and a lot of that is coming from die-hard backhoe customers.

How do you decide between a wheeled excavator or backhoe for your operation? Here are a few considerations that I share with customers when evaluating their options.



Don’t be deceived by the higher horsepower on backhoes. The horsepower number is representative of the bucket up front that requires horsepower and does not reflect the digging power on the excavator end. Also, consider your maximum digging depths needed. Though the EW60E has less digging depth than backhoes, with a max dig depth of 10 feet 10 inches and a reach of 19 feet 11 inches, the EW60E is a fit for most applications. With digging forces that include breakout at 9,736 lbf and tearout at 6,474 lbf, the EW60E has the performance to do the job.



If you are working in tight spaces, you may find it more difficult to maneuver a backhoe that only has 180 degree working radius compared to 360 degree on the EW60E. The added flexibility allows more options to dump material and load a truck. Or when trenching, the operator needs to think about repositioning a backhoe when on an EW60E, you would simply need to push the travel pedals with your feet and can keep digging.

The compact size of the EW60E allows it to fit in places where backhoes can’t. And thanks to a 360 degree working radius, you rarely reposition a wheeled excavator to finish the job. Add to that, the offset boom 70 degree left and 60 degree right, and you can really get into some tight areas. Plus, the working at 70 degree offset allows the operator an unrestricted view to the bucket when trying to locate sensitive pipes and cables.



In 2015, we tested the EW60 against a competitively sized backhoe. The first test involved digging a trench 60 feet long and 3 feet deep. The EW60E did the work 38 percent faster and used four times less fuel than the backhoe. The second test dug a pool 9×9 feet, 3 feet deep. The EW60 finished in half the time and burned a quarter of the fuel compared with the backhoe.



A final consideration is the total cost of ownership. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • Backhoes usually have a higher purchase price.
  • Backhoe tires are more expensive.
  • Backhoes consume more fuel due to a larger engine and hydraulic system.
  • The EW60E’s standard auto idle and engine auto shut down help reduce fuel consumption and noise levels.
  • Tier 4 final backhoes above 74 horsepower require a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system and regular DEF refueling. The 64-horsepower Tier 4 Final engine in the EW60E has DPF with full automatic regen and no DEF, which saves on cost and removes worries about having to store the DEF.


While the excavator in any form will never completely take over from the backhoe workhorse,

the wheeled excavator is a good cost-efficient alternative if you require high mobility from an excavator. The EW60E offers better access to confined areas, fast cycle times and operates at lower cost.

My last comment, and probably most important, is how the EW60E makes life easier for the operator by creating a comfortable environment. Cabs on these machines are easy to enter and exit, offer great all-around visibility, well-placed controls, smooth operation, and lower fatigue on the operator.

It’s not just backhoes. Compact excavators are also replacing skid steers in many fleets. Read more about that trend.

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