Investing In Heavy Equipment For Landscaping

Rent versus buy and features to consider.

By Lynette Von Minden
From the February 2023 Issue

More lawn and landscape contractors are choosing to diversify their businesses by adding new services, like hardscaping, land management, demolition, or pool installs just to name a few. All those tasks and more can be done faster and easier with the right compact equipment. But with significant costs associated with such machinery, many may wonder, “Should I rent or buy? And if I do buy, what should I look for?”

Rent Vs. Buy

“Among other considerations, there are two important questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to rent or buy,” says David Caldwell, national product manager for Takeuchi-US. “First, how often do you think you’ll use the machine? Secondly, what can you afford? If you’re only going to use a compact excavator or track loader occasionally, then renting a machine to complete a job or several jobs may suffice. But if you plan on expanding your business with services that require a lot of digging and lifting, it’s probably time to invest in a machine of your own.”

Clearly, renting does have certain advantages. Landscapers don’t have to worry about breakdowns, maintenance issues, or depreciation. They can opt for the newest, most feature-rich machine without worrying about making payments. If they don’t end up with as many projects as anticipated, they simply don’t rent. However, they also may find a machine they need is unavailable or out on another jobsite for an extended period. “You do lose a certain amount of control by renting,” says Caldwell.

He adds, “Still, if you know you’ll be doing a lot of work that a compact machine and its attachments could easily handle, investing in a machine may be worth it because of the increased productivity it brings.” There’s also a middle road between the two options Caldwell mentions: “There are usually also rental purchase options available for customers so they can rent the machine for a while and then purchase it later, which can help make that decision more affordable.”

heavy equipment landscaping
(Photo: Takeuchi)

Features To Consider

If you decide to purchase your own machine, how do you know what model is the best fit for your business? The first step is to determine your budget. Consider not only what services you’re offering today, but those you may want to offer in the future. As your business grows, you may want the opportunity to provide additional services on larger projects that require a bigger, more capable unit.

Caldwell outlines additional factors landscapers should consider when purchasing compact equipment:

Size and weight. For landscapers primarily doing small residential jobs, a smaller machine may be ideal due to space limitations in yards and alleys. Those working in large residential areas or performing commercial work may want a bigger, more powerful machine. Size considerations include not just dimensions, but also engine power, weight, and lift capacity. “The bigger the machine, the more working range and capability it will have when lifting and placing objects, running hydraulically powered attachments and so on,” says Caldwell.

Machine size and weight also impact the ease with which contractors can transport it from job site to job site. Transporting a larger machine requires a bigger and likely more expensive trailer. Also, operating a single vehicle weighing more than 26,000 pounds (which includes the combo of truck, trailer, and anything being towed) requires a commercial driver’s license—a process that requires more time and effort.

Attachments and hydraulics. Attachments greatly extend a machine’s capabilities and improve a contractor’s return on investment. The different types of available attachments for compact equipment are truly what convinces most landscapers to purchase a machine because it means they can accomplish a wider range of tasks. Here are a few examples:

  • A mower or mulcher attachment makes it possible to: clear unwanted brush, small trees, and undergrowth; clean up around ponds; and keep paths and roads clear of overhanging branches.
  • Augers can be used to dig for fence posts and plant trees more efficiently and quickly.
  • Ditching/grading buckets feature a smooth edge and are ideal for ditch clean-out and grading or leveling areas in preparation for laying sod or installing a patio.
  • Grading blades can be used to create various contours or slopes and level or grade areas to improve drainage and create more points of visual interest in the landscape.
  • A trencher can install irrigation lines much faster than trenching by hand.
  • Grapples are ideal for picking and placing heavy objects like stones or railroad ties, or for cleaning up debris like limbs or logs.

“Keep in mind that you may need your machine to have a broader set of available auxiliary hydraulics so you can use a wider range of attachments and tools to get jobs done faster and more efficiently,” Caldwell says. “For example, a machine with the ability to set up multiple attachment presets makes it easier to switch between attachments and ensure each attachment preset is already set to the proper flow rate to run them efficiently and effectively.”

Comfort. A comfortable operator is a productive operator. If you and your employees will operate the machine, account for their needs as well as your own. Consider the size of the operator area and its appointment and design. Does it have a flat floor area with ample leg/foot space? Is there enough space between the joysticks so they don’t contact the operator’s legs, limiting their stroke? How intuitive are the controls and monitor panel? Can you set multiple attachment presets and flow rates from the cabin, or do you have to exit the machine? Does the seat provide ample adjustments (fore/aft, weight, height)? In terms of weather conditions, will you be using the machine all year round?

“While canopy machines tend to cost less, if you know you’ll be working all year round, you may want to make the additional investment in a cab unit with heating and air conditioning,” Caldwell adds. “While a cab unit may cost more initially, if it keeps you or your employees in the operator’s seat longer and for more months of the year, the additional revenue may be worth the extra expense.”

Protection/safety options. Consider the attachments you’ll be using, any potential safety issues, and machine features that could prevent accidents or injuries. For example, if the machine is equipped with a breaker, a cab machine is a good idea since it affords the operator greater protection from flying shards and debris. If operating a mower or mulcher, a polycarbonate front glass/or window guard or combination of the two should be used. If the machine will be used to remove trees or other materials that may fall on the cabin, adding a Level II OPG top guard is recommended.

Operators working in congested areas where there may be more foot or vehicular traffic should consider a rearview camera, especially on larger machines where it may be more difficult to see around the rear. In this situation, it’s also imperative that the travel alarm is operating properly.

Maintenance and support. Features like a tilting cab, wide-opening overhead hood or side/rear panels to easily access maintenance and inspection points may not always be the first things contractors look for, but they’re very important when it comes to keeping a machine in good working condition.

“When looking at different machines during the purchase process, ask whether the machine is relatively easy and straightforward to inspect and maintain,” Caldwell says. “The availability of a telematics system—like our Takeuchi Fleet Management (TFM) tool—is always a plus because it monitors the machine’s health and automatically alerts owners and operators to any maintenance issues before they become costly repairs. Its geofencing capabilities also alert the owner if the machine is moved beyond a set perimeter on the jobsite.”

Whether renting or buying, using compact equipment can have many benefits for those who select options carefully and consider the bottom line. “If a machine could help you complete more jobs and earn more revenue, it may pay for itself in a short period of time,” says Caldwell. “…No matter whether you rent or buy, …take all the proper steps and choose the machine that’s best suited for your business and your needs.”

Von Minden is a public relations manager for Swanson Russell in Lincoln, NE. Takeuchi is a global manufacturer of compact track loaders, excavators, wheel loaders, and attachments. 

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